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.

It's On for Young and Old

... especially young, if yesterday's poll is anything to go by. To the ballot-boxes, fellow 73-percenters!

Commentators will make much of the idea that Rudd's superior online presence is swaying the Yoof Vote in favour of Labor. The YouTube election, etc. Resist this interpretation. For starters, it makes young people sound like imbeciles. "I'm, like, totally voting for Rudd. He has like a blog and everything." Please.

Secondly, there seems to be some confusion about what people use the internet for. Listen: hardly anybody is going online with an open mind and deciding who to vote for based on what they find. It doesn't work like that. The thing about Web 2.0 is that it's diffuse, fragmented, specialised. People look for like-minded content providers and stick with them. We seek out commentators whose views coincide with ours. We join Facebook groups we support. We trade satirical links with our friends. We read blogs we mostly agree with. We might refine our views on the economy or the health system or the environment, but we ain't switching sides because of a YouTube video.

So why are young people 'deserting' Howard? Because he's old, and Rudd is not. Because we worry about the environment, and don't trust Howard to do anything about it. Because we don't remember the fabled 17% interest rates, and quite frankly don't see ourselves getting a mortgage anytime soon anyway. Because, for all the talk of this generation's conservatism, we are still more socially liberal than older generations: more tolerant of homosexuality, less concerned about Muslims, less likely to believe in God. Put simply, we don't really share Howard's vision, such as it is. And if it's taken us til now to realise that, well, forgive us. We've been busy making videos for YouTube.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Shouldn't Steve Fielding be observing the Sabbath?

I got up just in time to watch Senator Steve Fielding, Family First, on Meet the Press this morning. I still have some residual gratitude for Fielding from the time he made the Government back down from its plan to process asylum seekers offshore. That was probably the Howard Government at its kookiest, and in that instance the system worked: Fielding told the Government to get stuffed, and they went on to devise new and subtler ways of demonising brown people.

But that was then. This morning he was talking about his grand plans for holding the balance of power in the Senate, which I found none too reassuring, although I was quite entertained by his little dig at the Greens for "wanting to give out free heroin". Those sneaky, dirty hippies! Also, he thinks petrol prices are outrageous and wants to cut fuel taxes. I wonder which opinion pol... I mean, carefully researched economic survey he got that idea from.

The highlight of the interview was when Fielding announced his proposal for a $10,000 baby bonus for the third child. Quick as a flash, the News Ltd journo probed: "Would that apply for the children of gay couples?" Fielding avoided the question once, but when it came straight back at him he had to admit that no, it did not apply to gay couples, because Leviticus says homosexuality is a sin and besides, gay people are all rich urbanites, they don't need us subsidising their stainless steel kitchens and cocaine habits. Actually he didn't say any of that, just something vague about doing what's best for the kids, but I heard the subtext loud and clear.

With all the recent hype about the influence of the Christian vote - Rudd banging on about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Howard'n'Costello kissing up to the Exclusive Brethren - it's worth remembering how this man came to be a Senator in the first place. Family First received 56,376 primary votes in Victoria in the 2004 election. If every Victorian who voted for Family First in 2004 formed a group on Facebook, it would have slightly more members than "You were sexy until I saw that cigarette in your hand" , but fewer members than "If You Can't Differentiate Between "Your" and "You're" You Deserve To Die". So why does Steve Fielding get to go on Meet the Press and talk seriously about his legislative agenda? Antony Green, bless his wonky little heart, explains:

Despite polling only 0.13 of a quota, Family First harvest preferences from numerous groups including the Progressive Alliance, the Christian Democrats, the Aged and Disability Pensioners Party, Non-Custodial Parents Party, One Nation, Liberals for Forests, the Australian Democrats, the DLP and the surplus from the Coalition.

You see? It's a goddamn mandate, that's what it is.

One of my more endearing habits is encouraging everyone I ever meet to vote below the line in the Senate. The paragraph above is why. Your vote is far too important to leave in the hands of the political parties.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Q & A with Pauline Hanson

Q: "By actually acknowledging the Aboriginal people as the traditional owners in our constitution, are we opening up a can of worms then?"

A: No. As inner-city liberals around Australia can attest, recognition of the Aborigines as traditional owners places no obligation on anybody to pay more than cursory attention to the plight of Aborigines. It sure does feel good, though.

Q: "Although it sounds very warm and fuzzy, what is the real implications for Australians and future generations?"

A: I concur. Subject-verb agreement is difficult.

Q: "Does becoming a republic sever not only our sovereignty with the crown but also with the land?

A: No. I am not aware that the proposed republic sought to eliminate property rights. Indeed, many republics around the world, some of them quite famous, still recognise land ownership.

Q: "Will the land revert back to Native Title and where does that leave all Australians who are not of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural background?"

A: The Native Title Act came into force in 1994. Since then, Australians of various cultural backgrounds have displayed a dogged ability to remain in the country, except when they are mentally ill and mistaken for damned foreigners.

Q:"But they've got to stand up on their own two feet and start doing it for themselves as well. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."

A: Current scientific consensus is that horses have four feet. Politically correct sensitivities being what they are, it is probably advisable that you avoid further comparisons of the Aboriginal people with any kind of non-human animal species. Also, making Aborigines drink is not widely considered to be the solution to the various problems faced by remote Aboriginal communities.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mr Fixit

In a rare instance of early adoption, I have been advocating four-year fixed Federal terms for some time. I don't think it's in our interests that the government can manipulate the electoral cycle to their advantage. I'm all for consolidating all the pork-barreling into one pork season, fixed on the calendar, that we can all anticipate and maybe plan our hospital renovations around. Also, it seems to me like we're forever having elections, and I like politics. God knows how much they must annoy the apolitical among us. So, good on Kevin Rudd for promising to put the matter to the Australian people.

That doesn't mean I expect such a referendum to pass. For starters, it's a referendum. Those things hardly ever pass here. ("Referenda: Just Say No".) Secondly, a cursory glance at the Herald's comments page reveals the kinds of arguments that are going to be deployed in favour of the status quo, namely, scaremongering on how we're, yawn, in danger of becoming America, and one rather intriguing theory that fixed terms are part of the insidious Unions' Agenda and are therefore almost certainly against the interests of Ordinary People.

How the unions managed to become the antithesis of ordinary people I'll never understand, but I do know this kind of thing is exactly what we can expect from the No camp. Also, you can expect the debate to be more bitter than its subject would necessarily indicate. Australian discourse is peculiar in that respect: stem cell research, abortion, euthanasia, these we can debate like grownups. But the tax system, IR laws, heads of state, electoral terms? Forget it. I've noticed the same phenomenon in NSW Question Time: the drier the subject, the more likely it is to descend into name-calling, yelling, and scurrilous accusations. We're a funny bunch.

Miranda's Scoop: Labor for Terrorists, Against Babies

Call it a personal litmus test: every now and then, against my better judgment, I read one of Miranda Devine's opinion pieces. If this fails to enrage me, I worry that I am sliding down into the abyss of right-wing nuttery.

Today's piece caused no such concerns. Miranda chose to write about the recent furore over the death penalty, namely how McClelland exposed the secret plot to free all the terrorists that would come to be under a Labor regime. (Yes, she said "regime".) I don't really know what I expected; the headline, "Whose human rights come first?", is itself a pretty good indication that Miranda doesn't get it. Human rights are universal, not hierarchical, Miranda. That's actually the whole point.

But the form of her argument was interesting, sort of. Turns out there's a slippery slope all the way from condemning capital punishment to... condemning punitive amputation:

There are plenty of terrible things we don't like that happen elsewhere in the world. Why stop at capital punishment? What about the amputation of the hands and feet of thieves in Saudi Arabia?

Indeed. Why stop at capital punishment? I am against capital punishment, and also against the amputation of the hands and feet of thieves. In fact, I would be greatly disappointed if Labor were against capital punishment but for cutting people's hands off. True, I don't remember reading anything about the endorsement of punitive amputation in the ALP charter, but then perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough.

This is the way it goes for Miranda: she takes the utterly, impeccably consistent Labor policy - not to be confused with the utterly, impeccably expedient words of Kevin Rudd - and somehow twists it to imply that Labor are the ones espousing some kind of inconsistent approach to human rights. What about the Saudis cutting off people's hands? Well actually, Miranda, if I were putting my money on one party to oppose a given form of cruel and unusual punishment, it would be the one with the unequivocal anti-capital punishment stance.

Let's recap: Labor's policy is that it opposes capital punishment, which means that it opposes capital punishment here and overseas. The Libs' policy is that they oppose capital punishment, which means they oppose capital punishment in Australia and for Australians, but not necessarily for foreigner types. Who's inconsistent now?

As for the bizarre swerve into the murky waters of abortion... well, actually, I was relieved to read it. Generally speaking, and to their eternal credit, Australians are not in the habit of politicising abortion, nor of drawing equivalence between a fertilised egg and a sentient human being. Bringing it up was probably the worst thing she could've done for the credibility of her argument - it just reads like she's working her way through a list of conservative talking points. American conservative talking points, at that. She should've just joined the Liberal MPs in their somewhat comic defence of McClelland from the mean, nasty Kevin Rudd. Didn't she get the memo?

Incidentally, Annabel Crabb's typically brilliant piece on the McClelland/Rudd/Howard/Downer dustup just about made the whole exercise worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bob Ellis Wants to Make Us Cry

This is truly depressing. I had just started to get my hopes up for this election, and now Bob Ellis goes and dashes them before the campaign even kicks off. It's a brilliantly, brutally detailed hypothetical of how Howard and co are going to win the election, despite the polls and Workchoices and everything else. And it's awfully plausible.


- "Hammer Gillard's private life and toxic socialist history under privilege".
Done! But always time for more of that in Canberra. Reds under the bed! Hey, she's even a redhead. That screams "untrustworthy commie feminist".

- A Senate inquiry into Peter Garrett's history of drug use as a youngster.
Labor seem so desperate not to let Garrett become a liability that they haven't let him be an asset. Never mind that he was a friggin' rock star or that a few months ago government MPs were climbing over themselves to announce their own druggy indiscretions: pot can ruin your life. We saw it in those TV ads. Won't somebody think of the children?

- Turning up in Bali during the election campaign to say: "I know it's in mid-election, but global warming is important, and I'm here to discuss it with China, the worst offender. Kevin Rudd cares so little about it, he's still back in Australia, selfishly campaigning."
If the Kyoto-dissing, global warming Johnny-come-lately Howard manages to convince us that he's a better climate warrior than Kevin Rudd, we deserve everything we, as an electorate, get.

- Bush's prearranged bombing of Iran.
I can totally see the nuanced, cautious Kevin Rudd being painted as an Ahmadinejad apologist, plus a few well-timed bombs over Tehran would freak the hell out of people. Vote conservative, there's a war on!

- Howard calling the election on Melbourne Cup day, when people are too drunk to register to vote
All too believable... and I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad...

I feel like those people who periodically threaten to skip the country if Howard gets elected again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

McClelland Shows Integrity, Is Quickly Reprimanded

When I checked the news this morning, I was delighted to hear that the Labor Party not only opposes capital punishment - that much, we knew - but was willing to say so this close to the election. Public opinion on the death penalty is decidedly mixed at the best of times. The spoof website Values Australia summed it up as follows:

1. Australians do not support the death penalty.

1.1 At least, not for Australians, especially in other countries.

1.2 However, Australians do support the death penalty for non-Australians in other countries.

1.2.1 After all, they're just ignorant, uncivilised nig-nogs...

1.3 ...although Australians do not support the death penalty for non-Australians within Australia....

1.3.1 ...because that would make us just like the ignorant, uncivilised nig-nogs.

I needn't have been too excited. It was only a matter of hours before the iron fist of Kevin Rudd made itself known: Yes, he opposes the death penalty, but it's insensitive to say so right now. I say he's right. Questions of morality involving life and death should always be considered secondary to people's possible hurt feelings.

Never mind that McClelland made the statement on Monday, in a speech delivered to a human rights group, or that the anniversary of the Bali bombings is not til Friday. In Kevin's sunshiny new world, reiterations of existing ALP policy should never be made within five days of the anniversary of any terror attack. In fact, Rudd went one step further: he now retroactively supports the death penalty of Hussein and Amrozi, and even indulged in a little hypothetical condemnation of Osama bin Laden to the gallows.

In this matter, as in life, Kevin is merely falling in line with his supposed adversary: John Howard has said he doesn't support the reintroduction of the death penalty in Australia. But the rationale for Howard's stance is utterly utilitarian: he doesn't want to see any irreversible miscarriages of justice, at least not on his watch. This allows him to be oddly equivocal about the application of the death penalty; hence his confounding statement, in 2003, that despite not supporting capital punishment in Australia, the matter is really for the states to decide. Hence, also, his ambivalent response to Van Nguyen's hanging in Singapore. And hence his refusal to oppose the death penalty when applied to foreigners in foreign jurisdictions - Amrozi in Indonesia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq. "Different people have different views", says Howard, sometime States' rights advocate and cultural relativist.

Kevin Rudd has no such excuse. His objection to capital punishment is a priori and based on his Christian faith. He's always been consistent in the past, having previously opposed the execution of Saddam Hussein. As he outlined in the Monthly magazine in 2006:

“The Christian belief in the sanctity of life should cause us to conclude that capital punishment is unacceptable in all circumstances and in all jurisdictions.”

In all circumstances except the leadup to an election, that is. Or, as Mr Rudd would have it, in all circumstances except within five days of the Bali bombings anniversary.

Monday, October 8, 2007

I'm Not Sure They're Fully Grasping Her Concern.

The story: Isla Fisher is challenging the film studios to make more comedies starring women. Fisher says there aren't enough comic opportunities for women in their own right; that women are generally relegated to a 'girlfriend' role.

The headline: "Borat's babe plans Hollywood sex revolution"

Update: The Herald changed its headline quick-smart, no doubt because some pesky female-type person pointed out the irony. However, it stands in its original form here and a similar form here.

Pulp Mill Polling

The SMH and the Australian have two different takes on the Howard government's fortunes in the polls. The Herald's version is based on its latest Nielsen poll, which shows an "entrenched" lead for Labor in the two-party preferred. Labor's share of the primary vote, however, has dropped two percentage points, although it's still healthy enough at 47% (versus 40% for the Coalition).

The Oz, meanwhile, takes the slightly peculiar tack of headlining internal Liberal polling in Tasmania, which shows the Coalition's figures rising in all but the electorate of Lyons, where the Liberal candidate has been speaking out against the pulp mill. The Australian chose to see the results thus:

Despite widespread opposition to the mill among local residents and businesses in northern Tasmania, the internal Liberal Party polling of 300 voters in Lyons suggests approval for the pulp mill may work in the Coalition's favour. The polling in the days after Mr Quin's public criticism of the mill found the Liberals' primary vote had crashed from 42 per cent at the 2004 election to just 30 per cent, with its two-party-preferred vote slumping from 46 per cent to 35 per cent.

This seems an odd way to spin the Libs' awful poll result in Lyons. Yes, Ben Quin's support fell in the wake of announcing his opposition to the pulp mill, and the Coalition has since approved the mill. But the situation in Lyons is hardly looking up for the Coalition. Quin, apparently a man of some conviction, has quit as the Liberal candidate over his party's support of the mill, and is now considering running as an independent, possibly with the Greens' preferences. The Greens' share of the primary is a not-inconsiderable 11%.

Of course, the seat is currently held by Labor, so it's not like Lyons is a must-win for the Coalition. (Luckily for them.) But nor is it a good example to pick if you're trying to paint a picture of an imminent Coalition resurgence.

Meanwhile, despite the Oz's upbeat headline - "Coalition buoyed by mill" - grave fears for the marginal, Liberal-held seat of Bass are buried deep in the ninth paragraph:

Bass MP Michael Ferguson, who last week expressed fears he could lose the marginal seat over the issue. Polls show he is likely to lose the seat, held by just 2.7 per cent, to Labor's Jodie Campbell.

So, to recap: the polls say Coalition is probably not going to reclaim Lyons, despite approving the pulp mill, and also that it stands to lose Bass, which the candidate says is because of the pulp mill. Nevertheless, the pulp mill "will significantly boost [the Coalition's] chances in the state's key seats".

Enough. The opinion poll thing is getting silly. Please can we have the election already?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Those Poor, Poor Huddled Masses

Next time you hear someone complain that the Australian election campaign is getting "too American", remind the complainer of one of these stories.

Via Ezra Klein:

With so many candidates for President from both parties might be hard for even dedicated political junkies to know, moment by moment, just how much each candidate is saying about God. Well, thank somebody for Beliefnet and Time, because they've created the God-o-Meter (pronounced "gah-DOM-meter).

With the God-o-Meter, we have a scientific tool that scientifically measures the just how much each candidate is Godding up his or her campaign. For example, Obama, Richardson, Huckabee, Romney and McCain all top the rating at 8 apiece, with Dodd and Giuliani occupying the bottom rung at 3 apiece.

Meanwhile, controversy on the campaign trail: Barack Obama refuses to wear an American flag pin on his lapel, probably because he is a yellow-bellied, America-hating liberal with a suspiciously Muslim-sounding middle name. Naturally, this has spawned all kinds of commentary on which candidate wears what on his or her lapel, as well as a fresh round of why-do-liberals-hate-their-own-country-so handwringing. This particular beatup has been aided immensely - one might say engineered - by Rupert Murdoch's Fox network, which is deeply gratifying to my own inner patriot. AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE.

So you see, we're not quite in land-of-the-free territory yet, Kevin-Oh-Seven t-shirts notwithstanding.

Michelle Grattan: What Was Andrews Thinking?

The ever-thoughtful Michelle Grattan had an interesting take on the African refugee quota issue in today's Sun Herald. I'm not quite as quick as Grattan to dismiss the "race card" explanation. Yes, pulling the race card in 2007 would be seen as a "cynical tactic" - by the people who are inclined to care about cynical tactics. This is a dishearteningly small proportion of voters, as the repeated reelection of John "Children Overboard" Howard attests.

But I think there's something in Grattan's emphasis on where the Africans Overboard issue would play badly. The Australian electorate can be broken down as follows: a largish minority of voters who abhor the race card in all its forms; a smallish minority of rednecks for whom stories about AIDS-ridden refugees serve as a call-to-arms to defend Straya from the imminent threat of damned foreigners; and the majority, who aren't mobilised either way on questions of race, preferring to vote for, say, whichever government will allow them to buy a bigger plasma screen. The first group would never vote Howard in a million years; the second voted for Hanson, then redirected to Howard when it turned out that Hanson was crazy, not to mention embarrassing; the third group is the one Howard needs to woo if he wants to hold on to government. And as Grattan points out, it's not 2001 anymore. That doesn't necessarily mean these people will see discussion of race as a political ploy, but I think Grattan is right to say they won't be mobilised by it as they were over Tampa. They are too busy wilfully ignoring the Government's plaintive defence of its IR policy.

Incidentally, it seems to me that much of the backlash against Andrews over this has focused on the fact that it isn't true that African immigrants cause more than their fair share of angst. All well and good: I have nothing against what Stephen Colbert calls "fact-based agendas". And it's always nice when you can point out to people that they are just plain wrong. But I haven't seen much objection to the framing of the question, thus: even if African refugees were disproportionately represented in crime, would that absolve us of our ethical duty to provide a home for those who genuinely - and, in the case of the Sudanese, desperately - need it? My strong feeling is no, it would not. The UN High Commissioner on Refugees agrees: quotas for refugees are supposed to be based on need, not on some notion - whether well-supported or not - of who settles most successfully once they're here.

Yeah, But Your Weather Still Sucks

At the risk of sounding like one of those anti-Europe wingnuts on Fox news, this has me convinced we really are dealing with some kind of European conspiracy. Sworn enemies or not, we should band together with the Kiwis to have the matter investigated.

I wonder if the England-France semi will see any tries scored at all.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

With Friends Like These...

From ABC Online:

Senate candidate Pauline Hanson has congratulated the federal Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews on a decision to cut the number of African refugees allowed into Australia..."Do you want to see increased crime on our streets? Do you want to see increased violence?" she said. "Do you want to see your daughter or a family member end up with aids or anyone for that matter?"

Friday, October 5, 2007

The People's Princess, Costlier than Ever

If I were a British taxpayer, this would really piss me off. The government is in the business of subsidising trashy women's mags now? Cos really, they're the only entities that stand to benefit, as far as I can tell.

Since I am not British, though, I am just vaguely embarrassed that we chose to retain as our own head of state such an expensive, anachronistic, dysfunctional relic as the British Royal Family.

Anna Bligh Calls Out Kevin Andrews

This is what Tony Burke should've been saying. I guess Anna Bligh isn't risking nearly as much political capital, given that she is newly entrenched as Queensland premier, rather than heading into a closely-fought election campaign. Still, when you express yourself with this kind of clarity, I have to believe the electorate is going to listen:

It has been a long time since I have heard such a pure form of racism out of the mouth of any Australian politician. For it to come to come from the Immigration minister is particularly disturbing.

I don't know much about Anna Bligh, or indeed Queensland politics, but I have to say I like what I'm seeing.

Peter Garrett Jilts Bob Brown

For the most part, I am pleased to have rawk-superstar-turned-shadow-frontbencher Peter Garrett as my local member. For one thing, he is tall, which, as The West Wing's CJ once said, is reassuring. For another, he is bright, passionate, articulate, and, well, famous, in a shadow cabinet that, as Crikey points out, is rather lacking in star power. 2035 pride, baby.

But that was before I realised how deeply he was hurting Bob Brown.

Brown is up in arms over Garrett's support of the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania. Now, don't get me wrong: Garrett has sold out. It's not just the pulp mill - this is, after all, the singer of US Forces who has since announced his support for a new US military base in Western Australia. Hey, don't beat yourself up, Pete. It happens to everyone eventually.

Everyone, that is, except Bob Brown, an authentic true believer in the opinionpollocracy of modern Australian politics. Bob knows what he's about, even if the hoi polloi aren't enlightened enough to see, for example, that ice should be decriminalised.

Which may go some way to explaining Brown's current tone, which is less that of a political adversary than that of a jilted lover.

I can't believe that the Peter I knew - I've been into the forests with him, into the forests of Tasmania... I've got a lot of regard for the guy and I can only imagine that in his soul he must be hurting himself.

Actually, given that Garrett is currently primed for a much-sought-after role in the Federal Cabinet, I think he's probably doing okay right now. But I do hope Bob recovers from this latest betrayal by his former forest-buddy. We could do with many more of his ilk.

Aiding the Junta?

My immediate reaction to the confirmation that the Australian Federal Police have been training their Burmese counterparts was nausea. Prima facie, this seems like an open-and-shut case of something we shouldn't be involved with. Training the law enforcement officials of a notoriously repressive regime? Pass.

The details of the training that have come to light - the relatively small scale, the assurance that the role of the AFP has been confined to training the Burmese in narcotics and other transnational crime - haven't done much to shift me on this. It's one thing to say Australia, and indeed the western world as a whole, is all but powerless to act in a way that would benefit the Burmese people. I don't really doubt that; the Burmese regime is famously cloistered, and external intervention on behalf of democracy has, shall we say, a spotty history at best. But it seems a disingenuous stance when the Feds are assisting the Burmese establishment, even in a small way.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Found: Gerard Henderson's Heart

I'm left rather bemused by a recent development in the national conversation: the conservative commentariat has taken to worrying what us bleeding-heart latte-sipping types will do with our letter-writing time in the (seemingly likely) event that Kevin Rudd is elected. Gerard Henderson leads the charge, but the same trope has also cropped up in the letters pages of the SMH and the Daily Tele in recent weeks.

Now, I am not so churlish as to dismiss any expression of fellow-feeling from Mr Henderson offhand, but I can't help thinking that his compassion might be more fruitful if directed at, say, anything else at all. So I say to you, Mr Henderson: fear not for us Howard-haters. We will be just fine.

Equine Influenza

I'm in two minds about the EI outbreak. On the one hand, the list of people who stand to lose the most from it reads like a who's who of people whose troubles leave me cold: uber-rich racing horse owners, equestrian types, betting agencies, purveyors of high fashion, and people who look good in fascinators. I have a fair amount of sympathy for, in order, the horses themselves and the casual workers who rely on the Spring Carnival to make some extra cash. But then I read stories like this one, about the intrepid Sydney fashionistas who are making the trek all the way to Melbourne to show off their spray tans and one-occasion-only frocks. The spirit of Burke and Wills lives on, folks.

On the other hand, associated nonsense aside, going to the races is a lot of fun, and October just ain't the same without it. I'm not saying I'm about to accompany the brave B-listers south of the border, and I reserve the right to laugh at the ABC for devoting the first half of its news coverage to The Epidemic that Stopped the Nation. (Really.) But I do join all the above-listed groups in hoping for a full and speedy recovery for the horses of NSW. Get well soon, hossies.

The Soft Bigotry of Kevin Andrews

For most of my adult life, I have pondered one of the most vexing questions in Australian politics: is John Howard really racist, or does he just cynically exploit the racism of the electorate for political gain? I never answered the question one way or another. But the issue is nonetheless resolved in my head: I don't care. Each is precisely as bad as the other.

This came back to me when I was reading Guy Rundle's opinion piece on Kevin Andrews in Crikey today. Guy asks much the same thing of Andrews: racist or cynic? And just as I concluded for Howard, so I say of Andrews: it doesn't matter. The damage his M.O. causes is far more important than the (I suspect) not particularly interesting political philosophy behind it. In his dealings with the Haneef case, Andrews demonstrated that he is willing to do most anything to keep the fear of the other a salient feature of Australian politics, including, but not limited to: grossly misrepresenting the case to the public, ignoring the rulings of the judiciary, and placing such pressure on the Feds that they were unable to handle the case with anything that resembled professionalism or competence.

Now, Andrews is at it again, introducing what appears to be a racial component to the assessment of refugees. Regional quotas already exist, but the traditional rationale for them has been targeting areas of high demand, ie, we take the most refugees from the places that are the most screwed up. Fair enough, I guess, except that Andrews has now taken it upon himself to explain the moratorium on refugees from Africa in failure-to-integrate terms: was clear that settlement wasn’t occurring at the rate that occurred with other refugee and other migrant groups to Australia

Not that Kevin is racist. Anything but:

"We know they've been in war-torn situations; many of these people are much younger than any other group of refugees," he said."So [the] combination of a lower level of education, up to a decade or so in refugee camps and in conflicted situation, these are all issues that are providing us with challenges."

Young, disadvantaged people from war-torn parts of the world. Definitely not the kind of people we should be accepting as refugees*.

It seems Kev's particularly concerned about the Sudanese, who, despite the assurances of such know-nothing sources as the Victorian police that they are not overrepresented in crime statistics, just don't fit in as well . Case in point: the recent murder of a Sudanese refugee, Liep Gony. If the Sudanese community had any real commitment to integration, they would avoid becoming murder victims. It's so obvious.

Meanwhile, Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke says he agrees with Andrews' stance, albeit without the kooky Sudanese murder-victim hook of his Coalition counterpart. Hooray for diversity.

*"A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.." - UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees