Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Barnaby Rubbles Again

Well, Barnaby. You say you're in it to represent the little people, but apparently 80,000-odd little people weren't enough. I recall that's about how many people signed the ACTU's petition opposing the WorkChoices Bill. Ah, but I forgot. You only represent the little people of Queensland. And, within Queensland, only the little people of the National Party. But what's this? Even they opposed the bill but you still voted for them after squeezing out the pissiest of pissy amendments?

Shame, Barnaby, SHAME.

Did you ever see the famous poster, Barnaby - the one where the little boy's asking his father `What did YOU do in the War?', and the father's staring in to the distance thinking `Crikey ... bugger all, really!'. Barnaby, you're going to be that man. When your grandkids come to sit on your knee to ask what you did when you were a senator, you're going to have no stories to tell them. Other than `Well, I could have stopped this legislation that would have changed everything ... buuuut ... I didn't. Next story.' When they ask you `What was it like to hold the balance of power in one of the most fraught and contentious times in Australian politics?', are you going to be able to look them in the eye? No, sadly, you are not.

True, it's unfair to place the burden of an entire epoch-making (or breaking) piece of legislation on a single person. But boy - when it's in their hands ... just imagine how different it all could have been if, as initially thought, the balance of power were held by Family First senator Stephen Fielding. Anyone remember those Family Impact Statements that the Coalition rashly promised would be attached to all legislation? Only Fielding himself and the ACTU, apparently ...

Back to the Future for ABC 702 Breakfast

At long last, ABC 702 have their new host for the crucial breakfast slot, and in retrospect, the choice is obvious. Like current fill-in host Sarah Macdonald (not to mention a good many of 702's younger listeners), Adam Spencer has graduated from Triple J to ABC 702. As is the norm on ABC, he's done the customary on-air audition (thankfully, not as drawn-out and agonising as the series of song-and-dances that followed Angela Catterns' move to Vega FM earlier this year), and seemed a natural fit with the 702 formula.

I give the Spence two thumbs up. It will certainly be a change, and that's no bad thing - there was no point plugging the gap with an uber-Angela Catterns forever - but he's a great broadcaster who should reinvigorate the timeslot in the new year.

(Thank God rumours that appalling former 2SM morning host Tricia Duffield was taking the slot proved false ... )

Interestingly, it looks like Virginia Trioli finally got her way in regards the earlier start for her morning show. 702 breakfast has always had an unwieldy empty section between 7:45-8:00am (for the extended news bulletin) and 8:00-8:30am (for AM) after which, in Melbourne, Trioli's show began. It was rumoured that she had been pushing for the same format since her move to Sydney. Not sure how this will go down with us oh-so-habitual Sydneysiders ... I wouldn't mind guessing that a large proportion will stick with Mike Carlton for the last half hour to hear Friday News Review at the very least ...

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Race for Sydney Begins

Though they will not officially take effect until the 2007 State Election, the cabs are already jostling in the ranks in preparation for the redistribution that will create an extra seat in inner Sydney (details at the State Electoral Office website). Currently, most attention is focused on Clover Moore's seat of Bligh (which is to be renamed Sydney. Even though the redistribution would seem to be pretty favourable to Moore, a formidable cast of characters is already lining up, confident that they can oust La Moore from the seat she has so confidently held since 1988.

City of Sydney Council's only Greens councillor Chris Harris is the first to officially throw his hat into the ring for Bligh/Sydney. Notably, it was Harris' decision to withdraw his support from the bloc of Sydney Council independents he now refers to as `The Clover Moore Party' over a number of concerns, (but ultimately, over Moore's backflip on the redevelopment of the Carlton United Brewery site on Broadway) that delivered Labor councillor Verity Firth the coveted role of Deputy Lord Mayor at the expense of Moore supporter John McInerney. In response to this, Moore snapped up chairperson positions on all committees, thus pushing an already crowded schedule to the limit.

Meanwhile, the recent appointment of Meredith Burgmann MLC as Labor's Duty Senator for Bligh has led to speculation that she is being positioned as Labor's candidate for the seat in the election. There could certainly be worse choices - Burgmann is well known in the area, has been a prominent Left activist since the early 1970s (when she was a friend of the murdered heritage activist Juanita Nielsen).

The fact that both Labor and the Greens are apparently launching their campaigns so far out from the election indicates that both consider there is a real chance of winning the seat. Could Moore be considering giving up her State seat to take on the Mayoralty full time? Could be, could be. If it is the case, expect the fight to be long and bloodthirsty, as the abovementioned parties have been licking their chops over Bligh for years ...

Pittwater: The Washup

Not surprisingly, the fingers are being pointed following the Liberal Party's defeat in the Pittwater by-election. Talkback on Virginia Trioli's ABC 702 programme has been most enlightening, with Pittwater voters - most admitting they are rusted on Liberal voters - naming as their reasons for voting Alex McTaggart the parachute machine-man candidate Paul Nicolaou, the expensive bombardment of election material, and dishonest advertising - particularly the controversial poster displaying an old photo of former member John Brogden and Nicolaou, despite Brogden deciding against formally endorsing Nicolaou.

The Sun-Herald's Alex Mitchell penned a very catty analysis of the election, taking Brogden to task for this decision, and for clearly being `bitter'. Well, hold the phone Russell. Firstly, the bloke has retired from public life and, let's not forget, is still receiving treatment for suicidal depression. And secondly - bitter? Who could blame the poor bastard! Shafted from the leadership by your own party? Mitchell suggested that Brogden was being prissy because his preferred candidate missed out on preselection. I'd suggest that he's sick of the lot of them and didn't want a thing to do with the by-election. Why should he? He was probably as racked off as all the rest of Pittwater's voters by the whole circus.

Meanwhile, the fact that Lucy Brogden, wife of John, assisted in yesterday's election has prompted rumours that she will be chosen as the party's candidate for the next election. This seems like a very odd analysis. There could be few more staunch Libs than Mrs Brogden, yet having just observed her husband's career destroyed, why would she power on into the inferno? I could be wrong, but it sounds like a great way to wreck a marriage.

Naturally, Peter Debnam needs all of this like a hole in the head. Losing Pittwater means the Liberal Party must extend its uniform swing from a huge 10.2% to an even more ominous 12% to win government in the next election. Though, as the ABC's election correspondent Antony Green said, he's never seen an Opposition win government on a 12% swing, but then he's never seen a 26% swing against an Opposition party in a by-election, either. There's more of his always excellent analysis in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

Debnam managed to keep his cool reasonably well until this morning when he started to lose it on AM. It wasn't pretty, but who'd want to be in his shoes now ...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Cataclysm at Pittwater!

In what can only be described as a major, major, MAJOR upset, the NSW Liberal Party has lost John Brogden's former seat of Pittwater to independent candidate Alex McTaggart, on a whopping swing of 25%. The seat was previously the party's third safest seat with a margin of over 20%. Official results are available at the State Electoral Office website, as are the results of the 2003 NSW Election for comparison.

During its 7:00pm TV news, the ABC were reporting that with two minor booths counted, the swing against the Liberal Party was 15% - a very large swing, but still enough to keep Liberal candidate Paul Nicolaou in safe contention. Now, just after their 8:30pm news update, they're reporting its all over for the Libs in this, the very definition of a blue ribbon seat. I'm not Antony Green, but this result would have to be be nearly unprecedented. (And speaking of Antony Green, this appears to be a rare case in which he got it wrong - but I wouldn't hold it against him, it appears the only people who predicted this result were Centrebet).

I'm quite gobsmacked by this result. Will the ALP party machine be kicking itself for not fielding a candidate? Probably not - in fact, McTaggart's victory shows it was the right decision; otherwise, votes might have been split between an independent and a Labor candidate.

Nevertheless, this does alert us to the fact that the NSW political climate is still a very volatile one. On one hand, it demonstrates that Labor's performance in the Triple M by-elections was stronger than many gave the party credit for. Had voters really wanted to give the ALP, Craig Knowles, or the NSW Government, a major kick in the pants in Macquarie Fields, they could have done, but it appears they didn't. In Pittwater, on the other hand, voters have clearly exhibited their disgust at the Liberal Party machine's treatment of John Brogden, and more power to them. That's democracy. The power of incumbency, safe seats and so forth sometimes leads to complacency, but if the people want to make a statement, they'll damn well make a statement, loud and clear.

With that in mind, this result is also a reminder to the NSW Government that the cosy margin of 10.2% on which it currently sits is not insurmountable. The next state election would be bloody difficult to lose, but as this result demonstrates - anything is possible.

Ah, politics ... always a surprise round the corner ....

Friday, November 25, 2005

Brings A Tear To Your Eye ...

Despite having over 10,000 outlets worldwide (7,500 of which seem to be in Manhattan) Starbucks, the evil mega-chain with the coffee that's blacker and more bitter than their black hearts, have just seen its first worker's strike. And bravo - it happened only four hours away from here, in New Zealand!

New Zealand's industrial relation system - reformed in many of the same ways as Australia's is planned to be - has been blamed for doing such things as creating a gulf between the rich and poor and pushing a generation of young workers offshore to Australia, where they can be better remunerated for their skills.

Interestingly, one of the main arguments of New Zealand Starbucks workers is that their near neighbours in Australia earn $5 more per hour and enjoy better conditions. But ... for how long ...

With thanks to LeftVegDrunk for the tipoff. Video of the strike available at New Zealand's TV3 - plus, lend your support at Super Size My Pay.

Well, Is He Or Isn't He?

Why is it that Federal Liberal leadership speculation always creeps to a head as soon as the PM's out of the country? Do he and Costello loathe each other that much that their animosity has to be confined to separate time zones? A more logical explanation is that there's only so many news stories they can run about Howard toddling around in a funny APEC tunic or shaking hands with troops, thus giving the media-starved Costello's stories some oxygen (though you can never discount things coming from left field, such as the famous Athens Declaration ...)

Peter Costello's announcement, that, along with `sweeping tax law reforms' (which amount to little more than cutting out the pages which, for example, entitle every stonemason and blacksmith to three plump piglets if he gets his tax return in before St Swithin's Day) he `expect [s] to be in a position to announce more good things for the Australian public' by the time of next year's Budget has created slightly different perceptions amongst Australia's pollie watchers.

The 7.30 Report's Michael Brissenden reported yesterday that Costello's supporters have simply intesified their pressure. However, later that night, over on Channel 9's Nightline, Laurie Oakes went a step further and suggested that Howard is actively considering retirement.

Could he be planning to do a Carr?

I've said before that I can see no real reason that Howard would retire. I can still see no major reasons - though there are thunderclouds on the horizon, and the captain of the ship is in a better place to see these than us punters. Compare to Carr's case. Had Carr retired only 18 months earlier, he would have gone out a golden boy. His fall from grace was that swift, and the raft of problems he has bequeathed his successors goes to show he got out at just the right time. Howard is currently dealing with a similarly tricky hand - Telstra, the AWB scandal, and overwhelmingly, industrial relations. Yes, he has the Senate, but all this means is that he can implement his agenda. It doesn't mean people will like it. The Howard Government doesn't have the massive majority that will make it difficult to oust them if they don't like things.

There's currently two schools of thought - the `bedding down' theory and the `getting out' theory. One - Howard will stick around to bed down the 25 pieces of major legislation that will be rammed through parliament in the next two sitting weeks, because he doesn't want to wait a whole political lifetime just to see it all fall to bits as soon as his back is turned. Two - Howard will wait around just long enough to watch them pass through quicker than curry through a duck, and get the hell out.

Of the two scenarios, I still believe the first is the more likely. However, if a third scenario - the government getting voted out - is becoming more likely, he'll become increasingly likely to plump for the second. Will IR be Howard's Waterloo? Only time will tell, and it's still two years out from the election. On the other hand, if this gentleman should decide to etch his name on history ... (go on Barnaby, you know you want to ...)

My CV is on its way ...

Journalist Liz Jackson (recently the butt of some rather unflattering comments in The Latham Diaries ... but then who wasn't) has decided to quit Media Watch after only one year at the helm to return to Four Corners according to today's Sydney Morning Herald

Short of inviting Julie McCrossin to host (snicker ... I didn't say that ...) I say they do what they did with the SBS Movie Show and solicit the new host Australian Idol style, seeking out a ruthless newcomer with a nose for suspect media stories and suchlike ... (grin grin).

Just as long as they don't end up with that bloody annoying woman from Triple J like they did with the SBS Movie Show ...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Don't Back Down, Barnaby!

Queensland Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg has written to Nationals senators Barnaby Joyce and Ron Boswell to recommend that they not support the Federal Government's WorkChoices Bill. According to Sprinborg on today's AM, `If certain fundamental changes and guarantees aren't given, then the very strong view of my colleagues is that our support should be withheld until such time as those matters have been properly addressed.'

There's a fat chance of Boswell listening, but Barnaby? Hmm ... as always, playing his cards close to his chest. But the signs are certainly looking slightly more promising than they were. Not a bad idea to join the hordes giving him a gentle poke in the right direction via the ACTU's Your Rights At Work website.

Speaking of WorkChoice bills, it's also been reported today that the total cost (so far) for the massive - and massively ineffectual - smile-you-like-it-don't-you advertising blitz has been over $26,000,0000. That's 11,000 TV ads we changed the channel through. Felt like it, too. I could work out exactly how many million dollars the government has paid for each lost percentage point in recent polling, but I'd be laughing too hard.

Falling Off The Media Cycle

I was amused by Christian Kerr's article at Crikey about Kim Beazley's apparent obliviousness to the Michelle Leslie case. This now-notorious lapse occurred during the same Leon Byner I blogged the other day and I meant to note it, but I must admit I actually couldn't believe my ears. Does the man not own a TV? A newspaper? Eyes? Ears? Does he actively avoid the news?

Kerr contrasts this to the Prime Minister's own personal `media cycle' (the newspapers, AM on the walkman during the morning trot, Lateline with Janette in the evening (so you can listen but you can't give Richard Alston a boot up the bum for slagging them ...), and also makes reference to his own media cycle ... I had to have a chuckle. He's a media tragic, just like me ... right down to Tony Delroy's ABC 702 segment `What The Papers Are Saying at about 11:30pm each night.

If I was Kim Beazley's (Sydney based) media advisor, I'd probably give him the following list to be followed each day.

6:00-7:00 - Wake up. Listen to Early AM over breakfast. Browse the headlines of Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age and at a minimum.
8:00-8:30 - AM on ABC 702
8:50-9:00 - (Fridays only) Mike Carlton's Friday News Review on 2UE (actually ... Beez might not be too keen on that but the rest of you readers might get a kick out of it ... John Howard's diary is also a laugh)
9:30-9:45 - Barrie Cassidy segment with Virginia Trioli on ABC 702.
12:10-13:00 - The World Today, ABC 702 (or Radio National if you prefer).
13:00-17:00 - A random sampling of the afternoon's radio Drive shows - perhaps the last hour of Steve Price on 2UE depending how cranky he is and what his Talking Point is; Richard Glover's State Politics report on 702 at about 4:45pm ... (I know 2GB has been conspicuously absent so far, but it's important to keep up with what Alan Jones is saying just to know what you're up against and occasionally get a big surprise - such as finding the phone number for asylum seeker advocate Marion Le on Jonesy's website. Fortunately, he now podcasts ...)
17:00-18:00 - As much of the Channel 10 news as can decently be borne (I'm only doing this because Beez would have to know who Michelle Leslie is and who won Australian Idol and so forth.
18:00-19:00 - An hour's respite or PM
19:00-19:30 - ABC TV News
19:00-19:30 - The 7.30 Report if you can stand the strain
22:30-23:15 - Lateline (a must)
23:30-00:00 - The aforementioned Tony Delroy's What The Papers Are Saying.

And then to bed with a head full of issues and a mind full of fight. There, that wasn't hard! I do it every day!

Monday, November 21, 2005

You Say Tomatoe, I Say Tomato ...

You know, calling a piece of legislation Welfare to Work is a great illustration of George Lakoff's theories of framing and how it is used to swing the debate around to the conservative way of seeing things. According to Lakoff, whichever side frames an issue in the most persuasive manner is the side that determines whether that issue makes it on to the popular agenda. Frame a nasty issue in a nice way - happy public! Frame a nasty issue in a nasty way - cranky public! Observe ...

From the SMH:

Almost 200,000 people would be moved from parenting and disability payments to the dole over the next three years under the Government's welfare to work changes, a Senate committee was told today.

Opposition workforce participation spokeswoman Senator Penny Wong said thousands of people would be worse off under the new system.

"This is the total number of people who would be worse off by 2008," Senator Wong said.

But the department's deputy secretary Graham Carters defended the change.

"They are not worse off ... there will be a change of eligibility for payment which will impact on them," Mr Carters told the committee.

Phew ... well thank goodness that's been cleared up then!

Beazley: A Step Closer to Abolishing AWAs?

Kim Beazley's comments in an interview with 5AA Adelaide's Leon Byner today are being hyped as his strongest indication in some time that Labor would, if they win the next election, progressively abolish AWAs - a policy platform for Labor in the 2004 election, but a position that the party has so far refused to conclusively back since the departure of Mark Latham. But is it? Read on ...

LINDA (caller): My question is in regards to the industrial relations. As you said, it's a few years to the next election, and if you're successful, would the industrial relations laws be removed then?

KIM BEAZLEY: Yes they will. If we're elected at the next election, I've said we're going to tear this legislation up. It's not safe. It's gone completely down the wrong track. We'll put in place legislation that restores fairness; legislation that permits people to get access to things like penalty rates when they work on holidays.

LEON BYNER: Are you going to restore the Industrial Relations Commission as the independent umpire?

KIM BEAZLEY: Yes, as the primary focus of the independent umpire, and properly empower it to ensure that good faith bargaining to take place. So we will enable people to get access to a fair umpire, get access to representation when they want it.

LEON BYNER: Does that then mean that if somebody signs an AWA and you get into government Federally, that that AWA could be null and void?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, no, it's a binding contract, once a contract is signed. But the point that we'd make is that we'd ensure that no individual contract could undermine an award or collective agreement.

LEON BYNER: But what if somebody's signed one and it does, but it's binding? Damage done? Can't fix it?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, no - clearly in those sorts of situations, we'd look for opportunities, or the union movement would look for opportunities, to get that person back into a better position.

Hmmm ... surely if the Howard government can rip the red-raw bum out of a 100 year old industrial relations system it couldn't be that hard for a Beazley government to move a couple of people off AWAs and on to awards. C'mon Beez ...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Policy Circle: The Skills Shortage

The conservative commentator Peter Hartcher today argued that it is the skills shortage, not labour market regulation, that is the biggest problem facing the Australian economy. Not only will many small businesspeople tell you the same thing, but so too will many people, such as Heather Ridout of the Australian Industry Group, who are otherwise broadly supportive of the WorkChoices bill. And, as other recent research indicates, when it comes to skilled labour, those initiatives that do exist are far more likely to benefit men than women, who more regularly end up in casual jobs in unstable industries.

I recently attended my ten year high school reunion, where I met several people involved in skilled trades - electricians, plumbers, fitters and turners and the like - as soon as they heard that I was interested in politics, they asked me about the industrial relations changes. I said to them `But you're OK - the world's your oyster! You're a skilled tradesperson, everyone's clamouring for you!'

The response I got was quite disturbing. These three different people individually told me that because of the industrial relations changes, they were considering moving overseas, where they would not have to deal with the red tape that the new system would result in, and where they would be able to be better paid for their skills.

Whoa - now, it's not entirely unexpected - much the same thing happened after New Zealand's industrial relations reforms - but still, it's not good news.

The reason I've labelled this topic `Policy Circle' is: what's the answer? What will stop people going offshore and taking their skills with them? This is a serious problem, and the public policy solutions that have been offered so far, such as increasing the intake of skilled migrants - seem to be stopgap measures at best. Who has some ideas? Pop them in the comments and let's see what we can come up with. Who knows - if any party types come up with anything really good we could even consider sending it thisaway.

Howard vs Abbott

In a move that is sure to shock and dismay his biggest acolyte, Health Minister Tony Abbott, John Howard has apparently over-ruled his decision to close the issue of introducing the abortion pill RU486 to Australia. The drug has been used for many years in other Western countries and has a success rate comparable to medical abortion, without the risks inherent to surgery.

Abbott's decision was made on the basis of medical advice indicating that the pill could be harmful if distributed without adequate medical supervision, especially in country areas. Trouble is, there was never any proposal to distribute it without medical supervision. It wasn't as if they were thinking of popping an RU486 machine next to the condom machine in every truck stop toilet. If someone were thinking of getting an abortion in a country area, they would have to go to a hospital or clinic just like anyone else.

As reluctant as I am to admit it, Howard has made the right call on this issue. We'd all prefer it not have to be a conscience vote, but the fact that a vote has been so long in coming, given that the drug has been so widely used overseas for so many years, leads me to welcome any sort of vote.

More at the Herald.

An Upset in Pittwater?

The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that the blue ribbon seat of Pittwater could be under threat from popular Independent candidate, Alex McTaggart. McTaggart, the local mayor, first came to prominence when he led a successful push to ban the filming of `Baywatch' on Pittwater Beach several years ago. Liberal Party internal polling reportedly has McTaggart ahead of Liberal candidate Paul Nicolaou, 53.5% to 46.5%, two-party preferred.

I wouldn't get out the champagne yet, though. The devil is in the detail.

Like McTaggart himself, I'd be very sceptical about the fact that internal party polling has been revealed to the media in the first place. Parties pay through the nose for polling; they don't just give it away for free because they feel like it, especially when it's not in their favour. Importantly, the polling also indicates that 13% of the electorate is undecided.

I wouldn't rule out an upset in Pittwater - especially as there's some very peculiar dynamics at play; habital Liberal voters wanting to `punish' the party for dispatching John Brogden in such a nasty way and so forth - but in the main, I think McTaggart put it best.

"This is a Liberal plot to scare the little old ladies into voting Liberal.".

Well put.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Singo Scores an Own Goal

Well, we all celebrated the Socceroos win in last night's World Cup Qualifier in our own ways. As I've observed before, sometimes you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled in to Question Time or your favourite corporation's board room rather than Telstra Stadium at some major fixtures.

If your head is not still throbbing, and if you did manage to get more than a few hours' sleep, picture, if you will, the scene adman John Singleton painted for Virginia Trioli this morning - perhaps after a prolonged session of nudging the turps; perhaps just plain old being Singo.

TRIOLI: Not much left in the tank, I should think?
SINGO: No, I still feel on a high, Viriginia. It's the sort of game where you feel so excited by it - I was learning about the game as I told you on the programme - ignoramus Aussie on board, and I come from a league culture, a lifetime of Rugby Union, so ... I mean I was new, sitting there having the game explained to me by Philip Ruddock, and I was trying to get him to arrest all the Uruguayans as potential terrorists ...
TRIOLI: Oh, he would have liked that idea, surely?
SINGO: Well, off the record he sorta contemplated it, the first half hour.

It gets better.
SINGO: It was the happiest crowd, and the thing that was different was that, unlike league or union, there was - as you said before - 30 or 40% of people who are listening to you now, who were at the game last night, who live in this country, were not born here. Or their parents were not born here. And I think we've had so much racial vilification lately, one way or another, that last night was the most unifying thing that's happened to Australia for a long - I was going to say a coon's age, but that would have caused an uproar ... for a long, long time.

I'll spare you the bit where he started dancing around with Alan Jones and kissing Frank Lowy.

Mobilizing the Masses

It is very remiss of me not to have blogged for the past several days. I've been in the middle of changing jobs, I've been taking a few minutes to eat and sleep, I've been fighting for my rights at work (of which more from the 7:30 Report), but an item on about the Menzies Government's attempts to abolish the Communist Party reminded me of an interesting observation I had while watching SBS's fascinating documentary on Republican party tactician Karl Rove.

Rove has often been described as `the brain of George W. Bush'. What was clear from the documentary was that quite beyond this, Rove's ambition since youth has been to reshape the political complexion of the US, to the point of identifying a likely state (Texas) and a likely candidate within that state (George W. Bush) through which this change might best occur.

One observation particularly stood out. A political analyst noted that while George W. Bush is strongly religious, Rove struck him as a person who had no particular religious convictions, but had identified the strong potential of the religious right as a supporter base. `Rove saw these people as like the new labor unions', this analyst said.

What an interesting comment - and of course, he's absolutely right. Unions and churches share, in their support of particular political parties, a certain fundamentalism that make them very reliable supporters - ideologically, financially, and in the case of the Labor Party, structurally. This isn't to say that conservative churches don't support the US Republican party structurally - but at least there's some transparency. This is what makes the WorkChoices bill so alarming (apart from all the obvious reasons that it's alarming), and so plainly ideological, especially combined with lesser known but equally egregious attempts to undermine Labor's supporter base.

The difference, of course, with churches, is that there's an additional twist in the tale. If you can tell someone `God told you to vote in this way', and this person feverently believes they must do everything God tells them, they're damn well going to vote in this way, whether they deeply believe it's a good idea or not. To me, the collusion of political and religious fundamentalism is one of the most dangerous and disturbing emergent elements of modern politics. To Karl Rove, it's clearly the most tantalizing, because it works, and anything that works is going to gain currency with those who want to maintain power.

(As an aside: For those who have been asked `Hey, you know a lot about politics - what's up with this Scooter Libby/Karl Rove/Valerie Plame business, the best executive summary so far is available in The New Yorker)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The 14 Signs of Fascism

In yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald, Alan Ramsay mentioned Dr Lawrence Britt's investigations of the common characteristics of fascist regimes such as those of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Soeharto. I'll reproduce Dr Britt's findings here, because they make interesting and thought provoking reading:
Fourteen Defining
Characteristics Of Fascism

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread
domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9.Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hansard and the Minister for Truth

I've spoken before about the infelicities of Hansard, but it's only today - when seeking out a little gem reported on by Dennis Shanahan of The Australian - that I realised how deeply deficient it really is. I've not compared the Hansard side by side with the TV broadcasts of parliament until now, but the difference is quite startling.

Apart from anything, I wasn't able to find any trace of the incident to which Shanahan referred - though it definitely occurred, because Julia Gillard referred to it herself later on:.

I would like to start with an observation about the member for Wentworth, because we know that the Minister for Health and Ageing made a very big gaffe today. He referred to the member for Wentworth as the Treasurer. Do you know what a gaffe is for a politician like the Minister for Health? I will tell you: it is when he accidentally tells the truth. So there was one truth told by the Howard government in the parliament this week.

Let me just pause for a second and say: HAAAAhhhhahhaHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhaaaa!!!!!!!!!

Now that that's finished, let me secondly say how much I would have loved to see Peter Costello's face, and thirdly complain that I had to fix a spelling mistake in the above Hansard excerpt. I thought the ABC's transcripts were getting bad ...

To give you some idea of exactly how much Hansard differs from real life, I've taken the liberty of directly transcribing the famous Tony Abbott kiss incident I wrote about earlier this week (to save space, I've popped it in the Comments) - head to Page 84 of Hansard to compare this with the `official' version. While the version currently on the website is just the first issue proof, it's quite astounding how many ommissions there are - and ommissions that make a) The government appear less argumentative and b) The Speaker more authoritative; something he clearly isn't.

Read on ...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Anti-Terrorism Legislation: Heck, It Works in London!

As the supporters of the contentious legislation always tell us - if you're innocent, you should have nothing to worry about.

Of course you don't.

Exactly 30 Years Ago This Minute ...

... and sorry, Lindsay Tanner, I agree with you on many, many, MANY things, but not this time.

The Legacy of the Whitlam Government

It's time, if you will excuse the pun, to add my comments on Edward Gough Whitlam. I have no more authority to do this other than the fact that I'm a Labor blogger and not Piers Akerman (whose disgraceful revision/demolition of the Whitlam legacy I won't bother linking). That's good enough for me.

(As a way of marking today's 30th anniversary of the Whitlam Dismissal, I was hoping to post my major Masters essay on the paradoxes of the Whitlam government - essentially, that Whitlam ruled in a top-down manner, but in order to facilitate bottom-up public participation - but alas, it appears to have gone missing, so you've been spared it, at least for now.)

The story of the Whitlam Government - like that of so many Labor leaders - is one of tumult and triumph, but also massive setbacks and obstacles. Despite its deeply subversive heritage (a good many Australians are, after all, descendants of Irish political prisoners), conservative government has been the rule since the beginning of European settlement. Reform has generally been incremental rather than sweeping, and despite seeing the first Labor government in the world, Australia's subsequent Labor governments have often seemed like quirks of nature.

Whitlam seemed inherently aware of this when he attained power, and his reforms occurred with a pace that suggested that he was somehow aware that he would have a limited time in which to introduce and implement them. This swiftness - famously labelled `crash or crash through' - has provoked some debate. Would Whitlam's sweeping reforms have been better accepted had they not been pushed through so vigorously? I would argue that Whitlam realised that they would not have been pushed through at all unless such a technique had been used.

It is worthwhile to remember the many achievements of the Whitlam Government - the foundations of modern multiculturalism; Medicare, free university education, Aboriginal reconciliation. Such reforms are, even today, revolutionary. It's a sad reflection on our current political climate that in a country which less than a generation ago provided free tertiary education to all is now debating whether these same students will have access to basic university services provided via student union fees.

Perhaps lesser known is Whitlam's attempts to invigorate grassroots politics by giving initiatives such as the Australian Assistance Plan (AAP), which provided funding to local community groups, and his push to grant constitutional recognition to local councils. This focus necessarily excluded or circumvented state governments, and for this, Whitlam was criticised as a centralist - yet paradoxically, his aim in doing so was to take power out of the hands of bureaucracy and put it into the hands of the people.

And now the $64,000 question.

It would be wrong to say the Dismissal was unconstitutional, because the reason it spurred a constitutional crisis is that there is nothing in the Australian Constitution addressing the dismissal of a Prime Minister. However, I remain of the firm belief that in a democracy, it is up to the people to select the party that leads them, not a delegated official. I do believe - it is perhaps an unpopular belief, but I think a realistic one - that the Whitlam government would have been voted out in the next election. However, this does NOT justify Mr Akerman's assertion (no, I'm NOT linking him) - that Sir John Kerr was doing the right thing as he was simply beating the people to the punch. The gravity of the situation cannot be underestimated. People who were there that day have told me that it would have only taken one person to fall over in the crowd; one person to fire a few shots in the air for blood to have been spilt that day. That's how tense the situation was, and how heated were the passions.

It is a terrible shame that Whitlam is best known for his exit from power rather than his remarkable policy achievements. Elements of Whitlam's character and achievements have been debated. What cannot is that many of the best aspects of today's Australia would not exist without Whitlam's initiatives.

So today, I salute you Mr Whitlam - for some of us, it will always be time.

WorkChoices Passes the House of Reps

A `beaming' John Howard was nothing compared to Tony Abbott. I haven't had a chance to check the Hansard, but I'm not quite sure how the kiss that he blew to the Opposition after WorkChoices was passed was captured in it.

Tony Abbott, when you finally do die a ditch somewhere, generations of Labor voters will travel from miles around to spit on your unmarked grave for that.

Thankyou and good night.


(and three cheers for Secco!)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Howard: 5 Day Week `Extinct'

The five day week is `extinct', according to John Howard, and we should all just get over it and get back to work.

Let me tell you my situation. I work weekends, because my job pays too poorly to live off the weekday rate. Thanks to an enterprise bargaining agreement negotiated in my workplace three years ago, I receive time and a quarter on Saturdays and time and a half on Sundays, which just about allows me to pay my way, but is hardly worth me giving up my weekend each and every week; something that has a huge social impact. Yes, sadly, for some people - and only out of financial necessity - the traditional five day week is extinct. But the government should not be sitting on the sidelines cheering as it disappears. It is incumbent, in my opinion, on governments to preserve the living standards of the greatest majority - to ensure, if at all possible, that people do not have to work nights, weekends or extra jobs just to make ends meet. Instead, they hide behind the `choice' excuse. If you choose to work weekends, you should be allowed to. That's why it's called WorkChoices! Well, Mr Howard - not everyone has a choice. They're the ones governments are supposed to defend. (Apparently, Judi Moylan is the only one willing to do this, and more power to her).

Given that the Federal Government is planning to guillotine debate on the industrial relations changes, us bloggers will have to keep our end up. (Apparently, the `debate' has already been had during Question Time - despite specific prohibitions on questions being framed as debates. Ah, democracy!)

Meanwhile, the ACTU's Greg Combet this morning told ABC's Virginia Trioli that one of the more obscure stings in WorkChoices is the new requirement to present a medical certificate for all sick days. What a wonderful way of both putting an extra strain on the medical system and hitting low income earners for the consultation (unless you can find someone who bulk bills - good luck), all for nothing more than getting a certificate to explain away a 24 hour flu. What a wonderful situation for the mentally ill, and those who have been subjected to domestic violence. What a wonderful world.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

`Home Grown Terrorism'

Yesterday, I finished work early and decided to go to Town Hall for a spot of clothes shopping.

Bad move.

As I've mentioned before, I was living in New York on September 11th and experienced the extraordinary strictures on civil liberties in the ensuing months. The scenes around Sydney's Central Local Court and the tense atmosphere brought the New York of late 2001 flooding back.

As I walked past the court, I was nearly bowled over by a television cameraman who was jostling to reach the lawyer of the suspected terrorists, who were being held in the basement of the court house. News reporters clustered in their corners, chattering earnestly at cameras or having blush patted into their cheekbones. As I passed, I caught snatches of conversation - `anti-terrorism laws', `sedition', `the bloke they shot' ... the police moved me on. I passed further clusters of them at every cross street, and every crowd I passed for the rest of the afternoon seeemed to have a few bobbing yellow hats in it.

David Marr and a growing chorus of others are now questioning the chance the suspects have of receiving a fair trial - which is roughly Buckleys and none, what with the Prime Minister and Attorney General, as well as their counterparts in the respective states, all unequivocably labelling the suspects `terrorists' - not to mention budgie toilet paper like the Daily Telegraph coming out with headlines like `A Holy War on Australia'.

I only hope the fervour over the arrests does not weaken the Opposition's resolve on the issue of the sedition provisions in the anti-terrorism legislation. Call me crazy, but saying you'll pass legislation even if your amendments aren't accepted seems like a pretty unproductive position. Join the Sedition-a-thon while you still can.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Terrorist Plot That Wasn't And Then Was

When I said I would withdraw my cynicism if the indecent fervour with which the Federal Government rushed through its amendments to anti-terror laws proved justified, I meant it. Nobody wants to see images like this, or hear that a bloke was arrested just up the street, allegedly with a garage full of explosives.

However, I don't know how many of you caught Kerry O'Brien's interview with John Howard on the 7.30 Report last night (no doubt it had Santo Santoro and his coven of 28 soothsayers all aflutter). It made for an intriguing juxtaposition to today's events:
KERRY O'BRIEN: Is it also true that that's not the last time - not the first time you've received that advice. Is it true that other agencies including the Australian Federal Police have asked for the change you introduced with great urgency last week, as long as 18 months ago?

JOHN HOWARD: Kerry, I'm not going to talk about when I've received other advice about particular situations.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Don't you think the public has a right to know that, Mr Howard?

JOHN HOWARD: This is difficult. I think the public has a right to know from me why I wanted the law changed but I don't think the public wants me to say anything that will in any way compromise or might be capable of compromising operational matters dealing with issues such as terrorism. You see, my critics want it both ways.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That's not what I'm asking you Mr Howard. I'm asking you whether the AFP or other agencies sought from the Government as long as 18 months ago the very changes that you have now introduced with urgency and drama in the Parliament last week?

JOHN HOWARD: Kerry, the combination of last week and the circumstances of last week had not previously occurred.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But that's not what I was asking Mr Howard. I was asking whether the AFP or other agencies had asked you to make this amendment prior to last week, and if they have why didn't the Government act on it earlier?

JOHN HOWARD: I don't personally recall and I'm not saying it may not have been put to somebody else in the Government, but I don't personally recall - and I say that deliberately, because I don't have an infallible memory, I don't pretend I do. I don't personally recall that particular amendment being previously pressed on me personally with a sense of urgency.

Meanwhile in the Daily Telegraph and several other outlets:

The raids were the culmination of a 16-month operation and the suspects in Melbourne and Sydney were alleged to be working together, police said.

The allegation that there was no terrorist threat? Withdrawn pending democratic investigation of suspects. The allegation that the rushing through of the legislation was not timed to distract from other, less favourable issues? I'm still reserving my judgement on that one. I'm certainly not saying it was stashed away for 18 months to wait for exactly the right moment, but I'm just still not convinced.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Alexander Downer is a Nitwit

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The idea of yar-me-hearties pirates attacking a luxury cruise ship does sound a tad wacky.

But no, Alexander. They were not `more likely to be terrorists rather than pirates'. Did they stop to dump a couple of their kiddies over the side?


Alex, we're just plain bloody sick of this idiotic scaremongering. Just stop it.

*Beats head against wall*.

Peter Costello is a Nitwit

Yes, remember Peter Costello, that bloke everyone once said would be Prime Minister? We haven't heard much of him recently, so he decided to pipe up with something so utterly bizarre that we couldn't help but take notice.

No, not that business about him being a big fan of professional wrestling (what the hell was that all about?). No - according to Smirking Mediocrity, the record 18 ALP members who were thrown out of Question Time were being very methodical indeed. In fact, they were `beleagured' MPs clinging on to their preselections by the skin of their toenails:
"I think the reason why they're doing it is that they know they're preselections are coming up, that the unions control a lot of these preselections and they want to go into the preselection with a badge of honour."


Now let's look at the figures, shall we (exhaustively detailed on this very website).

Two MPs were thrown out twice (that is, in two successive sittings, the Member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese, and the Member for Fowler, Julia Irwin. . I could be wrong, but with a margin of 22.6%, I believe Albanese's is the safest Labor seat in NSW, and one of the safest in the country. Likewise, Julia Irwin sits on a very-bloody comfortable 21.4%. I don't think the likes of Lindsay Tanner, Wayne Swan, Tanya Plibersek or Annette Ellis are quivering as they contemplate the loss of their pre-selections at the hands of unsympathetic union bosses.

Unfortunately I'm pressed for time - otherwise I'd love to go all Antony Green and work out exactly who would have acted up just to win favour in pre-selection, but I'll have to make a compromise and say ... er, not that many actually Pete. If any. At all.

Leaping The Scully Gully

It was Jason of who first suggested that former minister of practically everything and current NSW Police and Utilites Minister Carl Scully might have been the source of the letter which had Friday's Daily Telegraph bellowing CITY TUNNEL CORRUPTION BOMBSHELL. I thought he had a bloody good point. So too, apparently, did Alex Mitchell, who had it on the front page of the Sun Herald two days later.

The fact that the calls are for the scalp of Scully, and not for whoever actually did leak the draft Cabinet minute - which, let's not forget, was the real act of bastardry (not to mention out-and-out corruption), says a whole lot about the internal cabinet culture. Today's Sydney Morning Herald reports that Michael Costa refused to respond to `Alex Mitchell's Sunday Special', while Joe Tripodi said `Mumble mumble full support ... Christ, is that Andrew Fraser over there?'. Does there appear to be much political will to find the leaker? No, not really. It says it all. To his credit, however, Morris Iemma has embraced the old credo of `disunity is death' and has put his support behind Scully rather than becoming the latest in a conga line of former friends and supporters to turn their backs on him. In Macquarie St, as in Hollywood, as Judy Garland once put it, people tend to stay away from trouble, because they think it's contagious.

From my perspective, Scully appears to have been infected by groupthink and a lot of other political diseases - you don't end up on the NSW Right without catching a few - but in the end, he seems to be a bloke who has tried - not succeeded, but tried - to do a good job, but has been shat upon mightily by a hell of a lot of people who purported to be his friends. He's got a right to be angry, and if there is corruption to be unearthed, I hope the right heads roll and some good comes out of this whole fiasco.

(If you've never come across the concept of Groupthink before - I highly recommend you read up on it. Especially if you happen to be a NSW Cabinet minister. Or any cabinet minister, really.)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Out With The Olds?

Meanwhile on 2UE, a short, sharp shock has been delivered to the entire weekend line-up, with crime writer Paul B. Kidd and occasional John Laws seat warmer George Moore shifted to early mornings and former 2GB overnighter Glen Wheeler (who left the earlier station last year in vexed circumstances after being nurtured by Alan Jones - whatever THAT means) has taken their afternoon shift. On one hand, this is a pretty brave experiment, and potentially a successful one. Early mornings have previously been dominated by pedestrian gardening shows rather than the snappy talk people are used to at the same hour on weekdays.

However, the biggest victim in this arrangement appears to be Murray Olds and his excellent - and apparently short lived - Sunday Morning panel show, which seems to have been axed. Olds presided over probably the only example of genuinely balanced broadcasting left on the airwaves. In a similar way to ABC's Insiders, Olds gathered together two special guest hosts from different walks of life - ranging from the RSL's Rusty Priest, Youth Off the Streets' Father Chris Riley, The Australian Industry Group's Heather Ridout, then-Opposition Leader John Brogden, Unions NSW President John Robertson, President of the NSW Legislative Council Meredith Burgmann and Federal Member for Sydney Tanya Plibersek - whacked them together, and had a good old talk. It was a great show, and if it has been axed, I'll miss it.

Olds' fine sense of balance, his level-headedness, his compassion and his common sense towards his subjects is doubly ironic, given that he replaced the odious Malcolm T. Elliott, not long before his short, ill-fated move to 2GB (you can find some of his ... erm, `monkeying around' at Media Watch, but I can give you countless more examples ... the time he suggested that the introduction of the over-the-counter morning after pill combined with the proliferation of cheap airfares would lead to underage girls travelling the country to fill their pockets with free contraception is one classic that springs to mind).

Could it be that 2UE - like Fairfax, if the rumours are true - are hoping to increase its ratings by shedding its more moderate commentators and taking on 2GB from the right? For the sake of fairness and balance - not to mention good radio - I certainly hope not.

The AdChoices Continue ...

His Royal Cadaverousness Philip Ruddock was the guest on Meet The Press today - sorry, Meet A Press - fair enough (though an interview with Ruddock is never an interview, it's just an elaborate labyrinth through which journalists are taken on a pedestrian circumvention of the answer) - but whose idea was it to include 2GB's shrillest lack of credibility, Philip Clark, on the panel?

Meet The Press today was also an opportunity to see a clutch of rather controversial ads.

Firstly, the debut of the Australian Business Council's pro-WorkChoice ads (which, to play the devil's advocate, are far more effective than the government's soft-focus Brady Bunch palaver).

It is interesting to note that on our airwaves and in our newspapers we now have no less than four different industrial relations advertising campaigns - the ACTU's, the Federal Government's, the NSW Government's, and now the Business Council's. As noted on LeftVegDrunk, the amount spent on the Federal Government's campaign alone in the past month equal to the amount pledged for five year's worth of work on unexploded land mines in Cambodia. How much of it could have gone to the victims of the Pakistan earthquake? Oops, forgot - they're not Western, they were poor to start off, there's no trade advantage in giving them money, so they don't really count.

Secondly - regular viewers of Meet The Press will have been scratching their heads over the Institute of Chartered Accountants' idiotic `Numbers' advertising campaign for some weeks. People, try as you might, being an accountant will never be exciting. Even Barnaby Joyce hasn't managed it.

However, the latest ad - showing a solitary car entering a cavernously empty Cross City Tunnel - followed by the slogan - `Never Forget the Importance of Numbers' ... oohhhh, NASTY!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Jailed for Fairness

Although I first heard of the following element of the IR legislation several days ago, I hadn't actually blogged it until now because when I DID hear it, I literally couldn't believe my ears and was afraid of blogging it in case I had it wrong. In the meantime, I haven't been able to download WorkNoChoices to confirm or deny.

Unfortunately, it appears it IS true.

It was first mentioned on ABC 702 by an Opposition MP on Tuesday, who had just received the WorkChoices tome. It's quite astounding that it's taken so long to find its way into print, but here it is, in black and white, on
THE past practice of unions highlighting unfair Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) will now result in a jail sentence, the union movement says.

Section 83BS of the Federal Government's contentious new Work Choices Bill states that it is an offence, punishable by six months' jail, if a person discloses information relating to an AWA – the government's favoured individual contact.

Unions NSW secretary John Robertson said he had received legal advice that section 83B would provide for the jailing of people who disclose the parties to an AWA.

"In the past, unions have highlighted unfair AWAs in the media, disclosing details such as the forced cashing in of sick pay, annual leave and penalty rates," Mr Robertson said.

He said it appeared that under the new laws such disclosure would be illegal, opening the way for those disclosing the information to be jailed.

Essentially, if I reveal details of another person's AWA to a third party - I potentially go to jail.

WTF ???

What if Mrs Jones says to Mrs Smith, perfectly innocently, `Mr Jones lost his extra weekend pay under his new contract!' and Mrs Smith, just as innocently, told this to Mr Smith, who was under a better contract but worked at the same workplace and said `That doesn't seem fair, does it?' And Mr Smith went to his boss or union and said `Jones isn't getting a fair go - what can we do about it?'. And Kevin Andrews just happened to be waiting around the corner listening to all of this?

Poor old Mrs Smith, eh?

But seriously ... six months jail ???

Interestingly enough, in his interview with Lateline last night, Andrews actually appeared to concede that people in a vulnerable bargaining position will prefer to operate via a union. (It was odd and frightening to hear the word `union' coming out of Andrews' mouth without a tunnel of spittle following).

Bit late for that, Kev!

The Honourable Members Interjecting

The headcount continued in the House of Reps again yesterday, and just like the parliamentary nerd that I am, I stayed up to watch it on TV last night. But honestly, it was fascinating stuff. You have to feel a little sorry for David Hawker, the parliamentary speaker, if he didn't rule so blatantly on the government's side (which is of course not surprising, given that he's a government MP - which is interesting, given that John Howard pledged an independent speaker once upon a time).

Another thing you miss in Hansard is the colour of the interjections, which is a shame really. Is Opposition Members Interjecting really a way to capture Another bridge too far, Abbott for posterity? (never mind ... we all know history will capture Abbott as a gutless wonder ...)

For the record, yesterday's head count didn't quite reach Wednesday's all-time record, but it was still pretty spectacular and left the Opposition front bench looking pretty bare - and this time included a government MP:

1) The Member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese (with a `OH THAT'S FAIR, ISN'T IT?')
2) The Member for Lilley, Wayne Swan
3) The Member for Melbourne, Lindsay Tanner (after a particularly odious rant by Peter Costello)
4) The Member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek
5) The Member for Cowan, Graham Edwards (after an equally odious slang by Tony Abbott, who, as Kim Beazley correctly pointed out, once had to restrain himself from dashing across the chamber to bop the Member for Cowan on one occasion. Don't forget, gentle readers, that the Member for Cowan lost both his legs in a landmine explosion and is wheelchair bound ...)
6) The Member for Fowler, Julia Irwin
7) The Member for Shortland, Jill Hall
8) The Liberal Member for Bass, Michael Ferguson

One interesting point ... today's Sydney Morning Herald contains pictures of Albanese exiting the chamber, yet I was certain that you couldn't take these sorts of pictures in parliament, for fear of encouraging inflammatory acts - hence the controversy over the illegal footage of Bob Brown's heckling of George W. Bush that was taken by an American news crew. Can anyone clarify this?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

... `The Member Then Left The Chamber'

Those who regularly read parliamentary hansard (or who at least read the recent Andrew Fraser-Joe Tripodi incident rendered into such) will know that even the most passionate of parliamentary argy bargy can be drained of its biffo when set down for posterity.

Media reports on numbers varied yesterday, but having now read yesterday's Hansard (available here) I can confirm that a record eleven Opposition MPs were ejected ... sorry `removed themselves under standing order 94(a)', during yesterday's Question Time:

1) The Member for Rankin, Dr Craig Emerson
2) The Member for Charlton, Kelly Hoare
3) The Member for Fowler, Julia Irwin
4) The Member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese
5) The Member for Oxley, Bernie Ripoll (a matter of seconds after Albo)
6) The Member for Ballarat, Catherine King
7) The Member for Corio, Gavan O'Connor
8) The Member for Calwell, Maria Vamvakinou
9) The Member for Holt, Anthony Byrne
10) The Member for Canberra, Annette Ellis
11) The Member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby

... and that's BEFORE the beginning of formal debate.

My computer doesn't seem to want to let me download the WorkChoices legislation. Perhaps it's trying to protect me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Ruddock on the Terrorism `Threat'

It will be a few hours before ABC puts the transcripts and MP3s for today's episode of PM online, but it's been a cracker. And so it should be. What a day of government skullduggery. No wonder my blog's been running hot.

Phillip Ruddock's interview with PM on the imminent terrorism threat has to be heard to be believed. What a masterpiece of Ruddockian evasion. In it, Ruddock admits that the threat `feasible and could well occur', and that this has been known at least since the beginning of the week. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing about a new threat, an old threat, an ongoing threat. Nothing.

WELL DUH. A terrorism attack `is feasible and could well occur' today, tomorrow, yesterday, or next week.

The change in definition of a terrorist attack that the amendment to the legislation enacts is being painted as a teeny weeny little adjustment, yet to think about it, it's quite significant. Prosecutions can now result from people planning not `the terrorist attack' but `a terrorist attack'. It sounds like a minor thing. But consider the difference here: `It is illegal to protest outside the house'. `The cat' implies a particular cat. In any legal document, `the' would be clearly defined (e.g. `the defendent', `the complainant' or what have you). Now - `It is illegal to protest outside a house'. The meaning changes entirely. `A house' implies ANY and ALL houses.

Meanwhile on the IR front, journos and MPs are ploughing through the 700-odd pages of legislation. Ten Opposition MPs - Member for Banks Daryl Melham and Member for Graydler Anthony Albanese were two names I picked up - had a little extra precious time to flick through, having been ejected from the chamber for intemperate comments over the laws. The latest rumour is that individuals will be fined for revealing details of other peoples' AWAs to a third party. No anti-union measures there, then ... Kevin Andrews' interview with PM is also well worth listening to, if you have the stomach for it.

Update: I've now linked to all the appropriate PM transcripts.

`A Magnificent Coincidence'

In what journo Matt Price described to the ABC's Richard Glover as `a magnificent coincidence', John Howard and Philip Ruddock have announced what they describe as a credible imminent terrorist threat against Australia, which is so serious that it will necessitate the recall of the Senate tomorrow to rush through amendments to anti-terrorism legislation.

I'm sorry, but: bullshit. Absolute bullshit.

I just don't buy it.

This is the same mob that sent a Hazmat team into the Indonesian embassy to seek out a `biological agent' in the wake of the Schapelle Corby verdict which turned out to be nothing more than ... what? We were never really told, were we? Whatever it was, it clearly wasn't anthrax or bubonic plague or any substance of the sort they were trying to imply it was at the time.

Playing with fear to ram through contentious legislation isn't new to the Howard government, but doing it so blatantly is just plain embarrassing. Now, who knows? If there's a terrorist attack tomorrow, I'll admit that I was wrong. But right now, I just cannot buy the fact that ASIO has suddenly uncovered a grand terrorist plot, and it has just happened to occur at exactly the same time a few crucial people were getting wobbly knees on pushing through anti-terror legislation. It's a mark of the sort of lies and deception this government has been responsible for that I have become so sceptical, but it's true.

More `information' here. Bring on the sedition charges, people!

Update, 4th November: A good article on the `Magnificent Coincidence' and the legislation tweak by Richard Ackland here.

Public Service Announcement: Your Rights At Work Campaign

November 15 -- Save the Date & Tell Your Friends.

Dear Friend,

This week the Howard Government is introducing its radical industrial relations legislation into Parliament. A clear majority of Australians say they do not support these new laws and are deeply concerned about how they will affect their lives. Unfair dismissal protections, collective bargaining rights, overtime, penalty rates, and public holidays are all at risk.

But it’s not too late to act. We urgently need you to tell as many of your friends, family and colleagues as possible about the National Day of Community Protest on November 15.

Tuesday November 15 is a crucial day in the fight for our rights at work. It is our chance to show the Howard Government that the battle for a fair workplace and a decent Australia is only just beginning. The best way to send this message to the Government is through a massive show of strength of November 15.

Major rallies are being held in every capital city and the event will be broadcast via Sky Channel to locations from Katherine to Carnarvon. Some of Australia’s best-loved celebrities will be there to lend support.

Hundreds of thousands of Australians will be telling the Government that our rights at work are worth fighting for – and we need you and your friends to be there. So please write November 15 in your diary and forward this email to all of your friends and co-workers asking them to do the sa! me.

Find the venue and details for the rally nearest you

The Rights at Work website is also home to vital information about how the changes will affect you. We’ll be updating it frequently during this crucial period, so please check in regularly to know more.

Looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday November 15!

Sharan Burrow, Greg Combet
& the Rights at Work campaign team

More information on the contentious tabling of the IR legislation in parliament today here.

Giant Sydney Tunnel Disaster Creates Chaos, Gridlock, Heartache

... and it's not the Cross City Tunnel!!!!

I smell a conspiracy theory.

In an interview with 2SM yesterday, Carl Scully justified the construction of the Cross City Tunnel (more details of which were released yesterday ... erm, at around 3pm yesterday actually. Funny that ... ) in saying that it either came down to the government either accepting the restrictive terms of the contract or the tunnel not being built.

So much for the government `rowing, not steering', as the famous political science quote goes. This sounds more like lifting your oars and handing the whole canoe over to the private sector.

D-Day for IR

The Federal Government will introduce its Workplace Relations Amendment (ScrewTheWorkers) Bill to parliament today, in what Workplace Relations Minister has described as a `historic day', but which Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has called a `one man's tired old dream' that promises to become a `living nightmare' for Australian workers. 700 pages will be put to parliament for debate - and even at this late date, last minute amendments are being made, including a five year quarantine on industrial action on new projects. Wilson Tuckey is apparently a big fan of this idea. That should say it all.

John Howard is hoping for a jolly old Christmas, with the scalps of IR and the anti-terrorism laws hanging off his Santa belt, egg nog dribbling down his self-satisfied chin. It's clear the Coalition party room is doing its best to ensure that any dissenters - or even supporters of dissenters - get the best quality Big Bill Heffernan smackdown and a page of the anti-terror laws with the sedition section circled with a yellow highlighter.

More at the Daily Terrorgraph and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Naturally, I would encourage you all to participate in the ACTU's National Day of Action on November 15th to protest the legislation (follow the link to see the details of events at individual capital cities).

But don't forget also that a limited Senate Enquiry into the changes are taking place. Sure, Kevin Andrews will probably shred the submissions and use them to line his budgie's birdcage, but there's no quicker way of eroding democracy than not participating. Information on how you or someone you know who will potentially be effected by the legislation can make a submission to the enquiry is available here. Submissions close November 9th so get cracking.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Australian TV: In A State of Arrested Development

On a lighter note (in case you are reading, Malcolm Farr, this is for you - and I hope you do read my blog, because I read your column and thoroughly enjoy it) - how'd we all go on the Cup? Since you all asked, I came second in the office sweep. Will the windfall be worth a year's worth of 2GB's Chris Smith gloating over picking an outside chance as a placegetter for the second year in a row? Only time will tell ...

Anyway, on to other matters. I've recently mentioned the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance's campaign to draw attention to the Federal government's budgetary review of the ABC, Our ABC: The Eyes And Ears Of Australia. As part of the campaign, the MEAA has noted that production of local drama at the ABC dropped from 83 hours to three (yes, three) in the past year. As we face loosening of cross media ownership laws, the situation is not going to improve.

Now, let me unload the particular barrow I have to push tonight. I know it is very fashionable amongst us political types to bemoan Channel 9's lousy treatment of The West Wing (and it's true, it's been shithouse), but I'd like to know exactly what Channel 7 plans to do with Arrested Development, the best damn television series in years. It's saying something about a show when the abominable Mandy Rogers (aka Portia de Rossi) does well in it. Yet to Channel 7, it may well be toilet paper. When you've got a gap to fill, you scrunch up a bit and shove it in there. Otherwise, you just wipe your ass with it. It comes. It goes. Do they give a damn about the viewer? Continuity? Anything, other than whether an adequate proportion think that idiotic bouncing TV logo in the corner is funny? NUH-UH.

And don't even get me started on their treatment of Scrubs, another brilliant TV show. Take it off - mid season - put ONE episode on - then replace it with repeats of Desperate Housewives !!!! GAHHHH !!!!! *head in hands*.

In the same way that government seems increasingly like a co-ordination agency for a series of private consortia, television seems nothing more than a show-reel for corporations to advertise their crap, plugged with diversions as brief and unchallenging as possible. What can be done?

For Melbournian readers, the Friends of the ABC will be holding a forum on the implications of changes in cross media ownership laws on 16 November at 7.00pm, at Melbourne City Conference Centre (333 Swanston St), with guests including Phillip Adams, Robert Manne, Crikey's Eric Beecher, and The Chaser's Julian Morrow.

(For everyone else, I'm fresh out of ideas. Why not blog?)

The Legislation That Stops A Nation

I've been meaning to blog my thoughts on the latest developments in the introduction anti-terrorism legislation, but it's hard to know exactly where to start. So many things to say, so many thoughts ...

The matter is not helped by the mixed messages the Opposition is giving on the laws. It's hard to know whether Kim Beazley is actually trying to appear harder on terror than John Howard (I tend to disagree with analyses such as Steven Lewis' that he is attempting to head off `another Tampa' - and if he is, what did he get criticised for doing last time round? Curling up into a little ball and saying `Oh all right, us too then'). It seems to me that Beazley is attempting to unsuccessfully win back space on the agenda by proposing amendments to the legislation, in much the same way that Mark Latham did by proposing amendments to the US Free Trade Agreement. If this is the case, it's just not working. In an argument so contentious and vexed, I can only agree with the assessment, reported by The Australian's Samantha Maiden, that this instead constitutes a `mangling of the message'. This view was expressed at a weekend meeting of the National Left at which a motion on the anti-terrorism laws was passed (the full text of the motion can be read on

And if I'm so confused by all of this, just think of any given Opposition Frontbencher, who at one point was going to be voting on the legislation around now but who has still not been shown the bill. The situation is just as bad for state and territory MPs, who, in at least one state that I know of, only received a briefing on the COAG meeting at which the initial deal was agreed upon after much lobbying - and even then received nothing more than a member of the public would have.

As the Federal Member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, pointed out in her interview with Virginia Trioli on ABC 702 this morning, MPs are elected to make decisions on behalf of their 85,000-odd constituents. They cannot be expected to make informed decisions under the conditions the government is offering. This is not democracy - and frankly, it's pretty alarming.

Most of the comments I would want to make on this issue have been made already (see for example Daryl Melham's recent opinion piece from the Sydney Morning Herald, reproduced at OnlineOpinion), but for anyone who doubts the danger of laws which allow law enforcement to occur outside judicial scrutiny; for people to be `disappeared' without being allowed to tell even their closest family members where they have been, I invite you to learn about Argentina's Madres de Plaza de Mayo and remind everyone, before they dismiss Argentina as some South American backwater, that its natural resources once made it one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Yes, it can happen anywhere, so long as your back is turned for long enough.

SMH Website update

The Sydney Morning Herald has been hyping its upcoming website upgrade for a few weeks ... if you want a preview, pop down to The Age's website, which has already gone ahead with its tweaks.

As Media Watch reported last night and the week before, The Age has been doing a lot of revisions to their website lately ...