Thursday, December 13, 2007

Freedom '08

The Herald has an exclusive today about the New South Wales Government's plan to enact emergency laws during next years World Youth Day conference. Leaving aside the religious aspect, I have to say I'm getting a little sick of having my civil liberties periodically restricted just because I have the hide to live in a temperate, good-looking city. I'm all for encouraging tourism, but not if that entails John Watkins acting like Pervez Musharraf every time a big event comes to town. Emergency laws? Excuse me, but an appearance by a leading religious figure does not constitute an emergency.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of all this is the muted response laws like this seem to generate. Oh, sure, people grumble, in much the same way people grumble about their local council cracking down on overhanging branches. But the potential for abuse - and the precedent set by the government enacting new, authoritarian legislation whenever they feel like it - doesn't really seem to hit home.

I'm not trying to pull a Naomi Wolf here. I don't really think Supreme Leader Watkins is about to start sending in the army every time someone stages a protest, and heaven knows Iemma has neither the drive nor the competence to do so. But people are getting so accustomed to having this or that event invoked as a pretext for upping the city's Laura Norder quotient, one begins to suspect that such an action would barely raise an eyebrow. It's sad, and it's dangerous. Remember these images? They're out of place in any democracy, let alone one with a supposedly proud anti-authoritarian tradition.

Of course, the NSW Opposition, many of whom would be quite happy as members of Generalissimo Franco's goon squad, didn't object to the laws per se, at least not as the bill was being debated (to their credit, the Legislative Review Committee did raise serious objections). Instead, the Libs' Jonathan O'Dea took the opportunity to provide a few helpful suggestions of his own:

In light of the recent APEC experience, I particularly urge the Government to consider better ways of dealing with the ABC Chaser team. The boys are quick and imaginative in their endeavours to amuse television audiences. Asking them to sign a post-APEC good behaviour bond would only set their minds in overdrive. I therefore suggest that the New South Wales Government provide funding to get them out of Australia for the week. How about sending them to the Kalahari Desert to investigate humour in 45 degrees heat or to Russia for lessons on how to behave solemnly? Perhaps they could be sent to China and India, as Premier Iemma was before the recent Federal election to save Kevin Rudd from further embarrassment.

Quite. The Chaser provided the only moment of sanity of the entire APEC saga. It cannot be allowed to happen again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Doris Lessing's War on Everything

So Doris Lessing has used her Nobel Prize acceptance speech to hit out at the internet. The internet! What is behind this? Could it be a simple case of viewing one lolcat too many? Or was Doris, like so many of us, just annoyed to have found herself spending an hour idly clicking around Wikipedia, touring through the pages on salamander and mercantilism and Bobby Darin only to lose track of her original purpose?

Oh no. Lessing is worried that the internet is leading us to our ruin, specifically by dumbing us down. We are turning into a society of ignorant, barely literate, jaded automatons. People specialise in one thing - computers, most gratingly - and don't stray from their field of expertise. Nobody reads anymore. Young people know nothing, and also quite probably chew with their mouths open, although Lessing doesn't find time to mention it.

Could she be right? I think, if anything, I read more - and more widely - than I would if the internet had not been invented. Here is a snapshot of browser windows I had open when I chanced upon the Lessing article. (Please note it was a quiet-ish day at work.)

1. The Sydney Morning Herald - "Net dumbs us down"

Even without the internet, I would almost certainly read a print newspaper every day. I always used to. But equally certainly, I would read different stuff. The article on Lessing would probably never have reached me, hidden as it was in the Tech section, which is generally of no interest to me, and gets thrown out every Saturday, when I do buy the print Herald. In fact, in eradicating the physical barriers between interest sections, the online version probably leads to more branching out of one's interest area, not less. What's more, when I buy the print Herald, I read it on the bus, which takes away time I would normally spend... reading a book.

On the other hand, when I have the paper in hard copy, I always end up doing the cryptic crossword, which I don't like online. It's too hard to mark up, and too easy to cheat.

2. The Guardian, A Hunger for Books

The full text of Lessing's speech, which I googled on reading the article to ensure she wasn't misquoted or taken out of context by the Herald. Checking the context seemed like the fair thing to do. One hardly needs to point out... oh, go on then: this would not have been possible without the internet.

3. The New Yorker, None of the Above, by Malcolm Gladwell

A neat summary of a debate about the statistical IQ gap between races and its implications, with particular reference to the Flynn Effect. I have been following this issue with some interest, although without any scientific expertise. See, it all started when Slate published a series of articles by William Saletan in which he argued that the racial IQ gap was genetic and immutable. This did the rounds of the blogs, including Matthew Yglesias, where I was alerted to it, and naturally sparked a great number of fiery arguments, particularly when it turned out that Saletan's reportage was informed largely by fruity white supremacists. (Duh.)

Being kind of a tosser, I can easily imagine that I would spend perfectly good caipirinha money on the print New Yorker in the absence of an online version. So I would've read Gladwell's article. But I would have had no context outside what the article provides - I wouldn't have read Saletan, nor would I have any idea of the uproar his work had caused. I could have guessed, but I wouldn't have experienced it myself. Also: it was reading Gladwell's blog, as well as the Freakonomics blog, that convinced me to buy his books "The Tipping Point" and "Blink". Do we still think the internet discourages reading?

4. 150 UK pounds in Euros

This is actually for work. I am the office converter of pounds to Euro, miles to kilometres, etc. I keep trying to tell my colleagues about Google Conversions, but they insist that I "do it quicker". This is quite possibly the result of belonging to a generation that has never had cause to doubt that the answer is at our fingertips. If something unfamiliar - a place, a person - comes on the news, someone immediately goes to the computer (that would be the spare computer, beside the television) to find out about it.

How can this mean we know less? We might retain less arcana, because we know we can always retrieve it later. But I even doubt that part, because the internet lends itself to broadening the search, so that each piece of trivia eventually gets a context, something to link it to all the other stuff we've found out about. There's no better way to remember something than to relate it to what you already know. I read that online somewhere.

5. The Economist, Defeat for Hugo Chávez

Like the New Yorker, the Economist is something I can imagine reading in print... or half-reading in print, and then leaving, crumpled, under the passenger seat of my car along with the half-read, crumpled New Yorker. (This is slightly more than just an educated guess. I hereby apologise to the old-growth forests of Tasmania that have died for my sins.) The refined classical liberals at the Economist take a dim view of Mr Chávez, but that's okay, because John Pilger thinks he's God's gift to poor people, and I saw Pilger's film too. It's all about balance.

6. Programme for International Student Assessment, 2006 results

I was led to this through an Economist article outlining the educational attainment of various countries. I wanted to check how Australia measured up. Not too badly, it turns out - our achievement band contains some reassuringly Scandinavian countries, as well as some Asian New Economies. Our performance in reading is slipping, though. Must be all that internet surfing.

7. Crikey: Brendan Nelson: Rat, coward or liar... you decide, Guy Rundle

Crikey is irreverent, contrarian, openly non-objective, and obsessed with the insiders' world of politics and media. It publishes contributions from Gerard Henderson and Robert Manne and GetUp and David Flint. It gets down and dirty with polling-by-electorate data and publishes anonymous "Tips and Rumours" from deep within Canberra's bowels. Its readers - who can and do comment on each story - are sometimes morons and often astoundingly well-informed. In short, Crikey epitomises much of the internet's effect on political discourse. Would we be better off without it? Like hell we would. Consider the Lie Matrix in the Rundle article I linked, showing the rather unpalatable choice of interpretations one has regarding Brendan Nelson's backflip over "never voting Liberal":

You don't get that in Doris Lessing books.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It's probably too easy to take an 88-year-old to task over her views of the internet. It's certainly easy to wax nostalgic about books, and I share her wish that more people would read more literature. But this notion of a past populated by erudite book-readers is at best overly romantic, and saying the internet is dumbing people down is erring dangerously close to grumpy-old-lady knee jerking. People still read. People still read books. As for the internet, it is what you make it: there's a lot of crap out there, but there's a lot of useful things, too. We need to spend less time bitching about Yoof These Days and more time teaching people the difference.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rich Businesswoman

I was googling for other examples of rich businesswomen married to successful pollies, and, well:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Women's Business

Much is being made of the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister is suddenly OMG a woman and that her opposite number, a Tory for chrissake, is also of the female persuasion. Kevin Rudd is also rather proud of the fact that there are four women in the Labor cabinet - Gillard, Jenny Macklin, Nicola Roxon and Penny Wong - which tops the female count of even Howard's most feminine cabinet.

It's a brave new world. One would expect nothing less from a man who, apropos his wife's dodgy industrial relations practices, proudly asserted that his wife was no appendage of her husband. Nosir, although she did subsequently sell her multi-million dollar business in deference to her husband's political career, apparently content to spend the next God knows how long obsessing over curtains à la her Lodge predecessor. Oh, well. I suppose if manchester doesn't prove fulfilling she can always fill the time planning her Hillary manoeuvre.

Nor, when you think about it, is four women in a cabinet of twenty much to write home about. Forty years since the Second Wave, and we're only at 20%? Germaine Greer will be outraged, if she ever snaps out of her current Oz-dissing, young-boy-admiring daze.

I'd like to think we've progressed beyond the stage where a leader has to explicitly state that he didn't choose women for his cabinet just for the hell of it. But the fact is, however much we may snigger at the Coalition MPs who've suddenly discovered the joys of family life after all these years, politics is damned unfriendly to those who want any kind of balance in life. The hours are ridiculous, the job stressful, the travel requirements strenuous. I think that, more than, say, a lack of ambition or qualifications on the part of women, or sexism on the part of men, is the reason for the current gender imbalance in politics. Until the paradigm shifts to a point where women and men actually do share the business of child-rearing equally, women are going to be underrepresented in Cabinet, in the outer ministry, in Parliament.

Brendan NELSON?

I guess they thought Malcolm Turnbull's policy agenda was just far too likely to be well-received for the modern Liberal Party to take on board. Turnbull has all these crazy ideas about republics and reconciliation and signing Kyoto and failing to hate on brown people. It's Just Not On. Not what liberalism's About. Just ask Miranda Devine. I'm not saying Nelson is a right-wing maniac - I don't think he is - but his election as Liberal leader, with the support of the Liberal right faction, is a clear sign that the Liberals have no intention of learning from their mistakes.

As a matter of fact, the Libs have gone insane. Contrary to current conservative wishful thinking, this election was about more than a repudiation of John Howard, the man; witness Turnbull's results in Wentworth and Petro Georgiou's in Kooyong versus the debacle in, say, Bennelong or Lindsay. Hard right doesn't work; moderate liberalism does. It's what people want. But to admit as much would be to take on much of Rudd's centrist agenda, thus, in the view of some Libs, depriving the party of its raison d'etre. I get that, but turning right just for the sake of opposition isn't going to get them elected. It'll just turn them into a bigger version of the NSW Libs. And then there's Tony Abbott's dark warning that he might challenge for the leadership at a later date. For a Howard man, he doesn't seem to place much stock in leadership stability.

Serious questions about the future of the opposition aside, though, this existential crisis they're going through is highly entertaining, wets vs. dries vs. crazy uglies; my personal favourite moment was when Tony Abbott declared (with, one pictures, a hand over his heart): "I always regarded myself as the honorary president of the John Howard fan club." Aww. True believers can be so cute sometimes.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Oh Happy Day

Democracy works. It really does. I have never experienced such a jubilant mood, post-election: our Don's Party, nervous at the outset, quickly gave way to a mess of cheering, dancing, heckling, bloodthirsty speculation over the Liberal Party leadership, referring to one another as "comrade", and drinking penalties every time one's local member was spotted on the TV (much to the distress of the lone Joe Hockey constituent in the room; it seems the man cannot bear to be offscreen for more than a few seconds at a time).

Some thoughts:

- Maxine McKew mightn't be a seasoned politician, but she has star quality by the bucketload. Charming, articulate, natural. Her infectious speech on Saturday was the best moment of the evening. Guy Rundle summed it up in Crikey: "If the real deal happens, and John Howard is replaced by a FEMALE, LABOR, ABC JOURNALIST, how could you not see, in her sparkling eyes, a reflection of the light on the hill?"

- By contrast, we got bored and turned the music back up in the middle of Rudd's acceptance speech. He might be Third Way, but Tony Blair he ain't.

- If I say I'm glad Turnbull survived the bloodbath, do I get stripped of my True Believer credentials? I just think we need all the socially moderate Libs we can get right now, so we can forget that Howard's culture war years ever happened. The last thing this country needs is a hard-right, God-bothering opposition.

- For the same reason, Tony Abbott cannot be allowed within 500 metres of the Liberal leadership. He'll rewrite the party charter to include excerpts from the Book of Revelations and run on a platform of banning condom sales and instituting Compulsory Mass for the Dole.

- Quote from a "senior Liberal", post-Bennelong debacle: "f-cking Chinese". Dearie me: have they learned nothing?

- The Queensland electorate of Leichhardt topped off a highly entertaining six weeks by posting the biggest swing to Labor in the country. A bravura performance all round. But the title of most entertaining seat this time around must go to Wentworth. It had everything: silvertail businessman Malcolm Turnbull versus human rights lawyer George Newhouse, the political retaliation of an embittered ex, anti-Zionist campaign managers, the accipurpose revelation that Turnbull had sworn at the PM over Kyoto, an illegitimate candidacy and subsequent suppression of vital documents, the "girl talk"/political interference intrigue of Caroline Overington versus Danielle Ecuyer, and the soap operatic culmination on polling day, when Overington actually slapped Newhouse. Ah, the eastern suburbs.

- The talk is all about the Liberal implosion, but a secondary question - whither the Nats? - is equally salient considering Saturday's primary vote.

- One gets the impression Alan Ramsey has been waiting a long time to file this piece.

- Ditto Paul Keating.

- Between the seat losses and the leadership quitting, we have quite the star-studded death list: Howard, Costello, Vaile, Brough… hate to sound greedy, but couldn't we have squeezed Danna Vale in somewhere?

- Interesting times: the balance of power in the Senate will likely be shared among independent South Australian Nick Xenophon, Family First's Steve Fielding, and his mortal enemy, the Greens. God only knows what kind of under-the-table legislative deals we'll see this term.

- I know you're probably as worried as I was about how David "The Australian people are too smart to throw Howard out" Flint was handling the electoral heartbreak. Worry no more: apparently he survived.

- The young NSW quasi-fascist Alex Hawke is now a federal MP. He's an unashamed critic of the small-l liberal faction of his party and is said to have been instrumental in the downfall of John Brogden as NSW opposition leader. Be very afraid.

- Primary vote in Lindsay, home of the leaflet scandal: 38% Liberal, 52% Labor. Combined elected representatives of Pauline Hanson's party, One Nation, and the Muslim-bashing Christian Democrats: 0. We're getting there.

- In what may be an early sign that Rudd's prime ministership will, indeed, restore some compassion to the electorate, I actually feel a little sorry for Peter Costello right now. But I'm sure it will pass.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Holy Crap

Er, that would be the DAILY Telegraph.

Ala Akba

Apart from anything else, a leaflet taking on the voice of Islamic activists is rendered somewhat less convincing when the signature rallying cry is misspelled. Upon reflection, it was probably a deliberate style choice, but that doesn't make it any less dumb.

Amusingly, Howard's in damage control mode, condemning the leaflets as racist, which is just a bit rich for my delicate sensibilities at this hour of the morning. After all, the man is not above encouraging bigoted fringe groups himself when he gets a spare moment, and both his policies and his past rhetoric leave him open to the charge of race-baiting. It's just the execution of the leaflets that was a bit off. He's condemning the blackface while upholding Jim Crow.

This episode has made front-page news out of a long-existing fact: there are some scary folk in the hard right faction of the Libs. Sometimes I wonder how they can coexist with a man of evident conscience like Petro Georgiou. Fine, it's a big tent, but surely there are limits? Is a middle-class upbringing and a heartfelt devotion to cutting taxes really enough to keep these people together?

I'm not entirely sure it is. If the Libs lose office, the post-election fallout is going to be vairy interesting. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Race for the Bottom

For those of us who like to make a big deal out of our triennial accountability moments, the Senate group voting tickets are available online. Read. Research. Vote below the line. Truly, it's exhilirating.

I know roughly how my preferences are going to go, but I'm yet to work out the final details, in particular, who will win the coveted spot at the very bottom of my ballot paper. In the race:

The Christian Democratic Party

Fred Nile's disciples want a moratorium on "Islamic immigration", citing a highly scientific Daily Telegraph online poll which claims 99% community support for the initiative. Then, hilariously, they claim in the very next paragraph of their leaflet that "the Christian Democratic Party stands for religious freedom in Australia and worldwide". Religious freedom as long as you're, you know, Christian.

To me personally, this is all the more injurious because one of their candidates, Paul Green, is from Nowra. Indeed, he's the Deputy Mayor of the Shoalhaven City Council, where he no doubt introduces a certain godly je ne sais quoi to the quotidian business of bypasses, garbage collection, and development approvals.

Also, there are grammatical errors in their leaflets.

The Citizens' Electoral Council

These people are beyond bizarre. Allow me to demonstrate:

The CEC are affiliated with the anti-Semitic LaRouche Organisation. They have also likened the scientific consensus on global warming to "Hitler-Nazi race science". I'd explain the link between global warming and eugenics, but I think you have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand it. Sorry, folks.

Pauline Hanson's United Australia Party

Evidently think "Pauline: You Know Where She Stands" is a good thing. Well, the rest of Australia might've forgotten how much damage Pauline did in her pre-Dancing days, but I haven't. Onto the list she goes!

In a touching concession to its likely visitor stream, her website asks rhetorically "Did you know that the Senate can say 'No' and overrule the government?" Actually, I did, in common with most of my primary-educated counterparts, but thanks for asking.

So there you have it. Pauline Hanson: #1 representative for people without a goddamn clue.

One Nation

It's just not the same without Pauline, is it? Still, according to One Nation's own website, we should vote for them because that way... they can do exactly the same stuff Howard's been doing without them anyway! Well, the race-baiting stuff, anyway. As calls to action go, it seems somewhat lacking to my ear, but then I am probably not One Nation's target audience.

Clicking on "The Principles and Objectives of One Nation" will get you a 404 Not Found, which I thought was vaguely amusing.

The Nats

Just cos I'm mean, and it would be funny.

With so many genuinely bad-crazy candidates to choose from, it looks like the garden-variety or single-issue right wingers - Family First, the Libs, the Shooters, et al - are not even in the running. (Neither are the Nats, if I'm being completely honest.) It's really a pity when they work so hard at being objectionable. But hey, there's always next election.

Avendanos versus Andrews

Another distressing story from the dark corners of the immigration department. After everything - the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau, the deportation of Vivian Alvarez, the impassive response to hunger strikes by Baxter detainees, the cancellation of Mohammed Haneef's visa on 'character' grounds, the seven-year limbo of the stateless asylum seeker Ahmed Al-Kateb, and so on, and so on - it should come as no surprise to anyone to discover yet another instance of merciless bureaucratic stonewalling. But it angers nonetheless. This family has lived here for 23 years. Their son, Rainiel, an Australian resident, is a 19-year-old with an intellectual disability. Because of the refusal of immigration ministers - first Vanstone, then Andrews - to intervene on behalf of the Avendanos, Rainiel faces the choice of moving to the Philippines with his family, or staying in his country of birth without them.

This is profoundly wrong. Whatever interest Australia has in securing its borders, however strong a 'message' it wants to send out to would-be illegal immigrants, there is no justification for such cavalier treatment of any human being – let alone a family that has resided here peacefully for almost as long as I have been alive.

Kevin Andrews hasn't had long as Minister for Immigration, but in his short tenure he has proven himself quite Amanda Vanstone's equal as far as embarrassing Immigration portfolio incidents are concerned. My friends and I sometimes play a sort of parlour game: which Howard cabinet member would you get rid of, given the chance? I've always been an Abbott girl myself, and Abbott's performance of the last few weeks hasn’t done a great deal to dissuade me. But if I were playing the game with a completely open mind, minister for minister, Andrews is as good a reason as any to vote the Howard government out on Saturday. Unfortunately, his is a safe Liberal seat - but an Andrews on the Opposition benches is infinitely preferable to Andrews as Immigration Minister.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Newsflash: Talkback Caller Has Reactionary Views

I'm not entirely sure why the AAP felt the need to dedicate a news story to a talkback call by a diehard Liberal, but here it is in all its trivial glory. Looks like the subtext of the Libs' message – DON'T TRUST THE LESBIAN COMMIE REDHEADS - is getting through, at least to their Land-reading, John Laws-listening 'base'. Of course, the Coalition is probably hoping that their scare campaign about the deliberately barren, non-skirt-wearing communist union boss Gillard will transcend the redneck ouvre, but I wouldn't count on it. Gillard is a pet target of conservative politicians and pundits, but actual voters, it turns out, quite like her. Michelle Grattan, peace be upon her, had a good piece about this dichotomy a few weeks ago.

In other beatup news, Kevin Rudd does not hate the Australian flag, in fact he loves it dearly, but doesn't feel the need to drape himself in it at every occasion. Nice deflect. I would add that I find it bizarre the way uber-patriots expect the flag to be waved at every conceivable opportunity. If anything, I would expect a patriot to be offended by the idea of the flag being appropriated for such a transparently partisan cause as a Labor Party launch - the implication being that Labor faithful are more Strayan than their Liberal/National counterparts. Surely that's not what the flag is for?

Then again, what would I know? I don't even like the Australian flag.

Friday, November 2, 2007

How Do You Say "Quelle Surprise" in Urdu?

From the Australian:

CONFIDENTIAL emails between top AFP agents and a senior public servant advising Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews indicate that there was a secret plan to thwart a decision by a magistrate to release then terror suspect Mohamed Haneef on bail. The emails show the AFP was aware of a weekend "contingency" plan to ensure the Indian doctor would remain behind bars by having Mr Andrews revoke his visa under the Migration Act in the event of bail being granted by Brisbane magistrate Jacqui Payne on the following Monday.

No shit.

This goes back to what I was saying earlier about public confidence in politicians. I don't know a single person - not a single one - who will be surprised by this revelation, or whose opinion of either Kevin Andrews or the Australian Federal Police will change as a result. We know now, after all, that the 'contingency' did arise, and that Andrews did revoke Haneef's visa. In doing so, he was merrily disregarding, constitutionally speaking, the longstanding principle of separation of powers, and functionally speaking, the even longer-standing principle of habeas corpus. Here's a rule of thumb: if you think what you're proposing might contravene the Magna frigging Carta, you ought to consider the possibility that it's a very bad idea.

Not Kevin the Lesser, though. He's adamant that he and his department acted impeccably throughout the Haneef case. Labor's Tony Burke, who at the time couldn't support Andrews quickly or loudly enough, is calling for a judicial inquiry, presumably one unaffected by political interference. And so the world turns: the outraged among us grow a little more outraged, the minister concerned ducks for cover, and the apathetic continue not knowing or caring. Plus ça change.

Parenthetical of the Day

Guy Rundle writing in Crikey about Tony Abbott:
(Mind you, Howard’s unfortunate follow-up to cancer insensitivity – ‘well Tony’s taken his lumps’ – can only be described as Anglican par excellence. Dame Edna would be proud.)


Nothing Leicha Dame

Who knew the far-north Queensland seat of Leichhardt could be this much fun?

Leichhardt, you'll remember, is the site of the unusual tri-partite contest between the Liberals' Charlie McKillop, the Nationals' Ian Crossland, and Labor's Jim Turnour. It has already caught our attention once this election campaign when Crossland opined aloud that although he was no sexist, Leichhardt is "no seat for a woman". And meant it.

Now McKillop is once again the subject of no-fault-of-hers controversy. Ben Jacobsen, Family First candidate for Leichhardt and every bit as far-right as that implies, has been rebuked by Steve Fielding for insisting that McKillop make her sexuality a matter of public record. McKillop must be cursing the day gender stereotypes were invented; they've bitten her from both sides during this contest. Can't a female ex-prawn trawler be left to campaign in peace?

One would've imagined that Family First have been hoisted on the sexuality-publicising petard quite enough for one week - Steve Fielding evidently thinks so - but that's the trouble with pathological homophobia: you never know when it might rear its ugly head (cf: Bill Heffernan).

And that's the point here: Jacobsen's statement wasn't a one-off gaffe. Impolitic it certainly was, but claiming that people have "the right to know" about a candidate's sexuality is really just a logical extension of the entrenched Family First principle that consensual sex between adults is everybody's business. Hence, banning pornography and prostitution; hence banning gay marriage and denying gay couples the full complement of rights enjoyed by heterosexuals. Philosophically speaking, the "gaffe" and the policy are coming from the same place. Politically, Fielding's rebuke is the right thing to do, but ideologically it makes no sense whatsoever.

Incidentally, rare props to Peter Costello, for saying, explicitly, that this "doesn't reflect well on Family First". Damn right, it doesn't.

I'm Not Sure They're Fully Grasping Her Concern #2

A heartfelt piece from Kate Seear in the Life & Style section of about the media's treatment of powerful women. Seear is concerned about the way in which women are evaluated not for their contributions to public life, but rather for their looks, bodies, hairstyles, clothing, etc.

I pretty much agree with Seear's sentiments, which might be why I found it so laughable that concurrently ran a poll - in the same section - asking readers to evaluate the "political styles" of various politicians. And no, they don't mean rhetorical or managerial or policy styles:

The good news, I guess, is that it's not confined to women - it's also about men who dress like women. I don't think Alex Downer is ever living down those fishnets.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Best Reason to Celebrate Halloween

Letter to the Herald, reprinted verbatim:

Australia is rich with its own unique culture, customs and traditions. Why introduce Halloween, which has strong roots in paganism, witchcraft and devil worship? Our Christian heritage teaches us to have no part with the occult.

Parents, do you want your innocent children involved in dangerous evil tricks, deception and Satanism?

I'm satisfied. American or not (and it's not), Halloween has all the right enemies. Trick-or-treaters, go forth and multiply. There are gold coins at my house if you're in the neighbourhood.

Lefties Really Are Latte-Sippers

Proof, as if we needed it, that coffee is the most political drink. Buy a coffee and cast your bean into your plastic cannister of choice. It's the apex of consumerist democracy.

I'm not sure I approve of the one-coffee poll tax, but my on-the-ground (Pitt Street Mall) survey suggests that inner-city coffee drinkers are voting for Labor in a landslide. The website poll is somewhat closer, so the Libs must still have caffeine-friendly supporters who are willing to admit it in public somewhere. Howard's outer-suburb battlers, perhaps. And where are all these Democrats coming from? Aren't they supposed to be dead in the water?

Never one to pass up an opportunity to have my say, I had an iced chocolate (with cream) and voted. I now feel sick but highly enfranchised.

Dealing with Lunatics: A Libertarian Perspective

Much has been made of the Greens' refusal to respond to the Australian Christian Lobby's survey demanding to know what the parties think on a range of Christian-type issues. Naturally, I'm behind the Greens all the way. The questions are highly leading, like this:

There is community concern that society is becoming desensitised to sexually explicit and extremely violent material as film-makers test the boundaries of the interpretation of classification guidelines. Unfortunately, the current National Classification Code and Classification Guidelines allow too much discretion to the classifiers ... Would your government direct a review of the Code and Guidelines, and the Classification Act, with the intent of limiting the discretion of the classifiers on such matters?

When the ACL asks questions like that, they're not so much engaging the parties in a discussion as advancing a particular, and in my view quite scary, agenda. So the Greens had every right to tell the ACL to go to hell, and were possibly even correct to do so. Apart from anything else, I am thoroughly sick of the Rovian idea that Australian Senate candidates need to cater to some kind of monolithic Christian Vote. Leaving sectarian tensions behind was a good thing in Australian political life.

But the Liberty and Democracy Party, just as opinionated as the Greens and equally antagonistic to the ACL's agenda, took a different tack, and I think their responses are worth noting. I'm not a libertarian myself – I like gun laws, for instance, and I don't think government foreign aid is immoral. And as for the LDP's apparently straighfaced assertion that relaxing building development zoning laws is an adequate public policy approach to solving homelessness... well, frankly, that's a little nutty.

But on the whole I've always felt that Australian politics could do with a bit more reflexive libertarianism, if only to defend against the strains of wowserism that tend to affect both major parties as they clamber over each other for the Working Families/Laura Norder/lock-up-the-reffos vote. Any counterweight to the kind of overweening authoritarianism we saw during APEC has got to be a healthy thing. We need people to step up and say: This is crazy.

Besides, it can be quite funny. Witness how the LDP responded to a question about, essentially, their willingness to pander to Christians:

ACL: What are your main priorities if elected for the next term of government? What can you offer to the Christian constituency in particular?

- Cut tax.
- Defend individual freedom of choice.
- Reduce the size of government.

Now, I am interested in neither cutting taxes nor reducing the size of government as an abstract concept, but you've gotta love their determination not to get sidetracked by the silliness of the Christian Constituency lead. They explain their reasoning in the full response:

The Liberty & Democracy Party doesn't try to offer special deals to any specific constituency, including the Christian constituency. We believe the government should treat everybody as individuals and leave them to make their own decisions to the maximum degree possible.

Fair enough.

Question after question, the LDP busily promote their own platform, rejecting silly premises left, right and centre, and seem to have quite a good time doing it. Like here:

Q: The Australia Institute and family groups have raised concerns about the premature sexualisation of children through marketing, advertising, music videos and a range of other media. What actions would you take to protect childhood?

A: The Australia Institute is a socialist organisation. Raising a child is the job of parents, not the government.

And does the LDP support the creation of a special visa to help persecuted Christians enter Australia as refugees? "No", says the LDP sternly,

persecuted Christians could apply as refugees, just like any other persecuted group. The LDP supports more immigration, which would allow a greater number of persecuted people to enter Australia.

Take that, you zany theocrats.

By the way, all the responses to the ACL's questionnaire are worth looking at, although probably not in the way the ACL themselves intend. One thing's for sure, James Baker is a climate-change-denying, homophobic white nationalist who needs to be kept out of the Senate at all costs. Queenslanders take note.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Note to Wayne Swan

Re: The ongoing Great Debate II: Attack of the Treasurers

The slogan "fair and balanced" has already been well and truly discredited. Please stop referring to your industrial relations agenda as such.


A concerned voter

Sunday, October 28, 2007

There Is No Pain, You Are Receding...

Steve Fielding is shocked and appalled that Labor is trading preferences with those devil-children in the Greens. The main problem with this, apparently, is the Greens' immoral and damaging drug policy, which Fielding likes to characterise as "handing out free heroin" or somesuch.

Free heroin for all! It's such a sexy policy, so perfectly radical-left, that I'm surprised nobody but Fielding has picked up on it. Unfortunately for those of us who like our heroin free and our Family First politicians truthful, it's a bit of a strawman. I've been over the Greens' drug policy with a fine-tooth comb and it doesn't appear that Green control of the Senate will get me free drugs. In fact, it all sounds quite sensible. It starts with "The Australian Greens do not support the legalisation of currently illegal drugs" and lists among its principles:

- Imprisonment for personal use of illicit drugs, when not associated with other crimes, is not an appropriate solution to drug dependence.
- Information and education programs should be available to enable informed debate about the effects of all drugs, including prescription, non-prescription, legal and illegal drugs.
- Policy and programs should be adopted that are evidence-based and subject to continuous evaluation.

Evidence-based policy! Get out of here with your drug-fueled radicalism! Not content with this heresy, the Greens then go on to outline their drug policy in quite a bit of detail: bans on political donations from the tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical industries; education and counselling instead of criminal penalties for users; legalising and regulating medical marijuana; and making drug substitution treatments available on the PBS (also known as "free heroin for all").

So that's the hippy junkie approach to drug policy. What do Family First think?

In the spirit of evidence-based inquiry, I checked the Family First drug policy, and frankly it's a little weird. It's not nearly as comprehensive as the Greens', limiting itself to three actions, but it nevertheless finds room to mention "alternate therapies such as Naltrexone implants" and pin its hopes on an anti-drugs campaign involving celebrities. High-profile people such as sportspeople and singers? Sportspeople like Andrew Johns? Ben Cousins? Singers like Nick Cave? Michael Hutchence, perhaps? I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but one would hope the party has a fall-back, just in case the celebs don't quite cut it. But apart from jailing everybody who goes near something resembling a drug, it doesn't seem they have much of a plan B.

On a separate issue altogether, Family First have quite a bit of nerve chiding Labor for trading preferences with the Greens. The Greens have a substantial, entrenched role in Australian politics - at the moment they're polling around 7% of the primary vote. Family First are puny upstarts by comparison. And it's not like they're above a little preference-trading themselves, far from it: Fielding received preferences from all over the political spectrum in 2004, and he's yet to rule out preference-trading with Pauline Hanson's party. This despite the fact that Hanson is an unhinged bigot, whereas Family First, for all their quirks, are quite compassionate when it comes to their policy on asylum-seekers.

I fail to see how Labor trading preferences with the Greens represents any more of a lapse in integrity than Fielding's dealings with Hanson. But given that Family First are currently polling around 1.5%, they need all the preference trading they can get if they want to impose their petrol-tax-cutting, TV-censoring program on the rest of us. Could it be that Fielding's latest tantrum is motivated more by existential anxiety than by steadfast principle?

Keeping the Bastards Honest. No, Really.

The good folk over at GetUp have developed a nifty new tool - PromiseWatch, an election-promise wiki in which Ordinary Strayans (for which substitute internet activists) can log and look up election promises categorised by policy area and political party. Go on, release your inner election-campaign vigilante!*

Obviously, anything we can do to make politicians accountable for what they say during an election campaign has got to be a healthy thing. But I worry that it might be too little, too late. The credibility gap seems to have grown to a point where playing fast and loose with the truth is accepted, because people think "politicians all lie". Hence the electorate's inability to muster much fury at the revelations of Howard government dishonesty, time and time again. In an ideal world, the children overboard affair would be enough to bring down a government. In Australian political life, too many people don't notice, not enough people get disgusted, the rancorous divide between Howard's battlers and the bleeding heart brigade grows ever deeper, and everyone is poorer for the experience. And a dangerous precedent is set: lie all you want. If people don't find out, it could win you an election, and if they do, they will merely shrug.

So people who want to see more honesty in political life are fighting against the low expectations of the Australian public, cultivated through many years of government mendacity. They are also fighting another, less localised bias: people believe what they want to. The children overboard photos got so much traction because they appeared to confirm what a lot of people were kind of hoping: these queue-jumpers aren't good people, they are amoral opportunists, and our ethical duty to them is adjusted accordingly. Grant them asylum? We should be shooting the bastards.

Likewise, anyone with a passing acquaintance with economics knew in 2004 that Howard could not guarantee that he would keep interest rates low. Some of us - the Reserve Bank, Ross Gittins, various newspaper editorials, and a good chunk of Labor voters - were saying it all along, loudly, but people were not listening. When you're mortgaged to the eyeballs, it's comforting when someone powerful says it's going to be all right. So the battlers voted for Howard on an empty promise, and only now is Howard's recklessness coming back to haunt him. Which looks like a belated victory for truth over lies, except that it took five interest rate rises to drum the message in, when it shouldn't have taken any. Howard never controlled interest rates. People accusing Howard of breaking his promise now are missing the point: the promise was never tenable in the first place.

With this track record, my thinking is there ought to be at least a few promises this time around that are already obvious furphies. Which are they? First correct response gets a new highway over the Great Dividing Range.


*Disclaimer: my friend skipped pub trivia last week to code furiously for this, so it had better get some mileage.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fringe Watch

From the SMH:

Pauline Hanson... is not faring well in her attempt to recapture attention. Standing under the banner of Pauline's United Australia Party, one poll has her getting just 7.5 per cent support, somewhat short of the 14.3 per cent required to win a Queensland Senate seat.


Meanwhile some of the men Hanson left behind are marching stoically onwards. The state president of One Nation NSW, Jim Cassidy, said the party would field three Senate candidates and eight lower house candidates.

Without Hanson as a figurehead, it has been difficult for One Nation to get publicity, but in recent weeks the party has tackled the issue of non-indigenous bananas devastating the indigenous crop, and opposed John Howard's Aboriginal referendum proposal on the grounds that it would divide Australia into indigenous and non-indigenous people.

When all else fails, turn to banana populism. An excellent jibe from the Herald, too.

Kyoto Dreaming

Interesting opinion piece about the Kyoto Protocol by Paul Kelly in today's Australian. His broad political point is one I agree with fully: Howard's stubborn position on Kyoto has damaged him needlessly. When attacked on the matter, Howard likes to remind us that Australia has met the targets Kyoto would've imposed on us. Which is true, and brings us to the question: why, then, can we not ratify it, if only as a symbolic gesture? The idea that ratifying Kyoto would have turned Australia into an economic basket case is patently ridiculous. Our targets under Kyoto were not cumbersome; we have met them anyway; and refusing to ratify the protocol merely makes us look selfish, and provides a sliver of an excuse for the US to go on justifying its own Kyoto-stonewalling.

And domestically, Howard's stance makes no sense whatsoever: it's unpopular, and has allowed Kevin Rudd to paint himself as the climate-change messiah of prime ministerial candidates. Malcolm Turnbull, for one, is said to be furious with Howard's pointless intransigence on the subject, given the delicate environmental sensibilities of the voters in his marginal electorate. Kelly is magnificently clear in pointing out Howard's folly:

Consider Howard's position. Should he ratify a protocol that is vastly popular and whose terms, as they apply to Australia, he is determined to honour and uphold? And his answer: absolutely not.

Typically, Kelly does not let Rudd off lightly, either. Labor's policy on climate change is somewhat amorphous at the moment. Rudd loves the big-picture stuff – sign Kyoto! 60% reduction by 2050! – but is shakier on the finer detail, like interim targets, or the exact form a national emissions trading scheme would take.

And then there's Rudd's claims that he would fully embrace a new protocol that set binding targets for developing countries. Fine, so would we all, but the fact is that the developing world is currently resisting such binding targets, pointing out, with some justification, that it was the Western countries that made the mess in the first place - shouldn't they be responsible for cleaning it up? It's going to take more than Australian acquiescence to shift them on the matter, and meantime Rudd needs a clear policy on how he intends to proceed if binding targets for the developing world continue as a sticking point.

But I still think Kelly is being too hard on Rudd over his answer to the question: "what will signing Kyoto achieve?" Here's Rudd's answer, which Kelly says is "vague and elusive":

it will show we are serious and want to help forge a global solution

So what should Rudd have said? What is the benefit of ratifying Kyoto, Mr Kelly?

Kyoto has a universal standing as a goodwill gesture. It has the perfect image of wanting a better, cleaner world, with its opponents clinging to an older, polluted world. The power of such images cannot be denied.

Showing we want to help forge a global solution versus a goodwill gesture. Seems like a distinction without a difference to me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Real Contest: Worm vs the Libs

That didn't take long. It seems the election campaign, never destined to be an entirely high-minded affair, has already come down with a severe case of the sillies. The substantive issues discussed in Sunday's debate have now been well and truly overshadowed - even internationally - by Wormgate. Censorship or breach of agreement? Liberal Party/Glenn Milne conspiracy? What does it all mean? Could it be that the Worm is ... Union?

It would be one thing if Wormgate and commentary thereon were confined to the understimulated bloggers among us. But it's not, not by a long shot. I understand why the journalists are playing along - the subeditors get a simple binary choice between "Can of Worms" and "The Worm Turns" - but people with actual responsibilities are joining in the fun. Worm favourite Kevin Rudd prudently refused to enter the fray, contenting himself with a jokey "I have not interviewed the worm. I'll leave debate about the worm to others."

But the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, has no such qualms. Loyal to a fault, and incensed at the way the Worm treated his beloved boss, Abbott has being doing his bit to advance the anti-worm agenda. He's not saying the Worm is union, exactly, but there's definitely something suspicious going on:

To me, it is pretty clear that that was an audience that had already made up its mind who it was in favour of, and I wonder how that audience was selected. I don't think the worm was a fair reflection.

Get back to work!

Meanwhile, Howard biographer Peter van Onselen is calling the debate for Howard, although just barely. Fine; but what are we to make of this rationale?

Kevin Rudd ... underperformed. He wants Australians to throw out a largely successful government, whatever disagreements people might have with aspects of their policies.

I beg your pardon. Those "disagreements" are not trivial quibbles. They are exactly why so many of us - not just Rudd - want to throw out Howard's government. Are we to admire the mere fact of Howard's 11 years in government despite believing that much of what he did during that time was immoral and damaging?

That's really what the Libs and their most ardent supporters would have us do. Which, incidentally, is one reason they're still performing so poorly in the polls - people are suddenly sick of "vote for us, you always have before!" Perhaps van Onselen's time would be better employed devising a new strategy for Howard, rather than lamenting the "perception" that Rudd won the debate.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rudd versus Howard: The Debate Reconsidered

So that was an interesting experience. It was good this morning having a record of my thought process as I went back and read all the coverage. More thoughts on the debate:

Kevin Rudd kicks

He was sharp, he was mostly positive, he was occasionally jovial, he had a good grasp of finer policy detail, and he didn't allow himself to be derailed by any of Howard's sniping. Most surprisingly, he sounded downright left-wing at times, and the sky didn't fall or anything. I was nervous before the debate, because it seemed like a good chance for some of the Rudd gloss to come off, if he wasn't fully prepared. But Rudd did his homework, like any good schoolboy debater. I am both relieved and impressed.

John Howard has moved left out of desperation

If it turns out Kevin Rudd doesn't get himself elected PM this time around, he will at least have succeeded in forcing Howard to drop the ideological neocon routine in a last-ditch attempt to save his behind. Reconciliation? A national emissions trading scheme? Workers' rights? Recognising the Pakistani Muslim victims of a suicide bombing? Can anyone imagine this happening three years ago? Granted, Rudd spent quite a bit of time defending his credentials as an "economic conservative", but it's striking how much of the policy agenda was Labor's, and how much softer Howard's rhetoric is this time around, his tired-but-forceful anti-unionism notwithstanding.

Paul Kelly is tough

Jeez man, Kevin Rudd is not the one to have fallen desperately behind on climate change. Lighten the hell up! Kevin said he will have his interim targets by June. That's downright rushed for him. Besides, Howard only came around to accepting climate change as an important policy issue this year.

Peter Hartcher is thoughtful

We knew that already. He seemed a bit nervous, but his questions were probably the best-considered, for my money.

Taking on the Worm is one of the worst things Howard could do

Seriously, when the incumbent conservative government manages to get the Nine Network - of all channels! - offside, you have to wonder where their heads are at. The Worm clearly displayed Rudd favouritism, but cutting off Channel Nine's feed was just spiteful. And letting Ray Martin grandstand about free speech is not the kind of distraction Howard needs right now.

There are lots of people with girl-crushes on Annabel Crabb

See Larvatus Prodeo's live-blog

Australians can debate like grownups, occasionally

Okay, there was probably more macroeconomic policy than anyone really needed, but here are some things that never got a mention last night: abortion, gay people, God, the French, stem cell research, clashes of civilisations, torture, bombing Iran. The death penalty came up, but only in the context of how best to make Australia's feelings on it known overseas. There was no Australian flag in sight. The jostling over the OECD report on education funding was the silliest it got, and even that was more like a quibble between two feuding academics than a truly personal stoush. Sometimes I am very grateful to live here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Live-Blogging the Debate: Howard Versus Rudd

7:37 Ray Martin introduces before the toss to Canberra. Lays out ground rules, including a snide observation that "everyone's favourite - the worm" is back. JH won the toss and sent Rudd into bat first. I wrote that before the moderator called it "sending Rudd in to bat". Cricket metaphors ahoy.

7.39 We're off - or KR is. Working Family reference #1!

Nice tie. Orthodox right top-> left bottom striping.
Kyoto signing, education revolution, exit Iraq. Federalising hospitals. The worm goes wild.

7.41 JH - we've done so well over the past 10-20 years. Such hide! Eight of those were Labor. The worm didn't seem to approve of the resources boom either.
Fair go reference #1 - much to the worm's relief.

Mr Howard - is there any merit in new leadership?

JH: Only if it's better - good start. Oh man. Don't mention the Lucky Country again Johnny.

KR - hey, I'm an optimist too! Global record levels of growth and low unemployment, not because of the Australian Government. Rise of China, whooo! Worm flatlines at the top. Invest the spoils, don't squander.

7.48 Mr Rudd - why would we vote for you when you're pretty much a Howard clone?

KR - I'm an economic conservative too, (worm looks sceptical) but it goes beyond that. We need to invest! Worm back to the top.

JH - being economic conservative is more than saying you are in a TV ad. Rudd never voted like a economic reformer. Rudd is an election-eve economic conservative. I am the real deal, a jackass who doesn't care whether things are fair or not as long as it's reform. You see?

7.51 Mr Howard - given you are going to hand over to Costello, isn't a vote for you a vote for the unknown?

Uh oh - the Worm does not like Costello very much.

Um, when did economic conservatism become a sexy pre-election sweetener?

7.53 KR oooh, the gloves are off. When Howard Was Treasurer. Nice tactic!

7.54: Unions! Are Labor's frontbenchers out of whack with community standards?

KR - most of the Liberal frontbench are former Liberal Party staffers. (Worm: duh.) But back to unions. We have lots of experience, and a rockstar, plus I speak Mandarin. What more do you want? Also, unions aren't all bad, right? Worm: right!

JH - union members do not join Liberal party. They wouldn't dare. (Damn straight). Checks and balances, State vs Federal: the worm is cautiously approving.

Mr Howard - despite the economy, some people are struggling. T/F?

JH: True, but we have tax breaks. Here's some extra money. You choose how to address your cost-of-living pressures.

KR: There is no such thing as a cost-of-living pressure affecting people making $180k. Laptops and software for working families. (The Worm goes wild.) And I notice Mr Howard didn't answer Alison's question. Hee! Howard stole Rudd's tactic!

Mr Rudd, will your spending initiatives make it hard for the Reserve Bank to keep rates down?

KR: No because we're just saying that before the election, silly. Also, we are investing in infrastructure, which will help productivity. And Mr Howard was irresponsible when he said he'd keep interest rates low. The Reserve Bank is independent, but we can invest in skills to make the Bank's job easier.

JH: Everyone knows that Labor governments equal budget deficits. Liberal governments equal budget surpluses. Hey that's my talking point. I wonder if JH reads this blog. Hi John!

17% interest rate reference.

Mr Howard, will you apologise to home buyers for the five rate rises since the last lesson?

JH: I believe in accountability, which means I don't blame the media or my staff or my shadow ministers. (Howard has a shadow ministry now?)

Mr Howard, don't your tax cuts contribute to rate rises?

JH: My tax cuts are not inflationary, because they are mine, and not commie Rudd-like tax cuts, because I have industrial relations reform too. Long discussion of IR and flow through. Worm retains a bemused flat plane along the middle. I don't think people understand Howard's macroeconomic thesis.

KR: More Howard as Treasurer talk. Four of your five budgets were deficits, dude, so don't come over all high and mighty economic conservative on me. You need to invest in skills and infrastructure, like the RBA says. Also, did I mention broadband? Because I feel I ought to.

8.12 But Mr Rudd, isn't education a poor second priority for you?

KR: Not compared to Howard it's not. The OECD says we have disinvested in universities under Howard. We're taking it in the right direction. And it is an education revolution. I keep saying it, for starters.

JH: Well that report you mentioned does not include technical education. KR is a liar.

KR: Well if you want to say the OECD is lying...

Moderator: Enough, kids. This is pointless.

8.15 [missed the question]

KR: Well, it's tough. But Howard has mentioned unions about 67,000 times this week. But Hawkie was union, and look how he embraced Reaganomics!

Moderator: audience please keep remarks to yourself til the end of the broadcast. This is politics, it's not supposed to be fun.

KR: did you just reprimand the Treasurer?

JH: You're kind of a jackass, Kevin. I don't object to unionists being in Parliament, except they do so tend to be Labor, and I do object to that. Also it's a question of balance.

Mr Howard, are you planning more IR changes? Nick Minchin says you are.

JH: No. We have got the balance right now. The reforms have been good for the economy. (The worm: booo hiss!) WorkChoices has been good for the economy. Why do the Labor party want people to be unemployed? Because unions are more important to them, that's why. The Liberal and National parties are the parties of full employment.

8.21 But Mr Howard, but you always say you don't want further IR reform. Why should we believe you this time?

JH: Because we've gone far enough this time. Promise! We have a higher minimum wage and more protected IR system than just about anywhere in the Western world. (But if you still think that, why should we believe that you won't try to take it further?)

KR: First, I want to talk about interest rates again, and how JH broke his promise five times. Also, WorkChoices is ideological, extreme, right-wing. Costello only wants a minimum wage - that's his whole IR system. And Nick Minchin is scary. Which brings us to Joe Hockey, who is kind of a lightweight if you ask me. So in conclusion, you can't trust them.

Mr Rudd, what is your real plan for reducing carbon emissions? Interim targets?

KR: I don't get why we didn't ratify Kyoto. It's beyond me. Howard won't set a carbon target. We have a clearcut target: 60% cuts by 2050 against 2000 levels. We have someone analysing interim targets and that report will be out by mid-next year. Plus I can wonkishly quote parts per million targets.

Paul Kelly: you can't have a plan until you have a 2020 target.

KR: They will be set in June. Also we should have a carbon trading scheme by now. Heaven knows we tried.

JH: I accept climate change. We have to be responsible. (The worm loves it! JH is beating Rudd on climate change... oh wait, he's getting bogged down in specifics now.) If reelected, we will in 2011 establish a climate change fund with money from auctioning carbon permits. That will help people with the costs, especially pensioners, of which I will probably be one. And Kyoto doesn't cover the US or China. Which is like having a World Cup in cricket without Australia or India.

But Mr Howard, Turnbull says we need binding targets for all major emitters but Bush won't agree to binding targets. Who's right?

JH: Turnbull; he's in my cabinet, and I have a lot of sway with the US and might very possibly be singlehandedly responsibility for China and the US both agreeing to binding targets.

KR: We have a moral responsibility to sign Kyoto, so does the US. One can hardly blame China for not agreeing to anything in the current situation. And we are going to invest in clean energy technology. (The worm LOVES it. )

Mr Howard, are you for real, you think you can change Bush's mind?

JH: I think his attitude is changing, I do. (The worm is at rock bottom. Talking about Bush is not a winning strategy.)

Mr Howard, terrorism and our involvement in Iraq: connection?

JH: The terror problem preceded Iraq. And terrorists hate everyone, not just Australians. Quite a humane reference to the recent terror attacks in Pakistan.

But Mr Howard, has the terror threat increased or decreased since Iraq?

JH: Iraq is getting better. The terrorism threat is still very real, though.

KR: JH didn't answer the question. This is why: we were told before Iraq that it would increase the terrorist threat. Greatest error since Vietnam. I am hardline about terrorism, but we also need to provide economic opportuniies for people so they don't turn to terrorism. Nice response.

8.43 Timetable?

KR: We will calibrate our withdrawals with the Americans.

JH: KR is not fair dinkum against the involvement. Why is he going to leave aircraft there but not troops? Our role is evolving to training and humanitarian.

Mr Rudd, you are a flip-flopper. What won't you do to get elected?

KR: Medicare safety net was a judgment call we made because of financial pressure on working families. Death penalty has always been consistent: global opposition, through the UN where appropriate. I am passionate about Australia's future.

Mr Howard, reconciliation: Why not just say sorry?

JH: I am sorry in the sense of saddened, but not in the sense of taking responsibility. Move on from guilt and blame. Practical and symbolic reconciliation gestures. The worm loves it. Oh whoops he mentioned Joe Hockey, that was a bit of a downer. But he recovered.

KR: We backed the intervention because we were horrified by the child abuse and we care about kids. The apology is about respect, building a bridge. After that, the practical stuff to bridge the gap. Reconciliation is mainly about bridges.

8.55 Enough from the journalists, now to quiz each other

KR: Is it possible for an AWA to strip away redundancy pay despite the fairness test?

JH: My government was the first to bring out redundancy benefits, actually.

JH: If you're so worried about climate change, why did you not talk about it with Bush more?

KR: That conversation was private. But it turns out Bush is kind of a redneck and he didn't want to listen to me. It's a non-issue - I think your debating skillz need some work.

9.00 KR: Why did you increase our troops in Iraq when you said you wouldn't? Why should we believe you this time?

JH: Don't politicise our brave men and women troops. That is up to our field commanders. The troops' role is evolving, is all. Al Qaeda cannot be allowed to win in Iraq, obviously.

JH: When you talk about prices, what are you actually going to do about them?

KR: I don't agree that working Australians have never been better off. I have measures to help working families. Also your petrol inquiry is totally copied off us.

9.05 closing statements

KR: I am just a simple boy from country Queensland trying to become Prime Minister. I am for kids and working families and against the staleness you see opposite. I have plans, and I don't just want to talk about unions. I am an optimist.

JH: Slogans mean nothing without a strong economy. You need to pay for things. Also back to basics in education. Reading and writing and a proper narrative of Australian history. We should be proud of our story.

Thanks to the audience for being so well-behaved!

Ray Martin: something weird about someone not liking the worm, so much for free speech?

Aww. Annabel Crabb!

Result: 29% Howard, 65% Rudd, 6% undecided.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hey, Those Are OUR Tax Cuts

Peter Costello is more than a little peeved that Labor has released a tax plan very like the Coalition's. Less than five days after his own moment of tax plan glory, Pete is reduced to whining that Labor had copied "91.5%" of his homework, and throwing in a little union-baiting for good measure. Leaving the unions aside (please?), the man has a point. Basically, Labor's plan is Taxcutpalooza Lite: identical to the Costello plan at the lower end of the tax spectrum, but deferring the cuts for people on $180,000+ in favour of targeted tax rebates for lower income families to spend on educational goods like broadband and textbooks.

It's a clever idea. The ALP is not going to win the battle of who can tax less, even if it did, in fact, promise to tax less, because everyone knows that Labor are the deficit-loving Keynesian tax-and-spenders and the Libs are the laissez-faire Friedmanites. More to the point, it's not a battle Labor should be trying to win. Australians are not allergic to tax-and-spend Big Gummint as a concept, and although everyone does like it when they themselves get a tax cut, recent opinion polls seem to indicate that most people would prefer more spending on services, even though axiomatically that means taxing people more. When it comes to taxation versus spending, people want to have their cake and eat it.

Which is where Labor's plan hits the spot: by saying they're going to defer cutting taxes for the rich - including, as Kevin Rudd pointed out, Rudd himself - and use the money saved to help the poor, Labor is rekindling the sparks of good old-fashioned class warfare - just a little, you understand, nothing to rock the boat, and by the way Julia Gillard is not a communist. Also, directing the money at education is inspired, a soft, cuddly and eminently Labor-voter-friendly twist on the tax-the-rich theme. All this, and tax cuts for us ordinary folk! No wonder it took them four days to release it.

Hopefully, Labor have me-tooed their way out of a depressingly tax-focused campaign and can now go on with things like signing Kyoto and beating up the Coalition over WorkChoices.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dept of You Should Know This: Rudy Giuliani

Good News for the Sleeping Giant

According to the latest Nielsen poll, John Howard has begun closing the gap on Labor, recovering by 2 percentage points in both the two-party preferred (to 46%) and the primary vote (to 42%).

Hardly surprising. This is the first week of the actual election campaign, in which one would expect the Government to gain some ground, as the question "who would you vote for?" gets ever less hypothetical, the attack ads begin, and people remember their mortgages. More specifically, Peter Hartcher points out that the poll comes on the heels of three major Howard announcements: his sudden Aboriginal reconciliation discovery, calling the election, and the tax cuts. These, says Hartcher, have helped Howard cut through to a previously deaf electorate. In fact, Hartcher argues that the Coalition will be disappointed not to have achieved more of a spike, particularly given the profligacy of the tax cuts.

I'm not so sure. As Crikey pointed out on Monday, economic news generally takes a while to sink in. So it was with the budget delivery in May; so we can expect for the tax cuts. It's not that people don't care, exactly, it's more that they need a little while to figure out what they're going to spend their shiny new election dollars on this time around.

As you may have gathered, I'm not convinced by the polls' assurances that the vast majority of Australians will not be swayed by the tax cuts. For starters, the vast majority is not the issue: it won't take many switching back to the Coalition to keep them in office, particularly if the uniform swing isn't replicated in the marginal seats. As such, that mercenary 8% could make all the difference in the world. (Although it's a longstanding hypothesis of mine that you can get 10% of a polling sample to say absolutely anything, no matter how outlandish, so you never know).

But much more importantly: of course people say they aren't going to be swayed by the tax cuts. Admitting that you can be bought off for, say, $20 a week is embarrassingly cheap, especially when the oft-posited alternative is spending on hospitals or schools. But that doesn't mean people can't be bought off. It just means they won't admit it to a pollster. (And rightly so, the tight-arsed bastards.)

On a tangentially related note, I believe we have found proof of the need for more civics education:

Another of Mr Howard's key assertions was that Labor in power federally as well as in every state and territory would remove the checks and balances between the Commonwealth and the states.

On this, 42 per cent agreed and 40 per cent disagreed while 18 per cent did not know.

The Nielsen poll director, John Stirton, said the 18 per cent who did not know suggested Mr Howard's argument was hard to understand.

Really? Because I always thought the idea of voting in different governments Federally and at State level was dear to Australian hearts, not necessarily because everyone has a well-developed sense of the complexities of Australian federalism, but more because people think something along the lines of: "This'll show 'em." I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't understand that voting philosophy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Following the US is the New Multilateralism

What with the election and being employed full-time, I haven't been paying much attention to the US/India/Australia uranium dealings. For shame: I missed this important development in the story. Basically, the India-US uranium deal is now on hold, and Australia, never one to be out of lockstep with our great friends across the Pacific, is also reviewing our recently-announced intention to carve out our own uranium trading arrangement with India.

Nuclear power is a complicated issue, and I'm not inclined to indulge in kneejerk leftism on the subject. I don't remember the MAD tensions of the Cold War, and I'm not the kind of greenie who thinks the nuclear power option should be out of the question. But two things seems clear to me: selling uranium to India, which refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, was a poor idea from the outset; and not selling uranium to India on the US say-so is an extraordinary admission of our guiding foreign policy principles.

Nuclear proliferation is one of those international policy arenas in which multilateralism is nothing short of vital. By that I mean true multilateralism, of the UN-respecting, treaty-abiding, hippie peacenik variety, rather than multilateralism of you-scratch-India's-back-I'll-scratch-yours variety our leaders seem to prefer. One of the chief offences of the Bush administration – and it's a crowded field – is his trashing of internationalist principles at every opportunity: refusing to ratify Kyoto, invading Iraq without a Security Council mandate, appointing a UN-hating cowboy as the US ambassador to the UN. Each of these was a mistake. And every step of the way – save the Bolton appointment, which wasn't really a replicable act – Deputy Sheriff Howard has been right there behind him.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is, to be sure, an inequitable instrument, entrenching as it does the nuclear weaponry rights of the recognised states while prohibiting other countries from being allowed the same. But it's an inequitable instrument to which we are nevertheless signatory, in much the same way as the UN is a flawed institution of which we are nevertheless part; and whatever we may think of the terms of the NPT, we can surely agree that less nukes are better than more. India's case against the NPT probably has some merit, but the fact of the matter is that an India testing nuclear weapons close to the Pakistani border is not an India that should receive the imprimatur of international recognition for its nuclear program.

Which brings us to the question of respect for international law. The NPT states quite clearly that signatory nations should not supply uranium to non-signatory nations. There are very good reasons for this provision, not least a general interest in the continuation of life on earth. As the World's Only Superpower, the US is acting irresponsibly when it flies in the fact of international institutions. As a small nation with limited capacity to defend itself, Australia is acting stupidly. The US alliance is indisputably important, but the rule of international law is even more so. If the terms of the NPT didn't stop us from wanting to sell uranium to India, stopping because the US has suddenly developed cold feet is just plain embarrassing. It's tantamount to saying that the current policy of the US government is more important than longstanding multilateral treaties. Which would be a terrible precedent, except that it's not new: it's just an extension of the policy the Howard government has been following all along.

So we might not sell uranium to India after all. But we've lost much of the moral suasion that is the basis for multilateral agreements like the NPT, and in doing so, undermined the entire system. It's not like we weren't willing to bend the rules for the sake of making some extra cash - it's just that it didn't turn out to be convenient after all. How willing do you think the non-signatory nations will be to submit to NPT controls now?

How to Get the Questions You Want

Annabel Crabb Makes the World a Better Place

It's beautiful, especially the concluding para. Apparently Nats really do think like that, but you'd think they would keep it to themselves during the election campaign, considering women comprise half the electorate. Mad as cut snakes.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Trouble in Paradise

This tickled me so much I just had to post it in full.

Divison within NSW parliaments holy ranks
By Nick Ralston, State Political Reporter
AAP: Tuesday, October 16 2007 - 20:08

Never one to simply toe the party line, Christian Democratic MP Gordon Moyes has taken aim at the only other parliamentary member from his party - Fred Nile.
Reverend Nile today moved a motion to establish the inquiry that will look at patient care at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital after Jana Horska miscarried in the emergency department toilets three weeks ago.

Under his proposal, Rev Nile would become the committee chair.

But, as the only other Christian Democratic Party member (CDP) in parliament, Dr Moyes wanted to ensure he had his say on the inquiry, and Rev Nile's self-appointment.
"I wish to congratulate the Rev Fred Nile on proposing this bill to set up the joint select committee with himself as chair, as he has requested me to do so," Rev Moyes told the parliament.

Dr Moyes went on to detail a conversation he supposedly had with the fictitious character Sir Humphrey Appleby, from the British political comedy Yes Minister.
"When the government is on the front page of newspapers for three weeks or more with editorials calling for a minister to resign, Sir Humphrey advises ...," Dr Moyes began.
"...that the government ... call for an inquiry describing it as open, transparent, impartial and wideranging, however the likely findings should generally be known before such an inquiry or commission is established."

Dr Moyes then turned his attention squarely on his parliamentary colleague.
"Sir Humphrey says appoint a parliamentary chair who is `sound'," he said.
"Sir Humphrey reports on several occasions that by sound he means one who can be utterly relied upon to support the initiatives of the government.
"Ensure the proposed chair has adequate allowances and travel expenses to keep him sound."
It is not the first time the two-man CDP parliamentary team have not seen eye-to-eye in the chamber.

News Ltd reported in June that Dr Moyes crossed the floor to vote against legislation giving Mr Nile a plush new title that would push his salary to more than $170,000 a year.
Dr Moyes however towed the party line after Rev Nile spoke with him in the parliament.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Note to Exclusive Brethren

If you're so desperate to influence conservative politicians, how about lifting your ban on voting?

Just a thought.

Meanwhile, rule of thumb: every time Danna Vale is involved in something, you can pretty much be sure the story is going to be weird. She shares with Pauline Hanson the true nutjob's talent for conflating issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Remember her theory during the Ru-486 debate about how Australians were aborting themselves into a nation of Muslims?

Then there was her climate change denial manifesto, in which she made an interesting appeal to empiricism:

once upon a time, the consensus was that the earth was flat, and nobody ever did any investigation because everybody agreed that the earth was flat. However, that doesn't mean that it was true.

Indeed. The distinction between scientific consensus and flat-earth incuriosity is a fine one, to be sure, and certainly not one I would expect the likes of Danna Vale to grasp right away. Although if she thinks "nobody did any investigation" is an accurate description of climate-change science, she is even less acquainted with reality than I had previously supposed.

So now it turns out that Danna is hobnobbing with the Exclusive Brethren, I couldn't be less surprised. I would say that I hope it discredits her enough to get her thrown out, but it doesn't seem that garden-variety lunacy is much of a barrier to being elected in Hughes, and Vale has a margin of 8.55. But when the likes of Howard and Amanda Vanstone are rushing to dissociate themselves from you because you're giving extremism a bad name, it's probably time to rethink your platform.

Major Policy Difference Alert

Just when you thought there was nothing to separate 'em, it turns out John Howard is - gasp! - against the worm. Kevin Rudd, suddenly contrarian, is the worm's best friend, just like every other dinky-di Strayan.

Score one for Rudd. The worm is ridiculous, but banning it is more so. Besides, without the worm we're stuck with "science" like Vote-A-Matic. Go on, try it out. I defy you to find something stupider to have come out of this election campaign. So far.

John Howard: 0.25% Out of Touch?

So John Howard was out by a quarter of a percent on the official cash rate.

Now, my close personal friends and relatives, as well as most of my wider circle of acquaintances, my workmates, all my former uni professors, certain Sydney taxi drivers, and the dude who sells me my Herald on Saturday mornings, know that I am no great defender of Howard's.

But here's the thing. I don't think Howard is unfit to govern because he has demonstrated an insufficient grasp of detail, or because he's not an expert on interest rates, or because he's too old. I don't think any of those things are true. I do think he's unfit to govern because he is dishonest, Machiavellian, possibly racist, demonstrably xenophobic, overly concerned with material wealth, largely impervious to the plight of the needy, bizarrely attached to a romanticised Menzies-era ideal of Australian society, prone to expedient 180 degree shifts in policy, and, embarrassingly, the last great defender of President Bush. Do you see the difference?

I realise that Howard has positioned himself as the interest rate guy. It was all he bloody well talked about in 2004. He is, to an extent, falling on his own sword. So I'm not saying I don't think it's deliciously ironic that Howard slipped up on interest rates of all things. I just don't think it's what we should be talking about.

For one thing, I would rather we weren't talking about interest rates at all. I am tired of the notion that Australians vote for an interest rate, and exasperated that people still don't seem to appreciate the Reserve Bank's independence. Every minute we spend talking about Howard's interest rate gaffe is another minute we spend talking about interest rates. This is both disadvantageous and boring. Monetary policy isn't even a sexy subject by economics standards.

For another thing, it could just as easily have been Rudd - in fact, it was, more or less, a few weeks ago. And it will be again. Just because Rudd is smooth and competent, doesn't mean he's immune to this stuff. Howard is pretty smooth and competent himself, remember. That's one of the reasons he's still here.

And most of all... I just think we can do better than this. I don't want politics to be a competition to see who can store the most arcana. I don't care who knows what about the price of milk, or the name of their contesting candidate in a far-off seat. I don't think it's relevant, and I think by focusing on that kind of thing we are discouraging the kind of big-picture thinking this country needs. You can't look to the stars if you're always worried about tripping on your shoelaces. Besides, I know plenty of people who walk around with all kinds of facts and trivia in their heads. If they are united by one characteristic, it is evident unfitness for any kind of public office.

I'm not naive enough to think we can have election campaign without this stuff. I see that it fits in with Labor's theme of "out-of-touch" (read: senile). And obviously, I'd rather it was Howard slipping up than Rudd. But if we vote Howard out, I want it to be on the merits - or lack thereof.

Then again, it could be I'm just getting greedy - whoops, I mean, aspirational.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Costello Cuts to the Chase

Peter Costello is never so happy as when he's announcing tax cuts, and here he is again, encouraging the very rich to keep working and buying stuff and hopefully voting Liberal while they're at it. Well, to be fair, there are tax cuts for lower-income earners too. It's a taxcutpalooza.

I don't mean to spoil everyone's fun, but... isn't it a little early for this? The election was announced a mere 24 hours ago, and we're already on tax cuts? I'm not saying I don't want my extra $67 a week - heaven knows I like my weekly manicure-pedicures as much as the next battler - but it's just that there used to be some kind of decorum with these things. The way they're beginning their campaign with tax cuts, it's almost as if Howard/Costello & Co thinks the Australian electorate can be... bought off.

Meanwhile, the resources boom isn't going to last forever, and some of us, over on the communist union-boss side of politics, have an uneasy feeling that there are better things to do with $34 billion than buying more plasma screens. Funding universities, say, or investing in clean energy technology, or even, God forbid, increasing our non-tsunami-related foreign aid budget just a little. But we - at least, our elected representatives - are not going to say it out loud. We have an election to win. Right? Right.

UPDATE, October 16: Over at Crikey, Peter Brent has his own theory about why tax cuts so soon, and predicts a "controversial announcement" the first week in November. Can't hardly wait for that one.