Saturday, January 29, 2011

Best Photos of the Week - 30 January 2011

Let there be no doubt, I have a bit of a thing for photographs. Not enough to get a camera and go out and take any but... well, I like to pace myself. In the absence of any work of my own, then, here is another array of remarkable pictures from the week just passed.


Photo: Tracey Nearmy
Thousands of people flocked to Bondi Beach on Australia Day to take part in something called 'The Giant Thong Challenge': Essentially walking around all day with an inflatable plastic thong emblazoned with advertising slogans. The US celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Fance the storming of the Bastille... and we celebrate Giant Thong Day. It's a rich cultural history we have in this country, there can be no question.


Photo: K.M.Chaudry
12 people were killed when twin suicide bombers targeted Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan. A 12 year old boy lies injured in the street, in the immediate aftermath of the Karachi attack... and it looks as though he's texting someone about what's happened. But that can't be right... surely?


Photo: Jeff Mitchell
Karmel Kwipprath and Donald Bruce prepare to show their entry into the '2011 Scottish National Poultry Show.' Am I alone in wishing we could hear them talk too?


Photo: Paolo Lazzeroni
An 82 foot long whale fatally beaches itself on the beach at San Rossore, near Pisa, Italy.


Photo: Mark Metcalfe
Veteran punk/rock/alt/style icon Nick Cave shows off his chops and his natty socks, headlining the 'Big Day Out' in Sydney.


Photo: Pavel Rahman
A tricky one for anybody who suffers at the hands of Melbourne's utterly hopeless public transport system. Yes, these commuters in Bangladesh (returning from a three day Muslim festival at Tongi) are sitting on the roof and we should all be thankful for the fine service that 'Metro' provides to us... on the other hand, these roof travellers have got mobile vendors (seen hopping from roof to roof) selling them drinks and snacks. When was the last time we got that on the 8.31 to Epping?


Photo: Tim Sloan
President Barack Obama delivering the annual 'State of the Union' speech to the US Congress on January 25. In keeping with his recent strategy (ignoring his opponents and staying upbeat), Barack kept his hour long address optimistic, highlighting America's ability as an innovator and world leader in technology and new industry creation... and so was roundly criticised on all sides for doing this. Doesn't he understand that he's just meant to get up and yell about how America's enemies are out to destroy her?


Photo: Stringer
A five month old tiger cub at Jiufeng Zoo, Wuhan, China is gifted a rabbit to practice it's hunting skills on. The rabbit seems oddly serene about what is about to happen to it, either because it has a Bugs Bunny style scheme to trick the tiger and save it's skin, or it's doing what the rest of us do when we see a tiger cub: 'Awww... cute!'


Photo: Brian Snyder
... before they get coated with chocolate and on a giant scale. Or, slightly less excitingly, outdoor table settings at a restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts after heavy snowfall.


Photo: Suzanne Plunkett
Initially I thought this was just one of my friends, the one who really REALLY liked 'The Dark Knight' (and you know who you are. 5 out of 5 indeed!). But it actually turns out to be actors in London, waiting in line to audition for a 'Batman Live' stage show (and I know which of my friends will be first in line if this ever comes out here).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Flood Relief

A quick word association game in relation to the flood disaster that has hit Queensland and Victoria. I say the words 'Flood disaster' and you say the first thing that pops into your head. Ready?

Flood disaster.


Ok, let's try that again.

Flood disaster.

Oh wait, that's right, I'm sitting here by myself. Ok! Well then let's have a 'Google' search fill in for the other person. Type 'Flood disaster' into Google and you'll get the following list of words (a brief selection from many):

Chaos, volunteer, emotional support, grief, wiped out, severe, victims, devastation, biblical, stranded, wall of water, ruin.

Which probably sums up the situation pretty nicely, without any turgid linking material from me. I mean, it all sounds very serious, horrific and heartbreaking. A bad thing, in other words, without any obvious upside.

So is it cheeky to propose that some of the nations political leadership are slowly, carefully and very privately starting to think about the advantages of the crisis? And, more specifically, how they will benefit from those advantages? Well, perhaps it would be, if this wasn't exactly what has started to take place.

This is not to suggest that the political leaders in question don't take it all very seriously. I mean, some of their best friends are flood victims. And they're obviously emotionally effected by what's happened, just as the public at large has been. To varying degrees, they have committed themselves personally to trying to help the people in those regions.

But what I am suggesting is that politics is politics and is applicable in every situation, short of apocalyptic nuclear war. And even then, if more than one person survived the mushroom clouds and the fallout, you can bet that the next day the survivors would have formed into rival groups and would be arguing about how to distribute the one remaining crate of baked beans. And just like every situation where politics is a factor, there are bound to be angles to be worked, opportunities to be taken and enemies to be vanquished.

A brief look then, at some of the major political players and how they are trying to subtly, craftily and oh so gently turn the flood crisis to their advantage.


The obvious political beneficiary of the flood crisis, Bligh has been turned from someone about as popular as her namesake, the one who captained the HMAS Bounty, to someone regularly referred to as a 'hero.' She has done this through hard work, dedication, a few tears and relentless use of the phrase 'Queenslander.' As in 'We're all Queenslanders, you and I, and we're built tough up here.' Bligh has been too busy to really reap the benefits of what has happened yet, but she can expect to be significantly boosted in the polls when it's all over. Expect her to take her chance to properly revitalise her political fortunes and sweep away some of her dud ministers, replacing them with people much like herself, preferably one's in gumboots and muddy shirts who lost their house (or, at least the family Subaru).


That's right, that's her in the back. Anyways, the Prime Minister has not been enjoying the best of runs from the press during the flood crisis, least of all when she's standing beside the anointed hero noted above, but in her diligent, plodding way is doing her best to cash in on the situation regardless. Her prime mechanism for this is a reordering of Government budgetary priorities, AKA 'Tax and Don't Spend.' The Federal Government is committed to paying for 75% of the reconstruction bill after the waters subside and the PM has decided to pay for this in two ways. Firstly, by cutting back in Government spending in some areas , AKA cutting unpopular, poorly conceived and just plain barmy policies like her loopy 'Cash for clunkers' scheme. This allows her to get rid of policies she wanted to ditch anyway, without appearing to break her election promises. Secondly, Labor plans to raise money by introducing a short term levy on most everyone not living in a flooded area; AKA a brand new tax on workers earning more than $50 000 per annum to be maintained, essentially, at the PM's whim. This allows Labor to cover up some of the shortfall in their finances they created when they cut their mining tax back while not cancelling any of the unpopular, loopy and just plain barmy policies that they're really attached to. And it gives them some remote, unlikely hope of still getting the budget back to surplus by 2050 (or whenever it is they're proposing to do it by).


In times of crisis, Opposition Leaders often find themselves somewhat marginalised, and Tony 'Stop the Boats' Abbott is no exception. After all, Opposition leaders can't allocate funds or call out the troops or really do anything except talk... and initially no one wanted to hear anyone speaking except Anna Bligh. But 'Stop the Boats' has his chance now that the aforementioned new levy/tax is on the table, as it gives him a fine opportunity to do what he does best; rush around the country with his shirt sleeves rolled up, yelling non stop about how he's fundamentally opposed to blah-blah-blah until his brain nearly dies from oxygen deprivation. You can almost hear his advisors grinning to each other as Abbott takes a deep breath and prepares to start his angry man routine: 'He's back!'


'Big Ted' Baillieu has been a little love starved as well, what with Victoria not getting quite as much rain or as badly damaged as Queensland, so consequently his political opportunities have been fewer. Nevertheless, 'Big Ted' hit the media yesterday to stake out his political territory, which you could basically think of as 'Don't Do It And Do It Faster.' Essentially, he said words to the effect that he also opposed Federal Labor's new levy/tax, that he thought it was immoral and wrong and would hurt working families in Victoria... and that Federal Labor were wholly responsible for fixing Victoria up and if they didn't give him a chunk of cash the size of the Opera House straight away then he'd have to start stalking the PM wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos. Which puts him in an almost impregnable position, politically; if Labor raise the cash and give it to him they've hurt Victorian families and if they don't they've neglected flood victims. So yes, he's done a fine job with the political maneuvering... And a less fine job in terms of what he's done, tangibly, constructively, in reality, to actually help any of his constituents. At this point it's obvious where his priorities lie.

And these are only the more obvious examples of the political benefits that are flowing from the floods. More can be expected to be heard from the players noted above, as well as from any half well known elected official that can get themselves in front of a microphone and try and work the situation to their advantage.

If you were to make comparisons, a natural disaster most closely resembles a war in it's political impact, in that it mesmerises the population, provides ample opportunity for political advancement, costs and generates staggering amounts of revenue and can prove fatal to any politician who does not handle it deftly. And while you consider this and all the political activity that will buzz around the floods in the coming weeks, it is perhaps worth considering the other trait that natural disaster share with wars: They both often have truth as a first casualty.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kevin Rudd: The Lethal Weapon Memoirs

Editor's note: If this is to be funny to you in any way, shape or form, it should be pointed out that the villain of the movie 'Lethal Weapon 2' is also named Mr Rudd, just like our former PM. It should also be pointed out that I watched 'Lethal Weapon 2' the other evening, after much consumption of beer and vodka had taken place. Did you need to know that in order to find what follows funny? Well, not really, but at least you know why I find it funny...


As Told by 'Lethal Weapon 2'

Kevin Rudd started his political career in the Department of Foreign Affairs. There were lots of reasons why he chose this area to work in; his love of travel, his proficiency with Mandarin, the fact that he had no friends in Australia. But, above all, he loved having:

He thrived and quickly took control of the Labor Party, although he would endure an ongoing rivalry with another rising start, Julia Gillard. His attempts to keep her under wraps and the focus on himself were heavy handed at times:

In 2007 he lead the ALP out of the wilderness, with a thumping victory over John Howard's Liberal Party in the Federal Election. In his election night speech he paid out on Howard and everyone who had knocked him over the years:

After the election, he moved into The Lodge and had it refurbished to suit his tastes:

Rudd had some success early in his Prime Ministership; ratifying Koyoto and apologising to Australia's indigenous stolen generations. He would endure controversy as well. His close association with China would cause the Americans to regard him with suspicion. As he confided in Gillard:

He would also be faced with guiding Australia through the Global Financial crisis of 2008-09. Although the Rudd Government's policies were largely regarded as a success and Australia avoided the worst effects of the global downturn, Rudd's deficit spending would damage the budget bottom line. Rudd owned up to this publicly, admitting,

These and other policies would eventually cause Kevin Rudd a dramatic fall in the polls. As his popularity plunged throughout 2010, the faceless men of the Labor Party backroom decided to act:

They would replace Rudd with Gillard. Although shattered and surprised by this turn of events, Rudd would acknowledge:

Gillard was not entirely without sympathy for the man she replaced, however, and after winning one of the narrowest elections in Australia's history, she would return Kevin Rudd to her front bench. Once again, he would be able to hold his head up and declare to the world:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Politics of Disaster

During last years Federal Election campaign, there was a lot of pundit speak about how the struggling Labor Governments in New South Wales and Queensland may hamper Federal Labor's chances in those states. And by struggling, we mean 'thoroughly despised.' So badly were both of those Governments travelling, and so entrenched had voter dislike of them become, it was considered a rock solid, lay down, close the betting markets certainty that both would drag Federal Labor's vote down and both would be turfed out at the first available opportunity.

This is now true only in New South Wales.

Last November, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh faced polls that showed her Government's primary vote on 28% and her own approval rating at 25% (with 70% disapproving), figures that indicate electoral oblivion. This week, as raging flood waters swept through her state and Mrs Bligh worked tirelessly to try and keep spirits up and keep people informed (no mean feat, doing these simultaneously), more than one daily newspaper referred to her as a 'hero.' When things return to something resembling normal, she can expect to see her standing in the polls considerably strengthened.

Such is the dramatic nature of The Politics of Disaster.

Now this is not to suggest that Bligh has done this deliberately, or tried to milk the flood disaster for her own benefit. Far from it. Throughout, she has been hard working, diligent, compassionate and is obviously trying her best to try and manage the still developing crisis as well as it can be managed.

The point is, Anna Bligh has always been hard working, diligent and compassionate - she's a very down to earth, no frills sort of person - and these character traits had lead her to a point where, before the flood crisis, people spat on the ground whenever they mentioned her name. She is the same, the extraordinary circumstances that she and her state find themselves in are what is different.

Nevertheless, she is going to reap a benefit in both plaudits and polls, due to her conduct so far.

But The Politics of Disaster is a fickle thing. For evidence of this, and the flipside of Bligh's experience, we need look no further than the other woman involved in the disaster this week. And by this we mean none other than Julia Gillard. C'mon, you remember her... You know, the Prime Minister!

In any case, Gillard's efforts during the flood crisis were much the same as Bligh's; she toured affected regions, repeatedly briefed the media and freed up as much emergency cash as the Government could spare. She even stood behind the Queensland Premier while she gave one of her tear streaked, highly emotional and highly popular press conferences:

And her reward for these efforts? A mild to severe case of loathing and revulsion. Gillard was described, at various times this week, as 'cold,' 'aloof,' 'disengaged' and that she 'doesn't appear to care.'

As noted, the difference between Gillard's and Bligh's performances over the past week or so is only minimal. But the perception of the differences in their performance is stark; hero on one side, cold hearted bitch on the other. What we can take from this is that The Politics of Disaster is a complex and unpredictable thing. People are highly emotional in times of crisis and their judgments not always rational. Political leaders can even experience the whole spectrum of emotions going from hero to bitch/villain in the space of just a few days or weeks.

Some more examples from recent political history further illustrates the point:

Example 1: John Brumby versus The Victorian Bushfires
The then Labor Premier started out pretty well in the crisis management stakes. Similar to Bligh, Brumby was a dour, reserved sort of guy and his grave, solid demeanour was what the public wanted to see as large parts of Victoria burned up. But Brumby proved less adept at managing the recovery, as reconstruction moved slowly and the Royal Commission he instigated produced a series of recommendations that he didn't want to implement (compulsory buybacks of property among other things). His standing was subsequently damaged, although he probably managed to break even overall.

Example 2: George W. Bush versus Al Qaida and Hurricane Katrina
The drawling, cowboy inflected, wannabe macho Texan saw both sides of The Politics of Diaster, although with each separated by several years. The 9/11 terrorist bombings probably saved his presidency, after he had made a mediocre start in the wake of the 2000 election controversy. A drawling, macho, cowboy was exactly what America wanted after the terrorist attack had shaken them and, since, no real ones were available, Bush made an acceptable substitute. His approval ratings soared above 90% as a result. But flash forward to 2005 and this schtick was completely wrong for the Hurricane Katrina disaster (which called more for a diligent, Bligh style approach). It appeared for a time that Bush either didn't know where New Orleans was, or didn't care that most of the poor people living there had drowned. Sending Dick Cheney in to tour the aftermath probably wasn't a great idea either:

Bush's long slide in the opinion polls started shortly after.

Example 3: Barack versus the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
The boy wonder President was determined not to repeat Bush's mistakes, when a giant oil spill threatened the same part of the country as Katrina. He got his hands dirty as soon as he could; touring the area repeatedly, addressing the nation in prime time, massaging cash assistance through Congress, even taking his holiday there to try and help the tourist industry. He reaped some initial rewards for his efforts but, as the weeks and then months dragged on and oil continued to flow, support for his efforts began to collapse. It seemed almost as if, by working so hard to try and solve the problem and being so omni-present around it, Barack had himself become associated with the leak... and then blamed for it. Damage was undoubtedly done to his standing as a result of this, although how much remains to be seen.

And this is the problem that may lie in the future for the Queensland Premier. While her constituents are united behind her at the moment, the flood crisis has a long way to run. And once the waters start to subside, a massive reconstruction effort will need to be overseen by a Government who's poor record in competent service delivery had lead to their hopeless position in the polls last year. And people living in temporary shelters while they wait for the Government to declare their houses safe to return to are understandably impatient.

The Politics of Disaster will also demand that the Queensland Opposition, after a brief period of bipartisanship, will almost immediately begin to criticise all of the Government's reconstruction efforts as slow, inefficient, cheapskate and completely bloody useless. In this scenario, Bligh's diligent, hard working public demeanour, which is serving her so well at the moment, may become a liability again, as she may not seem to be energetic or vigorous as she should be. She's a plodder, is Bligh, not a racehorse and people without electricity or with a front yard full of dead fish and garbage,

often want a racehorse.

The Queensland Premier, like the population of her state, has a large and difficult time ahead of her. We wish her well.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Lazy Million

It's no secret that the Coalition takes leaking pretty damn seriously.

As in, Commonwealth Public servants leaking Coalition policy, notes, background information or smart arse internal emails to the media. John Howard, a nortoriously ill humoured bloke who would never have earned the nickname 'Smiles and Sunshine,' was especially ill humoured about leaking. In fact, he tried his absolute best to get the people responsible for leaking that stuff about the 'Children Overboard' scandal floated out into the Timor Sea in a leaky boat.

Leakers in a leaky boat? Ha ha ha!

Thanks Bruno Kirby!

And JWH's mini Me, Tony Abbott, is very much of the same mind. It was only a few months ago, immediately prior to the election, that Abbott refused to submit his election promises to Treasury for costing, citing fears that rogue public servants would leak all of the unfunded and half baked... sorry, carefully thought out Coalition proposals and how the figures behind them were calculated. At the time Abott wanted the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to investigate an earlier leak of Coalition policy from within Treasury, and demanded severe penalities for anyone caught disseminating classified information, much as his mentor had done during his reign of terror.

The Coalition, as I said, take leaking pretty damn seriously, and have no hesititation in setting the Feds on any public servants who try it on in an attempt to make them look bad. And everyone with an interest in politics knows it.

So it may come as some surprise then, that the Rudd/Gillard government, during it's 3 and a bit years in power, have made more referrals to the AFP for investiagtions of leaking than Howard did during his last three and a bit years in power. Twice as many, in fact, according to a story in yesterday's 'Age'.

The picture painted of this process is far from an inspiring story of modern crimefighting.

The AFP runs a unit based in Canberra called 'Special References', which exists largely to investigate public service leaking. Special References is staffed by 17 full time officers and budgeted at a cost of $1 million dollars per annum. Since 2005, the unit has had 48 'leaky' cases referred to it by Governments of both stripes, and has managed to bring 4 successful convictions from those (at a pitiful success rate of 4%). The sentences for the four people convicted ranged from good behaviour bonds to community service.

'Serpico' it ain't.

Commenting on this lame, pointless bit of Government activity, an anonymous AFP source quoted by 'The Age' described the 'Special References' unit as doing 'menial' work, whose staff would 'rather be doing drug busts' and who felt that they were referred cases only when the the Goivernment of the day had the 'shits' about something.

Obviously a million bucks well spent then.

When questioned about this, the Prime Minister, or rather, the Prime Minsiter's spokesperson, offered up a mouthful of gibberish that would have made Don Watson or anyone else reach for their gun. To save you from reading a direct quote and losing all hope for humanity, I'll summarise it for you thus: 'The Government can get the AFP to investigate anything we like and we don't give a fuck how much it costs or what anyone thinks about it.'

Now looked at in one way, this is only a minor story. Governments have always used the AFP to try and persecute their enemies and this is unlikely to change. And Governments have always wasted pots of dough on whatever lunatic projects take their fancy. And a million bucks is small beer and potatoes in comparison to the vast sums of tax payer money that are wasted every day on much larger schemes (think Green Loans and Home Insulation schemes as examples for the current Government).

But it's precisely the everyday, mundane, commonness of this occurrence that makes it important. The AFP has far better things to do than trying to track down who sent Laurie Oakes an email that gives the Government the shits. And our tax payer dollars could and should be employed far better than indulging the Prime Minister's petty vendettas against whomever they decide has crossed them.

This is nothing less than a blatant waste of Government time, money and paper. Which is to say, it's a waste of our time, money and paper. Well, money anyway, which is important. Every year, every month, every day, bucketloads of public money are flushed away in an endless series of Government activities like this one, and this at a time when the we're told, time and again, that the Government has to tighten it's belt and there's no money for building new train lines or buying computers for schools. The real belt tightening should be in relation to reiging in Government self indulgence, paid for with our cash.

When it comes to tax payer money, there should be no such thing as a lazy million.

Friday, January 7, 2011

2010: The Year in Australian Politics

What a year it was in Australian politics!

Really, it had everything; sex, violence, hit tunes... well, maybe it didn't have those things, but this isn't America. Even so, we had elections, changes of Government, a deposed Prime Minister, a deposed Prime Minister resurfacing as foreign minister, our first female PM, scandals, angry debate, boat people, cowboy hats and more budgie smugglers than anyone would've thought possible:

And so I wonder why, thinking back over the year that was, that I'm not filled with a sense of excitement, but mostly with a sense of disappointment... disillusionment... even self loathing. It almost reminds me of the time I went to see a Russ Meyer film at ACMI here in Melbourne; yeah it was great fun and I cackled like a goon at the camp hilarity of it all, but afterwards I felt like I needed a wash or, at least, two tickets to a Noel Coward play with some Proust to read afterward (this didn't stop me going and seeing another Russ Meyer film the following week, of course).

For rarely, if ever, have we had a year where there was so much political activity, so much political noise (to call it 'sound and fury' would be to imbue it with undeserved lofty qualities), that cost so much money (tax payers money for the most part), that lead to so little in the way of identifiable outcomes that would be of benefit to anyone.

2010 was truly the year of 'Nobody': Those who talk loud, saying nothing.

The major political event of the year was, of course, the Federal election.

And you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who didn't get a bit of a jolt out of that one. I mean, it was so action packed that even people with no interest in politics - i.e. most people - were forced to pay attention as the leaks, backstabbing and vitriol mounted up. And that was just members of the ALP turning on each other! To say nothing of the result, which saw the two major parties effectively shadow box each other into a coma, leaving the outcome to be decided by a handful of Parliamentary independents in the House of Representatives; the nutjob in the hat, the crusty old timer, the serial candidate trying his luck in Hobart and the boyishly enthusiastic windbag who no one seemed to like very much.

To understand the election outcome it is instructive to look at the opposite trajectories of two of the major players in it; Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. The Ruddbot started the year miles ahead in the polls and appeared certain to stroll into a second term whenever he decided to call the election. But a strange kind of paralysis seemed to overcome his programming as the year progressed and he began to malfunction so badly that his party decided to disconnect him and destroy his CPU before he could even get back to the polls, making him the first Prime Minister to be kyboshed before facing re-election. This stands in stark contrast to the trajectory of the Opposition Leader, Tony 'Action Man' Abbott, who started the year as a Speedo wearing national joke, but came so close to becoming Prime Minister that many of my facebook friends posted status updates about leaving the country. Abbott lost the election but somehow seemed to convey the impression that he'd actually won it, or, that he'd rather be a respectable Opposition leader than Prime Minister of a coalition of misfits and weirdos.

This left the person who actually won the election, Julia 'Wavy Hands' Gillard, trailing badly behind Abbott and Rudd, in both interest and nickname stakes. To be as fair as possible to Gillard, she certainly tried hard once Labor's backroom head kickers had installed her in place of Rudd. But her efforts on the campaign trail were seriously handicapped by a hatful of factors, chief among them the fact that Labor's backroom headkickers had installed her in place of Rudd. It's quite hard to go to the electorate pledging yourself as trustworthy and safe when you've just conspired to overthrow your boss after a few bad polls.

Gillard also handicapped herself with a largely policy free election platform. I mean, what was she pledging again? Her vision for Australia? An unfunded promise to build a rail line in Western Sydney and an unbuildable refugee processing centre in East Timor. And something about broadband internet, coming to a suburb near you in 2035. Not that she was alone in the policy-lite stakes, as the Action Man took up the do-nothing-shout-loudly style of politics with gusto. He really seemed to enjoy it too, rushing around the country like the Loony Tunes devil in rolled up shirtsleeves, only pausing to yell 'Stop the Boats!' at any country fair, primary school, CWA meeting, small business, gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse that would have him:

The Action Man was rewarded for his shrill, one note, intelligence insulting campaign with truckloads of votes from all corners of the country, proving that people in the suburbs are just as easy to convince that darkies are about to invade the country and drive up electricity prices as they were when John Howard was in charge. Sadly, you can bet we'll hear more about this issue, in the same overblown fashion, in 2011.

The Federal election was also good for at least one minor party, with the Greens obtaining their first lower house seat won at a general election, when they took Melbourne from the Labor Party (Michael Organ won the Federal seat of Cunningham at a by election in 2002, only to lose it back to Labor at the 2004 poll). There were a variety of factors behind this result, chief among them the retirement of popular Labor sitting member Lindsay Tanner and the decision of the Liberals to preference the Greens ahead of Labor. But it also shouldn't be forgotten that the Greens selected a well known local candidate - Melbourne based lawyer Adam Bandt - and had him run on a progressive program choc full of fresh ideas. Hopefully Labor and Liberal alike will take notice of these radical initiatives.

2010 also brought a State election to Victoria, with an even more surprising outcome than that of the federal poll.

Boosted by landslide victories in 2002 and 2006, the John Brumby lead Labor Government appeared to have an impossibly safe and intractable buffer to prevent them from losing at the November poll. That they managed to do so, coughing up a dozen seats and suffering a swing against of above 6% state wide, is more a tribute to some bizarrely inept campaigning and a stubborn refusal to address any of Victoria's problems than anything that Opposition leader 'Big Ted' Baillieu and the Liberal Party came up with.

Based on the Labor campaign, you'd have thought that the chief priorities of the outgoing Government were making sure everyone knew that Brumby sheared sheep occasionally in his spare time:

That, and the fact that he wanted to spend about a squillion dollars forcing every Year 9 student in the state to go to some kind of combination karate/army fantasy camp. And all while the demountable classrooms at the states public schools remained unairconditioned and slowly fell apart, and the trains running to the schools and everywhere else regularly broke down on hot days while the Transport Minister expressed amazement that it was hot in summer time. I mean, again? Geez, that seems to happen every year.

Coming to the rescue of Victorians, then, was Big Ted, with his well documented plan to fix the state's problems by... doing things exactly the same. Which is certainly a radical idea, if not very inspiring. Well, 'doing things exactly the same' may not be exactly correct. Victoria's new government will buy a massive 8 - 8!!!!!!!!! - new trains over the next four years, so there'll be a handful more to break down on hot days. And they're going to give us a new state slogan too, to replace the old one that has been the bane of everyone's life for sooo long. What was it again? The old slogan? 'Victoria: Something something.' Man, am I ever tired of that thing. It's good to see that Big Ted has got his priorities straight.

2010 was also a rare year, in that an Australian managed to make a mark on the world political stage. We're talking, of course, about 'WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, who caused such a stir worldwide and was so widely discussed that he probably should've been 'Time' magazine's 'Person of the Tear.' I mean, Mark Zuckerberg? They know that he founded facebook about 8 years ago, right? All that happened to Zuck this year was that a film got made about him.

Anyways, Assange's website published thousands of secret diplomatic cables that had been leaked to it, managing to embarrass pretty much everyone with any association to politics in the process. He also found himself threatened, broke, jailed and facing sexual assault charges and so had pretty effortlessly acquired all the trappings of a major modern celebrity. We'll know that the transformation is complete if he releases his own line of underwear this year, or starts talking about his 'brand.'

And so 2010 came to an end, with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a kind of unsettled feeling, a bit like indigestion. And for all the disappointment and disillusionment and self loathing that comes from following the political debate in this country (and I smashed things several times listening to our leaders speak), there's no doubt that I'll do it all over again this year. After all, I need something to fill the gaps in the week and year when there's no footy or cricket on.