30 November 2006

Labor's lest than perfectest day

Matt Price's column in today's Australian is a very erudite and witty, albeit all too true, take on the ALP's current difficulties:

The themes of Much Ado About Nothing are disguise, deceit and infidelity as two long-time adversaries, Bennedick and Beatrice, wind up in love. Which would pretty much sum up any Dream-Team ascension - Rudd and Julia Gillard have spent most of their parliamentary careers eyeing each other suspiciously across Labor's poisonous divide.

Thoughts of which prompt a return to Shakespeare:

Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

Four hundred years old, still the perfectest description of caucus you're likely to hear.

27 November 2006

The incredible shrinking GG

The Weekend Australian
carried a substantial profile of the Governor-General by Kate Legge, an edited version of which, minus photos, has been published online at news.com.au.

A sample (which shows that he and the Prime Minister appear to think alike on many things):

Invisibility doesn't suit Major-General Jeffery, who likes a media plan for every event despite being inherently risk averse. He is greener than the Prime Minister on climate change, which he says has been confirmed by science as "pretty definite" for the past five years, but for all his alarm he will not attack the Coalition's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

"I believe we can't take the risk of ignoring carbon emissions ... if we get that wrong we're in deep trouble," he said, advocating alternative energy sources such as thorium, wind, solar power and uranium.

"I think uranium will come ... Australia does have the most stable geography and it would be silly to rule uranium out because we're a bit frightened of another Chernobyl, but nuclear power plants would need to be built to the highest standard."

23 November 2006

Nothing to offer but blood, spice and broccoli...

During President Bush's recent visit to Indonesia a gentleman coyly described by CBS News as a "Voodoo Practitioner" prepared and drank a potion, thereby casting a jinx over the President.

The recipe appears to have been taken from the cookbook of the witches in Macbeth, with some input from Jamie Oliver:

Ki Gendeng Pamungkas slit the throat of a goat, a small snake and stabbed a black crow in the chest, stirred their blood with spice and broccoli before drank the "potion" and smeared some on his face.

The broccoli has your fingerprints on it, Jamie, but I'd like to know for how long it was stirred in the blood.

While sceptics might dismiss all the jinx talk as superstition there have been, according to US blogger
Boozhy , some interesting developments since the ceremony:

It seems Bush has fallen out of the roll of God's Favorite, as the curse seems to have worked due to the fact that chaos has certainly ensued following Mr. Pamungka's curse. First, daughter Barbara had her purse burgled right out from under her cute perky little nose, while the Secret Service looked on. Second, two motorcycles in Bush's motorcade crashed yesterday, leaving three officers injured and one in serious condition and finally, top White House official and acting Director of the White House Travel office, Greg Pitts, was beaten and burgled yesterday outside of a Honolulu night club.

22 November 2006

Unsatisfactory garbage collection

When I went to retrieve my rubbish bins this morning I found that one of them, shown here, had not been properly emptied, and the other (not in picture) had been overturned. This isn't the first time I've had poor service from the collectors.

The rubbish collection is contracted out to East Waste. I complied with their collection policies but this did not prevent them from doing a shoddy job.

I went to the council offices today and notified them of my concerns, and will await a response from either them or East Waste.

I cleaned up the mess shown in the photo myself.

Never too late to get on the rails

An interesting story from the UK Daily Mail about Giles Wilson, son of former British PM Harold Wilson who switched career tracks late in life from teaching to train driving.

He recently gave up his lifelong career as a teacher to fulfil his boyhood ambition of becoming a train driver, and has started by driving trains from Waterloo in central London to Guildford and Dorking in Surrey.

Mr Wilson is so passionate about trains that he has bought and restored at least two disused branch line stations in the West country, including his current weekend home near Exeter.

During the week he lives alone in a modest flat in Belsize Park, north London, where he is visited by his mother Mary, 88, and brother Robin, 62.

A family friend said: 'Everyone was a bit surprised that he should take up driving trains as a career.

'It was well known he was a rail enthusiast, but not that he was so serious he planned to be a driver full time.

'It is one thing loving the world of railways but quite another to actually work for a rail company. But he has made that decision and seems to be very happy with it.

'Who knows what his father would think. I'm sure he would not have expected him to end up a train driver.'

Mr Wilson refused to discuss his decision to change careers, insisting that he has always avoided publicity.

20 November 2006

The Deep End to end

ABC Radio National plans to drop the weekday editions of its arts program The Deep End . I'm very sorry to learn this as over the last year or so I've moved from being an occasional to a regular listener.

Each day the program presents several arts-related items. For example, today it discussed

# an award for new video and media art,

# an open air sculpture exhibition in a small SA coastal town,

# cult film and television classics (the first of a new, and presumably brief, series) and,

# a hand-wound free play radio (part of the regular Monday to Friday "Deep End Five" countdown of the "best of" something, this week's topic being "objects and systems that promote sustainable lifestyles").

The Deep End is well produced and Amanda Smith, the presenter, consistently engages listeners with her
friendly manner and detailed knowledge of the arts.

The ABC has issued an
an explanation where the RN station/ network manager is reported as saying

I’m not thrilled about it, and a little bit of it is to do with resources, but most of it is to do with, what will serve the arts best...
Arts is a difficult area to cover. It’s difficult on radio because so much of what you’re talking about is either visual or local, and for a national radio network it’s a tricky area to bring to life. And it also has within it stuff like arts funding policy, which is incredibly important, but again can be difficult radio.

We were beginning to feel that, on a daily basis, in-depth, analytic conversations about where the arts are heading in Australia and around the world (was too hard) without a really high level of resourcing and specialist staff that we probably had in the 80s and 90s, but are unable to sustain in 2006.

Radio National is a very expensive network to maintain, because of the level of depth we want to bring to everything we touch, and over time priorities about what we want to bring that depth to change.

This is full of weasel words. Can anyone translate "The level of depth we want to bring to everything we touch"(or the entire passage) into plain English?

I don't have enough inside knowledge to crack her code, but wonder what what is really happening.

19 November 2006

GG blues

Glenn Milne at news.com.au reports that the Governor General and his wife are " victims of a whispering campaign in Canberra, driven by claims Government House has become pompous and self-important".

If anyone has become pompous and self-important it is the
Prime Minister, who has marginalised the GG by taking a leading role at many major events, leaving Major General Jeffery to officiate at the less important ones. Earlier this year I calculated (by looking at their respective websites) that the score for appearances at the Commonwealth Games was PM 5 - GG 2.

Mr Howard has effectively become President Howard of a de facto Australian republic. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though it leaves the GG in limbo, a comfortable limbo to be sure, but one which has no doubt increased the Vice-Regal couple's frustrations. I expect that the PM/ President will continue to live his double life, because the obstacles in the way of a formal change, eg referendum, are formidable and I believe many Australians will continue to feel relaxed and comfortable about accepting his spin on matters, including much more important ones.

16 November 2006

Government keeps SA public in dark

Two instances of government fudging in SA. The first, where the state government, more specifically Transport Minister Patrick Conlon, has refused to disclose the amounts paid for land for the planned northern suburbs expressway.

LAND acquisition cost estimates for the new $550 million Northern Expressway will not be revealed, so the Government does not "pay more than it should by being indiscreet".Transport Minister Patrick Conlon said the land acquisition was a major component of the project. "One of the things we are not going to do is separate out the components of funding," he said."If we say we have X dollars for acquisition then that's what people will be asking us for."

"We are not going to set the Government up as a patsy in this regard. Everyone can be assured the project will go to the Public Works Committee and every detail will be known."

He said feedback on the expressway and its new route had been positive. "Land acquisition does not need to take place for another 18 months," he said.

"We are treating this with urgency and sensitivity. There are always going to be difficulties and controversies."

Construction is expected to start in 2008 and completed in 2011, with parts of 79 properties likely to be acquired.

Mr Conlon said some landowners would be less happy than others, but the bottom line was if the Government was not prepared to do these things, the state would not have the infrastructure it needed.

The state's largest road project for more than 40 years, the expressway runs past Penfield and Gawler's western edge.

The four-lane expressway is designed to boost freight links from the Sturt Highway to Port Adelaide.

At the local government level there's been a lot of buckpassing aboutdisclosure (or non-disclosure) of remuneration of council staff.

LOCAL councils are paying nearly 100 of their executives more than $100,000 a year and many receive performance bonuses.

The Adelaide City Council has 25 staff on more than $100,000 and 12 are paid bonuses.

The Port Adelaide-Enfield Council has 22 officers earning above $100,000 and also pays performance bonuses of 1 per cent a year.

But the full extent of the bonus payments and salaries paid are not available because some councils are refusing to release the information.

Independent MP Bob Such wrote to all 18 councils in September, asking a series of questions about payments to executives, use of council cars and whether staff were given rostered days off or time off in lieu of overtime.

Only 10 councils replied, while Onkaparinga, Charles Sturt and Holdfast Bay said the Local Government Association would respond on their behalf.

Replies were not received from Prospect, Marion, Adelaide Hills, Mitcham, and Norwood, Payneham & St Peters.

Of the 10 who did, four councils said they paid employee bonuses - Salisbury, Adelaide, Campbelltown and Port Adelaide-Enfield.

Salisbury pays the city manager $15,000 extra a year "subject to performance assessment", Adelaide pays 12 staff bonuses which are "performance based", Campbelltown pays its managers bonuses based on performance, while Port Adelaide-Enfield executives are paid a 1 per cent bonus based on occupational health and safety targets.

Only Burnside, Campbelltown and Walkerville said they did not provide cars or reimburse mayors for using a private car on mayoral duties. Only Walkerville said it paid extra superannuation as part of an executive package.

"Councils are not there to make a profit," Dr Such said. "They are there to serve the community like the public service."

Local Government Association executive director Wendy Campagna wrote to Dr Such, saying four of 68 councils in the state use bonus payments.

"They are common-place in private industry and at a time when there is a skills shortage in management expertise," she said.

Dr Such, as often, has a good point here: councils are not there to make a profit. Ms Campagna's explanation is disingenuous: the website of Local Government Association, her employer, states clearly: "Councils are part of our system of government".

15 November 2006

Bono in town? What about Rupert?

Readers of today's Advertiser front page were teased about the prospect of Bono being in Adelaide a day or two before tomorrow's U2 concert. Nowhere in the paper was there a mention of Mr Murdoch's visit for the News Corporation local shareholders meeting.

Were the editor and his staff apprehensive about stepping on their boss's toes on the one day of the year when (it could reasonably be assumed) he'll read what they print over breakfast.

Well, they made up for it later by putting online a story about Mr M complaining (IMO justifiably) about poor broadband speeds here, as well as video and podcast interviews with the great man.

They also did not overlook an important local event : the testimonial dinner tonight for Darren "Boof" Lehmann.

UPDATE 16 NOVEMBER: Today's print 'Tiser certainly makes up for yesterday's omissions, with a front page story "Murdoch urges water rights buyout" as well as a page five stories repeating his plea for improved internet access (see above) and a briefer tribute to his philanthropy "Avenue of Generosity" about his significant contribution to the Adelaide Botanic gardens redevelopment fund. If you don't know how much he gave, read the story.

Last rites for states' rights?

The High Court's decision in the Work Choices case
New South Wales v Commonwealth of Australia; Western Australia v Commonwealth of Australia has attracted much media comment.

The Australian includes comments from Brad Norington, Chris Merritt, Joseph Kerr, Mike Steketee , Matt Price and P P McGuinness.

The Age's coverage includes contributions from Kenneth Nguyen, George Williams , Michael Gordon and Meaghan Shaw and Michelle Grattan.

Blog postings include those by Tim Dunlop "The states are dead", Ken Parish at Club Troppo "Reports of the death of federalism are much exaggerated" and Andrew Norton"Is higher education next?"

I've not read the full judgment but after looking at extracts and some commentary I add my five cents' worth:

# The decision continues a trend towards centralisation which has been evident for some time, and which has been generally welcomed (or tacitly accepted) by both major parties.

# The Federal Government is unlikely to expand its authority in the short term, but will continue the current trend towards making the states more accountable for their spending.

# Major constitutional changes will be difficult to achieve given the referendum requirements (majority of votes in a majority of states) of the Constitution.

# Premiers Rann and Beattie are unlikely to achieve much from their call for a constitutional convention.

# If the worst case scenario eventuates Mr Rann will make a good Mayor of South Australia.

12 November 2006

The Road to Guantanamo

Yesterday I saw The Road to Guantanamo, a dramatised documentary which follows some English-domiciled Muslims who in 2001 travelled to Pakistan, then to Afghanistan, where they were captured, incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay and eventually released after their interrogators were unable to elicit enough information to bring them before what passes for a justice system in the war against terror.

The movie has an authentic ring to it - the depiction of the Guantanamo Bay camps looks particularly convincing and not all the guards are absolute b*stards all the time - and will inevitably remind Australian viewers of David Hicks.

The Australian government hasn't had much to say about the movie yet, though it has refused a visa to one of the characters depicted therein.

I recommend the movie highly, and not only to those for share my views.

11 November 2006

Unfamiliar sounds

As I write I can hear thunder and rain outside. Why is this unusual? Well, in these parts we've not had much rain lately.

I haven't taken any photos but someone not a million miles from here has .

10 November 2006

Government re-thinking or re-fudging David Hicks?

Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy has an excellent post "Mr Howard's Bushy blind-spot" in which he summarises some recent developments in the David Hicks case and states:

Any reasonable person concerned about the war on terror would understand that a commitment to the rule of law is basic to our understanding of ourselves as a democratic nation in that fight. And yet, the Howard Government has let Mr Hicks languish in the prison at Guantanamo Bay rather than insist that the Bush Administration release him from this legal limbo.

There seem to be some indications that the government is shifting its ground a little from, for example, the view expressed by Foreign Minister Downer in July. The Senate has, at Barnaby Joyce 's urging recently passed a resolution urging that David be brought to trial quickly, and there are reports that Attorney-General Ruddock has agreed to meet Terry Hicks, , David's father. Even so I'm not expecting a quick resolution of the matter.

Iraq veteran's bum steer

I can't resist mentioning this story about a UK bonfire night prank which went horribly wrong. The victim- perpetrator was trying to reenact a stunt from the movie Jackass, but the outcome showed that life does not always imitate art...

PS The Age report also includes what is claimed to be a photo of the take off.

Australians " totally uncivilised"

Also posted at Nudges and Deflections

The Australian team, notably Messrs Ponting and Martyn, have been described by Sharad Powar, the head of the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) as "totally uncivilised" for their behaviour at the Champions trophy presentation.

I know from personal experience that Indian people set great store by ceremonial protocol: at most functions there is a hierarchy of guests, with the chief guest, in this instance Mr Powar, being the most important. Ceremonies with each guest, beginning with the least important, being acknowledged, and usually invited to speak. Nothing should disturb this. In my only appearance at such a ceremony (not, alas, related to any performance on a cricket field) I was speaking when the power failed. The show nevertheless went on: fortunately I was speaking off the cuff and was able to finish quickly and allow the next speaker their turn (half way through which the lights came back on).

Acording to Cricinfo Cricket Australia is trying to hose the matter down, though to my mind CEO James Sutherland's comments seem a bit bland for an Indian audience, however well they may go down in Australia:

James Sutherland, Cricket Australia CEO had said yesterday that the relations between both boards were absolutely fine. "It's unfortunate that there has been an interpretation of disrespect from that. I know that no disrespect was intended by the Australian players; I have spoken to Ricky about it. Perhaps sometimes these things can happen between different cultures."

For a sample of Indian opinion see these pieces from Hindustan Times , Times of India and The Hindu. Here's an extract from the latter:

We respect the way Australia runs its cricket and we respect the way Australia plays its cricket, which is probably why half the Australian team strides around on Indian television hawking stuff. (We certainly don't respect our board president getting pushed around).

But in Australia, respect for Indian cricket is grudging, if at all. The talking-down, slightly supercilious tone that some use (which we got for years from the English and still do in some places) bothers me.

Culture shock

It bothers me also that this is what you often read about India in Australian sports pages. Chaotic. Noisy. Dirty. Cracked pavements. Delhi-belly. Yawn. It's true, but it's also all so 1980s about a country that's changing every day. It's intriguing, too, that culture shock only occurs going from West to East.

Presumably this shock explains why few write about how well Australia's players are treated in India.

I'm not being precious, I'm just plain bored. And wondering, is there nothing in pulsating, economically powerful, rapidly changing, complex India, which is interesting (and I'm not talking about elephants on the street and the maharajas).

India may not be big news in Australia but it is elsewhere in the world, and by resorting to lazy stereotypes some cricket writers, who are the primary messengers, are not being entirely accurate messengers. Writers in Australia such as Peter Roebuck, Greg Baum and Chloe Saltau, and former cricketers like Ian Chappell, do a fine, thoughtful job, but I find them lonely voices. After all, if anyone wants to know about India, all they have to do is ask: we love talking.

Guilty until proven innocent?

Several serious charges have been laid against the former NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Milton Orkopoulos. Premier Iemma has according to The Australian dismissed him from the ministry and as a state MP.

While I don't in any way play down the gravity of the charges it concerns me that due process, especially that a person is innocent until proven guilty, has not been applied here. The correct thing to do would be to stand down Mr O from the ministry, to withdraw his preselection for the election due early next year and to ask him to resign as an MP pending the outcome of the case.

06 November 2006

1984 - 2050?

Today on the News Ltd website a new blog, Blogocracy began. On the evidence of today's prolific output, and the author, Tim Dunlop 's , other blog , he will look at local and world affairs from a different perspective from most of the other News Ltd columnists/ bloggers. This is most welcome.

Having said this I thought that one of his posts today "I'll stop calling the Howard Government Orwellian" went over the top. Although he refers to the Appendix to 1984 in which Orwell outlines the principles of Newspeak (the artificial language which aims to prevent the expression of ideas at odds with official ideology), he accuses the Howard government, or more accurately Parliamentary Secretary Robb of being Orwellian for seeking a replacement for the term "multicultural".

Mr Robb may be able to come up with another term to replace "multicultural" ("diversity", "harmony"?) but I'd be surprised if it happened suddenly, as IMO the word has taken root in Australian public (if not everyday) parlance. All governments, and political parties (not to mention many other bodies), seek to manipulate language for their own ends, yet for Dunlop to imply that the Howard government somehow stands alone on its own axis of linguistic evil is to overstate his case. In fact in his elaboration of his headline he waters down his argument considerably, but it's the echo of the headline which remains in the mind. In the 1984 Appendix Orwell said that didn't expect Newspeak to be completely established in his dystopian society until about 2050. Perhaps the novel should now be renamed (or subtitled) "2050"?

05 November 2006

Culture of complaint against public broadcasters continues

UPDATE 6 November: Matt Price's article referred to below is now online here.

ORIGINAL POST (unchanged except for one typo corrected)
"Aunty and co face Neo-Connie's wrath".This is the title of Matt Price's column in today's Weekend Australian. To read it (and like most of Matt's stuff it's worth reading) you'll need to go to page 20 as, unlike most if not all his other pieces, this isn't online. I won't speculate why.

"Aunty" is of course the ABC, about whose current travails Matt has written previously, such as here.. "Neo-Connie" is NSW Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells , aka, as he puts it "Connie to her pals, neo-Connie to detractors", who "chooses to patrol the public broadcasters for signs of far-Left bias. Which, in neo-Connie's eyes, are everywhere".

He also has a critical thing or two to say about Victorian Senator Michael Ronaldson aka "neo_Ronnie", who "is less dedicated culture warrior than knockabout bully to whom broadcaster bashing is more sport than religion" .

The two Senators used the recent Senate estimates hearing to quiz, harangue, berate - call it what you will - the managing directors of the ABC and SBS about alleged left wing bias. Matt gives some examples of their lines of questioning and comments about the increasingly abrasive tone they used. The committee chairman (also a Liberal) "was plainly embarrassed and to his great credit intervened to chide his ultra-aggressive colleagues".

He continues

As taxpayer-funded outfits, ABC and SBS should be answerable to senators scrutinising government. If people such as neo-Connie feel compelled to complain about nudity on SBS, it's a small price to pay for public funding.

But the bullying is out of control. John Howard has stacked the board that chose [Mark] Scott as the man to lead the ABC into the complex, ever-changing digital era. On Monday's performance [at the Senate estimates hearing], he'll do a good job. The appointment of an editorial director to guard against partiality is contentious and bureaucratic and won't stem criticism of the ABC. But you'd think government senators would at least give Scott a settling-in period. Instead, neo-Ronnie and Connie roundly mocked and scorned the ABC chief, who stoutly defended the corporation against their generally absurd, overblown attacks.

It's easy for a senator with a tramscript and a chauffeur to sit on their air conditioned ar*e and blithely lambast a war corespondent for using the term militant instead of terrorist during a live interview, often conducted in a battle zone. Scott ignored the snide comments and insults, lauding the professional judgment of his reporters and explaining how 65 radio stations running live around the clock will produce an array of content, not all of it necessarily adhering to a bureaucratic formula.

Wait for the futile nitpicking to increase as Labor and the minor parties mirror the Liberals' tactic of bombarding the ABC, in particular, with complaints...No good can come of this, and the obsessive, unreasonable antics of neo-Con and neo-Ron will eventually backfire on unreasonable critics of ABC and SBS.

Unless I'm wrong, audiences and voters much prefer the flawed public broadcasters to pissant, pedantic politicians. And by the time Labor and those far left-wing leftists eventually win office, nuisances such as neo-Connie and neo-Ronnie will have written the rule book for egregious political interference.

02 November 2006

Listening to books on the ABC

Among the rarely acknowledged (by others) pleasures of ABC Radio National are the book readings: First Person (weekdays at 10.45 am as part of The Book Show) and the Book Reading (weekdays at 2pm, repeated at 11 pm). You can also listen to them via the internet.

Not every book chosen is to my taste, but the current ones have grabbed my attention. First Person is featuring Charmian Clift's Mermaid Singing and Peel Me A Lotus, which describe life with her family on a Greek island in the 1950s and 60s. In yesterday's episode she vividly depicted the life of the islanders, notably the backbone of their economic life: the annual sponge fishing expedition which took the men who sailed off in the boats to the limit of their endurance and, in the case of some of the divers, beyond it.

The Book Reading is presenting Strike, described on the program website as "
a previously unpublished novella by the Australian poet, David Campbell (1915-79) who served with distinction during World War Two." It depicts wartime service life at Batchelor airfield in the NT and points north. Adrian Mulraney's reading is first class: like all good readers he varies his tone to distinguish between characters (most of whom are male), while in the more descriptive passages evoking both the routines and boredom of service life and the gut-tightening apprehensions of action.

Campbell is better known as a poet. For more about him and to read some of his poetry, including "Men in Green" which reflects upon another incident in WW2, see here .

I wonder what those, eg Frank Devine, who are continually banging on about its lack of balance etc would make of the ABC doing what it has done to promote Campbell 's literary reputation. After all Campbell was hardly your typical latte leftie: he came from a prominent pastoral family, and for much of his life maintained a close connection with the land.

Well done, whoever at the ABC chooses the books. Enjoy your lattes.