Thursday, May 26, 2011


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:


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...


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.


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.


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.


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 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.'


BARACK: What do you call this thing again?

THE QUEEN: A napkin.

BARACK: Outrageous!


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...


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


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.


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


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....


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.