25 December 2007

A couple of my favourite music videos

As Christmas Day enters its final minutes (in my time zone anyway) I've been watching some You Tube music videos.

Here are links a couple of my favourites: a vintage 1930s film of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France featuring the master Django Reinhardt with the pretty good Stephane Grappelly, and a more recent one (despite the b&w retro look) of the Japanese group Sweet Hollywaiians playing "Milenberg Joys" (watch the guy on the steel guitar).

Update early Boxing Day: the Django Reinhardt video was originally posted here together with some succinct background notes.

Christmas greetings

Happy Christmas (or, if you prefer, compliments of the season) to everyone.

Some thoughts about the day. First, from Tony Woodlief in The Wall Street Journal:

My family is facing a holiday dilemma, which is how to disentangle ourselves from dysfunctional traditions. Like those of many young families we know, our traditions entail juggling schedules to make relatives happy, administering long greeting-card lists, buying trinkets for co-workers and neighbors, and wondering whether hell might not be housed in a shopping mall, replete with Muzak Christmas ditties and endless viewings of "The Santa Clause 3." Something is dreadfully wrong.

Second, some very welcome advice (at least for me) from Boing Boing about how to wrap presents.

Read on if you wish, but if you don't, the first rule is worth bearing in mind: remove the price tags from your gifts before you wrap them!

Enjoy the day.

24 December 2007

Airline CEO sacked for not finding 35 seats for President

The London Daily Telegraph reports that the British CEO of Sri Lankan Airlines has had his work and residence permits revoked by the government because of his refusal to find 35 seats (18 business, 17 economy) on a London - Columbo flight for the country's president. This means he has to leave the country within seven days.

The Sri Lanka Guardian website elaborates:

The Sri Lankan Government, which owns 51 per cent of the airline, said today that it was cancelling a work permit for Peter Hill, who has been the carrier's chief executive, based in Colombo, for eight years.

It cited the airline's refusal to clear 35 seats for President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage on a flight from London via the Maldives to Colombo on December 13.

Mr Rajapaksa, accompanied by his wife and several aides, had been on a private visit to Britain to watch his son, Yoshitha, passing out from the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

The President eventually returned to Colombo on December 14 on a charter flight with Mihin Air, a budget carrier that was set up this year and is wholly owned by the Sri Lankan Government.

Opponents of Mr Rajapaksa say that the incident illustrates the increasingly autocratic and arbitrary behaviour of the President, who won an election in 2005 promising a harder line against the rebel Tamil Tigers.

Since then, he has made himself head of the ruling party and Minister of Finance and of Defence, as well as Commander-in-Chief, and allocated a ministry to each of his three brothers.

Together, the Rajapaksa brothers now control more than 70 per cent of Sri Lanka's budget, according to local economists.

“Put it this way: it's getting pretty hard to say no to the President,” said one Western diplomat.

The Government says that it requested the seats on the Sri Lankan Airlines flight in advance and that the airline promised that they would be made available.

“We have recommended the cancellation of a work permit issued to Peter Hill,” said Dhammika Perera, the chairman of the Government's Board of Investment.

“They said they have enough seats ... and finally when the day comes, they said there were no seats for the delegation.”

The airline, however, says that it turned down the request because its flight was fully booked, mostly by tourists heading for their Christmas holidays in Sri Lanka or The Maldives.

Sri Lankan Airlines runs 12 flights a week between London and Colombo.

Chandana De Silva, a spokesman for the airline, said: “They made a request for 35 seats, presumably at short notice, but the flight was full unfortunately.

“We have no clear-cut policy on this. If the Government as the majority shareholder had officially directed Sri Lankan Airlines, it would have been different. For something like this, the CEO would have to make the call. The buck stops with him.”

21 December 2007

Premier described as "artful dodger" in film by his own speech writer

The Advertiser/Adelaide Now reports that the SA government has paid Bob Ellis $150,000 over the last five years to write (or help write ) speeches for Premier Rann.

Documents obtained from the Premier's office under Freedom of Information laws reveal the payments from the taxpayer to Mr Ellis, for 137 speeches and 53 "messages" written for Mr Rann over five years, from March 2002 until June 2007.

Author Bob Ellis is maker of the documentary Run Rabbit Run, a look at how Mr Rann won his landslide 2006 election victory.

Sydney-based Mr Ellis, a long-time friend and stalwart of Mr Rann's, read a poem at the Premier's wedding last year.

Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith said the payments made to Mr Ellis were on top of the salaries and expenses for a full-time speechwriter in the Premier's ministerial office and the cost of speech drafts prepared by public servants in government departments.

"The Premier has paid $150,000 to a Labor mate, who doesn't even live here," Mr Hamilton-Smith said."How does that fit with Government guidelines for the proper expenditure of taxpayers' money? This is a classic case of mate's rates – except it's South Australian taxpayers who are losers."

Mr Hamilton-Smith said MPs who had attended some of the community functions where the speeches written by Bob Ellis were given by Mr Rann, said some lasted "barely a few minutes".


Mr Rann's principal media adviser Jill Bottrall, in an emailed statement, did not answer specific questions put by The Advertiser.Rather, Ms Bottrall provided a lengthy summary of Mr Ellis' literary and cinematic highlights.

She also said he had "a long and close involvement with politics". "For a person of this depth of experience and reputation for outstanding political writing and commentary, the Opposition is absolutely correct in suggesting that at $30,000 a year, he is on `mates rates'," she said.

"Bob Ellis collaborates on many of the Premier's speeches with the Premier's full-time speechwriter."

Mr Rann's full-time speechwriter, Mark Batistich, left his $90,600 job earlier this month.

Ms Bottrall said he had been replaced, but declined to say by whom or on what salary package.

Ms Bottrall is disingenuous to describe Mr Ellis's remuneration as "mates rates" since Mr E, as is widely known here, supplements his speechwriting activities with other, presumably paid, positions on boards (eg the Adelaide Film Festival) . He also receives in kind benefits such as free tickets to and VIP hospitality at a number of events such as Womadelaide, where I've seen him accompanying the Premier, and the Norwood Food and Wine Festival, where I've also seen him in the VIP marquee.

It's also interesting to note that Run, Rabbit, Run the documentary about Mr Rann's 2006 election victory mentioned in the Adelaide Now report does not appear in Mr Ellis's IMDb entry. The entry for the film itself is pretty sketchy.

In July The Australian reported that the film was critical of the Premier:

Ellis's dry, eloquent voiceover includes observations that would sound highly critical if expressed more forcefully and in a different context.

Mr Rann is "the artful dodger", has "the ideological fluidity of a Bugs Bunny" and his gift for friendship, Ellis suspects, can be "turned on and off like a tap".

One voter quoted in the film says Rann is "all feathers and no stuffing".

"I am not a flatterer, I am a friend," Ellis said. Because of the Vera Lynn songs in the soundtrack, he described the film as Singing in the Rain meets Rats in the Ranks, a film about the 1994 mayoral election in Sydney's Leichhardt.

Have Mr Ellis and his mates yielded to pressure from Mr Rann and consigned all the film to the cutting room floor? Perhaps only this picture, which I believe is a still from the film, is all that remains? If so, what does it tell us about Mr Rann's (1) judgment in commissioning the film and (2) his ability to accept criticism?


Varieties of Australian justice #2

Two developments today: a federal magistrate has, as widely expected placed David Hicks under a control order, and the full bench of the Federal Court has allowed Dr Haneef's appeal against the cancellation of his visa by former Immigration Minister Andrews.

The Hicks case was based upon evidence from his pre-Guantanamo Bay detention, which raises the question of whether anyone accused of terrorism, or convicted by however shonky a tribunal, can ever clear their name.

I find it hard to believe that the conditions, eg reporting to the police three times a week, only having one email account (!) and a midnight to dawn curfew will remain in force for too long (perhaps for the one year duration of this control order). If they do then I'd expect to see more recent evidence tendered showing that the leopard of 2000 has not changed his spots despite the time he spent in detention.

20 December 2007

More on airport security

The First Post, reviews Unsafe at any Altitude ,a book recently published in the USA, which discusses aspects of US airport security, its excesses and omissions. These include
  • security staff who are themselves not subject to screening of any form when they come on duty
  • errors in "no fly" lists
  • the refusal of intelligence agencies such as the CIA to provide information to airport security staff about people they have under surveillance (with the consequence that many of them are allowed to fly).
No doubt many of these shortcomings are replicated in Australia, though here it seems to be more difficult to get information about such matters than it is in the USA.

19 December 2007

Service SA delivers...

I'm pleased to report that after my post last week and some further phone calls, when I wasn't automatically cut off and managed, after I'd read out the post, to speak to someone with access to people in authority, I've now received my bike number plate.

I've not yet had the promised reply from the Registrar-General, yet it's good to learn that there are knowledgeable people in his department, though unfortunately most of them don't seem to be deployed to front line customer service duties.

During my quest for a resolution I was told various things, including

  • by the dapper, mild-mannered, mustachioed gentleman who took my order and who was at counter 6 today when I collected the plate, that there was no way I could collect it until after Christmas (I was expecting him to say it was more than his job to vary the rules, but he didn't go that far)
  • by someone over the telephone that if I didn't have the correct numberplate(s) I should contact the police, either here or interstate, to see if they would accept (or turn a blind eye to) an interim home made number plate
  • by an automatic message reply when I emailed (as I was advised to do) the Registrar-General
Thank you

Your enquiries will be forwarded as quickly as possible to the relevent section within Transport SA, and we will endevour to respond as quickly as possible (during normal office hours).

Anyone for Spellcheck ?

  • by a female supervisor, who was extremely helpful, that (1) as the plate was a small one, it could be produced more quickly than I'd been told by the West African Australian manufacturer and (2) the Australian Road Rules allowed for a number plate to be relocated to a bike rack so that it was visible. This I didn't know, and I wonder why explanatory notes about this and the myriad other rules couldn't be made more widely available on the internet and, if funds permit, in what would need to be a very bulky volume.
I must make it clear that all the people with whom I dealt were courteous. They also seemed to have a sound grasp of the most common issues with which they deal. They don't, as my experiences attest, have that extra layer of knowledge to help resolve more challenging issues. The supervisors and managers seem to able to tap into this but it's not easy to contact them, either in person or, as my previous post indicated, over the internet.

With the State government proposing to introduce a shared services regime throughout the public sector it's a worry that the current system has so many shortcomings, and so little awareness, let alone acknowledgement, of these. Shoehorning the customer contact functions of several departments into one office sounds a good idea, but when doing so often results in delays and incorrect answers to queries this can only add to the costs of administration, not to mention the negative perceptions of many clients.

A suggestion: the Medicare claims centre in Currie Street uses a similar ticketing system to the North Terrace Service SA office, yet in my experience everything flows much more smoothly there. Perhaps the relevant State government ministers and senior officials could look into this take a leaf or two out of Medicare's book.

Australia Post (mis)delivers

This letter was delivered to my letter box yesterday. I've covered up the addressee's name and street address and left the suburb, state and postcode, all of which are a long, long way from here.

What a major sorting and delivery blunder. I wonder what, if any, procedures Australia Post has in place to reduce the risk of this happening. Even if a sorter makes a mistake isn't the postie trained or even encouraged to pick up gross errors like this?

A-G pooh-poohs call for SA anti-corruption commission

In this week's Independent Weekly Hendrik Gout reports that SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson has brushed aside the call made by Peter Beattie (about which I posted recently) for an independent anti-corruption body in SA.

"There is no need to set up a separate body," Mr Atkinson's spokesman said. "There's no suggestion that there's any corruption in South Australia. No corruption has been uncovered."

He said SA had sufficient existing bodies to investigate allegations of corruption, including police, the police complaints authority, and the auditor-general.

"The public interest is better served by the anti-corruption functions not being monopolised," Mr Atkinson said. "If a local complainant is not satisfied with one agency's response, he can hawk it to another."

If this is so, can the Attorney say why the recently retired SA Auditor - General and a now retired federal MHR from his own Labor party have both supported the establishment of an anti-corruption body?

The Attorney also couldn't say when (or even if) SA would have a register of lobbyists along the lines proposed by Prime Minister Rudd:

Mr Atkinson could not say when SA would have a register of lobbyists. "Earlier in the year I asked the legislation and legal policy section of the Attorney-General's department to study regulation of lobbyists in other States and countries," Mr Atkinson told The Independent Weekly. "(This) section is nearing completion of that investigation.

"It is not possible to definitively place a time-frame on the measures until we have seen the implementation of these proposals at a federal level and see how they work in practice."

18 December 2007

Just let him become an accredited bore

Mr Howard, the former Prime Minister, has been copping a walloping from sections of the media (or should that be the usual suspects?).

In his column in today's Australian Phillip Adams ("Unloved PM well used to rejection") rubs salt into Mr Howard's wounds, while on yesterday's ABC RN's Perspective (thanks for the tip, Noel) Mungo McCallum , did likewise (and showed off his classical learning: will his Latin quotations be the last ones ever allowed on the ABC before Ruddspeak and Mandarin take over?) .

I was not a Howard supporter, and don't agree that he has left Australia a better place than he found it ( for starters look at Workchoices) but I respect the dignified way he has handled his government's and his own defeat. Look at the top half of this picture for an idea of what I mean.

While there's only a tenuous connection between the two, these attacks remind me of George Orwell's 1943 essay Who are the War Criminals? in which he discusses appropriate punishments for Hitler and Mussolini, and concludes:

...let the pair of them escape with a suitcaseful of bearer securities and settle down as the accredited bores of some Swiss pension.

I suppose the modern equivalent of this (for an Australian politician) would be a package of directorships, media appearances and book deals underpinned by generous superannuation.

In time I believe that historians and other commentators will be able to assess Mr Howard's contribution to Australia with more detachment than the likes of Messrs Adams and McCallum.

One touchstone of Mr Howard's legacy will be how much of it Mr Rudd's government overturns or significantly modifies. I suspect it will be much less than those who mock him now expect.

For now, leave Mr Howard alone and let him slide as gracefully as he can into his new role as an accredited bore.

16 December 2007

Google v Wikipedia

The Times reports that Google is about to move on to Wikipedia's turf:

A new Google service, dubbed knol, will invite “people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it”, Udi Manber, a Google engineer, said.

Like Wikipedia, articles in knol (the name derives from “knowledge”) will be free to read online. In a departure from the nonprofit Wikipedia model, however, knol’s authors will be able to attach advertising to their work and take a share of revenues.

“The goal is for knols [individual articles] to cover all topics, from scientific concepts to entertainment,” Mr Manber said.

Google, which says that it exists “to organise the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible”, suggested that knol was designed to stamp out the malicious entries that have blighted Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia that “anybody can edit”.

“We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content,” Google said. The company noted that it “will not serve as an editor in any way and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors.” Contributors will retain the copyright to their submissions.

However, as well as being ranked by readers, content will be ranked by the Google search engine, which will be the most important access point to the site. Mr Manber said: “A knol is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read.”

Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder, who recently launched a rival search engine to Google’s, questioned whether knol would be able to generate enough “quality content”. He also suggested that knol articles would lack balance. “They are not going to allow collaboration and aren’t going to go for Wikipedia’s neutral style,” he said.

Where Wikipedia promotes collaboration between authors, knol looks set to foster rivalry. Contributors to knol will not be able to contribute anonymously and will not be able to edit each other’s work, two defining characteristics of Wikipedia. Whereas on Wikipedia, readers find only one entry on, say, the First World War, on knol authors will submit separate pieces that will compete for advertising dollars.

Some thoughts/ questions:
  • How and by whom will the knol topics be chosen and, as will often be necessary (eg the First World War), how will they be broken down into sub-topics?
  • Who will invite whom to write knols and what selection criteria will be used?
  • What processes will there be for editing and updating?
  • Will Google, as it does with its other services, yield to pressure from countries such as China and block/ edit/ filter/ censor knols?
Let the contest begin.

Declaration: I'm a contributor to Wikipedia and support the concept despite being from time to time exasperated by poor expression, errors and, surprisingly for such a voluminous project, omissions.

Festive season nostrum?

This is the first time I've ever linked to a recipe .

Is anyone able to verify the claims the author, whose blog has a distinctly libertarian flavour, makes?

If she's more or less correct does it mean that the left no longer has the best recipes (or does current leftist orthodoxy forbid anything which might be seen as promoting drinking)?

13 December 2007

When the going gets tough, does Get Up get going?

The Australian yesterday ran a story "Get Up deserts Hicks over control order".

One of David Hicks's greatest champions, the online activist group Get Up, yesterday deserted the convicted terrorist supporter.

Get Up campaigns manager Ed Coper yesterday refused to criticise the decision by the new Labor Government to impose a control order on Hicks after his release from Adelaide's maximum security Yatala prison at the end of the month.

"All governments have got to weigh up the liberties of individuals and security as a whole," Mr Coper said.

Get Up campaigned strongly for Labor in marginal seats during the campaign for the November 24 election.

The Get Up website challenges this:

The Latest

Thursday, 13 December 2007
The Australian has reported that GetUp has abandoned David Hicks by refusing to criticise the control order to be imposed on him - this is untrue!!

GetUp does find control orders in general highly problematic, and further believes that, based on the evidence publicly available, they would be inappropriate for David Hicks.

We will continue to fight any infringements on the basic rights and liberties of all Australians, including David Hicks.

Today's Australian on page 2 contained a clarification of the article and a letter from GetUp to correct this error.

The Australian's website doesn't appear to show the "clarification", nor does my print copy (or the website) have a letter from Get Up on p2.

What does appear in my copy under the heading "clarification" is this:

"An article in The Australian yesterday("GetUp deserts Hicks over control order") claimed that GetUp campaigned for Labor in marginal seats during the recent election. In fact, GetUp presented independent material rating all parties on election day in more than 100 seats, not just in marginal seats or in support of Labor as claimed."

Some interesting points here. Apart from The Australian's reluctance to put the clarification on its website, GetUp hasn't really indicated how it might support "any infringements on the basic rights and liberties of all Australians, including David Hicks."

Perhaps it could enlist Julian Burnside. His position, as reported in The Australian article, is far less equivocal:

Liberty Victoria president Julian Burnside QC said Hicks did not warrant a control order based on information on the "public record".

Mr Burnside warned that when the order was decided upon by a magistrate, the AFP could keep some evidence secret from Hicks. He said "secret evidence" raised the spectre of the botched prosecution of Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef, warning that Hicks would be powerless to "correct" any mistakes in the evidence.

Business class traveller gripes

Today in The Australian Bernard Salt, who generally writes well on demographic matters, weighs into airlines (mostly Qantas) about delays in airport security check-ins and various other things. Initially, instead of (as I've tried to do) coming up with some constructive suggestions, his piece loses its way and lapses into a self-serving rant:

Waiting in line for 20 minutes simply to X-ray carry-on baggage is bad enough but this procedure is made all the more galling by the convention of allowing Qantas (and I assume other airline) staff to walk straight to the top of the queue. Their logic is, no doubt, that they travel almost every day and so they shouldn't have to wait in line with the plebs.

But what about people like me, business travellers paying business class margins, who travel 160 times a year. How does this frequency compare with a pilot's? And yet I am treated the same in the security queue as a once-a-year tourist!

To a thrice (or so) - a-year tourist like me this is red rag stuff. At the arrival end Mr Salt and his business class mates get out of the blocks first, so whatever they may lose on the swings of the departure queues they gain on the roundabouts of arrivals (provided that their baggage is delivered to the roundabouts in time - but that's another of his gripes) .

To be fair, he does get back on the rails later:

It strikes me that Generation Y staff, in particular, believe that if they apologise for a problem then that problem ceases to exist.

"You've been waiting in line for 15 minutes while we get our act together and summon extra staff to help with business class check-in?

"No worries, when you get to the counter I'll apologise for the delay and then we can both pretend that it never existed. And when you come back tomorrow and the same thing happens, I'll apologise again. And again."

Now I don't know whether this is me being picky, but if there's a problem, I don't want a rote apology - I want the problem owned and fixed.

Could someone in airline customer-service training please remove the instruction to offer "platitudinous but meaningless apologies" from the program, and replace it with "ownership of the problem".

My comments might be viewed by some as the end-of-year grumbles of a jaded traveller, and to some extent this might be true.

However, what the airlines need to know is that these complaints are discussed frequently among business travellers. Indeed, the jaunty ice-breaker to any business meeting these days is talking about how horrendous the flying and baggage-retrieval experience was. Everyone has an anecdote worthy of telling and retelling.

And the worst thing is that there seems to be no accountability for the incessant delays in the travelling process. Any complaint is invariably shrugged off with a "you wouldn't want us to skimp on security, would you?" To me, this seems to be the eternal excuse for slack service.

Transport SA asleep at the wheel, and rude when awakened

On Monday I paid for a numberplate for my recently acquired car's bicycle rack. This, I expected, would enable me to comply with the law.

There was a problem, though. The Service SA customer service person with whom I dealt told me that I wouldn't be able to collect it (the quickest delivery option) until after Christmas, ie for at least 10 working days. I was planning to carry a bike on the carrier over the Christmas - New Year break, but now, it seems, I won't be able to do so.

I understand that the manufacture of number plates has been outsourced to one private firm in WA (Western Australia not West Africa I believe). Why this is so escapes me: vehicle number plate production isn't rocket science, and clearly the local market would benefit from a bit of competition.

Anyway, after mulling over the issue, I decided to contact Transport SA to see if I could use a temporary home made number plate to tide me over the gap. I rang the call centre (131 084) at noon today only to receive a recorded message stating that there were too many calls and that I should ring back later. Then the line hung up.

Can anyone advise me of how I might bring these matters (the excessive delay in producing the number plate and the automated rudeness) to the attention of someone who has the authority to do something about them ( and preferably, at least in the first situation, before Christmas)?

A month on, and another accident at same crossing

Less than a month after a fatal accident at a level crossing north of Adelaide comes news of another accident at the same level crossing.

This time the train involved was the Indian Pacific and the vehicle a truck or semi-trailer (whose cabin looked pretty mangled on tonight's ABC TV News). Fortunately nobody appears to have died, though the truck driver is reported to be in a serious condition.

The crossing is on what appears to be at least a moderately busy road, albeit one which is not protected by lights or boom gates. The ABC News report (see link above) says: "A risk assessment was carried out on the crossing last year but it was not listed as a priority for further action."

I reiterate what I said last month: this railway line is the main one into Adelaide from the north, and hence one which carries (I'd think) at least a half a dozen trains in each direction each day. Crossings elsewhere in Australia generally have at least warning lights: see my 2006 photo of the intersection of the Alice Springs- Darwin line with the Buchanan Highway on this post, which reminds me that it's a year to the day since another major rail accident occurred.

11 December 2007

Varieties of Australian justice

#1 Queensland District Court (Cairns)
  • Comment by anthropologist Peter Sutton on Unleashed (ABC online) 11 December 2007
#2 Downing Centre Local Court (Sydney)

The life and travails of former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld aged 69 as reported by

#3 Federal Magistrates Court (Adelaide: expected soon)

The Advertiser/ Adelaide Now and The Age report that federal Attorney-General McLelland, at the request of the Australian Federal Police, will seek a control order on David Hicks , who will be released from Yatala prison later this month.

From The Age:

"David is in a mentally fragile state and unlikely to have the strength to challenge an application for a control order," [Hicks's solicitor David McLeod] told AAP today.

Mr McLeod said the public, most of whom supported the return of Hicks to Australia after more than five years in the US military's Guantanamo Bay jail, would be confused by the government's move.

"There will be a large number of the Australian people who voted for this government because of the Hicks case and they will be puzzled at why the attorney has made a decision such as this," he said."David Hicks has been treated as a political prisoner here in Australia and the United States for the last six years.The attorney had a chance to close the chapter on David Hicks but instead he has chosen the pathway of the previous government in its treatment of this man by continuing to demonise him."

Asked about the issue in October, while still opposition leader, Kevin Rudd said a Labor government would take advice from the AFP about any control order.

#4 Victorian Court of Appeal (Melbourne)

Mr Geoff Clark has, as The Age reports, lost his appeal against a damages award.

# 5 Central Australia

Over the last three weeks ABC RN's The Law Report has broadcast three programs about Central Australia: the intervention , regulating grog and , broadcast today, bush courts.

At the moment you can still listen to all three programs and read transcripts of the first two (I expect today's transcript will follow shortly).

10 December 2007

"Unsustainable, unnecessary and over the top"

Support for my views on delays at airports, or one reason for them, has come from an unexpected quarter :

One of the key advisers to John Howard during his prime ministership, Sydney Airport Corporation chairman Max Moore-Wilton, says Australia's "stupid" quarantine inspections are burdening international tourists with long delays and making them feel unwelcome.

Mr Moore-Wilton says the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service's (AQIS) target to screen 80 per cent of international visitors' luggage is "unsustainable, unnecessary and over the top".

"It's a problem that is getting worse and as more and more people come to Australia, the queues are going to get longer and longer," he told ABC radio's morning show in Sydney.

The former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet - who left his position in 2002 to join Sydney Airport Corporation - says the quarantine policy was introduced in 2001 to deal with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain.

Mr Moore-Wilton says the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service's (AQIS) target to screen 80 per cent of international visitors' luggage is "unsustainable, unnecessary and over the top".

"It's a problem that is getting worse and as more and more people come to Australia, the queues are going to get longer and longer," he told ABC radio's morning show in Sydney.

The former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet - who left his position in 2002 to join Sydney Airport Corporation - says the quarantine policy was introduced in 2001 to deal with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain.

"There is no current outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain or anywhere else that I'm aware of," he said. "We are applying a regime as if there is an immediate risk to Australia's biosecurity ...

"It's a mindless, not risk-assessment-based system."

He has told ABC 702 Local Radio in Sydney such stringent checks do not happen anywhere else in the world.

"There are literally hundreds of thousands of regular travellers, like me, going through Sydney that are treated every day as if they were a risk. That is stupid."

Mr Moore-Wilton believes tourists are becoming frustrated by long queues and the current regime needs reform.

"I'm asking for a risk-based assessment on a day-to-day basis by intelligent officials as to the risk of passengers threatening our biosecurity," he said.

But AQIS says strict baggage screening procedures at Sydney Airport are necessary to prevent the introduction of diseases.

AQIS spokesman Carson Creagh says diseases such as bird flu pose a constant risk to Australia.

"We are seizing around 12 tonnes of avian influenza risk material coming in simply through airports every year," he said.

"We can't afford to back away from inspection in that area."

Of course, as I've previously noted the problem is not confined to Sydney airport, nor to the quarantine people, though it worries me that Mr Creagh appears to believe that the best way to detect "avian influenza risk material" is to use the gung-ho rigorous approach to which both Mr Moore-Wilton and I take exception.

Instead of requiring almost all travellers to submit to luggage searches like the one I was subjected to at Adelaide Airport on 31 October (and which revealed nothing untoward) why not seek a bit more cooperation from the public, eg by providing more pre-arrival information to travellers so that they can, in a manner of speaking, separate their own grain from their chaff? Or would the challenge of translating "avian influenza risk material" into plain English, let alone other languages, be too much to ask of Mr Creagh and his offsiders?

09 December 2007

Next steps...towards the far horizon

Nicolas Rothwell, the Northern Territory- based journalist, has gone into print twice in the last week analysing the situation in the Territory since the previous Coalition government launched its intervention into indigenous communities several months ago.

The first, "Aboriginal surprise", is in the British magazine Prospect. I've not yet read the full article as it's only available (unless you can access it via a library's online database) if you pay, though The Australian published an extract in its Cut and Paste section:

Things have already begun to play out in intriguing ways in the deep deserts where the intervention task forces began their work in August. School attendance is up, communities are quieter, crime is down. Why, then, the hand-wringing and the outrage heard in the state capitals of southern Australia? Surely the mainstream population might be expected to welcome such an injection of resources into the deserts and the far north? That, though, would be to misunderstand the strange condition of the Australian intelligentsia and its intense engagement with indigenous causes.

Polls suggest that most Australians are mildly in favour of the intervention, to the extent that they care at all about Aboriginal matters, but the shrill hostility of the progressive classes drowns out this approval. In the rallies, television panels and opinion pages, it is not an intervention but an "invasion", a land grab, a rollback of Aboriginal rights, an episode that brings shame on the nation.

This mood of indignant moral fury on indigenous questions has become, over the past decade of conservative government, a key characteristic of a certain segment of Australian society one might call the "reconciliation class". Its moment of glory was a mass walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge (in 2000), when a quarter of a million demonstrators gathered in support of indigenous reconciliation. This largely metropolitan tendency has been deeply hostile to the Howard government, regarding the presence of a conservative populist at the helm of the nation as an insult.

For three decades, the standard setting for the management of indigenous affairs has been the enlightened Left's welfarist prescription, a prescription now being shredded by the "emergency response". These ideological dimensions explain much of the fire in the anti-intervention rhetoric, as all eyes turn to the little communities of the Northern Territory.

The second piece "No time for dreaming" is in The Weekend Australian. Rothwell knows the Territory well: read his recent book Another Country if you don't believe me.

[Prime Minister] Rudd can opt to maintain the drastic social engineering package on trial in the desert and Top End; he can roll back its coercive bite and impact or sharpen its effects and broaden its geographic scope. On the choices he makes, and their success, depend the fate of a people, the future of remote communities and even, in the long run, the economic structure of the inland and the north.

[ Indigenous Affairs Minister] Macklin has been receiving her departmental briefings this week, in private, and knows the inside story of the intervention and the trends and patterns across the remote Aboriginal domain. Despite strong signs that the federal taskforce's initial efforts are succeeding - school attendances in the centre are up as much as 30per cent, while gambling and domestic violence are down - the overall landscape remains sombre.

Vast sums have been poured into Aboriginal development during recent years, but they have been ineffectual. There is virtually no economic activity and most of the remote communities remain surreal fiefdoms presided over by outside administrators.


Opponents of the intervention denounce it as an invasion and call for it to be wound back. Supporters see it as the last opportunity to prevent social meltdown in a damaged world.


Rudd's strategy is becoming clear; it has been telegraphed by his ministerial picks and his administration's first position statements. It will be underlined by key appointments to the commanding heights of the bureaucracy in coming weeks. Its intellectual rigour and consistency will be sharply tested by the political challenges lying close ahead.

Macklin is the key choice. By opting for his established shadow minister, Rudd has also opted for Macklin's view of Aboriginal affairs, which has been substantially shaped by deep contacts with the pro-intervention Aboriginal leadership during the past six months. The new minister shares the key beliefs of the radical reform camp; she telegraphed them in uncompromising fashion in these pages last weekend . Her view is that the crisis in remote indigenous communities can be best addressed by pragmatic measures, such as restrictions on alcohol spending to control the plagues of addiction and family violence.

It is the view that lies behind the frankly coercive aspects of the intervention: the quarantining of incomes, increased policing, the requirement that communities send their children to school and the alcohol and pornography prohibitions.

The second key appointment was a negative one. By naming the territory's Warren Snowdon, a determined critic of the intervention, as Defence Science and Personnel Minister, Rudd binds this main mouthpiece of the antediluvian Left to cabinet solidarity and removes his voice from the debate.


There has been a drastic political realignment in Darwin, with the emergence of a new Chief Minister speaking the language of co-operation, Paul Henderson. Henderson knows his term in office will be judged by his ability to provide tangible improvements in the condition of remote NT communities and he has pledged himself to this goal.

One key to the indigenous policy direction of the Rudd-Macklin era lies in the new Government's choice of Aboriginal interlocutors. Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the monarch of northeast Arnhem Land, has Macklin's ear: his message to her is one of respect for traditions and contempt for the provision of passive welfare payments to Aborigines. Alongside Yunupingu stands the University of Melbourne's Marcia Langton, a long-time believer in drastic social control measures to combat alcoholism and family violence.

Yunupingu envisages a generational reconstruction project in the territory, rechristened as the "special measure" program and buttressed by the formation of a council of traditional leaders.
Langton accepts the broad thrust of the emergency response and views it as a defensive campaign undertaken on behalf of indigenous women.

In flat contradiction to this stand, a group of more recently established Aboriginal spokespeople, marshalled by figures such as Olga Havnen and Larissa Behrendt, want the intervention stopped at once and replaced by consultation with the targeted communities.

This split in indigenous ranks, a divide over first principles rather than mere tactics, seems more profound than past disputes. It spells the end of pan-Aboriginal campaigning and may well hasten the development of different strains of indigenous identity and political programs based on region, philosophy and economic circumstance. More immediately, it forces the Rudd Government to choose between stark alternatives: to back the realist tendency represented by Langton and Yunupingu or make concessions to the rejectionists, whose campaigns have broad support from Labor's progressive wing.

Hence Macklin's longing for an indigenous compromise and her desire for the anti-intervention campaigners to sit down with their opponents and broker a development program that may give the takeover in the NT, in its Rudd version, a softer face.

Hence, too, the temptation the new Labor team feels to modify key elements of the intervention, as it promised in the election campaign on the advice of NT Labor strategists. Rudd is thus committed to restoring aspects of the territory's community development employment programs, closed down by Brough early in the intervention.Not even CDEP's few proponents regard this strange make-work system, which pays remote community part-time employees slightly above welfare rates, as anything more than a stop-gap.

But the true grotesquerie of the environment CDEP engenders is little understood by outsiders. A typical CDEP program is run by a highly paid white adviser and provides basic work teams fulfilling municipal and public tasks, in effect subsidising the NT Government and local councils. Many art centres rely on CDEP to pay their indigenous staff low part-time wages and thus use the program as a kind of taxpayer subsidy to keep the price of artworks competitive. False economic signals fly everywhere and create a shadow realm that barely meets the outside financial system. CDEP, with its dependent workers, thus acts as a force to maintain poverty and deprive people of the chance to fulfil their capabilities.

The tragedy is that it is the best system so far devised and the best indigenous societies have been offered. Brough canned CDEP only when it became clear that its payments could not legally be quarantined, but this was the reform that most urgently signalled to Aboriginal communities that a new world was upon them.

Rudd and Macklin will be urged by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations teams overseeing the Northern Territory project to keep alive the most ambitious aspect of the intervention's mid-term blueprint: the promise that all jobs on communities will be paid at standard rates, with features such as career development, education and superannuation.

The second change federal Labor endorsed in mid-campaign is the retention of the permit system controlling access to communities. No reporter committed to press freedom could support access permits, which are granted by land councils, and function to ensure favourable media portraits of communities and the powerbrokers who control them.

But the NT Labor Government, despite being stuffed full of former journalists, bizarrely opposed, and still opposes, Brough's extremely limited plan to lift the permit requirement for road access and public areas in large communities.

It is salutary to bear in mind how vital permits have been in maintaining the silence over sexual abuse and violence in remote communities. Permits also limit economic initiatives from outsiders and touristic activity. The system's defenders portray them as a force protecting culture, whereas strong cultures are those in robust contact with the world and seclusion produces inevitable decline.


In the remote communities today, a controlling elite seeks to limit and control access, so as to prevent the intolerable from being seen and felt and reported to the wider world. A masking version of reality is circulated and an oppressed class, in this case female, is maintained in fearful subjugation.

There are caricatural aspects to this summary of a complex social map, different in every tiny community, but the control system tends always to function in a similar way and to breed estrangement from the energies of the wider world. This is a straightforward moral issue for Rudd and, with his immense political capital, he can intervene in the policy debate to open up the bush while guaranteeing adequate policing and social services in communities.

Intervention, emergency, special measure: whatever the reforms in the NT are called in the Labor era, the process is set to continue. In truth, if it aims at raising remote societies to Western education and health levels, it is a project with at least a 50-year time frame. It has hardly even begun.

The commander of the emergency response, Dave Chalmers, gave an update this week on progress in the 73 target communities across the territory: 5000 health checks have been completed in 45 communities, 39 additional police have been stationed in the remote NT, 10 community stores have been licensed and 38 business managers are in place, overseeing the new order.

This is a pinprick on the surface; vast additional resources will be needed and fresh measures as yet undreamed of by policy architects if the Aboriginal societies of the centre and the north are to thrive and prosper and mesh on their own terms with the wider world.

As Labor leaders contemplate Brough's dream and seek to avoid it mutating into their own open-ended nightmare, they may want to consider far more ambitious levels of reconstruction than the conservative political order envisaged.

One key to unlocking remote Aboriginal disadvantage lies in a new description of the bush: the "failed state" model, advanced by former top NT bureaucrats Mike Dillon and Neil Westbury a year ago, explains the collapse of indigenous communities in terms of their systematic neglect and underfunding, but also in terms of the chaotic political and governance arrangements in place.

This is the far horizon of the intervention, which Rudd and Macklin will eventually have to face.

Rothwell asks more questions than he answers, but it should be clear where his (and my) sympathies lie. He seems relieved that these issues are now more out in the open than they were, but any optimism he has will be tempered by the enormity of the tasks, many of which are yet to be defined, the long time frame and the huge financial investment (not handout) required.

I hope to post more about these matters, but not now. I will be interested to see how letter writers and commentators react to Rothwell's forthrightness: the worst thing that could happen is that few will care.

Another voice in support of anti-corruption commissions

In The Weekend Australian Peter Beattie the former Premier of Queensland has come out urging each state which doesn't yet have one to establish a crime and misconduct commission.

The Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission caused me, as premier, enormous political pain and, more than any other organisation, put my government at risk on several occasions. CMC investigations or inquiries caused me to lose a deputy premier and two members of state parliament, while one former minister went to jail, another is facing court and a couple of other ministers lost their portfolios. Since its inception in 1990, this standing royal commission has pursued crooked police officers, dishonest politicians and public officials.


The CMC emerged from the Fitzgerald inquiry into corruption in Queensland which ran between 1987 and 1989. In May 1987 the then Queensland National Party government headed by Joh Bjelke-Petersen was forced by public and media pressure to set up a commission of inquiry into possible misconduct and illegal activities by police.


Without the Fitzgerald report, this independent, standing royal commission would never have been created. Unlike politicians, commissioner Tony Fitzgerald QC did not depend on favourable media coverage for re-election, and the inquiry's public hearings and subsequent recommendations changed Queensland forever. Cleverly, he recommended that this independent watchdog be accountable, through an all-party committee, to the parliament, not to the executive government.

This safeguards the commission's independence. The executive is responsible only for the commission's budget, but this too is carefully watched by the estimates committee process and the parliament through the committee.

So, why am I consistently on the public record as one of the CMC's strongest supporters, and why did I, as premier, refer many of the matters to the CMC that subsequently caused me such pain? The answer is simple. Queensland needed, and indeed all states need, a watchdog beyond government control to maintain honesty and integrity in public administration.

NSW and Western Australia have similar powerful watchdogs. Even though in Queensland the CMC came about only as a result of the Fitzgerald inquiry, eventually other states, such as Victoria, will have to follow suit.

For politicians, these independent bodies are a political nightmare, but for public administration they act like a truth serum.

History has shown that a cosy link between politicians and corrupt police leads to corruption. Police power needs checks and balances. Internal police processes are not enough. There has to be external review, with the protection of the parliament.

More to the point, the public must be empowered to take allegations to an independent body to have their concerns fairly and properly investigated without the dead hand of political intervention from executive government to protect politicians, police or local government from the consequences of their misdeeds.

Here in South Australia Mr Rann and his government have consistently pooh-poohed the suggestion that we need a CMC or something like it. They believe that a combination of the Auditor- General and the police are sufficient to ensure to manage the kind of risks Mr Beattie outlines.

It must be said that there's not a lot of public interest in the matter, and the media attention has been limited: in July an editorial in The Advertiser/Adelaide Now supported the idea, but since then the paper/website have, as far as I can tell, been silent apart from publishing a couple of reader-generated comments on other stories.

If you want an example of a matter which a CMC could investigate here look at this . Unfortunately the Independent Weekly's website doesn't have the full story which it printed in last week's issue but if you read what's there you should be able to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Update later 9 December

The Sunday Age
refers to the story (which it describes as emanating from "a weekend newspaper"), and adds a terse comment :

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu and the Victoria Police Association have now called for a commission. Premier John Brumby refused to comment yesterday, but last month described a commission as a "waste of taxpayers' money".

So far nothing from the News Ltd media here.

06 December 2007

One law for the ...?

Two contrasting stories.

1. In this week's Bulletin
Rodney Adler writes of his time in prison.

Apropos of this, yesterday
The Australian reported:

The Bulletin's editor-in-chief, John Lehmann, said the magazine had offered Adler the standard contributor rate for his tale but that Adler had asked for a payment to be made to a Jewish charity instead.

"Adler understands that many Australians, especially those who lost money in the collapse of the HIH insurance group, remain angry with him for his role in the corporate disaster," Lehmann told The Australian. "He knows he will probably never recover his credibility. But his article is not an attempt to appease or justify his actions. Rather, it seeks to build on our understanding of what prison life is like for inmates and their families."

Adler was sentenced on April 14, 2005, after pleading guilty to four charges arising from his conduct as a director of HIH. The insurer collapsed in March 2001, with debts of $5.3 billion.

2. Today ABC News reports:

New law and order measures have taken effect today in South Australia, including laws to stop convicted terrorism supporter David Hicks from selling his story after he is freed from jail this month.

SA Premier Mike Rann says Hicks is free to tell his story but cannot make money from it. Mr Rann says it should be remembered that Hicks pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism when he faced trial at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

"Court documents show that he received training on guerilla warfare, weapons, kidnapping and assassination and I don't regard those activities as those of a good citizen," Mr Rann said.

SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson warns that Hicks can be deprived of any money he accepts for telling his story.

"We're happy for David Hicks to tell his story but we will prevent him making a profit out of it," Mr Atkinson said. "And if a profit is made we'll take that money and put it into the victims of crime fund."

Am I alone in seeing an inconsistency or two here?

Update later 6 December

I've just noticed the news.com.au version of the David Hicks story, which has airbrushed out all references to Mr Rann. Perhaps the Premier has sniffed the breeze of the comments on the ABC website, which are mostly critical of the Australian authorities.

62 years on

Today my friend and neighbour Ted, about whom I've written previously, spoke by phone with his old shipmate and fellow ex-POW Bert King. This was their first contact since shortly after they were released from Japanese captivity in 1945.

I came across this article by Bert and made a few enquiries, which were followed up by Bob Chumley, an ex-Royal Marine bandsman who now lives in Adelaide. Bob used his network of contacts here and in the UK to locate Bert, who lives in a London suburb, and arrange tonight's phone call.

Needless to say, Ted was delighted to speak to his old friend. I'm very pleased to have played a part, with several others, in arranging this special event.

04 December 2007

Guitar Festival

Over the weekend I went to two outdoor concerts of the inaugural Adelaide Guitar Festival.

On Friday night Slideshow: masters of the slide guitar featured Vishwa Mohan Bhatt , the irrepressible Bob Brozman , Kerryn Tolhurst, Jeff Lang , Lucky Oceans (a great pedal steel guitar player though perhpas better known in these parts as presenter of ABC RN's The Daily Planet ), Charlie Owen and, a late replacement for some no-shows, Dave Hole.

On Saturday Culture of Kings explored the roots , development and some current trends in blues music. The program featured five top notch performers: Mamadou Diabate, Alvin Youngblood Hart,Jeff Lang (again), Fiona Boyes, and the veteran John Hammond.

Two great evenings. I'd only intended to go on Friday but it didn't take much to lure me back on Saturday, when it was warmer than Friday, a fact noted by John Schaefer , the NYC guitar aficionado and DJ who MCed on each night.

The artists IMO varied from enjoyable to excellent, with most being at or well towards the excellent end of the spectrum. The organisers did a good job, too. The two big screens and nifty camerawork made it possible to watch the performers in close up, and thus to appreciate them even more.

For reviews of the two concerts see InDaily ,The Independent Weekly's email newsletter . The Australian also ran a curmudgeonly but thankfully brief survey of the whole Festival.

The organisers of Womadelaide, whose 2008 program was launched this week, should take a leaf out of the Guitar Festival's book and invest in some big screens. If they don't the audiences for Mamadou Diabate will be shortchanged robbed by not being able to watch his magnificent finger (and thumb) work on the kora except through binoculars. And I'm sure that he won't be the only performer to whom this comment applies.

03 December 2007

GG swears in PM and ministers

Today, in a modest ceremony conducted in Canberra, Governor-General Jeffery, in one of his rare constitutional appearances, commissioned Prime Minister Rudd and his ministry. The Governor-General's speech, which summarises his constitutional role well, is on his website , which also contains a list of all the new Ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

ABC reports some of His Excellency's other comments at the ceremony.

Perhaps Mr Rudd won't marginalise the GG as Mr Howard did. When, not if, Australia becomes a republic someone will have to fulfil the role of Head of State. My view is that the Head of Government should not be the Head of State.

A literary anniversary

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Conrad.

For a succinct assessment of the man and his writing see the transcript of the ABC RN Perspective talk by Roger Osborne, which was broadcast in October.

28 November 2007

"Airports are very stressful places for a lot of people"

So spake a Sydney magistrate who, as today's Australian reports, did not convict a university lecturer who pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and swearing in a public place (that's still an offence?) because she missed a Jetstar flight to Hervey Bay.

The magistrate expected a bucketload of criticism from the usual tabloid sources. I don't condone violence but I do think that the magistrate has a point and, moreover, that the authorities, by which I mean airline, customs/immigration/ quarantine , airport security and management, can do more to alleviate matters.

For starters:

1. Review processes with a view to speeding them up at both departure and (particularly for international flights) arrival .

This means, among other things:
  • improving technology, eg x-ray equipment, to reduce/eliminate errors: on my recent trip transiting via Singapore (and not going out of the airport) I had to empty my carry on bag as the X-ray operators were adamant that I was carrying a small cutting instrument (I wasn't, but they wouldn't take my word for it).
  • seeing that enough trained people are available to deal with the customers.
2. Provide passengers with as sufficient information as possible to help them go through departure and arrival formalities as smoothly as possible.

  • make information available as widely as possible and in a variety of media: online, print and, for inbound passengers, in the destination videos which are shown just before arrival.
  • have clear instructions and signage throughout terminals.
If this sounds like I'm just being grumpy let me give a bouquet to the authorities at Heathrow, who seem to have, especially after the foiled bombing attempt at Glasgow airport, recognised that slow moving crowds of people in terminals can be a major security risk. My impression when I left this year was that the processing was still rigorous but that people didn't have to wait as long as has been the case in the past. By no means perfect (and the immigration counters for arriving non-British/EU citizens are understaffed - or perhaps on the morning when I passed through there were a few late arrivals ) but getting better.

In Australia the procedures at Darwin Airport were sub-standard: a long, slow moving queue stretched out of the terminal building into the tropical night, and the few instructions were bellowed out by the staff operating the x-ray machines (in a language which I, but not I imagine foreign passengers, just recognised as Australian English). Some of the staff came across as brusque and officious. Not a good way to welcome visitors and returning citizens.

Note: The version of this story printed in The Oz is longer than the online version linked to above.

27 November 2007

Bernie Banton: "decency and humanity that was sorely needed"

Bernie Banton has died after a long, courageous and dignified fight against mesothelioma. He was 61.

The Sydney Morning Herald's obituary covers his varied working life, which included stints as a house painter, funeral director and car salesman. He came to public prominence during the long fight against James Hardie for compensation. Greg Combet, the then ACTU secretary, said of this time "Bernie has been there every day and has lent to this entire process a decency and humanity that was sorely needed." A good example and a good epitaph.

26 November 2007

Matt Price: the fragility and caprice of life

Matt Price has died, soon - too soon - after, as I posted last month, he was diagnosed with brain tumours. He was only 46.

He was best known to most people, other than Fremantle Dockers supporters, as a political writer for The Australian. His blog posts and "Sketch" pieces were masterpieces of astute, but not often savage, observation of the quirkiness of politicians, and sometimes others. This from December last year is a favourite of mine, while this from just two months ago is another.

His obituary appears in today's Australian . The online version includes links to some of his pieces, including another favourite of mine, a description of his meeting with Bob Dylan .

To finish, a quote from a more reflective piece :

...it's simply impossible to dwell on the minutiae of politics or much else when the fragility and caprice of life comes along to kick you square in the solar plexus.

Update 27 November

I've been reading more of Matt's columns and blog posts (once I start it's hard to stop). Here are a couple of other pieces.

This criticises criminal investigation methods in Perth (but the general points are surely applicable to other towns and cities).

This describes some predictions of his, eg that Kevin Rudd was foolish to challenge Kym Beazley for the ALP leadership last year, which left him with egg on his face. Extract:

Unkind readers will be able to produce a much longer litany of silly things spouted in this space: the aforementioned bung predictions were simply plucked off the top of my head. Perhaps I’ve got a few things right, too. Surely not.

That’s the fun and privilege of being a paid know-all. Were your local MP prone to get things wrong as often as your average pundit, they would quickly be hounded out of public life.

There are all sorts of columns and columnists: thought-provoking, pointy-headed, partisan, quirky, authoritative, evangelical, clever, barracking, specialised, cautious, outrageous, inspiring, weighty, humorous, hectoring, provocative, shambolic, mocking, rambling, reactionary, personal, predictable, self-indulgent, angry, moving, pointless, profound, insightful, balanced, persuasive, strident, nitpicking, satirical, outlandish and downright boring. I’ll leave it to you to categorise these scribblings but, in case you’re interested, I’m content with the small but sweet victory of readers starting at the headline and staying through until the final sentence.

What more could any writer (or blogger), no matter which of the above words might apply to their work, wish for?