Sunday, December 31, 2006

Privatizing politics - the big dry

Satellites have been used to map all of Australia's fresh water for the first time, and the picture is bleak. In just three years, the continent has suffered a net loss of 46 cubic kilometres of fresh water - enough to fill Sydney Harbour more than 90 times.

Water is a big topic of conversation in Australia, or the lack of it at least.

Even Tasmanian, an island state below the rest of the country doesn’t escape. Some centres in the state are just two days away from officially documenting 2006 as their driest year ever.
The individual states have jurisdictions over their own waterways, but those same waterways don’t stop at state borders. The issue of managing the dry continent’s river systems is a constant sore point between states and the Federal Government.

Federal Agriculture Minister, Peter McGauran, wants the Feds to do a takeover of the system.

The states have had control of rivers since federation.

"The rivers that cross state boundaries and the water systems that flow into the major rivers ought to be under the principal control of the Commonwealth," Mr McGauran

PM Howard is bleating in the background, but staying out of the debate for now.

But the real fear is being voiced by some state premiers: Victoria’s Premier Steve Bracks dismissed Mr McGauran's claim as another backdoor bid to privatise Australia's water.

You see, the Howard government has a stage passion for handing over the country’s infrastructure to private operators. Water would be just one more act of generosity with publicly owned recourses.

Is there really anything wrong with resource privatization? Most would say that depends on your philosophical view, but I would argue that the record of privatisation in Australia and elsewhere is dismal – a failure.

Let’s stick with water and a prime example. The map shows the vast inland river system which feeds much of the agricultural area west of the Great Dividing range. It empties into the Southern Ocean near Adelaide in South Australia, and supplies that city with it’s drinking water.

The Murray/Darling River System feeds four eastern states, beginning in Queensland in the north.

At a place called St George, in the state’s south, massive farm dams on Cubbie Station, a cotton growing property, have become a contentious focal point of the national water debate.

Frustrated farmers downstream in New South Wales have accused the giant cotton farm of siphoning off the lion's share of the available water that historically has flowed from north-west Queensland into the New South Wales river systems.

But not even the nation's biggest irrigator is immune from what is now widely seen as the worst drought in the nation's history.

During infrequent floods, Cubbie is accused of diverting nearly the whole flow from nearby rivers into their holding dams. The water from those rivers is expected to feed the system further south, but it never reaches the NSW border, never mind the rest of the river system.

John Grabbe runs the huge cotton farm he helped to establish. He has licenses to take more than 400,000 megalitres (a megalitre is well over half a million gallons) of water a year. There is little argument that Cubbie needs the massive amounts of water they divert from the rivers. It is estimated that the cotton for an ordinary tee shirt requires over 500 gallons of water.

So we end up with another question: Can a country which is running out of water afford to support water hungry industries?

The private operators of Cubbie seem to think the industry should continue, even though they are in a desperate situation themselves. There is hardly any water left on the place. One dam now holds 400 megalitres, enough to plant about 350 hectares of cotton.

Despite the record drought affecting the country there are no moves at Cubbie to look at alternative crops or even specially developed ‘dry area’ cotton. They are fixed on their own vision of profit maximisation and have invested heavily in it. They are hardly likely to turn around and rethink their business plan, or care about the water needs of the rest of the country. They have the license; but they don’t have the water. (The picture shows the last puddle left in a massive farm dam.)

I’ve got nothing against John Grabbe or Cubbie. They aren’t innovative thinkers and they are working within a culture they grew up with. They have been encouraged and endorsed by the political establishment; no doubt told endlessly what great blokes they are. But these are the people, the mindsets which control private industry. Their goals are not particularly in tune with the concerns of the rest of the country.

We could talk a lot more about water, we could go a lot deeper into the reasons why privatisation is so problematic; or we can just look at the many other examples and see that we really need some fresh thinking when it comes to resolving the enormous issues our societies face.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Trapped in the past

Spending my Christmas break in the company of dome fairly ordinary thinkers was a bit of an eye opener. It meant enduring frequent lectures comprised of half baked, at best, ideas; gleaned largely from TV entertainment programs masquerading as information.

Having also been subjected to those commercial news presentations which I normally avoid, I could sort of understand how shallow thinking and blind acceptance is encouraged.

Now that might be fine for the masses, but the easy acceptance of pre-made concepts really carries right through society.

Here we are in the 21st century, the age of technology, and we are still harking back to philosophical and economic concepts spawned in the 18th century and earlier. The imperatives of that age were vastly different, except the major imperative of course; greed.

The crucible for our current ‘thinking’ was the transition from rural feudalism to urban industrialism. Out of that came the familiar terms of conservative, liberal and by way of the French, left and right wing.

The question is; do these antiquated ideas and labels have any place in solving the problems of our modern society? Or are they just convenient and lazy approaches to our thinking and expression of politics?

I’ve noted before the erroneous use of the term liberal in the US. Erroneous in the historical meaning of the term, suggesting a ‘bleeding heart’ social view as opposed the less forgiving views of the right.

It seems to me, the reality is that these labels and ideas don’t solve anything and do little to really address the issues our societies now face.

Those issues are way beyond 18th century society, encompassing as they do; globalisation, information technology and the increasing environmental degradation wrought by our modern demands.

Surely it is incumbent on our social and political thinkers to actually address the issues relevant to the era rather than to simply hide behind outmoded definitions and solutions. Hanging on to failed and discredited notions means we will continue to limp from one mess to the next; continue destructive economic boom and bust, simply allow those hungry for power to ride rough shod over the rest of society.

But if those things are going to happen at least define them properly. If greed is to be exulted then give it an honest recognition. If we are to persist with faux democracy because the people cannot be trusted to decide, then come clean and label it as something less than democracy.

Better still would be to strive for some kind of achievable social and economic equity. But that will not happen until definitions, labels and solutions are developed to deal with the world as it exists today.

I might expand some of thoughts over the next few blogs – look closer at some of the issues and dynamics involved.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Daze after Christmas

For those of you with an interest in technical issues I can commend a new blog – Let’s Talk Geek - Gorn would love to hear what some of you think about the Vista development, but might also be helpful is resolving odd M/S issues.

I might get my brain and life into gear soon, return to a more regular time slot.

The past few days (felt like six months) were spent just South of Brisbane, too often in the company of a knowledge network/lunchroom gossip ‘expert’ on everything.

It will take my already battered mind a few days to recover that ordeal.

I keep reminding myself that is probably a good thing to be exposed to those people who take their information at random, ignore obvious contradictions, champion all encompassing leaps of generalisation and will not be told different.

As a Canadian friend was fond of saying – “you can tell an Australian, but you can’t tell him much…” But they are everywhere, those who make no attempt to think, yet are convinced the meanderings of their minds, and the dubious conclusions, are unassailable.

We see them around the blogs often enough – logic is obviously the enemy of real thinking for those noisy birds.

Also- GP Background Stories has been restored, though it won’t be getting much attention in the near future.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wheat deals set to blow

US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said today AWB and its affiliates, as well as 11 of its former employees, could be barred indefinitely from US government programs following the release of Australia’s Cole Inquiry report into the Oil for Food scandal.

We have put the argument, here, over many months, that the US administration was party to this scandal, implicated as they are in tacit approval and consequent cover up.

But this move seems to be more about the new makeup of Congress than it is about the Australian inquiry, and this action is just the beginning.

"We have a duty to protect the public interest by ensuring the firms and individuals with whom we do business abide by the law," Johanns said in a statement.

Curiously this has not been the administrations attitude up to now. From Colin Powell, as Sec for State, on the AWB issue has been swept under the carpet. With the spectre of Democrat led Congressional hearings looming, and Republicans such as Senator Norm Coleman looking for some justice, the administration are against the wall on this one.

Johanns’ move is a small step in the right direction, but the damage is done and it is far too little, far too late.

Over 70% of Australian’s believe their government is up to their ears in this scandal. Bush’s cronies are about to be exposed as well. Corrupt corporations like AWB can only exist and operate when governments choose to allow it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dividing the world for good

I try to listen and understand the views of others, on current affairs issues, and occasionally I do hear what is being said. Like this morning: “The Palestinians are now divided into two factions,” I was told.

‘Well, yes…’ I was thinking, ‘so?’

Then the rest was added, “no wonder we can’t get along, all this division…”

I lost the rest of the comment as my mind went off on its own tack. Was their any value, for example, pointing out that our own country was divided and riven by political factions, and some of the players quite vicious.

I ventured the point, but it was quickly swept aside – “We aren’t divided like they are…”

So, some countries are allowed to have instutionalised division and others are not. Australia, the US, Britain and their ilk are expected to have ‘healthy’ and robust competition for the political plums.

Palestine, Iraq and the somehow lesser nations are expected to be homogenous, of one mind. But then ‘we’ generally disagree with ‘them’ on the broad plane of their beliefs, so ‘we’ don’t see any points of divergence in ‘their’ beliefs which could generate divisions.

For example if ‘we’ deem Islam to be suspicious in its entirety, then the idea of internal divisions seem to be a doubtful proposition. There is no room to imagine splits within the dubious religion.

Yet even us non-Christians, in the West, readily accept the notion that the church , split and divided on so many planes and angles, is simply the church doing what it does.

That all comes down to ignorance, an unwillingness to understand other cultures. But actively trying to wipe out divisions is more of a concern.

Following the welcome ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand, authorities are now looking at measures for an appointed Prime Minister, one who can rid politics of divisions.

Opponents of the deposed prime minister, Thaksin, have argued that, despite the strength of the constitution drafted in 1997, he was able to subvert the system of checks and balances.

Somehow, resorting to a semi-democracy hardly seems the way to stop the system being subverted. We need to accept division as a part of healthy systems of government. But diversity should be equally available to Palestinians as it is to us. Common sense, at the very least, should recognize that other cultures have an equal right to diversity and division.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Stolen rockets okay

The Australian Defence Force, which is refusing to disclose whether rocket launchers obtained by criminals are from its stockpile.

Australian Federal Police are working with NSW police counter-terrorism experts, with military help, in the hunt for stolen rocket launchers.

One rocket launcher was 'obtained' by NSW police in return for a $50,000 payment to a relative of the convicted murderer who just happens to be of middle eastern extraction.

To add to the growing belief that something in the system might be amiss, a 53-year-old army sergeant has been charged with firearms, theft and dishonesty offences.

Police and army personnel have removed truckloads of weapons and ordnance from his home, his parents' home, and other properties.

Some reports say there was six freight container loads of rocket launchers, hand grenades and an assortment of other ordinance, tank spares, filing cabinets of confidential documents and other bits and pieces. A regular military rats nest.

Now so far as we know there is nothing to link the sergeant with rocket launchers floating around among Sydney’s criminals and potential terrorists.

The worrying part though is the disclaimer from the Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy.

"We take a great amount of care for the security of our weapons not only when they are stored but also when they are moved," General Leahy said.

Apparently not so General, as evidence would clearly suggest there are gaping holes in military weapons security. Perhaps Howard’s mob like it that way too – lets keep that old paranoia alive!

Lfe in a parched land.

Here in Queensland’s ‘Western Downs’ with temperatures hovering around the mid 90's (35c) the first distant cracks of thunder were welcome for the relief a storm might bring in. Out to the west we could see sheets of rain falling, but the storm itself appeared to be wandering a bit.

When the storm finally hit it was with a sort of clichéd Hollywood effect, a violent clap of thunder followed seconds after by torrential downpour. The downpour eased off quickly, followed twice by the cliché thunder clap, until the rain settled in.

As the storm hit the wind came in violently from the south west, but quickly turned and drove the squalls from the west, horizontal rain squalls. I missed a few minutes of the storm and came back to a howling east wind which eventually moved to a south wind.

So in a half hour of dramatic electrical storm we also experienced a sort of mini tornado – or cyclone here. There were a few more storm cells around the horizon as well, with lightning flashes into the night. In that half hour we received 44 points of rain – that is 11 mm or just under half an inch. There was just one mm added overnight.

According to the rain book in this house here the rainfall for the year to date is 375 mm or 15 inches.

Agriculturalists say; areas in southern Queensland have only half full moisture profiles, while some areas of the Western Downs and south west are down to 30 per cent of the potential soil moisture profile.

In this area, an average dry soil requires about 600 mm a year. In yesterdays storm the water sat on the dry surface for nearly an hour before eventually soaking in. Had it kept raining at that rate we would have experienced flooding as the surface water just ran off.

More rain today, after the surface wetting, would start to build some ground storage, but it is unlikely to happen.

Australia is suffering a worst in 100 years drought, some make that figure 1000 years. Whether it is global warming or just cyclic is open to debate, but there have been some interesting approaches, in the past few years, to mitigating the effects of drought and flood. One I heard of would even help in the ever present bush fire danger.

The exact details I don’t recall, but I farmer or perhaps horse breeder in the Hunter Valley on the central coast of NSW discovered the benefits of reverting his land to its natural tendencies. In part that meant doing away with ditches and dykes and allowing natural wetlands to develop.

Sure he lost pasture land, but his argument was, if the soil is too dry to support decent pasture then it was no real loss. By reintroducing wetlands to the property the water tables are coming back to proper balance and remaining pastures are lush. Somehow the wetlands also cut out the dangers of serious flooding, presumably because the soil is damp enough to allow for soakage.

I notice here in this inland Queensland town, the local creek isn’t much more than a string of water holes at present. I expect much of it is flowing underground. But I have also noted that parts of the creek are being encouraged to develop back into wetlands. That is obviously great news for the abundant birdlife out here, though I can’t see it helping broad acre farmers.

Apart fro a few straggly cattle I haven’t seen many signs of agriculture. I’m told there are cotton and ranching operations nearby. All I’ve seen are mobs of kangaroos.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gun control under the microscope

There were some key discussions missing from the mid-terms campaign, among them gun control. Having been caught up in the same issue in the 2004 Canadian election campaign I understand just how emotional the various positions can be.

In fact the Canadian pro-gun lobby constantly trotted out figures on the outcome of Australia’s tough gun laws.

I’m not sure where they got their facts, because I’ve been waiting for some years for some definitive research on the issue.

Requests for sources were ignored of course, apart from those coming from the lobby itself.

At last we now have some plausible research findings from the University of Sydney, thanks to one Dr Philip Alpers.

The main finding is that the risk of dying by gunshot has dropped dramatically since the gun buyback scheme was introduced after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

That event led to a gun buyback which saw the number of gun deaths a year fall from an average of 521 to 289, "suggesting that the removal of more than 700,000 guns was associated with a faster declining rate of gun suicide and gun homicide".

Australia now has some of the world's toughest gun laws after the massacre, forcing people to surrender semi-automatic rifles, which reload each time the trigger is pulled, and pump-action shotguns.

The report, titled Australia's 1996 Gun Law Reforms: Faster Falls in Firearm Deaths, Firearm Suicides and a Decade without Mass Shootings, finds that in the 18 years before the gun buyback there were an average of 492 firearm suicides a year.

The report also found the rate of gun homicides fell from an annual average of 93 in the 18 years before 1996 to an annual average of 56.

The latter finding contrasts with a report published in October which found that half a billion dollars spent removing guns had virtually no effect on homicide rates. That is, the decline in homicides is effectively, statistically insignificant.

According to the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, Dr Don Weatherburn, the significant factor is that there have been no mass shootings since the buyback.

112 people had been killed in 11 mass shootings in the 10 years up to Port Arthur, and removing the semi-automatic weapons used in those shootings was a principal aim of the policy.

The gun lobby is right to claim that strong laws will not stop illegal gun ownership, just as tough road laws don’t stop idiot driving. But there are obviously ways to limit the carnage in both cases.

The pro gun lobby in Australia cited potential problems in controlling nuisance animals, particularly in agricultural areas. But it is difficult to argue the need for military style weapons to combat the rabbit threat.

I recall many gun ‘accidents’, in rural parts, before the buy back scheme. Whether they were effectively suicides, murders or just stupidity is open to debate, but the controls have served to curtail these type of incidents.

I simply don’t accept that it is a right to own a firearm. More to the point, there can be no effective argument for firearms and ammunition lying around in family homes.

The self defense argument is a crock, and the problems of accessibility to people with disturbed minds is self-evident.

I guess it would take more than just guts to tackle the issue in the US, as the reaction to mass shootings invariably stops well short of limiting access to firearms.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wedge issue hardly a fair go

When all else fails play the racist/xenophobia card. Here is another sign that Australia’s Howard government is feeling the pressure.

“Aspiring Australian citizens will have to demonstrate an understanding of English and pass a test on Australian history, culture and values, possibly including the concepts of mateship and a "fair go", under legislation to go before Federal Parliament in February.

” Announcing the decision, Prime Minister John Howard said there was "very strong" community support for the test.” Citizen test stirs Lib rebels SMH

This comes on top of the news that ‘lowest common denominator’ candidate, Pauline Hanson is preparing to have another try for parliament. Hanson has proved to be just a little dull, but there is always someone ready to manipulate here populist rantings.

She represents the knee jerk constituency, those ever ready to blame to country’s ills on the most vulnerable members of society. Although Howard’s Liberals disendorsed her prior to her only previous win Howard himself was quick to capitalise on the discontent she stirred up.

So Howard is at it again, seeking to change the focus from issues like Iraq back to fear of our neighbours. But Howard doesn’t have a clear run on this one, as already there is dissent in his own party.

What Potential Citizens Could Be Asked

The test will be 30 multiple-choice questions drawn from up to 200 possible questions, with subjects including:

■ Core civic values and responsibilities of citizenship.

■ Australian settlement and reconciliation with indigenous Australians.

Australia's system of government, including the three elements of federal Parliament: the Queen and her representative, the Governor-General; the House of Representatives and the Senate.

■ How laws are made and administered and the rights of citizens.

Most Australians could not answer those questions, it is sheer social manipulation to enforce the criteria on aspirant Australians.

It is also cynical, as the Howard government has sought to create its own version of question two. The reconciliation with indigenous Australians remains a sore point in this country, so whose version of history would serve in this proposed test?

But among those ‘cove civic values’ are notions such as ‘mateship’ and ‘a fair go’, terms Howard himself trots out when they suit his purpose. They are subjective terms, of course, but then much of the proposed citizenship test is subjective dependent again on whose version.

Surely the only objective measure of an aspiring citizens ‘value’ is their own history of behaviour in the country. Surely if candidates have spent their qualifying period in the country with a demonstrated contribution at least equal the average Australian, they have lived within the law and not demonstrated anti-social tendencies they have already passed the test.

Within the country’s legal framework there is ample room to expel potential candidates well before the question of citizenship even arises.

A fair go would accept that an aspirant should be no worse, or indeed better, than the average existing citizen. Imposing a nonsense test does nothing to prove an aspirants value, it is just one more cynical political wedge issue. Let’s get down to the real issues and leave racism out of it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

US decides Howard’s policies

I have been off line for a while, after the dial-up connection went down. Up and running now on DSL. Sort of like trading skateboard for a bicycle. But infinitely better than no connection at all. The joys of the outback.

So to some thoughts:

The US hasn’t said Australia will withdraw from Iraq, according to John Howard; or put another way, ‘why bother to waste time on foreign policy when the US can handle it for us?’

New opposition leader Kevin Rudd asked the PM why he was the only world leader who refused to accept the Baker committee’s findings that the current strategies in Iraq were not working.

Howard easily brushed that aside, as a question coming from someone who didn’t want it to work.

All very well, but Howard might not have such an easy run now, against Rudd. His life will become a lot less easy if Bush decides to make any dramatic policy changes. He is extremely exposed in a hopeless situation.

Just to add to any discomfort Howard might be feeling (no guarantees there!) we have revelations of another dodgy terrorist plot. When a package containing an unidentified white powered landed in our Indonesian embassy, in June last year, Howard and his Foreign Minister Downer ranted and raged about a ‘biological agent’ and ‘murderous criminality’. What they didn’t do was amend that rant when the powder now revealed to be ordinary flour.

The Howard government has notched up a string of these knee jerk panic attacks which are much later revealed as a sham. Up until now people have tended to shrug their shoulders and ignore the exaggerations.

Of course, I still contend voter reaction falls back to economic fundamentals, but Kevin Rudd might just be the man to take the spin off Howard’s ball.

Rudd is a bit of a rarity in Australian politics, a leader with a philosophical underpinning. He is styled a Socialist Democrat, among other left leaning titles, bringing a broad social agenda to the role, but he remains fiscally conservative.

Even so, the more general trend is to opportunist and poll chasing leadership. The latter, under Howard, has been elevated to an art form, with the ability to understanding just which elements of the polls or public opinion translate to votes.

Rudd’s predecessor, Beazley followed the Howard line, though obviously with less success. The basic principle is to avoid confusing voters with ideas, just select the relevant public opinion issues and run with them.

The new man is talking ideas, philosophies, and he is striking a chord. I wouldn’t suggest the average voter has suddenly become a discerning and critical thinker, but there are ample historical precedents and perceptions to pin to Rudd.

But Rudd is also focusing on those perennially important perceptions like maintaining good US/Australian relations.

Given an unambiguous opposition to the Iraq involvement, the idea of courting the US might seem problematic. Well, it might have before the Democrats took control of congress. Rudd should find plenty of allies in Washington now, even if they aren’t in the White House.

Rudd also led the opposition censures over the AWB Oil for Food fiasco, and efforts to tie it to Howard’s government. That should also create a few natural allies in Washington as corruption investigations get underway in the new year.

All in all, it is a fairly exciting time to be in Australia, politically at least. The baseline economics are marginal, and confused by some creative accounting methods. Rudd’s thrust might well introduce a different set of aspirations into the electoral equation, raising the bar for Howard and tilting those measurements in Labor’s favour.

I’ve resisted commenting on the Fiji coup, preferring the Australian Labor Party (ALP) coup for the fact that it offers some sort of positive outcome.

The Fijian’s seem destined to limp from one disaster to the next, this being the fourth coup over twenty years and most likely to result in even greater social destabilization for the small island nation.

On the other hand the move on the ALP leadership should, we hope, overcome their tendency to dice with disaster. Deposed leader, Kim Beazley, unfortunately took on the mantle of loser. In some ways he was the essential seat warmer, safe and predictable.

Beazley might well have taken the ALP into government, the economic conditions being right, but he seemed far too cautious to actually take the country anywhere.

New leader, Kevin Rudd, is a thoughtful sort of character, but appears to have a deep resolve to make the sort of changes the country now needs. He even appears to have the balls to drag the various party factions with him.

There have been some strange observations so far. Political journalists have commented that he is full of the right phrases, but not strong on policy directions. Treasurer, Peter Costello, says Rudd is "shallow in economic policy".

The former diplomat is best known as shadow foreign minister and ALP attack dog on the AWB oil for food scandal.

It is a bit rough to attack lack of policy pronouncements so soon, particularly as he says the party policies are in good shape and just need to be driven more effectively. My only misgivings, and I have commented before on the issue, is he infusion of some sort of ‘Christian’ agenda. Rudd is described as a Christian socialist, which sounds like a redundancy anyway, but this is a pluralist society and he won’t serve the country with a narrow religious agenda.

To the economic credentials, I expect Rudd will be quick to pick up on the essentials there. He’s no fool. No doubt the ‘neo-liberal’ economic paradigm will stay in place under Rudd, which is fine so long as he couples that to a social agenda.

My guess is that he will. He has already made noises about dismantling Howard’s US style IR policies. Many Australians would like to see the trade union influence on the ALP weakened, and Rudd is one of the few party leaders who doesn’t come out of the union hierarchy.

Rudd presents well to the media, he’s thoughtful and articulate. That he managed to reach the top without spilling any blood is a great sign for this normally hard ball party.

Whether he can translate all of this into his elevation to Prime Minister depends largely on the country’s key economic indicators. But one thing seems clear;

Monday, December 04, 2006

Promising polls and self interest

Australia is due to go to the voters sometime around October 2007. There is no fixed term here, rather go to election ‘at least every three years’. The Prime Minister sets the date, although John Howard hasn’t got much room to move on this one for various reasons.

I have noted before that Howard’s government faces fallout from a number of scandals and of course Iraq. The polls, at this stage, are showing the government well behind Labor – with the split at the weekend Lab 56 Lib 44 per cent.

Seven in 10 voters aware of the Cole inquiry still believe the Government knew of AWB's kickbacks to Iraq in the oil-for-food scandal despite ministers and public servants being exonerated last week.

But, there are still three economic quarters to weather before election day, and I will stick with those economic indicators as a far stronger predictor than the polls.

Labor are busy trying to cement the poll advantage, with a leadership ballot due today. Current leader Kim Beazley through the leadership open after constant rumblings of a challenge. This vote is significant because there has been no opportunity for the powerful party factions to pre-arrange outcomes. Labor MP’s have what is essentially a free vote in the party room.

The number crunchers are saying that challenger, Kevin Rudd will dump Beazley (I will post the result later) but there are still wild cards in play.

At heart, good man that he might be, Beazley is stamped as a loser. With so much going there way the Labor Party really do need a strong show or resolve, a fresh and winning team. The clock ticks and we will know soon enough.

But again, if those economic indicators do not swing against the government the rest seems to be little more than positioning and window dressing.

On current indicators Labor should form the next government, but there is still those economic variables in play. Sadly they never seem to fail, voters self interest is as reliable as it is short sighted.

UPDATE: The Labor leadership challenge has been resolved with Kevin Rudd the new Federal opposition leader. So here we go with a fresh start leading into next year's election.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The politics of religion

I recently got big time pissed off with the only really credible candidate for opposition leader in Australia. There isn’t a challenge, yet, against the personable loser currently holding that position; Kim Beazley. But Kimmo is well aware that he has a powerful competitor in spokesman for AWB corruption, Kevin Rudd.

As things stand Rudd has been given the nod for a leadership challenge, in fact Kimmo has opened a full leadership vote for Monday. It is not before time, but is refreshing as neither side has done the numbers, it is not a major hatchet job which is unusual in these situations..

But how Rudd pissed me off was by making a call for ‘Christians’ to get more involved in the country’s politics.

Sorry Kev, we’ve already seen how that little piece of tactics al la Rove works, or doesn’t work. But forget the US, you are talking about Australia, a different animal entirely.

The union based Labor Party has a problem coming into next year’s federal election: Opinion polls might suggest people are worried about the potential impact of new workplace laws, yet few are affected while employment and living standards remain buoyant, threatened only by interest rates.

No doubt Rudd is looking for some kind of circuit breaker, a way around the economic paradigm. But as Rove has now demonstrated, the religious vote is problematic, even in the essentially religious US; and Australia has a far more laid back attitude to religion.

According to a recent study: “Nearly 2 per cent of Australians, more than declared themselves to be Lutherans, Baptists or Muslims, took the time to write in a "spiritual" response to the 2001 census.”

Of course the country has a Pentecostal movement, synonymous with the US evangelical movement, and there have been attempts to mobilize these churches politically. But to a great extent that shift simply alienates party’s that go that route from the voters.

We can see that happening in NSW where the state branch of the Liberal Party is destined to remain in the wilderness while it is dominated by the Christian Right.

According to the study, Australians continue to seek explanations that are grounded in more than the material and transient world. Australians are open to the spiritual, but less willing to tolerate patriarchal and patronising religious leaders and oppressive religious structures.

Most Australian’s I’ve raised the issue with, since I’ve been back here, will distinguish between spirituality and religiosity. They believe in some form of creator God, but often reject the limitations various churches of faiths put on that God.

More importantly, most Australians clearly reject the notion that the church should have any role in the country’s politics. The US imperative of the politician as a church going believer holds no sway here, and is more likely to have a negative impact; that is to say it would probably be seen as a cynical and irrelevant exercise.

I expect this is and will increasingly be the case in the US. As the Christian Right leadership continue to show their ‘feet of clay’, their involvement in the ‘perversions’ they rail against, people will wake up to the emptiness of their position.

And still we come back to those economics being pre-eminent. Kevin Rudd might yet succeed in bringing a refreshingly vital element to the Labor leadership, but he would be well advised to leave the spirituality or religiosity as a personal and not political prerogative..