Friday, July 15, 2011

A Horrible Cunt



Being a horrible cunt has its advantages.

Take Rupert Murdoch as an example of this.

The billionaire tyrant has taken his horrible cunt qualities - lack of empathy, sociopathic morals, veneration of profit over all other princiapls - and turned them into a multi billion dollar media empire that spans the globe and make the lives of countless people in the public eye thoroughly miserable. He is undoubtedly one of the world's richest and most influential people. Not bad for a bloke who started with one newspaper (left to him by his father) in the global backwater of Adelaide.

Or take me, as another example.

A keen follower of news and current events, I've taken my horrible cunt qualities - vindictiveness, callousness and a hefty serve of schadenfreude - and converted them into a relentless enjoyment of watching that horrible cunt Rupert Murdoch's media empire crumble (at least a little bit). I feel no shame or guilt about doing this, having harboured great fear and loathing towards the billionaire tyrant for as long as I can remember (fear, loathing and plagiarism being still more of my horrible cunt qualities).

It has to be said, though, that I am probably not the only one enjoying this.

There must be millions of us really, around the world, waiting breathlessly for each new revelation about the grotesque behaviour of journalists and editors employed at the newspapers of Mr Murdoch, each seemingly worse than the last. It's a story that could have come straight from one of Murdoch's own tabloids; powerful people abusing doe eyed victims, screaming headlines, shock and scandal, celebrity and money and a gaggle of frenetic journalists pumping the story like wild eyed junkies, racing each other to get the next scoop.

No wonder Murdoch's papers sold so well. His readership has been enjoying this sort of stuff for years!

And the fact that it is the mouldy old bastion of serious journalism and lefty-ism, England's 'The Guardian,' that is turning the screws on Murdoch only adds to the deliciousness of it all.

Things have moved so quickly and unraveled so fast for Murdoch that it is difficult to know exactly where it will all end. Just a few months ago he was so powerful and influential (and entrenched) in the fabric of British life that he was almost a bit like an aging, wizened sun; something everyone there paid attention to each day without ever really noticing. He owned not only the country's largest selling daily newspaper ('The Sun') but also the largest selling Sunday paper ('The News of the World') and the most prestigious (London's 'The Times') as well. In addition to this, approval of his takeover bid of satellite TV channel 'BSkyB' looked to be a mere formality, which would have made him England's foremost broadcaster as well as a newspaperman.

His influence in England, already enormous, looked set to reach new levels of dominance. The only thing left after the 'BSkyB' takeover would have been for Harry Potter to show up and battle him to the death.

And then it all went wrong, big time.

In 2006, it was uncovered that Clive Goodman, a reporter for the 'News of The World' ('NoTW'), had illegally accessed the mobile phone voice mail boxes of members of the royal family. He'd done this in collusion with a private investigator hired by the paper and, once this was uncovered, both men were sacked, prosecuted and jailed. While creating waves at the time, this incident was still viewed as fairly minor and was largely glossed over with the usual 'one rogue reporter not representative of our standards' comments from News Corps HQ.

The billionaire tyrant muttered something under his breath, his British newspaper staff went back to their then principal job of destroying Labor Prime Minister Gordon Brown and life went pretty much back to normal.

But this scandal was far from over. It continued to percolate away in the background, as other members of the media (chiefly 'The Guardian') dug away at it, slowly uncovering evidence and sources and garnering testimony from a growing number of disgruntled ex News Corp employees (who, what do you know, didn't have much love for Uncle Rupert). All of this background research and effort exploded spectacularly a few weeks ago.

First it was revealed that the phone hacking operations at the 'News of the World' had not been down to 'one rogue reporter' but had, in fact, been standard business practice. An expanding number of celebrities were revealed as having had their phone messages accessed by NoTW staff, several of them (inclusing the actress Sienna Miller) taking News Corp to court and suing for damages. Almost simultaneously, it was also revealed that NoTW had paid corrupt police officers, as well as private investigators, to help them with this hacking operation, sending shockwaves through the British police force.

And before the outrage over this had even died down, an even bigger scandal came to light. 'The Guardian' reported that in 2002 NoTW reporters had accessed the voice mail box of Milly Dowler, a 13 year old school girl who had gone missing at the time. Not only did the reporters hack into her message bank, but they then deleted messages from it, so as to create space for more. Police at the time thought that the girl herself was accessing her messages and so assumed she was still alive somewhere (she was subsequently found murdered).

The horrified public response to this incident is still reverberating in England.

A sweeping tide of disgust and revulsion spewed forth from other media outlets, members of the public, politicians and pundits. Advertisers immediately abandoned the newspaper and some departed News Corp publications altogether. A number of journalists and editors previously employed by the paper have been arrested and appear headed for jail (among them former editor Andy Coulson, until January this year the British Prime Ministers press secretary). The 168 year old paper itself has been closed and it's current staff made redundant.

Of course, Murdoch himself cannot be specifically blamed for any of these incidents. The time has long since passed where Rupert had any hand in the day-to-day running of his newspapers. But what is obvious is that he has created and cultivated a vile mentality within the arms of his corporation. One that rewards brazen success, regardless of how this is achieved, with no recourse to ethical behaviour or thought for the effect the companies reporting has on it's targets.

Once the NoTW scandals had come to light and become a serious problem, Murdoch did become personally involved in handling the crisis. But his efforts to 'fire break' the scandal by shutting the paper and distancing himself from what happened do not appear to be working. As he lops off one head of this snake, another appears in it's place.

This week, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave an interview where he accused both 'The Sun' and the 'The Times' of a relentless campaign of harassment while he was still in Government, including; the now expected phone hacking, spying on his friends and family, illegally accessing his son's medical records and hiring actors to impersonate him so as to gain access to his finance and personal records. It's not difficult to imagine Brown, never a favourite of Murdoch's and so someone who suffered obscenely distorted coverage from his papers, having a good laugh in private after airing his accusations and so adding to his old tormentors grief.

For grief is probably as good a word as any to sum up where Murdoch finds himself now (assuming it is proper to assign a human emotion like 'grief' to an inhuman entity like the billionaire tyrant). One of his best selling papers is closed and favoured associates under arrest or with their reputations in tatters. His remaining British papers are now both tainted and have an ugly smell emanating from them. His 'BSkyB' bid has been officially abandoned and would, in any case, have been held up for years by a now hostile Parliament. Indeed, his former friends at the top of Government now castigate his company daily in the press. There is talk of Murdoch selling his other papers and abandoning the UK altogether. Maybe retreating to America... where the FBI have already commenced an investigation into allegations that Murdoch's US newspapers hacked the phone records of victims of the 9-11 terrorist attack. I'll leave it to you to imagine what will happen to Rupert in America if that is proved to be true, but in my mind it involves burning torches and pitchforks:



'KILL THE MONSTER!'

Hell, I'm ready.

I guess being a horrible cunt has it's disdvantages too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Burly Workers in Neon Vests



After one of the more protracted, drawn out, postponed and neverending gestation periods in Australian political history, our carbon tax policy has arrived.

And one of the first things to be thankful for is that the carbon tax has been called just that; 'The Carbon Tax.' For anyone who's thinking 'Well, what the fuck else would they call it?' just cast your mind back to Kevin Rudd's doomed Carbon Trading Scheme, officially called 'The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.' Anyone that wants to track the downhill trajectory of that policy need only start with the name, as horrendous as anything that the language mangling Ruddbot ever came up with.

Moving on from the name to the policy itself proves trickier, due to the complex nature of what has been put forth. Which is nothing short of an attempt to recombobulate and reform Australia's energy sector, manufacturing sector and tax system simultaneously (when a reform of any one of these areas on it's own would normally have been considered epochal).

A brief summary of what has been proposed:

THE TAX:

A carbon price of $23 per tonne of emissions.

HOW IT'LL WORK

Paid by the top 500 carbon producing companies, the tax will increase annually to a projected rated of $29 per tonne by 2015. From 2015, the Government plans to replace the tax with a market driven emissions trading system, where the carbon price will 'float' and be set by trade in carbon permits.

THE COSTS

Companies subject to the tax are expected to pass on their costs to consumers. As these companies come from a diverse range of industries - including mining, transport and manufacturing - costs of most goods and services are expected to increase. The average cost increase per household per week is predicted by Treasury to be $9.90 per week, while the tax is expected to raise about $17 billion worth of revenue in it's first year.

THE COMPENSATION

A broad suite of compensation to measures to offset these cost increases. These will be delivered through tax cuts, increases in welfare payments and a set of 'one off' bonus payments to help pensioners and low income households. Average compensation is projected at $10.10 per household per week, costing the Government about $21 billion in the first year of operation.

Now that last sentence is important. As it means that Treasury modelling of the Carbon Tax shows that on average people will be marginally - very marginally - ahead of where they are now.

This from a tax that has been widely posited as the end of civilisation as we know it. The last Revenge of the Green Nerds who - for reasons known only to the Tony Abbott and his supporters on the extreme right - want to destroy modern society.
We can see now that they want to do this by giving us a generous package of tax cuts and payments and hoping we all... spend ourselves to death? Which is, you know, devilishly clever (or something).

Which is not to say that there aren't losers from the carbon tax legislation. The compensation measures are on a sliding scale so those at the bottom end of the income scale will do much better than those at the other end. Anyone with kids and earning over $150 000 will be worse off by a few hundred dollars a year, as will single people with no kids on about half that amount (including myself in this last category).

But to speak of losers out of such a package as this one is to overlook a fairly crucial point. And that is: this is a tax that you can avoid, or minimise your exposure too. Even more pointedly, this is a tax the Government wants you to avoid, as much as possible.

For if the carbon tax is to serve any useful purpose at all, then it's primary function will be to alter the way people spend their money. By adding a carbon price to good and industries that are carbon intensive, the hope is that carbon free or reduced alternatives will become cheaper in comparison. And so savvy people who are willing to look for services in low carbon areas will receive not just the Government's compensation, but save themselves money by dodging the tax altogether.

Again, not exactly what you'd expect from a policy who's purported purpose was to return Australia to the Dark Ages.

Not that this could stop the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, from claiming that this was just what it was designed to do. The Action Man's response to the carbon policy was both predictable... and seemingly scripted out about a month before the details of the policy were released, as his comments mostly ignored the specifics of what the Government had just proposed.

The carbon price would 'drive up prices and threaten jobs,' the Opposition leader said. It would 'do nothing at all' to curb emissions while ensuring that 'millions of Australians are worse off.' It was nothing more than 'a tax increase pretending to be an environmental policy' and, as such, would be 'the first time since the 1980s that marginal tax rates have been increased.' He colourfully predicted that the the policy would prove so unpopular with the punters that the Government would suffer 'the death of a thousand cameos,' as regular folk stepped forward to complain about it. He further offered to provide all 1000 said cameos by noon of the following day.

In short, he had plenty of tightly scripted, vaguely general, acutely non specific lines that the waiting media hordes could sample and run as five second grabs as his response throughout the subsequent few days. Typically, for Abbott, he had much less to offer in the way of actual details; whether or not he'd reverse the tax if elected and whether he'd keep the more generous income tax arrangements that accompany it first among these points he was silent on.

And he had nothing whatsoever to say about his own plan to reduce carbon emissions.

Yes, that's right, that previous sentence is not a misprint. Mr No-Taxy Pants is a Global Warming believer himself. And he has his own little scheme to reduce Australia's carbon emissions which he made no reference to during his carbon tax response and which involves spending $3.5 billion dollars of public funds on... tree planting? Burying, er, stuff? No one, including Abbott himself, seems quite sure exactly what his 'Direct Action' plan will entail, nor how he intends to pay for it. It also seems to be fairly certain that we won't find out either of things, until about four minutes before the next election.

In the meantime, then, we are treated to a most unusual sight. Both Government and Opposition engaging in an election campaign with no election due for about two years. Julia Gillard has promised to 'wear out her shoes' while travelling the country to explain the policy (and she has conducted more than 100 interviews since it was released), while The Action Man is never likely to miss out on a chance to roll up his shirt sleeves in public and shout a lot.

This faux campaign will involve much claim and counter claim from both sides, and will suck up all the available political oxygen for the forseeable future. Julia Gillard's has staked her Prime Ministership on this policy and, not to be outdone, The Action Man has doubled down and bet the house too. Expect many colourful charts and ads as they seek to exaggerate the benefits of their respective ideas.

Not to mention many more photos of what is likely to be this debate's enduring image; burly workers in neon vests looking non plussed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

D-D-D-D-D-D-Disaster

This week marks 12 months since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.

To mark the occasion, the 'Herald Sun' in Melbourne had a flash application on their website, which enabled people to rate Julia's performance from A to D in 17 categories, covering aspects of her leadership and performance. A virtual report card of sorts. I went through the exercise, distributing mainly C's, with a few A's and D's thrown in. The results, showing my score and compared with the average of the 'Hun's' readership are shown below:



You may not be shocked to see that they don't rate her very highly. I mean, 'D' in every category!

Now I know this is an exercise conducted by a Newscorp publication and so, as such, should be treated with caution. And the sort of person likely to have done it - 'The biggest crock of shit in the universe' declared 'Megan' of the PM, in an attached article - also needs to be taken into consideration. I mean, for anyone living in Melbourne it would be easy enough to imagine Andrew Bolt sitting in his office, hitting 'D-D-D-D-D-D-D' as he filled in the scorecard twenty thousand times and so skewing the whole exercise to match his own warped view of the universe.

But nevertheless, you can still derive a point from it (and other recent, related, media coverage): Julia Gillard is sinking fast.

In another story on the same day, The Hun had her predecessor and potential successor, Kevin Rudd, pulling a 60% approval rating in a poll they conducted in 12 marginal seats across the country. And easily leading Tony Abbott in a two party preferred contest in those same seats. Julia's comparative performance? Too depressing too consider... unless you are 'Megan' or Andrew Bolt.

The only thing now appearing to stand between Heavy Kevvy and a second coming to the leadership, then, is the extreme loathing that nearly all of his Labor colleagues feel towards him. If any polling were done of the ALP caucus, the likely result would be that they'd rather follow 'The Simpsons' lead:



and install anyone... anything... as leader before they'd consider going back to him again.

Julia, meanwhile, soldiers laboriously on, with everything she touches seemingly turning into a combination nightmare/fist fight. On top of the neverending battle over the Carbon Tax and the NBN and developing stalemate over live cattle exports, she now finds herself under attack from promising to cut taxes and raise family benefits. Normally about as close to a rock solid popular vote winner in this lazy ass country as you can get.

The ALP has indicated that, as part of the Carbon Tax package, they would be offering fairly generous tax cuts and a raise in benefits to offset expected cost increases. Nothing very concrete has been put out in public about what these benefits would entail but a few details are slowly starting to leak out.

Which undoubtedly was what prompted Tony 'Action Man' Abbott to get on the front foot by stating this week that the Liberals would be offering their own generous tax cut package at the next election as well. It probably doesn't need to be said that the Opposition leader also promised that his package would be bigger, more generous and would not be attached to any revenue raising efforts, particularly none that would help save the environment at the same time. And so was much, much better. Save money and do nothing to help the environment? That's gold out in the suburbs!

He said all this, of course, without naming any specific details of his plan, nor indicating how he would pay for it. It is indicative of the current debate, and Julia's troubles, that Abbott's plan was praised while hers was lambasted.

Until she is able to turn the debate back to Abbott, and highlight both the short sightedness and lack of detail in any of his proposals, her troubles look likely to continue. And Kevvy's annoying smirk will only get larger.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ivan the Terrible and Chairman Mao

The headline on the front page of Saturdays 'Age' was awkward, but made it's point:

'MADAM 31%'



Revealing both that;

a) Prime Minister Julia Gillard's personal approval rating has sunk to a disastrous level and

b) Newspaper copy writers still haven't quite gotten the hang of how to deal with a woman in the top job. I mean, 'Madam 31%'? Come on fellas!

The same report also had Labor's primary vote as 27% and catalogued some of the problems that have beset the Government and lead to such a disastrous, historically low, polling position (they couldn't have printed a comprehensive list of these problems, so extensive are they, and still have left room for any other news).

A short summary of these; Labor's muddled handling of both the asylum seeker and climate change issues, a growing perception that the Government stands for nothing and Gillard's own increasingly ragged performance as leader.

Looked at in conjunction; horrendously low poll numbers and serious problems in both policy and personality terms, the Federal Government appears to be f*cked at this time. While it may be two years or therebaouts to the next election - a long time in other words - the numbers appear to be so bad and Labor's plight so grim that nothing short of a nuclear attack by Indonesia, allowing the Government to sieze unlimited 'emergency powers,' would seem capable of saving it from electoral oblivion.

Things are so bad, in fact, that certain 'unnamed sources' within the Federal ALP appear to be thinking about reactivitating the Ruddbot. Which must have come as news to those others in the Federal ALP who did this to him last year:



'Didn't we kill him? We killed him! WE MELTED HIM DOWN!'

Hell, I guess even Arnie showed up again in 'Terminator 3.'

And, in one sense, I guess you can understand why people would start looking at other, non-Gillard options. I mean, Rudd was cashiered in the first place for leading Labor into a 'disastrous' position in the polls: primary vote of around 35% and dead even, or thereabouts, on the two party preferred. A position, in other words, that today would present a remarkable recovery, assuming Gillard were able to lead her party back to that position.

But, looked at in a different sense, going back to the Ruddbot makes no sense at all and would be, in fact, completely fucking barmy. I mean this is the guy who turned the comfortable electoral victory and buffer in 2007 into the mind bending policy/personality crisis that Labor are suffering from at the moment in the first place.

All of the major policy problems that are afflicting Labor at the moment; a convoluted approach to refugees, increasingly desperate policy on carbon pricing and accusations of waste and inefficiency in Government spending, all started on Rudd's watch. His predecessor has simply lacked the ability to come up with credible alternatives and reverse course.

And this is to say nothing of Rudd's personality and management stylings, which were somewhere between Ivan the Terrible and Chairman Mao on a bad brain day. To say that he was unloved by his cabinet colleagues (as well as wait staff around the country) is to put it mildly.

All of which leaves the ALP in the shit house federally, stuck between a current leader who appears to alienate the electorate more every time she opens her mouth, and a previous leader who most of them can't stand to be in the same room with. And all the time, those poll numbers steadily getting worse.

Which makes things interesting for Tony 'Action Man' Abbott, who would certainly win an election if held now but who appears to be resigned to being stuck in a holding pattern for the next two years. And two years is a long time for someone like The Action Man to hold himself together.... and a very long time for Abbott's colleagues to fret that he won't be able to.

For the only thing appearing to stand between the Liberal Party and a return to Government, apart from the passage of time, is that their leader will have some sort of fatal meltdown. You know the sort of thing; suddenly give that famous death stare of his to a little kid who accidentally bumps into him in a shopping centre, or suddenly declaring on Radio National that all unwed mothers should be placed in some sort of work camp system.

Unlikely perhaps, but not totally beyond the realms of possibility (based on previous form). And it is this one factor alone that the Labor Party faithful (all 14 of them)
will be clinging to during this dark time. That Abbott may blow up and thusly resurrect their fortunes.

The Opposition Leader, oddly, then finds himself in much the same position as Kevin Rudd was after that famous victory in 2007. And viewed in much the same way by his opponents. Despite the current poll numbers, they have fingers crossed his well known character flaws may yet do for him in the end.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

THE OBAMAS TAKE ENGLAND AND IRELAND (IN PICTURES!)

As everyone in the world is probably aware, Barack and Michelle Obama, President and First Lady of the United States, recently went to the UK and Ireland for a six day visit. And while it wasn't the first time they'd been there... and there was no specific reason for the visit... and nothing of any real substance was debated or decided... nevertheless, I think everyone in the world was in agreement that the whole thing was THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER! At least since Kate and Wills rushed off to the church so they could get married before Kate announced she's preggers. Oh ho! Did I actually say that part out loud? I've said too much!

But more on that another time. For now, pictorial highlights of the Obama's abroad:


HAIR


The gravity of the Obama's mission to the UK was established early, with earnest discussion, analysis and many pictures of Michelle Obama's hair BLOWING IN THE WIND as she stepped off of Air Force One. Dylan was right, the answer my friend, really is...



CURLING


The Obama's first stop was in Ireland, where one of the locals was generous enough to give Barack a curling stick as a present. From the look in his eye, he appears to be thinking about using it on one of his Repuiblican opponents... or anyone who says he was actually born in Kenya.



T-SHIRTS


Of course, the Irish were pretty excited to find out that Barack was actually an Irishman himself, as his Great Grandfather on his mother's side hailed from there. This guaranteed Barack a warm welcome in the country, and guaranteed that many fine t-shirts, commemorating the fact, would be produced. This one - 'BIFFO: Barrack is from Feckin Offaly' - just one among many.



COUPLE OF DRINKS


And like any Irishman, Barack is a man who enjoys a drink... or two... of twenty... So I says, Yeah! You want that money, come and find it, coz I don't know where it is you baloney! You make me wanna... retch.



CROWDS


The Obama's then moved onto England, where the President demonstrated his unprecedented pulling power with the European crowds was undiminished. I mean, George W. Bush used to pull crowds this size, but they were mainly young people there to set off smoke bombs and fight with the riot police, so it wasn't quite the same.



THE QUEEN


The Obama's would have an audience with the Queen which provided an opportunity for many photos of the world's most powerful man grinning like a nervous schoolboy, while the assembled press waited with bated breath to see if the bloke on the right would say anything about 'darkies' or 'coons.'



NAPKIN


BARACK: What do you call this thing again?

THE QUEEN: A napkin.

BARACK: Outrageous!



BBQ


The Obama's would also spend some time with the Camerons, David and Samantha, Prime Minister and... ummm... wife?... of England. For the chaps, this gave them an excellant opportunity to do one of those things that male politicians love best: getting down to their shirt sleeves and pretending to be like regular folk. Here barbecuing for some military cadets at the back of the PM's residence...




TABLE TENNIS


... and here playing table tennis at a local school. Eye of the Tiger Barack!



MICHELLE O. VERSUS SAM CAM


Looking either really friendly or like they're about to punch on, the First Lady and the... errr... Wife of the PM? Go toe to toe outside Number 10 Downing Street.



WASHING THE CAR


And here's a photo of some underling washing the Obama's car... Did I tell you I was a bit obsessed with them? Barack Obama! Barack Obama! Barack Obama! Speaking of the Obama mobile - sometimes referred to as 'The Beast' - here is the undoubted highlight of the Obama's trip:



Even for the coolest couple in the world, not everything goes to plan.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TipGate

There are times you can tell that the fates are conspiring against you.

For example, if you're me, and you're on your way to work, and the tram that takes you to the train is late and then, when you get to the train station, you find that the train is cancelled anyway, and then, when you go to get a plain sausage McMuffin from McDonalds while you kill time waiting for the next one and they give you that horrible, plastic egg in your muffin as well as a sausage patty... well, you can tell that fate is out to get you (This scenario happens to me most days, actually, so it's lucky I'm stoic.

Or, to take another example, if you're the Prime Minister, and you're leading a flimsy minoirty Government, and your populist opponent is getting a free ride form the press, and all of your policies are about as popular as Hitler with plague, and you're facing rock bottom jump out the window, numbers in the polls and then... and then!... the way you put your footy tips in for a newspaper comp generates controversy, then you probably know the fates are against you too.

And this is what happened to our own hapless PM, Julia Gillard, last weekend .

Ms Gillard, as most people would know, is a pretty keen footy fan and the number one ticket holder of the club that shall be known here as Footscray. Here's a picture of the PM with out on the ground with the Doggies full forward Barry Hall (in a happier moment for both):



Now like a lot of footy fans, the PM is in a few tipping comps, at least two of which are in large daily newspapers; the 'Herald Sun' in Melbourne and the 'West Australian' in Perth. The mini scandal - 'TipGate!' - that enveloped her today sprung out of the fact that, when Footscray played West Coast in the last round of the AFL, the PM appeared to tip the Dogs in the Victorian paper, while tipping the Eagles, the home team, in the 'West Aussie,' and so appeared to be trying to curry favour with fans of both clubs:



Her opponents had a field day.

'Loyalty to your team even in bad times is a test of character,' Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop hooted, scarcely able to contain her glee. 'With Julia Gillard, self interest trumps loyalty every time.'

Sadly for all of us interested in politics, worn out as we are by months of bickering about the blasted carbon tax, no sooner had this mini scandal reared it's head, then it was quashed again. For someone in the PM's office immediately let it be known that Julia had forgotten to put her tips in to the 'West Australian.' The paper then confirmed that when this happens, as sometimes does with busy celebrity tipsters, the paper automatically puts that person down for the favourite in each game (West Coast in the game in question).

Scandal averted.

Nevertheless, the situation did place the PM in a situation, castigated as she often is by Tony 'Action Man' Abbott as being out of touch with the regular punters, that many of them could relate to. That is, who do you tip when you barrack for a team that's a bit shit and who are playing a good side? Put this question any follower of a team that's a bit shit and you'll probably get the following response:

'Fuck off, you back your boys in!'

Which is a mentality that the PM, castigated as she often is by the Action Man for being a bit wishy washy as well, would do well to adopt.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Still a Long Walk



Victorian Premier 'Big' Ted Baillieu announced this week that the 'Acknowledgement of Ownership' ceremony, acknowledging an area's traditional indigenous owners, would no longer be a compulsory part of Victorian Government functions.

The acknowledgment, first introduced by Labor Premier Steve Bracks and then made compulsory by Big Ted's predecessor, John Brumby, had been part of all Victorian Government functions since 2005.

At the time of making it compulsory, Brumby described the ceremony as a 'very positive' thing to do. A handful of local elders also gave the move their approval, indicating it was an 'inclusive' policy that showed 'respect' and 'courtesy.'

So you can see why we'd want to do away with something like that.

Positive? Bah! Inclusive? Courteous? What a load of shit! The State Liberal Government doesn't want to bother with any of that sort of nonsense, as it may distract them from their real business in this state; cutting services to working class suburbs and locking up as many people as possible.

After the announcement, Big Ted attempted to spell out exactly why he had made the change, by being as vague and elusive as possible. He cited only the fact that he felt that making the acknowledgment compulsory was 'too politically correct' and that his ministers had enough 'maturity' to decide for themselves when it was appropriate.

And he wasn't completely alone in this view.

Baillieu's political mentor and long term spruiker Jeff Kennett - another Liberal Premier with a scant regard for political correctness and a liking for hacking into services - immediately sprang to his protege's defence. Kennett said he agreed with the decision, on the grounds that forcing people to make the acknowledgment was 'disrespectful' to the local Indigenous population, as they would be doing it 'without any feeling.'

Which is an interesting way of looking at it, as it's basically Mr Kennett indicating he knows more about how Indigenous people feel about the situation then they do themselves:

INTERVIEWER: Indigenous leaders are angry about this change.



KENNETT: Nah, what they really think is...



And, as such, puts Kennett firmly in a well established local political tradition.

If the State Liberal Party had bothered to consult local Indigenous leadership, they would have found that they were, pretty strongly, in favour of keeping the acknowledgement. Joy Murphy, senior elder of Melbourne area Wurrundjeri tribe, said:

'They really wiped us off the map, so to speak, by not acknowledging traditional owners.'

So she obviously feels pretty strongly about it. It should also be noted that Murphy's 'Welcome to Country' video appears on the 'Visit Victoria' tourism website, indicating that the Government has not yet decided to forgo these ceremonies and acknowledgements when they can help them make some money.

Interviewed before the 'Dreamtime at the 'G' game on Saturday night, Michael Long, former champion Essendon footballer and instigator of 'The Long March' reconciliation walk that is a highlight evening, also expressed his unhappiness with the decision, saying he was 'bitterly disappointed':

'I'd like to ask the Premier what his values are,' Long said. 'Has he truly embraced Indigenous culture?'

To which we can supply the answers in advance. They being:

a) Duuuuhhhhhhh....

and

b) No.

The timing of Big Ted's announcement, on the eve of the AFL's Indigenous Round in a football obsessed city, and a week before National Reconciliation Week, could scarcely have been worse and only added an additional note of total disrespect.

As Michael Long noted at the end of his comments:

'We still have a long way to go when we talk about some of these issues that effect this country.'

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Treading Water



Last week saw the release of The Budget, which is probably the biggest event on the political calendar in a non election year.

The reasons are obvious. Vast quantities of money are sloshed around in a big vat right in front of our eyes, hypnotising us. It's all $1500 for this and 30% rebate for that and 'a program costing 4 billion dollars over four years.' It reminds me of when I feed my girlfriend's cats; when I get the food out of the fridge, they're absolutely riveted by my every move, knowing that all that wonderful food is right there but that they can't quite get at it... yet.

And so it went this week.

Most of the talk and analysis of the Gillard Government's first budget revolved around who would get what sort of cash handouts and who would have their's trimmed back. The same grim, unedifying spectacle that Budget week has been since the Howard Government massively expanded Government assistance to middle income families in the year 2000 and so turned the whole process into something akin to a game show.

Prior to the budget being released, Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan had made quite a bit of noise about how they were going to get 'tough. You know, how they would bring in a 'tough' budget and get 'tough' on dole bludgers and make some 'tough' cuts to programs that they really liked and that 'tough' sacrifices would have to be made in the national interest. And if people didn't like it, well, that was just tough.

So it would probably surprise very few, after all this 'tough' build up, to find that the Budget, when released, did nothing of the sort. What we were given, in very brief summary, was $22 billion worth of cuts in spending married to new spending worth $17 billion. A net change in the overall position of the Government's finances for the next fiscal year, in other words, of $5 billion. Now perhaps that sounds like a lot of money, but in an economy worth more than $400 billion, it's a bit like someone deciding to lose weight by eating low fat cream instead of regular.

Most of the cuts were directed at trimming some of the fat off what is usually referred to as 'middle class welfare' i.e. Taxpayer funded cash handouts to people who really ought to be able to stand on their own two feet but never have to because a lot of them live in marginal seats and both major political parties suck up to them. The major cuts to these programs this time were directed at Family Assistance payments and the Dependant Spouse Rebate tax offset. In case you're unfamiliar with these payments, a brief note on both and what the Government has decided to do with them:

* FAMILY ASSISTANCE: Payments to help with the cost of raising children, paid either fortnightly or annually to parents with dependent children aged 0 - 25. Means tested with a cut off point previously tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), meaning the cutoff point would rise a few percent each year. What the Government has decided to do is freeze the cutoff point at $150 000, meaning that families with income close to this point will, most likely, find their income gradually rises above it and their benefits will cease. A measure expected to effect approximately 70 000 families over the next three years.

* DEPENDANT SPOUSE REBATE: A tax credit of up to $4 000 per annum for couples who have no children and have one member staying at home... That's right, up to four grands worth for one childless adult to sit at home and do essentially nothing. This measure dates from 1936 so may be a bit past it's use by date, in terms of relevance, and the Government has decided to do away with it, for people with dependent spouses under 40 years. Affecting approximately 120 000 people.

These, then, are the primary savings measures, affecting just under 200 000 households.

At the same time, the Government has opted to increase the Family related benefits for anyone not effected by the above measures i.e. the vast majority of people. So a lot of people will actually be better off under the new provisions and the ones that aren't, well, I agree that a household income figure of $150 000 doesn't make you rich, but if you can't live on that level of income without Government support then something is wrong somewhere. Time to buy some budgeting software or see a financial counsellor, folks.

You would think then, considering that the cutbacks are targeted at a small number of people and are attached to increases for everyone else, that the Government would be immune to criticism of heartlessness or not wanting to help Australian families.

And you'd be wrong.

For this is exactly the argument that Tony Abbott is making.

And the Opposition Leader appeared to have made up his mind beforehand that he would get straight out and attack Labor as a pack of miserable scrooge grinches determined to ruin the lives of any double income families, regardless of what the Budget actually contained. For he was at it as soon as Wayne Swan's turgid Budget speech was over, (and yes, that link goes to a transcript of the speech, but I'd only consider it if you are suicidal) immediately taking to any available media outlet to declare Labor's hatred of 'aspirational' families (Aspirational in this instance seemingly meaning any family that might 'aspire' to voting Liberal at the next election).

Abbott himself had a more entertaining, and entirely unique, strategy for his nationally televised, Budgetary reply speech: Ignore Labor's budget altogether and talk about whatever popped into his head (primarily boat people, boat people and... ummm... boat people).

He did this in spite of what was contained in the Budget itself, and in spite of his repeated recent criticism of Government waste, repeatedly declaring:

'What you've got to realise Tony/Tracey/George/Anna is that this Government has always been happy to splash money around everywhere, in the most wasteful fashion imaginable, with no regard to the impact on the Budget bottom line, or what's best for the country, and now that they've decided to stop doing that we're determined to stop them from stopping!

For which sort of mealy mouthed Doublespeak he mostly got a pat on the back from the conservative press, something along the lines of 'ABBOTT VOWS TO PROTECT FAMILY BENEFITS.'

And this highlights the problem with the Opposition leader, who seems to feel that he can say and do whatever he likes, regardless of how tenuously it may be attached to reality.

Or, alternately, it may just highlight a problem that has crept into our political system in general, whereby Opposition Leaders do just that, 'oppose' and then worry about figuring out what they actually stand for or what policy aims they'd like to achieve once the Government falls over and they find themselves elected. This phenomenon is very much on display where I live in Victoria where, after years of lambasting the former Labor Government about the level of public debt it had run up, the newly elected Liberal Treasurer, Kim Wells, announced he would be tripling that same level of debt in his first budget. When asked about the apparent hypocrisy of this, he said:

'Well I said a lot of things before. But that was then and this is now and why don't you just go and get fucked, eh?'

Well, he didn't actually say that, but the actual quotes he used in his defence would make you want to punch something.

Which brings us back to the Federal Budget.

And the reality of the situation is that the Budget released last week does little more than tread water, highlighting the fragile position Labor finds itself in, governing in a minority and feeling beset on all sides. There are no big new policy ideas in this years Budget, and no really real cuts to existing programs either. They tried as hard as they could not to offend anyone and while they may have succeeded on that score, the public hasn't warmed to what has been announced either.

With Labor faring so badly in the polls - if recent figures were repeated at an election the only Labor figures you'd see near Federal Parliament would be the workers tending the Parliamentary lawns - a little more boldness than what has been displayed will be required.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Royal Wedding: Selected Highlights (in Pictures!)

Right from the start, I should probably say, I didn't watch the Royal Wedding. I mean, I met my girlfriend for drinks after work on Friday and then we went and watched the footy. Things which, for me, are probably more important than pretty much anything, Royal Wedding or otherwise.

And I'm not a monarchist. Don't get me wrong, the younger generation of Royals seem a pretty inoffensive bunch, and the older brigade have given us many years of comic good service, but if Oliver Cromwell's revolution had taken hold and they didn't exist in their current form, well...

But something I do like is an event. Particularly one that causes a lot of people and media organisations to plaster photo galleries all over the internet. And when it comes to this sort of thing, you probably can't do much better than a Royal Wedding. There's something about the lavish, fairytale spectacle of it all that spurs on the hordes of the easily fascinated (Royal Watchers) to provide endless material to the even larger hordes of the bored and easily distracted (people much like your correspondent).

Presented below, then, is my selection of Royal Wedding photo highlights, with an emphasis on the less conventional and overlooked:

ANTI ROYALS


To be slightly perverse, we may as well start with those Britons who didn't care for the wedding so much. A street party in London was organised by the anti-royal 'Republic' movement, allowing gentlemen like the one pictured the opportunity to fulfill his boyhood dream of dressing up like a troll on Royal Wedding day. Although the anti-wedding party's success shouldn't be overtstated as only small numbers turned out, prompting one pro-royal commentator to note: Even free food couldn;t get that bunch to turn up.



DALEK


More traditional was the type of patriotic support displayed by this chap here, although 'traditional' may seem like an odd word to see in a sentence describing a photo entitled 'Dalek.'



GLAMP


But I'm resonably sure that neither of the people listed in the first two photos - nerdy royal and weirdo anti royal alike - would be able to afford the tent displayed in this photo. For the asking price to camp out on Clapham Common for the night before the wedding in this little number was 3500 pound (wine included). Sorry, did I say 'camp'? This experience was so expensive that it actually added a new word to our language: Glamping.



GLAMPING ENVY?


Or, maybe, an ex girlfriend of William's thinking: 'That could be me! That could be me! That could be me!'



ODDS


People who have criticised the AFL recently for allowing betting to take over the sport better hope that Demetriou and co. don't see this photo. I mean, it's obvious what the thought process there would be: 'Geez, think of all the opportunities we've been missing out on! We haven't even given people the opportunity to bet on what fruity colours will be on the away team's jumper!'



QUEEN vs. MASK


For anyone that did have a flutter on the colour of the Queen's hat, the winning punt was... Yellow! Which prompted at least one pundit in the blogosphere to make the above comparison.



ANDREW


Also among the assembled guests was Prince Andrew, doing a fair impression of a forgotten man. Judged by the look on his face here, he may well have been thinking back to his own Royal Wedding, when he surprised everyone by actually marrying Fergie and not going 'Just kidding' at the last minute,as had been inspected. Yes, he may have been thinking back to that fatal miscalculation... or...



... MAYBE...


... he'd just spied the stunningly awful hat that one of the offspring from that union was wearing.



THE ROYAL COUPLE


No such problem with the Royal couple, however, with Wills and Kate looking elegant and polished. Neither of which will prevent us from ignoring them and stating that the guardsmen standing behind them reminds us of this.



SHOES


Of course, volumes and volumes were written about the Royal couple, and in particular what Kate was wearing. Right down to the 'Sun' newspaper in England producing a whole section just on her outfit, broken down into sub sections analysing each bit in turn. Here, we look at Kate's shoes, which were designed by Alexander McQueen with some additional stitching provided by the Royal Seamstresses. The 'Sun's' verdict? The shoes were... nice.



PEZ


Hard to say though, if the shoes were incorporated into this piece of memorabilia. What we can say, though, is that once you've been immortalised in the form of a 'Pez' dispenser, you know you've made it.



JELLY BEAN


Actually, let me retract that last statement. When people start seeing your image in a Jelly Bean, and trying to sell that bean on eBay, that's when you know you've REALLY made it.

The Royal Wedding: Selected Highlights (in Pictures!)








Right from the start, I should probably say, I didn't watch the Royal Wedding. I mean, I met my girlfriend for drinks after work on Friday and then we went and watched the footy. Things which, for me, are probably more important than pretty much anything, Royal Wedding or otherwise.

And I'm not a monarchist. Don't get me wrong, the younger generation of Royals seem a pretty inoffensive bunch, and the older brigade have given us many years of comic good service, but if Oliver Cromwell's revolution had taken hold and they didn't exist in their current form, well...

But something I do like is an event. Particularly one that causes a lot of people and media organisations to plaster photo galleries all over the internet. And when it comes to this sort of thing, you probably can't do much better than a Royal Wedding. There's something about the lavish, fairytale spectacle of it all that spurs on the hordes of the easily fascinated (Royal Watchers) to provide endless material to the even larger hordes of the bored and easily distracted (people much like your correspondent).

Presented below, then, is my selection of Royal Wedding photo highlights, with an emphasis on the less conventional and overlooked:

ANTI ROYALS


To be slightly perverse, we may as well start with those Britons who didn't care for the wedding so much. A street party in London was organised by the anti-royal 'Republic' movement, allowing gentlemen like the one pictured the opportunity to fulfill his boyhood dream of dressing up like a troll on Royal Wedding day. Although the anti-wedding party's success shouldn't be overtstated as only small numbers turned out, prompting one pro-royal commentator to note: Even free food couldn;t get that bunch to turn up.


DALEK


More traditional was the type of patriotic support displayed by this chap here, although 'traditional' may seem like an odd word to see in a sentence describing a photo entitled 'Dalek.'


GLAMP


But I'm resonably sure that neither of the people listed in the first two photos - nerdy royal and weirdo anti royal alike - would be able to afford the tent displayed in this photo. For the asking price to camp out on Clapham Common for the night before the wedding in this little number was 3500 pound (wine included). Sorry, did I say 'camp'? This experience was so expensive that it actually added a new word to our language: Glamping.


GLAMPING ENVY?


Or, maybe, an ex girlfriend of William's thinking: 'That could be me! That could be me! That could be me!'


ODDS


People who have criticised the AFL recently for allowing betting to take over the sport better hope that Demetriou and co. don't see this photo. I mean, it's obvious what the thought process there would be: 'Geez, think of all the opportunities we've been missing out on! We haven't even given people the opportunity to bet on what fruity colours will be on the away team's jumper!'


QUEEN vs. MASK


For anyone that did have a flutter on the colour of the Queen's hat, the winning punt was... Yellow! Which prompted at least one pundit in the blogosphere to make the above comparison.


ANDREW


Also among the assembled guests was Prince Andrew, doing a fair impression of a forgotten man. Judged by the look on his face here, he may well have been thinking back to his own Royal Wedding, when he surprised everyone by actually marrying Fergie and not going 'Just kidding' at the last minute,as had been inspected. Yes, he may have been thinking back to that fatal miscalculation... or...


... MAYBE...


... he'd just spied the stunningly awful hat that one of the offspring from that union was wearing.


THE ROYAL COUPLE

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Death Defying Parachutist Stuntman

Deja vu in politics can be a terrible thing.

This is because it so very often relates to a former leader resurrecting themselves.

Think of 'The Bomber,' Kim Beazley, for a recent example of this. Everytime the wallopers in the backroom of the Labor Party got a bit twitchy - very often about the same time the current leader started talking about 'reform' of the party structure - The Bomber would find himself pressed into service, a safe pair of hands - and no reform ideas - to guide the party through a rough patch. In fact, this happened so often, the poor bloke probably got a bit confused and forgot where his seat in Parliament was. No wonder he muddled up Karl Rove and Rove McManus.

And everytime The Bomber came off the bench, he'd pledge himself to 'a fresh start,' 'bold policy ideas,' 'a new Kim Beazley' and all the other half baked, cliched nonsense that politicians come out with when they hope no one's actually listening. And everytime, he'd fair about the same; he'd waffle on for a bit, Howard and Costello would make fun of him and he'd be packed off to the back benches as soon as another half credible leadership alternative presented itself.

One of which was Kevin Rudd.

So it was with an odd sense of deja vu, mixed with goodly amout of dread, that one watched Heavy Kevvy's performance on 'Q & A' on Monday night (sorry, no embed option available, get with the times 'ABC'!):

http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201104/r749026_6194007.asx


For there can be no doubt, based on this effort, that Kevin Rudd imagines that he can one day lead the Labor Party and be Prime Minister again.

I mean, let's look at the evidence.

The first time around, when Rudd became ALP leader - seemingly several lifetimes ago but actually only 3 and a bit years in the past - he did this largely through the media. Partly, this was down to necessity.

Rudd does not come from a union background, or some other sector easily identifiable to the Labor faithful, and had never cultivated much of a personal following in Federal Caucus. The media allowed him to bypass these more traditionally required steps to the party leadership and establish himself as a prominent public figure. And so he developed his media profile, on the one hand appearing on popular mainstream shows like 'Sunrise,' and on the other becoming a well established leaker and confidante of leading press figures, who he could then use to help push his agenda.

And here he is again, years later, cracking lame jokes and mugging to the cameras through the forum of a national TV program. And while 'Q and A' may not be 'Sunrise' (to everyone's relief), it's not the 'Mt Gambier Advertiser' either.

The Rudd persona that was on display on 'Q and A' is another indicator that the little nerdy bloke is thinking about taking the top job back again. He's had a couple of these, personas, since Gillard and the wallopers pushed him over last year. There was the teary windbag from 'resignation' day:



The sulky outcast, wronged by the world:



The hard working local candidate, just trying to represent his local constituents:



And the death defying parachutist stunt man:



Ahhhh... if only.

But this latest incarnation is the first one that has attempted to connect Rudd back with his successful public persona of 2007/08; nerdy but compassionate, compassionate but tough, tough but brainy, brainy but not that far removed from you. You can almost see him thinking: 'It worked a treat last time round... Why not again?'

Why not indeed?

While it's unwise to rule out anything in politics, Kevvy will find his path back to the top much harder this time round. For starters supporters, whether inside a political party or out in the boarder public, do not return to discarded leaders easily. Part of the appeal of a new leader is that they have something fresh about them, that they haven't yet bored us to death with their personal catchphrases and tale of woe upbringing anecdotes. Rudd no longer has this advantage. Whatever charm the way he asks himself a stream of rhetorical questions, or mangles the classic Australian vernacular:



used to possess, dissipated long ago.

Secondly, Rudd has almost certainly made himself more enemies within the ALP since he was last leader. As mentioned, he was never personally popular but when he became leader he'd also done his best to avoid the worst of the factional infighting and skullduggery that seems to make up so much of modern Labor. This is not the case this time, where his internal standing has been tarnished by a number of mini scandals; chief among them the leaks from Rudd's cabinet that seriously threatened to derail Labor's election campaign last year.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the third key element that will work against Rudd's quest to return to the Labor leadership is that John Howard is no longer Liberal leader. Rudd has always been a weird, tightly wound, bureaucratic little freak with a short temper, but, in direct comparison to Howard, suddenly looked like Hunter S. Thompson.

Rudd's public persona at the 2008 election was essentially Howard-lite: all the conservative tendencies without the extreme elements of Howard's policy program, 'Work Choices' chief among them. Flash forward till now and the roles would almost be reversed in a contest that pitted Rudd against Tony Abbott. A lot of people may be wary of Abbott's politics, but he is widely perceived as a knockabout sort of bloke. An every day sort of guy, largely free of artifice, who speaks his mind and, perhaps most importantly in Australian politics, the sort of bloke who wouldn't look out of place at the local pub. In other words, about as far removed from Rudd as you could imagine.

None of which, I suspect, will deter Rudd, in his second quest for the top (perhaps the only thing that would, would be a bottle in the face, and that only briefly). And it may not deter potential backers inside the Labor Party either. Rudd, after all, is an election winner, and that is something that has been in very short supply in the ALP recently.

All of which makes for the prospect of highly unstable times ahead for Labor, and creates another problem for the Prime Minister to deal with. And for Julia Gillard, this will make for a very strong sense of deja vu indeed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pauline, Adolf and Tony

Australian politics can be a little dull at times.

I mean, much as I love it and obsess over it, it doesn't have the same kind of loopy showbiz razzle dazzle that politics in, say, the US does. Or the ever present hint of a kinky sex scandal like what they get in England. Our political leaders are mostly a conservative, middle of the road bunch, as befits the conservative, middle of the road country they represent.

So things like last week's Anti Carbon Tax rally in Canberra are truly to be savoured:



For there they were in all their glory: Australia's lunatic fringe.

Now the lunatic fringe is a small minority in this country (see previous note about middle-of-the-roadness) so to see them all out in the sun in public together is a rare thing indeed. Normally the only time you'd see that many nutters together in one place in Australia would be the Katter family Christmas.

Ostensibly a gathering to protest Federal Labor's embryonic carbon tax policy, the rabid right wing atmosphere of last week's event brought forth not only climate change deniers:



but also fanatics opposed to boat people, multiculturalism, conservation, immigration and even, seemingly, women:



Not that the bloke, Tim, who made the above sign would accept that it was offensive. As he outlined when interviewed the following day on 2GB:

'Not one person at that rally was upset by my poster.'

Well yeah, you know, obviously. If you'd dragged Julia Gillard out of Parliament House, tied her to a stake and burned her alive they wouldn't have been upset by that either, but that doesn't mean that doing so wouldn't have contravened a few good taste boundaries.

Also moving among the protestors was someone who looked very much at home, in the person of Pauline Hanson. You remember her, right?



No, wait, that was one of her many imitators. Of course, there were lots of those at one time. I mean, here's another well known one:



But I'm quite sure that no one with even a passing interest in Australian politics has forgotten Pauline. And there she was last week, signing autographs and shaking hands like it was 1998 and her red hair and excruciating accent were still the hottest thing in Australian politics. Although, at least one thing had changed since those heady days of 12 years ago, when Ms Hanson's 'One Nation' party won eleven seats in a Queensland state election. It was most noticeable when Pauline said this about the Opposition leader:

'Tony Abbott has my full support in his campaign against this unfair tax.'

Tony Abbott has Pauline Hanson's 'full support'? The bloke who organised a private fund to campaign against her and, ultimately, helped organise the prosecution that saw her jailed for fraudulant use of public electoral funds? Strange times indeed.

Strange, but perhaps fitting on a day when the Federal Opposition leader, a man hungrily in search of credibility, saw fit to address a rally where one man held a placard that read:

'GREAT LIARS ARE ALSO GREAT MAGICIANS - ADOLF HITLER'

You can't help but think that any association with Hitler could only be bad for the Opposition leader, who's main problem lately is that a fair chunk of middle Australia are worried he might be an angry nut. In fact, the whole day played out badly for Abbott, to the extent that you wonder why his media people or minders didn't keep him away from the event. Images and videos of him addressing a small crowd of baying crazies would seem to be something that will inevitably appear in the campaign advertising at the next election, which should be entertaining for the rest of us, if not for the Liberal Party.

Sadly, this one brief moment of humorous sunshine is already receding into the background, as the Carbon Tax debate returns to the grim everyday reality of 'We-want-to-save-the-planet/You-want-to-destroy-the-world' rhetoric.

And that's something that's entertaining for no one.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Big Ted Wakes!



There was a full moon in Melbourne this week - a 'super moon' - and there was a definite feeling of something different in the air. The spirit of change.

Footy was back, or nearly back. The days were getting shorter and darker. People moved furtively about in the gloom, discussing their teams chances over the worlds best coffee. And over on Spring Street, somewhere in the depths of the State Parliament building, something ominous was stirring...

Big Ted Baillieu, our premier of six months, was waking from his fitful slumber:



But before we get to that, a brief history lesson.

We don't change Governments very often in this country, conservative bunch that we are, normally giving the incumbent mob around ten years or so to do their worst and earn our ire. In the last twenty five years there have only been 2 changes of Federal Government, and three changes at Victorian State level.

One consequence of this is that it gives the Opposition a good chunk of time to come up with a wish list of things they'd change when they finally do get their turn. And after ten years or so of waiting, they're normally itching to get a chance to enact their program.

Think the Hawke Government in 1983 and its rapid program of economic reform; floating the dollar and deregulating the banks. Or the Howard Government in 1996 and its swift moves to deregulate the Labor market and begin work on the GST. Or even, at a local level, the Kennett Government in 1992 and it's rush to declare war on the population of the state, burn down all the villages and cancel Christmas.

So we don't change Government very often but, when we do, we normally see fairly swift changes enacted. As Paul Keating noted, before the 1996 election,

'When you change the Government, you change the country.'

But this has not been Big Ted's style, since taking office late last year.

In fact, in the six months since that time he has appeared to be more interested in working on his camouflage techniques than enacting any sort of legislative agenda, while the State parliament has been about as busy as the Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, before the Oompa Loompa's arrive:

'No one goes in... and no one comes out!'

And this brings us back to the original point of this piece, which hopefully hasn't been lost along the way. The Liberal Party in Victoria are finally on the move. Yes, after the miserable lassitude of the last few months they're slowly getting on with the business of breaking their election promises.

This process started slowly, which seems fitting for a group determined to pace themselves.

During the last election campaign, Baillieu and co ran pretty hard on Labor's poor performance on public transport. Much was made of the shortcomings in Victoria in this area - late and cancelled services, aging infrastructure, poorly negotiated contracts with the private operators, myki - but rather less of what was to be done to rectify them. The Liberals slid along on a vaguely worded promise to 'fix' the system.

So anyone that took this promise seriously must have been surprised to see that the new Governments first moves in this area were to cut services. Trains running from the suburbs to the city loop are to be trimmed considerably at leak times as part of a new timetable. Now while Baillieu may not have promised to run more trains, you'd probably struggle to find too many regular punters who regarded fewer services as much of a public transport 'fix.' Nevertheless, Baillieu has tried to defend this by claiming that fewer services will mean a better functioning system, to the infuriation of anyone out West who'll have to wait longer to get into town.

But with the next batch of broken promises, he's struggling even to get cover from vagueness or semantics.

During the election campaign, Baillieu gave a public commitment to significantly increase the pay of Victorian school teachers. Increased such that, in his words at the time, Victorian teachers would be 'the best paid in the country' (currently they rank about mid table). It should be noted that this policy announcement still sits on the Victorian Liberal website (see link above).

Last week he announced, by way of the Government's first pay offer to teachers, that this would not be happening after all. In fact, the Governments new pay offer, an increase of 2.5%, would not only move Victorian teachers backwards, in comparison to how teachers are paid in other states but, as it is below the current inflation rate of 2.9%, would also represent an actual pay cut, in real terms.

Offering to cut pay having promised to substantially increase it? Not even John Howard had the brazen 'non-core promise' cajones to try that!

Baillieu explained away this dramatic about face by saying:

'I am very keen to get the best possible outcome for teachers through an EBA process, and we remain committed to that, and...'

... oh fuck me, I think if I write out the rest of his weasel word excuse I'll probably want to go and drown myself afterwards. So we'll leave the obfuscation to Big Ted and just state in much simpler language that's he's been caught out ditching a policy that he obviously never took seriously. And for this he deserves to get as much grief and criticism as possible.

And this isn't the only policy reversal that fits into this category either.

Having got the state's teachers offside, Big Ted then made similar moves to infuriate the states police force and community care workers in the same manner: by denying them a reasonable pay increase. Again, the Government's offer is to be a pay increase of 2.5% to both sectors, again, below the rate of inflation and so representing a cut in wages in real terms. The police union were particularly aggravated by this:



considering how much time Baillieu spent droning on during the election about the crime wave gripping the state and how he was going to hire about 400 000 new coppers. While he may not have broken this promise, to turn Victoria into something akin to a medium security prison, yet, it's obvious that he does intend for his newly expanded law enforcement battalions to be poorly paid. Which has all sorts of implications, including public safety, staff moral and recruiting.

Having said all of that though, I guess it's still hard to know exactly how to feel about what is happening at the moment down on Spring Street.

On the one hand, it's good to see that the Premier and his Senior ministers haven't succumbed to some mysterious new form of polio that renders them crippled and paralysed, unable to speak or move. On the other, though, it's a shame that they have to demonstrate this by breaking a number of their key election promises and shafting the state civil service. Since I'm feeling conflicted, perhaps it's best if I leave the summing up to 'Sharon of Melb' who posted this comment on the Herald Sun site yesterday, under an article about Big Ted:

Sharon of Melb: Baillieu has to go. All he has done is hang out with Oprah and swum in the sea.

I'll have to consult 'Sharon of Melb' more often. She's much more concise than I am.