Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

SMH's Top Ten Blogs

The Sydney Morning Herald - or rather, one David Sifry - has named what are apparently the Top Ten Blogs. Now, any such list was always going to be purely subjective, but honestly ... well, I was going to have a rant about hardly being at the cutting edge of the information superhighway, to mix over-used techno-metaphors - but it is pretty amusing ...

Anyway, the Herald has also opened a very interesting discussion on what readers consider to be their favourite blogs. I commend you especially to Max D's comments on everyone's favourite right-wing nutblog, Tim Blair. (You'll see a few other familiar names amongst the commenters and commented-upons too).

Thursday, April 27, 2006

EVENT: NSW Parliament Open Weekend

In a little under a month's time, on the 20 and 21 May NSW Parliament House will be holding an open weekend to mark what is being called the Sesquicentenary of Responsible Government in New South Wales. Given a few significant blips (the Bob Askin years spring to mind), I don't suppose you could describe all those years of government as `responsible', but in any case, the first bicameral Parliament in NSW opened on May 22nd, 1856, and authority over NSW passed from the governor to the Premier and his or her Cabinet.

Over the weekend there will be various tours, talks, and a discussion, chaired by Rodney Cavalier, on Writing Party History, which will be held in conjunction with the Sydney Writers Festival.

More information at the NSW Government website. Former NSW Premier Neville Wran's entertaining speech marking the launch of the commemorative books in honour of the Sesquicentenary is also well worth a read.

Smart Card, Dumb Idea?

The notion that the newly mandated `Smart Card' is `not compulsory', as the Prime Minister has tirelessly reiterated since the announcement of its introduction yesterday, is a furphy - and one which many members of his own party, as well as others as diverse as Cameron Murphy of the Council for Civil Liberties and Peter Hendy of the Chamber of Commerce have expressed concerns over.

In a sense, a universal card would be fairer, because the one that's on offer by definition herds together the poor and middle class and excludes the rich - that is, those people who have no need for welfare benefits. The cards, which are to cost $1bn to roll out, are expected to help to crack down on that scourge of the nation, welfare fraud. Perhaps fixing the welfare system and then taking a good hard look at the ways people on six figure salaries can defraud the tax system would be a fairer and more cost effective solution? Perish the thought.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Georgiou Holds Kooyong

Moderate Liberal MP Petro Georgiou has romped home in the Kooyong pre-selection, defeating challenger Josh Frydenberg with 62 of a possible 85 votes to Mr Frydenberg's 22 (a third candidate, Alistair Armstrong, who yesterday morning was still stubbornly insisting the vote was a `three horse race', received one vote, presumably his own).

Peter Costello, who supported Georgiou in the pre-selection, has suggested Frydenberg instead try for the neighbouring seat of Chisholm - currently held by Labor's Anna Burke (who won it from the former Liberal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge) - but Frydenberg has ruled this out with rather indecent haste, instead pledging to challenge Georgiou again in three years' time.

I suppose if there were any justice in the world, all new candidates - be they former staffers running for the Liberals or former union officials running for Labor - would have to run either for marginals or seats held by the opposing party, rather than having a cushy safe seat hand-picked for them whenever they elect to begin their political career, in order to prove their mettle (as well as pick up seats from the other side, if they are actually so great as to justify the usurping of currently sitting members).

And yes, Georgiou described his victory as a vindication of the `broad church' of the Liberal Party. Which, I suppose, it is.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Crittenden and Yeadon to Step Down

There are reports today that serving Labor MPs Paul Crittenden and Kim Yeadon do not plan to contest the next election. It is expected that the former head of the Parents and Citizens Association, Sharryn Brownlee, will contest Yeadon's seat. This is not at all unexpected. Brownlee stepped down from the P&C recently after claims she had become `too close' to the Iemma Government, but I've heard her speak - impressively and articulately - many times (she was a regular guest on Murray Olds' much lamented Sunday morning panel show on 2UE) and it occurred to me each time that she'd be a shoo-in should a seat come up.

Herald hatcheteer Alex Mitchell suggests that the MPs are `cutting and running' in anticipation of an electoral bloodbath. This is quite absurd. As I've told so many people who have muttered darkly about the possible outcome of the next election - simply based on statistics, the NSW Government would find it extremely difficult to be thrown out of power.

Showdown at Kooyong

In about one hour, incumbent member Petro Georgiou will discover whether he has lost his seat to former Alexander Downer staffer Josh Frydenberg. Should Frydenberg win the seat, the result will mean curtains to the brief period of lenient refugee policy. It will also be seen as a boost to Downer's likely leadership prospects in the future, as has increasingly been rumoured as Peter `Always The Bridesmaid' Costello becomes ever glummer. When asked about it during his recent trip to the Solomons, Downer simply giggled as if someone had chucked him under the chin, shook his head, ended the press conference, and took everyone out for a round of mint juleps. Oh, everyone would like a chap like him as a PM!

Speaking of changes of leadership, British PM Tony Blair's interview with Michael Parkinson last night was quite an eye opener. I've certainly had my disagreements with Blair's policies over his nine years in power, which has included dismantling many of the strong socialist and Fabian foundations of the British Labour movement, not to mention involving Britain so deeply in the Iraq War, a move I will never agree with him on. But his comments on the way politicians must arrive at their decisions is very interesting (not to mention the differences and similarities he has handled the transition of leadership to Gordon Brown, as compared to the Howard/Costello situation). If you didn't catch the interview itself, it's worth a look (caveat emptor: I've had trouble with the Parkinson website; the interview either loads partially or not at all. You may have more luck).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Let The Games Begin

John Howard's speech to the Menzies Institute this week was more than just an attack on Labor's family tax policy - it could be seen to mark the beginning of the next election cycle. Yes, it seems only yesterday that we were having the last election, but with a three year cycle, there's effectively only one year of rest between the sturm und drang of election year wind-ups and wind-downs.

It's intriguing that Howard should choose a topic on which Labor is so clearly in the ascendant to begin his attack, though. In one sense, it's another example of the idea of forming pseudo-Opposition within his own party, as I discussed earlier. In another, however, the government is on very shaky ground on this issue. As Polemica suggests, there's just not a lot of justification for giving people who are already rich more money to raise their children, and furthermore, the structure of the Family Tax Benefits system is clearly doing more to stymie productivity than our previous industrial relations regime ever did.

Will the government continue trying to attack Labor on its own territory? A very odd technique, and according to the political theory whose name escapes me (if anyone can drop it in the Comments I'd be most grateful) but which dictates that social democratic parties will always win arguments on social issues, and conservative parties will always win arguments on economic issues, a pretty poor one.

Karl Rove to Leave the White House

Karl Rove, largely considered the architect of US President George W. Bush's political success will leave the White House, where he has acted as Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff, to concentrate on the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections, which the Republicans are in serious danger of losing.

Rove has been Bush's right-hand man since long before he was Governor of Texas, and having read up on the man quite a bit (for example, this profile in The New Yorker, it's not too much to say that Rove - a neocon virtually since birth - deliberately sought out the man most likely to become the next Republican president by virtue of bloodline and happenstance and nutured him for the top job.

Rove's departure asks a number of questions. Firstly, how much more deflated will Bush look without one less hand up his keester? Secondly, was Rove gently pushed, given his implication in the Valerie Plame CIA leak scandal? Thirdly, could the fact that Rove is a known opponent of military action Iran be a very bad sign of the Bush administration's intentions for that region?

One thing is certain - the move makes a clear statement that the Republicans finally realise exactly how troubled Bush's presidency is.

Rove's departure comes as part of a wider reshuffle which also sees the exit of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who has had perhaps one of the roughest jobs in the Bush Administration - that is, justifying some truly crappy decisions to a rightly hostile media where his superiors wouldn't go within spitting distance of the press room.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The `Broad Church' and the Politics of Asylum Seekers

Cast your mind back to not-too-long-ago-at-all, and you will recall that a group of Liberal backbenchers, led by the Member for Kooyong, Petro Georgiou, was pushing for a Private Members Bill that was to radically reshape the country's asylum seeker policies. Though the bill was not, in the end, introduced, the government did eventually make large policy concessions in deference to Georgiou and his group - which, many argued, was his intention in the first place (an argument backed up by the fact that Georgiou himself was amongst those who voted to gag debate on this, his own Private Members Bill).

Cut forward to today - less than a year later - and these concessions have not only been dismantled, but the system has been set back past the bad old days of the Tampa incident.

Now, the issue of the Papuan asylum seekers is one no government of any political persuasion wants to touch with a barge pole (though I for one believe we may not be in this situation if Australia treated Indonesia like a genuine regional partner rather than a funny little holiday neighbour). However, setting aside the diplomatic dilemma, it's intriguing to look at the figures who put into place the original amendments to asylum seeker policy. Petro Georgiou, it is already well known, is under threat of losing his pre-selection to foes on the Right. Rumours also circulate about the future of Bruce Baird - like Georgiou, of the most prominently moderate Liberal MPs in parliament. The same can be said for other dissidents such as Judi Moylan.

When John Howard and other high profile ministers are questioned about these apparent dissidents in his ranks, the stock answer is always that the `Liberal Party is a Broad Church'. This has been an overwhelmingly successful philosophy for the government. By allowing dissidents off the leash once in a while, it creates an Opposition within its own party ranks, thus sidelining the genuine Opposition. Likewise local members are permitted to sideline party policy (Danna Vale's crusade against the Lucas Heights Nuclear Reactor is a good example) in a low-key manner, because it doesn't impact the wider party and, again, allows the government to keep its hand in on both sides of the debate. Hypocritical? Yes. Clever politics? Ten years in power is ten years in power.

But what is happening to this `broad church'? In NSW, the purge of moderates has already started, with Patricia Forsythe signing her own death warrant by blowing the whistle on the seizure of the state party by right-wing factions (an action which also cost it John Brogden's blue ribbon seat of Pittwater in an unprecedented swing). With the undermining of Georgiou and co, the Federal party may be going the same way.

This would be a very unfortunate thing for the Liberal Party. But, it would also signal a significant change in political tactics, as well as an opportunity for the real Opposition.

Flutey Toots His Last?

Can it be?

Here I was preparing to post an optimistic and cheery post about the increasing influence of the blogosphere on public discourse (as recounted in today's Sydney Morning Herald, as well as the latest issue of The Walkley Magazine) when a reliable source up and informs me that the granddaddy of many an Aussie blog of the leftish persuasion, The Daily Flute, has popped its clogs.

Was there a heretofore unreported civil unrest in the Deep South following his blasphemous Delta Goodrem Easter cartoon? An ill-timed attempt to grab headlines dominated by the birth of the TomKitten (and, if rumours are to be believed ... put down dinner first ... the subsequent eating of the placenta by the Tom half of the equation ... )

Whatever the reason, I hope Flutey returns to the blogosphere, batteries recharged, guns-a-blazing. It can be rough to be a single-voice blogger (hence the growth of multiple voice blogs) but also very rewarding, both for writer and (I hope) reader.

Flutey, we salute you!

Monday, April 17, 2006

St Vincents: Welfare to Work Legislation `Immoral'

I note belatedly the equally belated return of Channel 10's `Meet the Press' to our screens for 2006, now inconveniently programmed an hour before the ABC's Insiders, so you a) have to get up half an hour earlier on Sunday to watch it and b) can't go straight from one to the other (and c) note to Channel 10 - it makes it easier for both Insiders and Sunday to discuss and/or pinch stuff from your show - both a good thing and a bad thing). No doubt a good political interview show is not on Channel 10's To Do list, as it doesn't involve voting anyone out, it's not a reality show, and it doesn't involve celebrities. Well, not in the Channel 10 conception of any of these things, anyway.

This weekend's guests were the always interesting Shadow Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner, who naturally had a few things to say about Peter Costello's Hendy-Warburton report on the Australian tax system (as did the Sydney Morning Herald's Ross Gittins and Alan Kohler, both of whose assessments of the report are well worth reading), and The St Vincent de Paul Society's Dr John Falzon, who labelled the Federal Government's plan to refer `extremely vulnerable' persons who are unable to get a job under the strict new provisions mandated by the Welfare to Work legislation passed last year as `immoral'.

For my money, the second interview was the more intriguing. St Vincent de Paul has decided to opt out of the government's framework, arguing that it in fact represents a transition from welfare to another form of welfare - one that doesn't help a person in need better themselves, but simply makes them feel worse and more ashamed about their situation. And he's dead right. Anyone who's ever had to opt for welfare of any form (and people from all walks of life have) will know that the whole system's set up to make you feel lousy about getting welfare. As Dr Falzon put it, there's too many sticks and not enough carrots.

Welfare to Work is the government's way of having its cake and eating it too as far as the dismantling of the welfare state is concerned. Palming its responsibilities to the most vulnerable people in society to charities such as St Vincents is a tacit acknowledgement that such people still exist, but an abrogation of their responsibility to deal with them. As Dr Falzon noted, the advent of WorkChoices means that the issue of welfare and who receives it is about to become more important than ever. Australia has never had a working poor before, yet this is already changing.

Unfortunately (and not coincidentally), Welfare to Work was starved of attention at the time it was passed by the Senate, given the attention that was - quite rightly - paid to WorkChoices. Now that the effects of some of the legislation that was rushed through at the end of last year are beginning to show, many of the debates raging at the time - and particularly this one - should now be reopened and be given the space they deserve.

Transcripts of both interviews available here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Happy Easter for Some

As if I haven't been incommunicado enough (completing an assignment on Australia's nuclear engagement with Asia, which I now sorely wish to turn into fissile material and bury for 250,000 million years), I'm off to family holidays for a few days.

In my absence, why not have a think about the future of Sydney's notorious Villawood Detention Centre? There's been dark mutterings about the mysterious timing of the evacuation of this facility after asbestos was discovered on the site, given that protests were planned there at Easter, while the asbestos has allegedly been known about for several years. Not to mention the fact that just about everyone - centre workers, protesters, passing stray dogs - were mentioned as potential victims of asbestosis before the actual detainees were. Detainees have been removed to a variety of different detention centres while the clean-up takes place. I think this story has a way to run yet, and I wouldn't be surprised if the doors of Villawood stayed shut for quite a long time - perhaps even forever. I'd be thrilled if I thought the detainees would be kept somewhere safer, friendlier or nicer, but sadly, that's unlikely to be the case.

David Hicks a Step Closer to Freedom

The British Court of Appeal has dismissed the British Government's appeal against Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks' application for British citizenship in a unanimous verdict, bringing Hicks one step closer to being released from the discredited facility after over four years of incarceration.

As his American military lawyer Major Michael Mori explained on tonight's 7:30 Report (no transcript up yet so I haven't linked it), the government may still appeal to the House of Lords, but this appeal is less likely to be accepted given the unanimity of the verdict. Mori rejected speculation that Hicks would renounce his Australian citizenship to strengthen his case, and would instead hold dual citizenship. Nine British citizens have previously been removed from Guantanamo Bay, two of whom were designated to attend the military commission process, which is itself the subject of an ongoing legal challenge.

I've probably said it before, but Major Mori is someone who mightily deserves a medal for everything he has done for Hicks. He's is a model example of someone who realises that human rights extend to everyone, they don't expire; we don't surrender them or cash them in, you just get them and that's that.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

France Scraps Youth Job Law

France has dumped its controversial CPE, or First Job Contract, after months of politically costly protests. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin claimed that the law, which was to make it easier to fire employees aged under 26, would reduce the youth unemployment rate, but opponents argued that it would only further job instability for young people, already facing an increasingly uncertain job market, given the advent of casualisation. Other ways of addressing youth unemployment are now being explored, such as providing financial incentives to employers. de Villepin himself has seen his popularity drop to 25% amidst the protests, and rumours continue that he may quit following his handling of the crisis.

John Howard, are you listening?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Howard to Testify at the Cole Commission

ABC Radio have just reported that John Howard has agreed to provide a statement to the Cole Commission, which could mean that he, like his ministers Mark Vaile and Alexander Downer, and is eventually likely to give evidence.

This is the first time government ministers - and now a Prime Minister - have appeared before a Royal Commission in 23 years, and we should see some fascinating performances. The theatre of court is very different to the theatre of parliament. Parliamentary performance is a game of rhetoric, bluster, to-and-fro and wilful bfuscation. Alexander Downer learned not long ago that the rules of parliamentary debating cannot be applied to every situation, in his speech to the Earle Page Dinner in 2005, when he used these rules for an unfair and historically inaccurate demolition of wartime Labor leader John Curtin. Parliament is used to bend the details (occasionally to breaking point) to argue your party's point.

Court is not, and this is what will be fascinating. There will be no scope for beating around the bush, pompous point-scoring and rhetorical flourishes. And the raw, unvarnished details will not be flattering.

Meanwhile, Downer, Vaile and Howard might like to kick back (no pun intended) and watch tonight's episode of Four Corners.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Moore Trouble At Town Hall

Yesterday's revelation that City of Sydney Council has lost its second CEO in eighteen months came as quite a surprise. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one is understandable, but two is sheer carelessness. And bloody expensive carelessness, too. Seamer was generally thought to be an improvement on his abrasive predecessor, Robert Domm, who left in high dudgeon after a disagreement with Moore's former Deputy Lord Mayor, John McInerney, and has since moved on to head former Lord Mayor Frank Sartor's Redfern-Waterloo Authority, the State Government body designed to clean up the area which, just to make things a little more confusing and incestuous, falls not only under Moore's jurisdiction as Lord Mayor of Sydney, but is part of her State seat of Bligh.

There is still some confusion as to whether the CEO in question, Peter Seamer, went of his own volition, was fired by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, or some combination of the two, but the latter is suspected, given that Seamer is reportedly liable for a payout of up to $500,000 for being discharged from his position before his contract expired. Given the exhorbitant amount of money already being spent by the Lord Mayor's media unit, as revealed in recent budget sessions (the Iemma Government is often accused of relying on spin doctoring, but Moore's bill for this perk is quite amazing, and was estimated at a staggering one million dollars for the past year, all of which was to come out of `discretionary spending' until a motion was passed by Labor councillor Michael Lee calling for quarterly reports on media unit expenditure), councillors can certainly be forgiven for demanding further answers.

As can the humble public. If this were any other level of government, serious questions would be asked.