31 December 2006

End of year reflections

Another year has almost passed. I was going to write at some length about some of the highlights of 2006 as I saw them (including books read, films seen etc), but will content myself with mentioning the times I've seen my grandchildren (who are shown in the photo above scrutinising a bandicoot at Cleland Wildlife Park ) and my first circumnavigation of the world, including a long awaited visit to New York.

The grandchildren are returning to London with their parents early tomorrow so I'll be retiring shortly so that I can rise in time to farewell them at the airport.

Best wishes for 2007 to everyone who reads this. I hope that it is a more peaceful year for you personally and for the world in general.

26 December 2006

Another step towards a republican Christmas

While the Prime Minister/ de facto President has issued his Christmas message("Think of less fortunate, says PM"), the Governor General, for the third year running, does not appear to have released one.

The last GG's CM that I can find is from 2003. Oddly enough it looks very similar to Mr Howard's 2006 one (but I suppose when you've read one, give or take a reference or two to recent major events, you've read them all).

Has Mr Howard instructed (or "advised") the Governor General not to issue Christmas messages? I would be surprised if he hadn't.

Devaluing the office of G-G is one means of preparing Australia for transition to a republic but doing it by stealth will mean that when the opportunity arises to change our constitution to a republican one it will be harder to argue the case for having a President with some real powers. I'm not saying that this will be necessary or desirable but without seeing further and better particulars I'd like to keep as many options as possible on the table, not under the carpet.

In the UK this year, an alternative Christmas message far more radical (I think) than anything the GG is likely to put out here has been given a platform, as The Age

Other reminders of the origin of Christmas

In today's Australian Ross Fitzgerald writes an opinion piece "Still no room at the inn".

It begins

On Boxing Day it behoves us to consider the plight of the destitute and the homeless. Cities and towns across Australia all seem to have skid rows or no-go areas and, sadly, the numbers congregating in these places are increasing. How can this happen in our affluent society?

As freeways transect the city, inner suburbs become gentrified and local councils impose "dry zones", and night refuges close because they can't meet government measures of performance, homeless people are being funnelled into zones of hopelessness. Add housing and income-support policies that are increasingly short term and outcome driven and the punishing sanctions on those who fail the work tests imposed by government, and we have a pincer movement of social pressure squeezing the most vulnerable into insecure housing or on to the streets.

Politicians and administrators often ignore the homeless, opting for glossier issues or, worse, blame them for their misfortune when it's a national problem that every community needs to address urgently.

Read on for more details.

Also today Bill Leak 's cartoon "Joseph goes for another miracle", showing Joseph preparing to watch the test on a borrowed TV while Mary feeds the infant Jesus, is another comment on our current values.

"The most hilarious press release ever issued by a senior politician"?

This (minus the question mark) is Matt Price's assessment of Mike Rann's tribute to Shane Warne (who as I post has just taken his 700th test wicket). It hasn't yet appeared on Mr Rann's website but Matt has transcribed it to his blog . An edited highlights version is in Price's sport column at p39 of Saturday's Australian.

I'm reluctant to agree with Price's opinion that it's the most hilarious press release ever, but I agree that it is over the top. I'll have more to say about this and other cricket matters at Nudges and Deflections.

25 December 2006

Bushfires one week, white Christmas the next: could it only happen in Australia at Christmas?

Two stories from The Age show how the Australian (or more accurately, the Victorian) climate can turn around so rapidly:

One reports that an area which a week ago was threatened by bushfires has been covered by snow. The other reports hail in the outer suburbs of Melbourne which, with the accompanying photo, has given the headline writer sufficient licence to judge it a white Christmas.

Here in Adelaide it's been cold by our standards, with a little rain falling at times. A grey Christmas, as somebody in the group with whom I shared an excellent Christmas lunch, described it.

A Christmas message for our times

The Anglican Archbishop of Perth has, the ABC reports, accused the Prime Minister of hypocrisy over the delays in bringing David Hicks to trial (if what the US authorities propose can be described as a trial).

How many other leading citizens will have the small amount of courage need to follow his lead?

22 December 2006

Would you hire this man?

As I read Barry Cohen's piece in The Australian about a journey he made in 1970 when he was a member of the ALP's Aboriginal affairs committee to some remote communities in the NT I felt that this was a somewhat longwinded description of some bushbashing and hijinks. Wrong. Read the last paragraph (it's on p10 if you prefer the hard copy version).

21 December 2006

Surviving the bush

No , not advice to the people of Iraq. Today's Australian (p9) ran a lengthy and well informed article by D D McNicoll about how t survive in the bush. It was prompted by the unfortunate loss of 17 year old David Iredale who died while bushwalking in the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately the article isn't online though several of its key points are covered in
this report.

While stories about lost people are always newsworthy it's not often that papers print, as today's Australian does, detailed advice about how to survive in the bush. Since I can't link to the original here's a precis of the advice:

# Carry an

# Travel in groups of at least four (if one person is injured, two can go for help while one remains with the injured person).

# Carry a whistle (I'm not sure that there's such a thing as a 50c one as the paper claims, but they shouldn't be that much more expensive): use it if you're lost.

# Carry a "flash mirror" (a small mirror with a hole in it to point towards a searching aircraft or helicopter). Apparently very effective, even in wooded country.

# Keep hydrated: don't wait until you feel thirsty.

20 December 2006

Hicks "at breaking point"

The Age reports that David Hicks is, according to his father, "at breaking point" after he recently refused to take a pre-arranged phone call.

Mr Hicks said his son was unable to communicate properly during their last telephone conversation in July this year.

He was now convinced his son was suffering severe mental problems, exacerbated by spending the past nine months in solitary confinement.

"We have been worried about David's mental state for three years," Mr Hicks said.

"This shows he's not as well as everyone says he is.

"He has probably thought 'do I need to go through this mental stress' and speak to the family.

"The Australian government says he's OK ... but they're cold, they have got no heart, they don't care about him."

According to another report in The Age the Federal government will question a decision to ban forensic psychiatrist Professor Paul Mullen from visiting Hicks at Guantanamo Bay.

Given the government's record of equivocation on all Hicks related matters I'd be surprised if the questioning was very robust. It seems that those who want to see the matter resolved are being fobbed off with bureaucratic waffle which appears to hold out a slight chance of a resolution while preserving a ruthless and immoral status quo.

There are some, such as
Mirko Bagaric, who criticise people like me for focusing on David Hicks to the exclusion of the other Guantanamo detainees. I take their point, but justify my position by saying that the Hicks situation is different because he, like me, is an Australian citizen and therefore deserves the protection of our legal system. Once this has been given I'll turn my attention to the remaining detainees (and other persons who have been detained without trial).

18 December 2006

Seasonal froth #1: Blog-media cliches

Gawker has published a list of cliches which it says infest the media and blogosphere. I can't say that I'm familiar with many of them, which may only confirm that my three day visit to New York earlier this was insufficient to acquaint me with the language of the Manhattan sophisticates who are Gawker's primary readership.

17 December 2006

What does the word really mean?

Have you heard the word 'macaca'? It has, as news.com.au reports, been given an award in the USA for the most politically correct term of the year.

What does it mean? The report doesn't tell the full story. It says the word is "
an offensive slang term for Indians from the Sub-continent", but according to Global Language Monitor which organises the awards, it has a narrower, more regional meaning, being "an offensive slang term for Indians of the Sub-continent in the West Indies" (emphasis added).

In its report of the incident which brought the word to prominence The Washington Post gave it a different meaning again:

Depending on how it is spelled, the word macaca could mean either a monkey that inhabits the Eastern Hemisphere or a town in South Africa. In some European cultures, macaca is also considered a racial slur against African immigrants, according to several Web sites that track ethnic slurs.

Wikipedia has further details.

Here's the complete Global Language Monitor list (with an interesting bonus item at the end):

1. Macaca – Might have changed the political balance of the US Senate, since George Allen’s (R-VA) utterance (which is an offensive slang term for Indians of the Sub-continent in the West Indies) surely has impacted his election bid.

2. Global Warming Denier – Since there are those who now believe that climate changed has moved from scientific theory to dogma; there are now proposal that ‘global warming deniers’ be treated the same as ‘holocaust deniers:’ professional ostracism, belittlement, ridicule and, even, jail.

3. Herstory for History – ‘Herstory’ again attempts to take the male element out of ‘HIS story’. Though there are nearly 900,000 Google citations for ‘HERstory, they are all based on a mistaken assumption. When Herodotus wrote the first history, the word meant simply an ‘inquiry’.

4. Flip Chart. The term can be offensive to Filipinos, please use ‘writing block’.

5. 1a and 1b -- The headmistress of a grade school in Midlothian (Scotland) had to split a grade into two equal classes. Though the split was purely alphabetical, parents objects because those with children in '1b' feared they may be perceived as academically inferior to those in '1a'.

6. Politically Incorrect Colors -- Staff at a coffee shop in Glasgow refused to serve a customer who had ordered a 'black coffee', believing it to be ‘racist.’ He wasn’t served until he changed his order to 'coffee without milk'. Around the world we have reports of the word ‘black’ becoming emotionally charged and politically correct or incorrect depending upon one’s point of view.

7. Oriental – Asian, please. Though this is generally a purely American phenomenon. In Europe, Asians prefer the term Oriental, which literally means ‘those from the East’.

8. Menaissance – The rise of a ‘manliness’ culture or male renaissance. Replaces metrosexual, which evidently appealed to women but not men.

9. Momtini -- A Michigan mother invented the term ‘momtini’ as an act of rebellion against ‘parental correctness’. This has raised the hackles of child protection and ‘anti-alcohol’ groups.

10. “Our Mother and Father Who are in Heaven” – From a new, ‘inclusive’ Bible translation (The Bible in a More Just Language) that replaces what it believes to be “divisive” teachings of Christianity.

Bonus: Political Correctness -- 'Equality Essentials,' a 44-page training manual book called has been used for staff training courses at Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire suggests that the term Political Correctness is now politically incorrect.

For more about the council manual see here.


Time magazine's cover story for the 25 December issue includes a segment about the man who incurred Senator Allen's wrath. Ironically, the story states, he's lived all his life in Virginia while Allen is a Californian carpetbagger.

13 December 2006

Ghan involved in accident

An accident to the Ghan passenger train has apparently left a passenger and the driver of the "truck" with which it collided about 130 kms south of Darwin severely injured.

The Age online report includes a graphic photo, though the headline describing the scene as "desert" is wide of the mark, as anyone who has travelled through the area in daylight knows.

On my travels up north earlier this year I was pleasantly surprised to see that most if not all level crossings had warning lights, though not boom gates. I took the photo above at the crossing on the Buchanan Highway between Dunmarra and Top Springs, a remote area more than 500kms south of Darwin.

I'm curious to find out more about what happened.

[Links accessed 13 December 2006]

Update 6.00 pm CST 13 December 2006.

Today several media outlets including news.com.au and The Age report that the driver of the semi-trailer involved in the collision with the Ghan has been arrested in the Royal Darwin Hospital.

Each of these websites has a photo of the scene which conveys something of the scale of the collision. Adelaide Now has a sequence of seven images taken from a number of perspectives.

ABC News Online doesn't have a relevant photo but does report on the safety and environmental concerns which have been brought to the fore as a result of the crash, eg whether boom gates should be installed at all level crossings, the difficulties of rendering prompt medical assistance in remote areas and the heightened hazards of transporting uranium on the railway.

It's worth noting that the NT government recently announced proposed changes to its road traffic laws to try to reduce its road toll, which is the highest in Australia per head of population.

With all these developments there is no further news of the condition of the passenger who was last reported by various sources, including the Northern Territory News , to be in a critical condition in the Royal Darwin Hospital. I wish her, and any others who may have been injured, a speedy recovery.

12 December 2006

"A public scandal" as PM's chief of staff moves to corporate world

In today's Crikey Stephen Bartos
Director of the National Institute of Governance at the University of Canberra, writes about Arthur Sinodinos, who has moved from his position as the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff to a seat on the Goldman Sachs J B Were board.

GSJBW undertakes extensive business for the Australian government, Mr S's move, says Bartos, creates "massive conflict of interest" problems, and is something which wouldn't be allowed in many Australian states and other countries.

He cites an online Parliamentary Library e-brief (issued 15 June 2006, updated 19 July 2006), which includes a summary table showing that in Australia only the Federal, Vic, Qld and NT parliaments do not have policies regarding post-separation employment.

While Bartos does not allege that Mr Sinodinos is making improper use of information he acquired during his time as the PM's chief adviser, he points out that conflicts of interest can be potential as well as actual:

Post departure, given Arthur Sinodinos as the Prime Minister’s top adviser was privy to every important government policy decision, how can he avoid a perception that he’s able to use that knowledge to unfairly advantage Goldman Sachs?

Sinodinos is undoubtedly ethical and will not deliberately take advantage of his inside knowledge or disclose sensitive information. But we’ve not yet invented the Men in Black device for removing memories: so there can be no certainty that his information won’t indirectly influence his work. Conflicts of interest are about not only actual but also the perceived potential for conflict.

PS As I post Stephen Bartos is speaking on ABC RN's Perspective, this time about AWB. The link takes you to the transcript.

He also participated in a panel discussion about the effectiveness of Australia's overseas aid on this week's Counterpoint, another ABC RN program.

11 December 2006

Why do do many Australians not care?

This, not "Why is the Australian government leaving Hicks to languish at Guantanamo Bay?", is the question which Leigh Sales , writing in today's Australian, thinks David Hicks's supporters should be asking.

She makes the point that the weekend rallies did not attract much support: I'd have to agree with her about the Adelaide one. This and other examples, eg little coverage in mass circulation newspapers or commercial TV, lead her to the view that both government and opposition are "convinced the issue is of no great concern to mainstream Australia". This, she believes, is why Hicks's lawyers are now, as I posted last week taking action in the Federal Court.

Reading between her lines, I don't detect many signs of optimism, though her final paragraph is a good summary of why Australians should care more:

Regardless of what people think of Hicks and whether he is guilty or innocent, his case raises issues that matter and ought to be debated: should Australia allow a foreign country to lock up an Australian citizen for five years without proving a case against him? And is Australia prepared to sacrifice fundamental principles and values, such as the right to a speedy trial, in the name of the war on terror? The fate of Hicks as an individual is important and after five years, needs to be resolved urgently. But long after he has either been released or convicted, the broader questions will remain.

I don't doubt that Ms Sales has accurately summed up the government's position at the moment, but I wonder how long Mr Ruddock's pledge of a fair trial will hold up if the foreshadowed proceedings don't get under way soon:

Hicks would likely be charged after January 17, when new regulations for the US military commission expected to try him come into effect, Mr Ruddock said.

"We've sought assurances that there'll be a presumption of innocence, that he will know the evidence that's going to be presented against him, that he will be effectively represented in the military commission process, that there are appeals ... into the civilian court system," he said.

"We are certainly pressing the US and have received certain assurances from them that a fair trial should be possible under the scheme that they've legislated for."[Emphasis added]

This is all pretty vague. What happens if Mr R's requirements for a fair trial aren't met within the time frame? Will he or Mr Howard then ask the Americans to release Hicks, as the British and many other governments have done about their citizens who were incarcerated in Gitmo?

More on loss of HMAS Sydney

Speculation about the loss of
HMAS Sydney in 1941 (see my previous post for more background info) has come back into the news with a report (headlined "Shrapnel deepens cruiser mystery") in today's Australian.

The discovery of shrapnel in the skull of the body of the one sailor who has been identified as a crew member of the Sydney has raised questions about the authenticity of the "official" version of the ship's loss:

Experts at Sydney University initially identified a metal object in the skull as a bullet from a low muzzle-velocity weapon, possibly a hand gun.

Now, sources close to the forensic scientists confirm that the object is shrapnel from a German shell, a finding which appears to be at odds with the official version of the attack.

According to that version, Sydney, under captain Joseph Burnett, sailed parallel and 1km away from Kormoran at 14 knots, while checking its identity, and was fired on when the Germans could not respond with a secret signal.

Hit by six 15cm guns, 3.7cm anti-tank weapons, 20mm cannon, machinegun fire and a torpedo, Sydney is said to have tried to ram Kormoran, missed astern, and made off at six to 10 knots until it blew up late at night.

But shrapnel in the skull poses the question of how a man mortally wounded in the head could have got into the float[in which his body was found] with Sydney still moving when Kormoran last fired at her.

The tests are expected to be completed by next February. It will be interesting to see how the results will modify the "official" or some of the other versions which are floating around.

I shall keep watching developments with interest.

10 December 2006

Where is cricket's left field?

"Voges call comes out of left field" is the headline of an article attributed to Courtney Walsh (the former West Indies quick bowler?) and Malcolm Conn in
The Weekend Australian (not online) which reports an unexpected selection in the Australian squad for the third cricket Test.

"Out of left field" is a term which derives from US baseball, not cricket. It's global English managementspeak missapplied to this situation. Why should our distinctive and descriptive sporting language, have to follow the current iteration of our foreign policy and be embedded in the US variety?

What's wrong with "Voges surprise selection in squad" as a headline?

The current issue of Quadrant has an article "Americanising Australian English" by Robert Solomon (not online) which explores this further.

[Also posted at Nudges and Deflections]

09 December 2006

Fair Go For David rally

Here are some pictures of today's Fair go for David rally in Victoria Square Adelaide, which was held in 40 degree plus heat.

Charles Southwood (ex-ABC FM presenter, MC)

Brian Deegan (lawyer whose son was killed in 2002 Bali bombings)

Professor Leon Lack (expert on sleep deprivation)

Ahmed (Australian citizen of Iraqi origin who returned to Iraq in 2003, was detained without trial, interrogated by British and US intelligence and spent some time in Abu Ghraib prison before being released without conviction) with Steve Kenny (his lawyer who has also acted for the Hicks family).

Terry Hicks (David's father)

[All links accessed 9 December 2006]

08 December 2006

More on David Hicks

Today The Age prints two different opinion pieces about David Hicks. One titled "Shameful neglect is the John Howard way", is by shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.

The other, "Critics of US tribunals turn blind eye to UN" by Liberal Senator Brett Mason.

Read them both and decide for yourself. For my part I think the senator is not confronting the central issue, which is about the rule of law and its application to David Hicks's situation,
not about the critics of US tribunals.

It's good to see Ms Roxon coming out more forcefully in support of Hicks than she seems to have done to date.

Tomorrow (Saturday 9 December) a series of rallies will be held in mainland Australian state capitals: see here for details.

07 December 2006

Who knows what's happening in Fiji?

Slightly different takes on the same events can be found at the BBC, ABC and The Age websites. The 77 year old man appointed by Commodore Bainimarama to be PM has admitted the coup is illegal, though he and more particularly the Commodore really seem to be saying that parliamentary democracy is not the best form of government for Fiji.

The Age
and the Acid Test blog have some interesting observations.

Mr Downer our Foreign Minister doesn't seem to be able to shed much light on the situation if this recent ABC report is accurate.

Slight movement on the Hicks front?

The Age yesterday reported that David Hicks's Australian lawyers have been granted an urgent hearing in the Federal Court to hear a claim that the Australian government has failed to provide adequate assistance to an Australian abroad. The matter will be heard on 15 December. The story is updated today: see here.

News.com.au recently reported that Coalition MPs have raised the matter with the PM in a joint parties meeting.

Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy has also discussed the situation, reiterating with his characteristic succinctness that the central issue is the rule of law:

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.

The comments (52 as I post this) are worth reading, not least for the misapprehensions which seem to persist among some members of the public, eg that Hicks fought in Iraq. There are still those who support the "keep him in Guantanamo and throw away the key" view.

It's ironic that these views are underpinning the continuing casuistry of Attorney-General Ruddock, who is supposed to support the rule of law here. He is taking refuge in the position that it's US, not Australian, law which is applicable, and that it's the continued quibbling by the detainees's lawyers which is delaying justice. I don't recall hearing him say anything like this about other matters where cases take a long time to go through the full range of appeals to higher courts.

04 December 2006

New Labor leader (and deputy)

As expected, and as I and almost everyone else with the slightest interest in Australian politics foreshadowed yesterday, Kevin Rudd was today elected leader of the ALP with Julia Gillard as his deputy.

He's already said that his front bench, the composition of which he'll announce later this week, will have some new blood.

It will take a few days to separate the grain of leadership substance from the chaff of media hype ("dream team" etc). Mr Howard has already gone on the attack, beating the drums of union control of the ALP and Mr R's inexperience. No doubt we'll be hearing more of this litany.

03 December 2006

Labor leadership to be contested

Tomorrow is the day which will (unless something very bizarre happens) decide the short- and perhaps even the long-term future of the ALP. The safe pair of hands (which haven't actually held on to every chance that's come their way recently) versus the new broom.

The winner? I'm not an ALP member but like to see a strong opposition to keep the government on its toes.

Kim Beazley, decent man as he undoubtedly is, cannot articulate simply and clearly (the clearly is of paramount importance here) wht the ALP stands for or even how it might change our society for the better. surely he had advisers who can help him remedy ths deficiency?