Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Thursday, November 30, 2006


It was great to see a crowd of an estimated 40,000 people gathering for today's Your Rights At Work rally in Sydney. Today's rally marked a decisive new phase in the campaign, with a new slogan, `Your Rights At Work: Worth Voting For'. This is a break from the ACTU's previous strategy, which was basically non-partisan, and a loud statement of intention: IR is now well and truly on the election map.

It's an approach that may be considered controversial by some, but to look at things pragmatically, this was the only approach that could be taken in the current climate. Recently, I mentioned the campaign against WorkChoices to someone who replied `But you lost! You lost the court challenge! That's all over! What else can you do?" I could only reply that we can still advocate for changes to the current system, but ultimately, the only way things could improve was in a change in government. This is clearly something the ACTU recognises, and their argument - that all who support workers' rights have a duty to vote for Labor this time around - is pretty persuasive. Will minor parties set aside their differences, both with each other and the major parties, in pursuit of this goal? It's hard to say.

This week, Bob Carr addressed the Annual General Meeting of the NSW Fabian Society. Whatever you think of Carr, he is an impressive and informed speaker, and in this case, his topic of interest was American politics. One point he made was this: that Ralph Nader was gravely remiss - even culpable - in the defeat of Al Gore in the 2000 election, in that when it became clear that the election would go right down to the wire, he should have mobilised his support base to shift their vote to Gore rather than cast a symbolic vote for him. An American friend once drove this point home to me - she voted for Nader in 2000, and, much to her horror, all of her Republican workmates thanked her for helping get Bush into office.

One of the many advantages of Australia's electoral system is that a vote for a third party is not necessarily a vote that may as well not have been cast. Still, the point is clear: voting in the 2007 election must be tactical, not symbolic. Especially after the shenanigans in the Tasmanian election and virtually every other observation I've made of the Greens in election mode, I'm not confident that they would set aside their ambitions in recognition of this fact.

I would be absolutely thrilled if all progressive parties united on this issue. I would love not to be complaining about the Greens. I largely believe in what they believe in - though we disagree on how these things may be achieved - and have fought alongside them in campaigns on all sorts of issues, but, as often occurs on our side of politics, we end up finding the enemies amongst ourselves rather than uniting to defeat the real enemy - in this case, the Howard Government.

On another topic, Greg Combet was looking very statesmanlike during his address at the SCG this morning. Are the persistent rumours that he is considering running for office as an ALP member true? On one hand I would say no, given his strength of performance and obvious passion for the WorkChoices campaign and other important causes, particularly the James Hardie case (the legislation for which was signed off by the NSW Government this week, after a long, painful battle). Then again, a decision to run could represent the apotheosis of the new phase of the WorkChoices battle - the most powerful advocate of the issue working inside the only party with the actual ability to overturn the legislation.

One thing's for sure - the 2007 election campaign has now begun, and WorkChoices has automatically emerged as one of the key election issues.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Labor Romps Home In Victorian Election, Etc Etc

Premier Steve Bracks's Labor government has been returned to power in the Victorian election with a resounding majority.

Actually, I don't even know whether they did or not. I just figured posting this now would save some time.

Anthony Green has all the fun over at his ABC Victorian Election site.

Thank you and good night.

Pure As The Driven Green

The news that the Greens have signed a preference sharing deal with the Liberal Party for the Victorian election is an epoch for the party that has always sold itself as the sole remaining tenants of the moral high ground. While such a deal has the potential to do some electoral damage, the main injury may well be suffered by the Greens themselves. How will their supporters feel about supporting, via preferences, a party which represents everything against which they have always campaigned? I'm well aware of the phenomena of the `Doctor's Wife', and recently had the startling experience of hearing someone describe themselves as a `swinging Liberal/Green voter' - but what of the countless holier-than-thou inner-city dissidents who regard a vote for the Greens not only as a message to the ALP but a finger in the face of the anti-gay, anti-worker, anti-refugee, anti-human rights, and pro-globalisation Liberals? Not surprisingly, other far-left minority parties such as the Socialist Alliance have roundly criticised the deal, pointing to the lunacy of a tactic which could see Liberal MPs win over more progressive Labor counterparts.

Greens leader Bob Brown has lambasted Labor MP and former friend Peter Garrett after Garrett dared to draw attention to the Greens/Liberal deal, describing him as `anti-Green' and indulging in `brutal Labor machine politics'.

Well, let's step back and look at this, shall we?

Here's a good way to show you're pro-Green - run a split ticket with a party that refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol and argues stubbornly in favour of geosequestration and nuclear power rather than renewables and plays political games with the preservation of endangered wildlife. And here's a way to show you're anti-machine - be sure to give your preferences to a party that supports everything you were formed to fight rather than build genuine support and win on your own merits.

I'm actually a little glad that the hypocrisy of the Greens' electoral tactics is out in the open, because it's something the wider public hears very little of. It's demoralising to see base and puerile tactics used against progressive Labor candidates who would otherwise count the Greens as political and philosophical allies. Make no mistake - the public image of the Greens is pretty cuddly, yet their brutal behaviour behind closed doors has led to not a few former members that I know of either quitting in disgust or defecting to the ALP.

Brown further suggested that Garrett's lyrics, written while he was lead singer of Midnight Oil, often reflected Greens philosophies. Well, I'm with you on that one, Bob. It aches like tetanus, and it reeks of politics.

So Long, Farewell ...

It's been another one of those weeks where I've spent too much time living politics to actually write about it, but I don't think it's too late to pay a brief tribute to the members of the NSW Parliament to whom we said goodbye on Thursday as the houses rose for the last time before the March election.

It's a Parliament that couldn't end too soon for a thoroughly demoralised Opposition, who spent much of their final two weeks for the year staring at their hands and cringing as their leader managed not only to drag the NSW Government out of a potentially crippling scandal but to drag his own party straight into the mud. Did Thursday mark Peter Debnam's last Question Time as leader? I would bet money on it.

So too would Morris Iemma, who brought an `I'm Backing Barry' badge to the final Question Time, perhaps wringing a pained smile from Deputy Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell. Many had their misgivings about Iemma as he became Premier little more than a year ago - and though his beginning was hesitant, he has become a sharp and effective Question Time performer and an increasingly confident leader.

The Opposition frontbench became such an empty place after its Shadow Ministers lost their pre-selections or retired, one by one that Debnam was forced into a final reshuffle before the year ended. Andrew Humpherson, John Ryan, Peta Seaton (who retired, but reportedly not without pressure), and Andrew Tink, who is likely to be succeeded by the controversial former Deputy DPP Greg Smith. Ryan, an MLC best known for his resemblance to Ned Flanders, decried the process which saw himself and other moderates deposed as a `right-wing cancer'. Amen to that. No pun intended.

Meanwhile, former shadow Minister Steve Pringle will, after sensationally tearing up his Liberal Party membership in Parliament, contest his seat of Hawkesbury as an Independent. Leaving from the Nationals are former Shadow Minister Ian Slack-Smith and long serving Nationals MP Ian Armstrong - who, as far as I can remember, is the only Opposition MP to actually serve as a Minister (correction: I have been alerted that George Souris and Chris Hartcher escaped my mind. While the idea of Chris Hartcher as Shadow Attorney General scares me, the notion of Chris Hartcher as Minister for the Environment is positively petrifying).

The Upper House will not be losing the long-running Democrats MLC Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, despite what you may have read on this blog (we all make mistakes), but it will lose its President, Meredith Burgmann, Jan Burnswood, Unity Party MLC Peter Wong, and, in a crushing blow that I'm sure will devastate you all, former One Nation member David Oldfield. May his oblivion lie the way of ever more cringeworthy reality shows. Actually, I don't care which way his oblivion lies, I just can't wait for it to happen.

Finally to the Government. On the backbench, we're saying goodbye to John Bartlett, John Mills, Paul Crittenden, Marianne Saliba and, controversially, Bryce Gaudry, who lost his pre-selection to local TV host Jodi McKay in an unpopular move that could easily prove a Head Office own-goal. Several former Ministers are also moving on, including Pam Allen and Kim Yeadon. Minister for Tourism, Sport & Recreation and Women Sandra Nori departs after 19 years, as does Bob Debus, after a distinguished career in NSW Parliament (and perhaps, before another in Canberra). The week in which he delivered a powerful speech which may have spelt the political demise of Peter Debnam was also the last for Debus, who as a member for 19 years and a Minister for 16 is the government's longest serving Minister.

I think it's appropriate to quote Debus' valedictory speech in regards to all of the above. I admire anyone who enters public life, regardless of their philosophy, because if there's one thing I dislike more than the philosophy of the Opposition, its those of either persuasion who complain about the way things are yet make no attempt to do anything about it. This will sound a most un-progressive statement, but I'm actually a little sad about the changes to parliamentary protocol which mean that Ministers are no longer described as `Honourable', because I'm one of the few people who think politics is a career worthy of this description.
As I look back on the changes that I have seen in 19 years, I have often had cause for concern about how Parliament and politicians are viewed by the public. The political dramas that are played out in the pages of newspapers, on talkback radio and in the nightly television news highlight the fact that to be a politician these days can often be tantamount to a term of abuse. The importance of civility in public life cannot be overestimated. They say that nostalgia is not what it used to be, but I think that things were somewhat different when I first started here. There seemed to be more time and more mutual respect between members and a broad acknowledgment of differing views. This place has always been robust. For instance, the exchanges between Neville Wran and Leon Punch had to be seen to be believed, but it was different. Politics was less of a profession. More people in politics came from another life, and I cannot say that was a bad thing.

People on the outside contemplating a political career might think about these practices and look at the charges levelled at me in the past week or so and wonder if they should make the effort to enter Parliament. And who could blame them? We are all to blame—politicians, political operators and the media. We make the feeding frenzy what it is. It is the price to pay for reducing modern politics to a cross between a blood sport and an open mike night at the Comedy Store. But the events of the past few days have reminded me that the political process still has the power to redeem, to reveal truths and to deliver justice.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Is This The End of Peter Debnam?

Peter Debnam's appalling behaviour in NSW Question Time yesterday must be unprecedented. For backbenchers to pursue their own grubby tangents and vendettas is one thing, but for a party leader to abuse parliamentary privilege in such a way is jawdropping - not only for its audacity but its ineptitude. This time last week, the NSW Government were in damage control with an issue that all conceded had the potential to bring down the government. The Opposition not only fumbled this opportunity but have now managed to drag itself into the line of fire instead.

Will this be the end of Peter Debnam?

If his accusations prove false - and Channel 9 has already been reported that they relate to a PIC investigation that was dismissed and closed over three years ago - then it should certainly do. In any case, using parliamentary privilege to draw attention to an accusation rather than a statement of fact should cause Debnam's party to seriously question his ability to be anything more than a shrill attack dog more interested in nipping at the heels of the government than producing alternate policies.

Though the party would be better served by another leader, my fear is not, as Morris Iemma suggested, that Barry O'Farrell would take over - had the party not been so riven by infighting, O'Farrell would already be Opposition and, I am reluctant to admit, would probably be doing a very good job - but that this may allow the far right to leverage one of their own puppets into the leadership.

Whatever occurs, Debnam should follow the example of Bill Heffernan, who moved to the back bench once his ridiculous scuttlebutt about Justice Michael Kirby, also made under parliamentary privilege, was proven incorrect. Neither the Liberal Party nor the greater public are well served by someone who cannot understand the responsibilities of his position, or put aside his party-political zeal to realise the seriousness of making an unfounded accusation against any public figure.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Is it Bipartisanship?

Last night, I had a dream I was being given a lift in a large black Comcar. Various people got in and out of the car until finally, it was just me in the back seat and, in the front seat, two people: John Howard and Kim Beazley.

The funny thing was (if this wasn't funny enough), they were cracking jokes, having deep conversations, and just generally getting along famously. It was like two teams who get together after the big match and shout each other drinks afterwards - or even the actors who play bitter enemies but are sworn friends in real life.

The question is: what did it mean? Was this a dream about the spirit of bipartisanship, perhaps inspired by the current developments in the US? Did it merely mean that I spend too much time following Federal politics?

Oh, and not to omit one crucial point that only just occurred to me. Who was in the drivers' seat? It was Kim Beazley, with Howard in the passenger seat. However, I gained the sense that neither of them were actually driving ...

I welcome your interpretations.

(I think it's quite appropriate that this question is the first to be posted since I finally transferred my blog to Beta, which (I think) has finally repaired the problem with posting comments. Thanks to those who did get in touch, apologies to those to whom I said `Tsk bah bgosh, they're working fine, I tells you!', and let me know if you have any more difficulties. Cheers.)

Costello, Costs and Carbon

Today's Insiders interview with Peter Costello is a must-read for several reasons.

Firstly, I've rarely seen such a case of ruddocking. As we all know, to`Ruddock' is to smoothly refuse, in any way shape or form, to answer or engage in a question asked. As in `Peter Costello was asked at least three times whether interest rates are currently low in either real or comparitive terms, and he ruddocked for all he was worth until Barrie Cassidy gave up and moved on to the next question (which he also ruddocked)'. Whereas senior Howard Government ministers have always been more than happy about the great job they're doing, Costello didn't want to touch interest rates with a barge pole. Howard has also been caught off message on the same topic recently. Given that the Howard Government has, in the past, maintained a policy of instantly and confidently transforming any argument for or against policy to an economic one, this is quite a development. It would also suggest that Labor's strategy of finally tackling economic issues head on, and highlighting related issues such as affordable housing, is proving effective.

Secondly, Costello provided a pretty firm commitment to follow the lead of NSW and Victoria and begin a Federalised carbon trading scheme, something that the government had dismissed with equal firmness only a matter of days ago. It's a measure of how quickly the issue of climate change has entered mainstream political thought. Ian Macfarlane's comments dismissing Al Gore's `An Inconvenient Truth' as mere sensationalist entertainment were pretty silly then; now, they would be a downright political liability. Did Gore's movie make the change, or was it simply an idea whose time has finally come? Whatever the case, it's also interesting to note that committing to battling climate change almost innately involves setting aside economic reasoning. Dirty coal is undoubtedly cheaper than clean energy, but for the first time in a decade, the economic case can simply not be used to demolish all other cases. It's battle or bust, no matter the cost.

Though Costello's timeline for such an introduction was a hopelessly lax `up to 50 years', in keeping with the `Yeah, yeah so global warming exists but it's not that bad and anyway just shut up about it OK' line that conservative sources who previously rubbished the concept have been plying (most notably Miranda Devine this week in a quite ludicrous article that admitted the reality of climate change but absolved it of any actual impact on the envrionment such as droughts and water shortages), but the commitment is real, and it's something that those who have campaigned on the issue can hold up and demand action on. As such, I don't imagine Howard will be happy about Costello making such a statement, but let's hope Costello holds him to the commitment rather than obliging him to ruddock his way out again.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Week of Bombshells

It's rare that the usual hyperbole employed by the media should actually meet the scale of whatever they're describing, but the past few days have yielded quite a few examples where that has been the case.

Like everyone, I was stunned to hear the allegations pending against former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Milton Orkopoulos. Such allegations are all the more shocking when they are made against a person whose job is to represent the community. When I first heard that Morris Iemma was to hold a press conference I - and I'm sure many others - assumed it may be to depose Kerry Hickey, the Minister for Local Government, who has been involved in some controversies of his own recently. Instead, Iemma dropped - yes - a bombshell.

Some have expressed legitimate concerns that Orkopoulos was sacked both from the Ministry and the Labor party on the basis of allegations, not proven facts. Herein lies a very tricky situation. Refusing to sack Orkopoulos - especially if the allegations were later proven true - would have been political suicide, leaving the more morally dubious choice of a sacking as, I imagine, the only realistic option. On the other hand, I should think Orkopoulos would have stepped aside voluntarily while such serious charges were being heard. In any case, it will be difficult to assess the wider impact of the situation, and further discussion should probably be left until a time when the true facts can be ascertained.

Now to a considerably brighter note. Last night I attended an event held by Democrats Abroad and watched, along with a very excited group of expatriate Americans, as George Bush's political dominance was conclusively crushed. Having lived in America at the time when support for Bush was at an all time high; when to say a word against him was to literally be accused of treason, this is a stunning turnaround. Yes, media hyperbole again; but again, I think it's justified. What with the long-overdue resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and his replacement by former CIA director Bob Gates - a known opponent of any military action against Iran - it feels like the world is emerging from a long, painful headache. Bush will not be looking forward to the remainder of his term, presiding over both a House and Senate hostile to his agenda.

Does the US bombshell have the power to topple a President or his party? Absolutely, so long as the Democrats pick a good candidate. And the NSW one? As I said, it's impossible to tell at this point, but the government would certainly be hoping for a quiet Christmas.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Coincidence

The Howard Government pre-empts the release of the Switkowski Report on the viability of an Australian nuclear power industry by informing us - let's repeat, three weeks before the report's intended release - that it will find that such an idea is just beaut, mate.

Meanwhile, an estimated 12,000 people, in Sydney alone, march as part of an international day of action on climate change.

Coincidence? Surely the goverment wouldn't exploit growing public concern about a very real problem to not only cover their backflip but push their own agenda?


The History Wars and the Future Wars

Looking back on it, it's hard to think of a time in which the use of historical analogy as a mode of political attack has been so used and abused. Labor's financial management will be poor because they were in government during the recession of the 1990s. Menzies was a poor wartime leader. Curtin was a poor wartime leader. Iraq is the new Vietnam - and so on. This is the basis of the so-called `history wars' - an attempt to rewrite history through the lense of ideology.

Reinterpreting history for political reasons isn't new. Most popular perceptions of England's medieval monarchs, for example, are derived from Shakespeare, who was obliged to portray those belonging to the bloodline of the current monarch as noble, and those of other bloodlines as bloodthirsty or idiotic. Both Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare realised the power of historical analogy during the Essex Rebellion of 1601, in which a group of conspirators who planned to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I paid Shakespeare's company to perform Richard II, a play in which the monarch is assassinated, to create public support for their intended crime.

I recently read a paper by political scientist Richard Patrick Houghton, who theorised that historical analogy is particularly common at times of crisis and uncertainty, a state every Western government now puts a lot of energy into assurring us we're in. We rely on analogy as a way of comprehending an uncertain world through past patterns and outcomes. The history is seen as concrete; the future is obviously not, and historical analogy is one way in which we attempt to exercise some power and direction over the unknown.

This principle is what makes the `History Wars' so pernicious, and so different to mere historical analogy - the active abuse of history to control the present and future. History is never concrete. All history is subject to interpretation. Instead, there appears to be an unprecedented and concerted attempt to entrench a `definitive' version of history which justifies current policies or even allows another side to `win' in retrospect. This goes beyond such things as accusations of a `black armband' view of history and into the airbrushing out of anyone who ever wore a black armband, so to speak. Modern history is dotted, perhaps for the first time, not with reinterpretations of history, but outright denials. The Holocaust did not occur, and nor did the Stolen Generations - not because facts suggest it, but because the ideology of the interpreter does. We must never see an Australia in which one history is `wrong' and another is `right' - and furthermore, such a method of intepretation does not belong in politics. Alexander Downer's disgraceful demolition of John Curtin earlier this year was an unprecedented attempt not only to incorporate ideological interpretation into the canon of history, but to wield this interpretation as a political tool. I know us pollie-watchers are fond of making comparisons to Orwell's `1984', but I'll do a bit of analogising myself in noting that its plot revolved around a man whose job was to continually alter recorded history to reflect the principles of the current government.

Tony Stephens describes the effects more eloquently than I in his review of the landmark book `The History Wars'. The Sydney Morning Herald also has an archive of articles on the topic which is terrific and thought provoking reading; not the least the article in which John Howard (in 2003) declares the History Wars `over' and his intepretation now accepted reality.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Star Candidates

Only days after NSW Attorney General Bob Debus's announcement of his departure from State politics, possibly to contest the Federal seat of Macquarie, comes the news that his successor is likely to be Phil Koperberg, the high-profile Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

I should imagine that Koperberg commands a lot of respect in the Blue Mountains, given that it's an area which has seen its fair share of bushfires. Coincidentally, Debus named as one of his key achievements the modernisation of the Rural Fire Service through the Rural Fires Act 1997, an act which largely shaped Koperberg's position as overseer of bushfire emergency management.

It's interesting to compare the positions of the two men, both of whom might be described as `star' candidates - not celebrities as such, but justly respected people with a high profile and a demonstrated track record.

While the nomination of both men ) could be seen as part of a growing trend of encouraging high-profile people into politics, such as Pru Goward, Peter Garrett and Malcolm Turnbull - I think there's a little more to it. I should emphasise that though Koperberg only recently joined the ALP, he is, as Debus is, certainly a genuine local in their chosen electorates, and it has been reported that a rank-and-file preselection will take place for the Blue Mountains seat, though Koperberg is thought to have the numbers.

Tony Blair once claimed that Australia's Federal system hampers the chances of the ALP in that too many talented politicians play out their careers in the State rather than Federal arena. At the time I thought it was all a bit silly, but thinking over it, and comparing Koperberg and Debus as candidates, I think Blair's assessment is not entirely correct, but has a grain of truth. Surprisingly few State politicians have made the transition from state to Federal politics - former NSW Transport Minister Bruce Baird and Labor's Shadow Immigration Minister Tony Burke are two that spring to mind.

Yet, to think about it, there is some sense in encouraging more politicians to make the shift. It could be argued that Federal cabinets and Shadow cabinets could highly benefit from MPs who have already learnt the trade, so to speak, and proven themselves effective in another jurisdiction. Looking at it in terms of career progression, it would seem quite logical for a local member, already knowing the concerns of their constituents, to move to representing whatever concerns may be addressed at a Federal level that were out of their hands at a State level - much the same already occurs in the case of the numerous members of local government who move to State politics. It may even make a certain amount of sense to introduce universal electoral boundaries for both levels of government (an idea recently floated by NSW Democrats MLC Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, as part of an otherwise harebrained Private Members Bill) - although it's hard to say whether this would reduce or increase the confusion between the two levels of government that so many people already experience. Nevertheless, formalising such an idea would reduce the current appetite for `parachute' candidates, which I think most would agree would be a good thing, and may be a better way of forming consistent, high-quality cabinets.

The disadvantage, of course, would be the possibility that State governments would be drained of talent. This is certainly a consideration; yet another way of looking at it is that such an approach would provide the much-mooted `renewal' that parties are always telling us we need. Federal politics certainly wouldn't be a career for everyone, and, of course, local members do not change often. Yet surely it's sensible strategy to provide a candidate for a crucial seat such as Macquarie who is both an excellent candidate and a local. This may be a good way for Labor to win such crucial seats and properly represent local people at the same time in the future.

Developer Donations: On The Way Out

My goodness - this could be the start of something big: a ban on political donations by developers.

The idea of banning or at least restricting donations from developers was floating around earlier this year, but was seen as such an ambitious idea (and, by its opponents, as such a crackpot leftie scheme) that a formal motion was never even attempted at State Conference. Now, it seems, this is an idea whose time has come.

Banning donations from developers would be something I would love to see. Firstly, I hate developers. I hate them. I hate the way they reframe our built heritage as `exhausted housing stock'. And especially, I hate the way they influence policy. I recently had the misfortune to study the methods they used to knock down Michael Egan's attempts to improve housing affordability, and the rank opportunism just made me ill.

Secondly, I hate the notion, constantly reiterated by the Greens (sometimes to the point of borderline insanity) that the ALP is `the developer's friend'. It was under the ALP that such treasures as The Rocks were saved, by icons of heritage activism as Tom Uren, during as art critic Robert Hughes once put it, `a time when no old building was in principle safe from destruction by the business interests that kept him [Liberal Premier Bob Askin] in office - and if you tore down enough of them, and put a respectable handful of the results into Liberal Party funds, you got a knighthood as well'. The fact that the idea has gained some traction is a great shame for trailblazers such as Uren, and NSW MLC Meredith Burgmann, who fought alongside Juanita Nielsen to save historic areas of Kings Cross (as Nielsen found out, fighting developers can be a dangerous game).

Banning developer donations would be an especially smart move in seats where the ALP and the Greens run first/second, many of which are regarded as critical to win the next State election. Though it has been argued that outlawing developer donations would be setting a precedence of discrimination, there are few lobbies wealthier and more insistent than this one. As this article here suggests, the state of our built environment has a greater effect on our wellbeing than we may suspect. Why shouldn't a government grab back the agenda via consumer activism in the same way individuals have held large companies like Nike and McDonalds to account by consumer boycotts and activism? Bring it on, I say.

The ABC and the Glass House: Shooting the Clown

I was quite shellshocked when I read today of ABC's abrupt, unexplained decision to axe its comedy/current affairs show The Glass House. It was a nasty sensation. Here it is, the new ABC. It's really going to happen.

Now, let's get one thing straight. I do enjoy watching The Glass House. I don't think it's brilliant TV, but it is always been one thing: frank and fearless. The show's humour has always cut close to the bone, it's often been shamelessly political, but there's one thing it has never been: shamelessly (or even shamefully) partisan. If John Howard's been a dill this week, John Howard cops it. If Kim Beazley's said something daffy, it's him who gets sent up. Certainly, host Wil Anderson is obviously no fan of Howard's, but again, to construe the show as anything more than satire is pure lunacy. Dare I suggest that criticising the long tradition of taking the piss out of our public figures is itself `un-Australian'?

It has also been suggested that the show's bias was perceived to be in the fact that its co-host, Corinne Grant, had hosted some events for the ACTU's Your Rights At Work campaign. Well, bugger me. This really does set a precedent. By my reckoning, we'll also be hearing the last of Silverchair after they dared to write `PG [Peter Garrett] for PM' onstage at the Aria Awards. Likewise, Patricia `Little Patti' Amphlett must not be seen to sing a note via ABC airwaves, as she sang the `It's Time' theme from Gough Whitlam's election campaign. And the spurious relationship between Big Ted and Little Ted on `Play School'? Well, we already know that Piers Akerman's on to that particular piece of propaganda.

One thing's for sure. The Chaser will never, ever be seen again.

Please bear with me for a diversion into polemic. Quite seriously, it's often the comedy in society that tells us much more about the true state of political affairs than the journalism. The notion of the fool being the only one who could criticise the king has always held true. A recent SBS documentary demonstrated, with great insight, the way stand-up comedy and humour were used by citizens living under totalitarian regimes; how renegade comedians could, quite literally, contribute to such events as the tearing down of the Berlin War. I remember, while living in New York in the months following September 11th - that the only people telling the truth about what some people felt was the cartoonists, people like Tom Tomorrow.

Is the website set up by the noxious Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, which allows punters to report shocking incidents of left-wing bias on the ABC at the touch of a button a quasi-Dorothy Dixer? It seems suspicious that the website was set up at exactly the same time as the announcement of the ABC's recent editorial changes (I add that, when I attempted to log on to the ABC's website to make a complaint about the show's axing, it was `unavailable due to emergency maintenance'. The cynic in me calls shenanigans but, unlike the shrill Right, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt). Even the fact that John Howard has been forced to publicly deny playing any part in the decision is incredibly ominous. Since when have we even had to consider the question worth asking?

This would be an appropriate time to farewell the ABC's Media Watch for the year and, who knows? Maybe forever ...