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:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

You and I

There's something fitting about the fact that, on the morning before the election, the Liberal Party have a large ad on the front page of 'The Age' newspaper featuring a piece of rotten fruit.

No doubt they mean it to represent the Labor Government (or maybe, I thought in a moment of half awake delirium, John Brumby's brain) but it would be more appropriate to stand as a metaphor for the previous five weeks of desultory campaigning. What we've been given in Victoria, across the course of this election run up, has been a contest between 'More of the Same' and 'Doing Things Similar.' A sham choice really, between two political 'parties' that long ago abandoned ideoglogy and are more or less in agreement about how the business of government should be conducted.

For an example of this, we can return to the rotten fruit ad. Alongside the picture is a list of issues that the Liberals are claiming the Labor Government has mishandled during their time in office. There is no mention in the ad as to what the Liberal Party would do to correct these problems if we make Big Ted Premier and there's a reason for this: With the exception of the 'law and order' stuff, they have none. The list then, followed by a summary of what the Liberals would do in each policy area:

* UNSAFE STREETS: (Loudly) Longer sentences, more police, bigger jails!!!!!

* PUBLIC TRANSPORT MESS: (Quietly) 7... ahem... 7 new trains. Ummm, have people been watching the Ashes?.

* MYKI FIASCO: Keep it in exactly it's current form with no changes whatsoever.


* TRAFFIC GRIDLOCK: This is also bad. But, you know, we're buying 7 new trains... And The Ashes! What about that Peter Siddle! He's Victorian, you know.

* HEALTH & AMBULANCE CRISIS: ........... (crickets chirping)...........

As a political manifesto for change, you might feel that this list is a bit lacklustre. I mean, say what you want about Jeff Kennett, but at least he floated a few ideas about how he'd do things differently if we were foolish enough to elect him:

Sack Everyone! Kill everyone else! Poison the wells! Scorch the earth!

And he even delivered on those promises.

But his successors in the Liberal Party have failed to really articulate much of a case for change this time around. They have clung to the hope that the public were sick of Labor after 11 years and would turf them out without them, the Liberals, having to do very much. Just smile and nod, roll some lawn bowls, roll up the shirt sleeves, avoid saying anything much about anything and hope to sneak in on the back of voter dislike of the other mob.

And on one level, it's hard to blame them for this. After all, the same tactic worked for Rudd in 2007 and Bracksy in 1999 and Howard in 1996. The old adage about Opposition's not winning elections but Government's losing them.

But even if this is so, that doesn't mean we can't whinge about it. For the biggest loser in all of this cynical, small target, do nothin' politickin' is you and I. By which I mean, us! An ineffective, risk adverse, policy-lite Opposition simply means that the Government does not get held properly to account and so does not need to improve in areas where it's performance has been poor.

Imagine, as one example, that the Liberal Party in 2006 had gone to the polls with a policy to roll back Labor's broken promise on the Eastlink Freeway, and make it free to use as it was initially intended. Such a policy would have had one of two outcomes:

a) Labor would have been forced to match this policy. Or,

b) The Liberals would have been elected and would have enacted their policy.

The result, in either case, would be a free road for us to use. So the winners, whether Labor or Liberal won the election, would have been you and I. By which I mean, us!

Come to think of it, Big Ted was the Liberal leader then too, so I guess it's no surprise that a different policy from Labor was just a bit too hard, a bit too radical, a bit too alien for him to try. But if you take the example of the road toll issue above and then apply it to public transport, health, planning or whatever you like from this current campaign then it's not a long stretch to see that a properly functioning Opposition, putting forward some new policies of their own and opposing the Governments bad ones, delivers better functioning services for the community at large.

And so the ultimate loser from Big Ted's insipid performance in this election campaign, much more than the Liberal Party, is you and I. By which I mean... well, you get the idea.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Phil and Harold and Big Ted and JB

And finally, a note of comedy in this otherwise grim State Election Campaign.

Well, that's probably unfair. Truthfully, the leaders have done their best to make us laugh over the past four weeks. Ted Baillieu's plan to fix the Melbourne transport system by buying seven new trains was a great example of absurdest humour, while the Premier's policy of sending all the State's Year 9 students to camp was probably the most laughable big campaign launch announcement in the history of Australian politics. And the sight of both of them with shirt sleeves rolled up and ties tucked into pockets while they try and play cricket or weld doors or anything else that their advisors have told them that 'regular' folk do, never fails to make me laugh.

But Big Ted and JB have been outdone in the comedy stakes, by none other than Australia's favourite annoying busy body, Harold Bishop. Or, should I say, Australia's former favourite busy body (see below), AKA Logie winning actor Ian Smith.

Former independent MP Phil Cleary, a mate of Smiths, is having a tilt at reliving his glory days and running for the State seat of Brunswick. He's long odds to snatch the seat, which is seen as a two way contest between Labor and the Greens (with Labor favoured).

To try and drum up some media attention for his outsider campaign, Cleary asked his acting mate to come with him to a media event on Tuesday morning. Cleary would be talking about rural planning policy, the TV networks and major newspapers would be there, and having Harold Bishop alongside would add a little juice to the event.

Except the TV networks didn't show. Nor did the newspapers. At least, not at first. One newspaper photographer finally came, 40 minutes late, and started taking photos of Cleary (who is something of a minor Melbourne celebrity himself). After taking a few pics, the photographer was set to leave, without having photographed Harold at all. When Harold complained about this, in classic hissy fit fashion apparently, the photographer told him that:

'He hadn't recognised him.'


Even for someone who spent their whole career on 'Neighbours,' and so has to be something of an industry joke, that's gotta hurt! But Phil and his mate are undaunted. They'll be back again on Saturday, handing out how to vote cards at the Brunswick Town Hall. They'll be there all week folks, don't forget to tip your waitress.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The Greens are doing it tough in this state election.

Well, everywhere but the polls that is, where they have been routinely recording 16 - 18% of the primary vote. This is a significant, dramatic, increase in the 10% they received at the last state election and approximately 3 times the primary vote pulling power of the National Party (who can be expected to furnish the Deputy Premier and several key ministers if Big Ted achieves an upset victory on November 27).

No, where the Greens are doing it tough is in their dealings with the two major parties and the media.

If you were to believe some of the stuff that has been put on record about the Greens in Victoria by Labor, Liberal and the conservative media, you'd have to think that this well meaning minor party were a pack of psychotic, unbalanced, fanatical, misanthropic, zealots, determined to bankrupt the state, overthrow the Government and make us all where hessian sacks to work (not that we'd have jobs, as they'd be outlawed by these nutters too). The 'Commie Nazi's' of out time:

But don't believe a word of it.

I mean, I used to be a member of The Greens and I was thrown out precisely for having those qualities (except for the sacks of course. I don't like hessian that much). If anything, the Greens that I met in my time were a bit on the dull side; middle class, educated types, with conservative dress sense and a tendancy to sigh and look wistful whenever the ALP was mentioned. Not the sort of types it was easy to imagine blowing up a coal fired power station or handing out drugs to school children (or whatever lurid fantasy the little paper dreams up this week).

Nevertheless, the vitriol directed towards the Greens remains.

I suppose in the case of the ALP, the reason is obvious. Many Green supporters are disaffected Labor voters and the ALP has finally woken up to the fact that a lot of them aren't coming back inside the tent. This has gone on to such an extent now that Labor are in danger of losing up to four inner city seats - Melbourne, Brunswick, Northcote & Richmond - in this election (having lost the similarly located Federal seat of Melbourne to the Greens earlier in the year) and they're not too happy about having their former supporters turn on them. A classic case of political jilted lovers syndrome.

But the reasoning behind the Liberal dislike of The Greens is subtler and at once more intersting and more alarming.You could even call it nefarious... which I will do (somewhere below) because I like that word.

The Liberals primarily have an ideological dislike of the Greens, their policies and what they seem to represent. As the state's, and the country's, primary conservative party, this is to be expected. But this dislike seems to run much deeper than a simple difference of opinion on health or education policy, until it reaches a point that a vastly better political commentator than myself may have referred to as 'Fear and Loathing.' This is particularly true among the rusted on, core Liberal supporters; businesses, rural folk and the elderly. The Greens really seem to give these people the willies.

Which may explain, at least partly, Big Ted's decision of last week to place the Greens last on Liberal how to vote cards for this coming election. Behind even the Labor Party who some of us, myself included, had stupidly thought were the Liberals political opponents. We can see now that this is not the case, and that Big Ted has in fact been working on a secret six year plan to keep the Greens out of the lower house of state Parliament (and not what he appeared to be doing over the last six years i.e. nothing).

But this can't be the whole explanation. Because, at first glance, this decision also seemed to mean that Big Ted had decided that he didn't want to be Premier either. For if the Liberals had a big task ahead in gaining a 6.5% swing and 13 seats to take office, that task has now become momumental, like 80's Oprah big, now that Labor no longer has to devote as much effort to holding their inner city seats against the Greens. For the truth of the matter is, without Liberal preferences, the Greens chances of snaring even one lower seat house are somewhere between slim and none.

But that's not the nefarious part. The nefarious part of this whole situation, which is so nefarious that it's drowning in it's own nefariousnessness, is as follows:

The Nefarious Part

It has been clear for some time that there is little difference between the two major political party's in Australia, at state or federal level.Most of the major ideological disputes between the two of them were settled some time ago and there is general agreement between the two sides on the best course of action in most areas. What they do argue about are peripheral details (the size and scope of stamp duty relief in this current campaign, as an example of this) or matters of what are usually referred to as 'social issues' (whether or not legalise euthenasia, say). Some of these debates are important, most of them are trivial and leaders from both sides try to shout as loudly as possible about them in order to cover this up.

What's clear from the major party's treatment of the Greens is that they both recognise this and that they're both comfortable with it. They are no longer really opposed to each other, but rather are only opposed to anyone who might break up their cosy little club and try and get their snouts out of the trough.

Nefarious Part Ends

Which is certainly something worth considering on polling day.

Not just in relation to the Greens, but any other small party or independant candidate who might be willing to get all Mr Smith Goes to Spring Street and shake things up a bit. I'm going to follow this advice myself. In fact, I already know who I'm going to vote for:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Clown College


Credit to Victorian Labor leader John Brumby, he does things his own way.

When it came to the Labor Party's State election campaign launch this week -r ridiculously late in the campaign for the usual reason - he followed the template of neither his Victorian Liberal Opponent nor either of his Federal counterparts. Whereas Liberal leader Ted Baillieu had, in his campaign launch earlier in the week, delivered up a series of minimal policies designed to change as little as possible, and Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott had, earlier in the year, delivered up policy free launches devoid of anything even remotely resembling a policy of any description, the Labor Premier had something tangible for us. An actual policy! Different to his opponents and everything!

Things got even more original when the Labor leader declared just what this policy was: He was going to send all the states year 9 public school kids to 'Brumby Camp.'

And much like the time when Homer decided to go to Clown College, I don't think any of us had expected the Premier to say that:

Most people, press and public alike, had probably expected any major policy announcements to be in the 'Law and Order' area, so countering whatever Big Ted had announced at the Liberal Party do. Or, if not that, than maybe something about the economy or the environment or health or, if on the topic of education, something about more schools, more teachers, better access for country kids to quality facilities.

Instead, we got 'Brumby Camps.'

Put simply, this is a proposal by the Premier to make compulsory a two week Government funded camp for all Year 9 students. Details were a little vaguer on what this 'camp' would actually entail, but Brumby created the impression that it would be a bit like a fortnight of Army basic training, karate school and one of those wilderness survival things, where people get left in the forest with a spork and a compass, all rolled into one. Further hints could, perhaps, be taken from a short biographical video about the Premier, also played at the launch, which showed Brumby shearing sheep, planting trees and playing sport:

The cost of the program, dubbed with the usual ridiculous Government spin style moniker of 'Education for Life' (or something) was about $2000 per child per year, or some $208 million across the next term of the Government.

Now, you can undoubtedly make a case as to the value of this sort of program. Something that engages with kids outside of the staid classroom environment and shows them something of the world beyond high school. The Australian Education Union, to cite just one example, was in favour of the plan.

But it seems to me that this is something of an indulgence, given that there are many more urgent problems facing our education system in this state. Particularly in the public school system and, even more particularly, in the bush, children from the lower end of the socio economic spectrum are disadvantaged in terms of access to proper facilities.

Public school children in many areas still study in demountable classrooms. The Government has continually failed in its efforts to get high standard teachers into disadvantaged or rural areas (in fact, on that topic, the Government really refuses to admit that there are any differences between standards of teachers). Some under-resourced public schools continually fail to meet basic reading and writing benchmarks (while the government fights tooth and nail to with hold this information from the public). And, in areas of concentrated poverty and neglect, school drop outs rates remain disappointingly high.

These are all problems much more deserving of Labor's attention, than setting up a well meaning but essentially frivolous network of lifestyle camps.

There is also more than a little hubris about the proposal. 'The Age's' state political reporter, Paul Austin, noted the day after the announcement that, far from a gimmick, the 'Brumby Camp' proposal was 'a long-held Brumby dream, something he's been working on from the moment he became Premier.' His legacy to the state, in other words. Something for us all to remember him by. But really, there are more pressing needs for the state Government to address in regards to education, than the Premier's place in the history books.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Big Ted

Two days ago, Liberal leader Ted Ballieu had his official Victorian Election Campaign launch at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

Meanwhile, across town in Richmond, the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) were letterboxing the neighbourhoood my girlfriend lives in with an information pamphlet highlighting the shortcomings in Victoria's public transport system.

And, at the same time, Felix Lerbier learns there are more links in his brain than atoms in the universe.

What do these seemingly unrelated events have in common? Well, if you exclude the last one, plenty.

We'll start with Big Ted.

Ted 'Law and Order' Baillieu made a lengthy speech at his launch in which he sought to highlight what he saw as the Labor Governments failings. These are familiar to most people who have paid any attention to the recent campaign (or, more accurately, anyone who's been anywhere near Victoria in the past decade). Victoria's problems then, through the eyes of Big Ted:

- Failings in the public transport system.
- Failings and associated scandals in the health system.
- Out of control street violence and rising crime rates.

Big Ted made it clear that these would be the things he’d be banging on about from now until polling day and, from his demeanour, it also appeared that he may think these three issues are enough for voters to tip the Government out.

But this is only one part of the equation for an Opposition leader at election time. Having identified what he felt was wrong with things, it was then up to Big Ted to outline how he’d go about tackling these problems if he were in charge. We return to his speach then, with actions and policies added to the previously outlined problems:

- Failings in the Public Transport System: Nothing
- Failings and associated scandals in the health system: Nothing
- Out of control street violence and rising crime rates: MORE POLICE, MORE JAILS AND LONGER SENTENCES!!!

That last bit said as loudly as possible to try and distract people from the whole lotta nothing in the top half.

So having droned on for some time about the woes of Victoria’s public transport system, and so having got most of his listeners on side, Big Ted then proposed to do sweet fuck all to address the problem. By which I mean, he proposed buying seven new trains in his first term as Premier (and about 14 million more if he’s then re-elected at some distant future time) and building two new train stations. And by doing so he performed the previously unthinkable trick of making the Government’s ludicrously inadequate and much derided transport plan look meaty and visionary.

I mean, seven trains? Sweet Jesus, what on earth was he thinking? A statement from the transport department the following day said that this was about the number of trains that they'd retire in the next Government's four year term, so we’d probably end up with exactly the same number of trains rolling around, if not less.

And this, tragically, is what brings us full circle and back to the PTUA and their well meaning flyers.

The flyers themselves were admirably non partisan in that, after highlighting some of the public transport system’s shortcomings, it went on to ask people to consider public transport as an issue when they were deciding who to vote for. Not to support Labor over Liberal or Liberal over Labor, but to look at each parties policies and work out who would do the most on this neglected issue, Make your vote count! That type of thing.

But admirable though this is, the reality for the people of Victoria is that they’re not being offered much of a choice by any of the prinicpal contenders in this election. Labor are offering up the same expensively advertised but woefully inadequate Transport Plan that they’ve been hawking to no enthusiasm for several years and the Liberal Opposition are offering us 7 fucking trains. And this is not even mentioning the Greens, who have come up with a well meaning but unafforable fantasy land uptopia of undergound light rail and new train stations on every corner.

Is there no way to make any progress on this issue? Other, much larger, cities than Melbourne have much better services and have had them for a long time. Yet here, the Government still seems stunned every summer that their trains and trams don't run so well when it’s hot.

Can we not get some experts in? People that have run successful public transport networks in New York or London or Paris? What about the academics at RMIT who study this stuff for a living and relentlessly criticise the current Government’s lack of foresight? Isn't it time we tried something a little different?

Fresh thinking please.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Two Quotes


'Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.'

- TS Eliot
The Hollow Men

There's something about the nature of politics that calls this quote from Eliot's famous poem to mind pretty often for me.

For example, take the health system in Victoria. More specifically, the hosiptal system in Victoria. More specifically, the way the operation of the hosp[ital system in Victoria is measured and assessed.

So, the operation of our hospitals generates a mass of data which is analysed; patient waiting lists, emergency room wait times, bed capacity and a thousand and one other things. The health department sets statewide targets for hospitals to meet, to ensure that services are being provided in a timely and efficient fashion. By meeting these targets, hospitals ensure good service delivery and also, often times, qualify for additional government funding. Conversely, by not meeting their targets, the state government is able to identify which hospitals need additional staff or resources or just an overhaul of their operating practice. Which is all very ordinary and as you'd expect...

... or it would be, if that's how the system actually operated.

But back in reality, what actually happens is this:

1. Government sets hospitals ambitious targets and then denies them adequate funding to meet those targets.

2. The health department provides heavy pressure to hospital administrations to meet these unrealistic targets.

3. Hospital administrators manipulate the data generated by their hospitals to make it look like they're meeting their targets when, in fact, they simply can't.

This last part of the process is done in a variety of ways.


When a hospital emergency room reaches capacity they activate an indicator called 'Emergency Bypass,' meaning they are unable to take any more patients. The ambulance service is notified and ambulances instructed not to deliver any more patients to that hospital.

The government wishes to minimise the occurrence of this - so that emergency patients can be taken to the nearest hospital, say - so they set a target of hospitals only activating their 'Emergency Bypass' indicator 3% of their operating time. Hospitals that achieve this target receive bonus funding.

However, due to a decline in bulk billing private practice GPs, a more general decline in affordable, private, after hours medical care, combined with years of underfunding, hospital emergency rooms have become stretched beyond capacity and need to activate their 'Eemergency Bypass' indicator much more often than the 3% target.

So what happens?

Emergency room staff are instructed not to activate the bypass and just to continue accepting patients, even if there are no staff available to treat them or any beds available. A recent survey of emergency room doctors by 'The Age' confirmed that this practice is widespread and, according to those surveyed, puts lives at risk.

The last part of this sorry process is the State Government health spokesman calling a press conference to announce that no hospital in the state activates their 'Emergency Bypass' indicator more than 3% of the time, all thanks to State Government initiatives.

And this is just one example, among many.

Other examples cited in the 'Age' story noted above included the creation of 'virtual wards' that exist only in the memory banks of hospital computers (to make it look like people who are languishing on trolleys or waiting room chairs are in beds), and the exclusion of rafts of patients from surgery waiting lists to make it look like there's not a problem in this State of people waiting years and years for required surgery.

And the loser in all of this is, as always, us.

When someone we know is in a car accident and gets rushed by ambulance to a hospital where no one is available to treat them. Or when a relative has their quality of life dramatically lowered through having to put up with treatable medical conditions while they wait on a list somewhere.

But where is the politics of this issue?

When confronted with the 'virtual wards' scandal last year, after whistle blowing from courageous hospital staff, State Health Minister Daniel Andrews aggressively denied that such a problem existed. When he was shown evidence that fudging of data occurred, the Minister scrapped some of the target based carrot-and-stick funding and announced that independent audits of hospital data would be conducted.

The Health Minister wasn't sacked, nor reprimanded by The Premier and the 'virtual wards' scandal hasn't featured in our current election campaign in any form. Nor have any of the other issues, serious problems all, listed above. The State Government has gone with its usual 'Business as usual' approach and the State Opposition seems unable to say anything without the words 'Law and order!!!' attached to it.

And yet the problem remains. 90% of surveyed emergency room doctors state that inaccurate data is still being submitted by hospitals and that the independent audits fail to uncover this practice.

And this reminds me of another quote, from George Orwell's '1984' this time:

The fabulous statistics continued to pour out of the telescreen. As compared with last year there was more food, more clothes, more houses, more furniture, more cooking-pots, more fuel, more ships, more helicopters, more books, more babies--more of everything except disease, crime, and insanity. Year by year and minute by minute, everybody and everything was whizzing rapidly upwards. (Yet) always in your stomach and in your skin there was a sort of protest, a feeling that you had been cheated of something that you had a right to.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Self Perpetuating Machine


Reinforcing the fact that this State Election will be about one issue and one issue only, today's 'Age' reports that 50% of Victorians no longer feel safe out on the street at night. Other reported findings include:

- 89 per cent don't feel safe using public transport at night
- 88 per cent don't feel safe in the CBD at night
- 14 per cent have considered moving because of a crime
- 36 per cent have experienced a crime at home
- 55 per cent said violence is racially motivated
- 42 per cent were disappointed with the government's initiatives on law and order

The information contained in the article came from a survey conducted for 3AW's Neil Mitchell. Approximately 6500 homes spread across Melbourne participated in the survey, a large sample size for this type of thing, so even though 3AW is a cartoonish outfit with only the most tenuous attachment to the idea of 'serious news,' the results cannot be easily dismissed.

But what this survey really tells us is less about the crime situation in Melbourne and more about the perception of the crime situation in Melbourne. In other words, people in the suburbs have already been convinced that crime is really out of control in our city and that they're unsafe unless they're at home with the doors and windows locked and a blanket over their heads.

And we've got people like Mitchell himself to thank for this.

Obviously, if you go on the radio everyday and talk in a LOUD VOICE about the law and order problem we have in this state - never trying to determine if there is one of course, just shouting about how bad the problem is - than a lot of your listeners are going to get it into their heads that the problem exists and is getting worse. This is really how Mitchell and his ilk define their existence: shouting about something loud and long enough so that people start talking about it so that they can then shout about it some more and companies that manufacture security doors and burglar alarms will advertise on their show.

'Yellow Journalism,' it's called, in the parlance of a completely different time.

Nevertheless, now that the self perpetuating machine that is the media has been set in motion on this topic, you can expect to hear about almost nothing else for the next three weeks. John Brumby and Ted Baillieu will fall all over themselves trying to outdo one another, trying to prove to us which of them will be toughest on crime.

Brumby will go on Neil Mitchell's show to state that serious crime figures have actually fallen in Victoria while he's been Premier (a fact, by the way)... before adding that nevertheless, he still thinks that we should have more police, tougher laws and longer sentences across the board.

Then Baillieu will give an interview to The Hun where he'll talk about a few of his constituents whose house was burgled and that he feels that suspended sentences should be done away with (Liberal party policy, by the way) and that he would legislate for more police, tougher laws and longer sentences than the Premier has proposed.

Then Brumby will be in The Hun stating that this just shows how weak his opponent has gotten on this important issue and that if he had his way than thieves and drunk drivers would be hung, drawn, quartered, guillotined, stoned, asphyxiated, buried in soft peat and recycled as firelighters.

Then Baillieu will be on Neil Mitchell's show yelling about how this merely highlights Labor's weakness when it comes to really cracking down on crime and that he feels that really everyone in the state who's ever littered or jaywalked or cut a loud fart in church should be sealed up in a block of concrete and buried somewhere in the desert.

Then... well, you get the idea.

Yet all this hyperbolic debate makes me think of is an old bit of Bill Hicks’(truncated, paraphrased and taken out of context, but still, you’ll get the drift):

'WAR, FAMINE, DEATH, AIDS, HOMELESS, RECESSION, DEPRESSION, WAR, FAMINE, DEATH, AIDS.' Over and over again. Then you look out your window - (crickets chirping) - where's all this shit going on, man?

And all this at a time when there are serious issues facing olur state, and mistakes the Government has made that they should be held to account over. As a tweet I saw after the leaders 'debate' last week put it:

'Did I miss the debate on public transport?'


Allright! Anyone that made it this far deserves a treat: It's Bill!

Law and Order!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Anyone who thought that The Great Debate held during the recent Federal Election Campaign was a bit disappointing and light-on for content, hopefully missed the Victorian State Election equivalent.

For Labor's John Brumby and the Liberals Ted Baillieu conspired to conjure up something quite remarkable when they faced up to each other last week: an hour long political debate without any political content. Well, perhaps saying the debate was entirely devoid of political discourse is unfair. Baillieu has got one issue on his mind and that's:

LAW AND ORDER!!!!!!!!!

And that's certainly the way he sought to present it: In fifty foot high letters with a googleplex of exclamation points after it. Really, either the opposition leader is a very nervous man or the focus groups are telling him that Victorians feel less safe than they used to.

As for Brumby, Labor's focus groups are clearly sending the message that the punters find him a bit dour and inhuman, a bit all work and no play, as the Premier spent the hour long debate trying to remember how to smile. You could almost see his clockwork like mind turning over in his head:

'Think about something nice like... ummm... smashing Ballieu in his fat, silver spoon fed face. No! Something else... Something wholesome... like... the kids! Brilliant! And puppies! Now I've got it! How about my kids playing with puppies! Boy, I'm going to be sore tomorrow.'

And that was it really.

Baillieu tried to yell 'LAW AND ORDER!' as often as possible, even interrupting the Premier to do so, and Brumby tried to ignore Baillieu while walking a fine line between looking angry and looking like a statue. Anyone hoping for a serious discussion about any of the issues facing Victoria would have been much better turning their attention to the forums on crikey.com.

And the reason for this policy free election campaign have become clear, even after less than a week. In the areas where the State Government is vulnerable and facing a voter backlash:

* Public Transport.
* Water Infrastructure.
* Hospital waiting lists.
* Development planning.

the Liberal Party either doesn't want to change the way things are done (planning) or has no ideas about how to change them (transport, water and hospitals).

Which leaves law and order, and you can expect to hear plenty more about how violent crime rates are 47 000% higher than they were four days ago and that anyone who's game enough to come out from hiding under their beds in this state is taking their lives into their hands. In fact, you can almost guarantee that this will be the only thing the two leaders do actually debate during this campaign; which one of them will be tougher on crime.

And this brings us to consider another possible parallel between the Federal Election of August and this current state campaign. The Federal election was also a policy free zone conducted by two leaders who were determined to talk about anything except serious political issues, and the voters responded to this by endorsing neither of them and leaving the country with a hung parliament. Is it any surprise then, that todays 'Age' has polling showing that Victoria is headed for a hung parliament as well?

You've got three weeks fellas, to show us something.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Let's Make the Sonnoffabitch Deny It


Like most long standing Governments, Victoria's state Labor government has got some baggage. As in, they've done quite a few things over their time in office that have pissed quite a few of us off. 12 Years is a long time.

A brief list of some of the major pieces of baggage, then:

- Consistantly late, unreliable trains that seem incapable of running when it's either too hot, too cold or too temperate.

- Over budget, unreliable electronic ticketing system for our public transport network.

- Lack of anything that could be straightfacedly called a 'public transport network,' with overlapping, non integrated organisations running different parts of the system (and usually throwing pies at each other).

- Actually, this was meant to be a short list of issues so why don't we just take the public transport system as a whole as a negative and move on.

- Water management projects (desaliantion plant, north-south pipeline) with questionable water management benefits, massive price tags and major environmental concerns attached to them.

- A city development planning process that seems to be run out of a back room at Fat Tony's.

- The motherfucking Grand Prix! Can we just let Sydney or Dubai take the fucking thing and spend all that money on something else?

- The hospital waiting list scandal.

Although that last one has become such a common feature of State Governance in this country that a lot of the juice seems to have gone out of it as an issue. I mean, some of the state governments seem to think that they're expected to deliver a hospital waiting list scandal as part of their party platform:

'And so my friends, if elected, we promise to deliver bigger, more scandalous, more nefarious and more deceptive hospital waiting list scandals than this state has ever seen before!'

Even leaving that one aside though, it's still quite a list. There's a lot of issues there that people living in this state can - and do - feel angry about. And so, therefore, a lot for the Opposition to get stuck into the Government about as well. Fertile ground for the Liberal Party to make a pitch to the voters in (or on... or, erm, under? Actually that 'fertile ground' metaphor has thrown me off a bit).

Or so you'd think.

So it strikes me a curious that since the campaign was officially launched - on Melbourne Cup Day, damn you 'Descarado'! - we've had very little in the way of rigorous back and forth between the two major parties. What we've had, for the most part, is the Labor Party getting stuck into the Greens.

This started more or less staright away, with state education Minister Brownyn Pike calling Brian Walters, her Green opponent for the marginal inner city seat of Melbourne, a 'hypocrite.' Other, less nameable, sections of the ALP added the tag 'anti-semite' to this. And what had Mr Walters done to earn the ire of the ALP? Well, it seems that Mr Walters, a barrister in the private sector, had defended both a suspected Nazi war criminal and a mining company that has some dealings in brown coal mining (in extradition and wrongful death cases, respectively). The Victorian Bar Council was quick to Mr Walters defence, stating that as a lwayer he had an ethical obligation to 'do his best' for his clients, 'regardless of his personal views.' Senior figures from both the Labor Party and the legal profession were quick to put their views on the matter out in public as well, ensuring both sides of the argument got an airing and the story kicked on for a few days.

Even so, this still scans as a fairly innocuous bit of political argy bargy, of the sort that occurs so regularly in national politics that, much like any debate over hospital waiting lists, the details are quickly lost on a voting public that goes glassyeyed when election season starts.

But what is important in this instance is what this occurrence tells us about the mindset of state Labor. And that is that the Government views the Liberal Party as pretty unlikely to win the election and that they are more worried about losing marginal inner city seats to the Greens, than they are losing outter suburban or rural seats to the conservatives. The ALP has got a fight on it's hand to hold at least four innner city seats against the Greens - Melbourne, Richmond, Brunwsick and Northcote - and they know it and now the Greens know that their nominally left of centre allies will play hard ball to keep all of those seats in tact.

The other thing that the above incident tells us is that the spirit of Lyndon Baines Johnson is alive and well in modern politics, even here.

The story goes like this: A young LBJ, in his first run for elected office, is struggling to get ahead of his opponent. In frustration he told his campaign manager to leak a story to the press that said opponent liked fucking pigs.

'Hell,' the campaign manager is alleged to have said, 'we can't honestly expect people to believe he's a pig fucker.'

'Naw,' Johnson is meant to have drawled, 'but let's make the sonnoffabitch deny it.'

The point being, lets get a little word association going in peoples minds, the key words being 'My Opponent' and 'pig fucker.'

Sooooo..... at the height of debate about Mr Walters' character, our education minister went back to the media to say that while she still thought her opponent was a hypocrite, whoever had called him antisemtic (and gee whiz, it really is a mystery who might have done that) was taking it too far:

'I know Brian walters and I think that it is very unfair to say that he is antisemitic.'

Politics doesn't really change that much.