Saturday, July 28, 2007

A centralist push

Any analysis of the key issues in the current Australian pre-election campaign sees devolution to a federal push to centralism. That is; reducing the powers of the individual states in favour of a central government.

I don’t recall the referendum which gave the Howard/Vaile government authority to usurp out constitution. I also find it faintly ironic from a government failing those responsibilities within its own jurisdiction.

The dramatic failure in pursuing alleged terrorists; the threat to force take over of states water responsibilities; the heavy handed takeover of Northern Territory Aboriginal lands; a dubious record of fiscal management (they have already surrendered economic management), are counterpointed by incursions into state areas of responsibility.

While withholding essential funding from the states for health, education, infrastructure and transport, the Feds have been establishing target funding and grants directly into these areas. As the states attempt to implement their rightful responsibilities the Feds are overlaying their own programs.

Without clear responsibility it becomes difficult to focus community concern where it should rightfully belong. As our basic social infrastructure continues to degrade lines of responsibility become fuzzier.

Of course Howard/Vaile are happy with that result, all the easier to lash out and blame the states as confusion reigns. Even more distressing is that the opposition, the likely next Federal Government, are simply shadowing the conservatives push to centralism.

In past years there would have been a clamour around the country and demands to return to constitutional designs. It seems now that few people either know or care about the underpinnings of our federation.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

To laugh or to cry...

The circus surrounding the dubious terrorism claims against an Indian doctor being held in Australia has become even more entertaining.

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile "made a mistake" when he said Mohamed Haneef's visa had been cancelled to prevent him leaving the country.

I have a special interest in Vaile, of course, he is the incumbent in the election campaign I am currently engaged in.

His comment was retracted the very next day: “Yes, Mr Vaile did make a mistake in terms of ascribing that action to [Immigration Minister] Mr Andrews, it was in fact [Attorney General] Mr Ruddock that took that action,” the spokesman said.
A strange and confusing retraction as it was Andrews who took the action, but never mind.

Political arrest?

But it was another comment in Vaile’s cock-up radio interview that caught my attention:

“It's not a political arrest -- I mean none of the senior ministers nor the Prime Minister arrested the individual concerned,” Vaile said. Okay Mark, I think I can follow that…

Monday, July 23, 2007

Truths revealed

So who are the terrorists?

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) are in danger of becoming seen as political during the first public use of draconian anti-terrorism laws. Having been thwarted by the courts over the prosecution of a Queensland doctor related to British terrorism suspects the circus continues to roll.

The political intent comes from Federal government, who have incensed the countries legal establishment by usurping the findings of the court. Dr Haneef was released on bail, largely on the basis dubious prosecution claims. The government immediately revoked the doctor’s visa and continued to hold him as an illegal.

The outrage spread to the wider community and then leaks began to claim more charges, leaks allegedly from the AFP. It was suggested Haneef was planning to blow up a major building in Queensland. The story was quickly denied by AFP, but mud sticks.

Well, unfortunately for the AFP it really does stick. It has now been revealed that AFP officers wrote the names of overseas terrorism suspects in Haneef's personal diary then interrogated him over whether he had written the potentially incriminating notes.

All this to bolster a federal election campaign, to bolster Howard’s failing popularity. The sad part is that when Howard loses government the opposition will hold onto these moronic anti-terrorism laws, as the issue has proved such a vote winner over the years.

It really is becoming a question of who is terrorising our societies. You don’t need introduced radicals of any colour when your own leadership, and potentially your police forces, can do the job so well.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Liberal quake 6.5 on the Richter scale

Polls are always problematic, more so when we rarely see the raw figures from Australian political polls. But there are other indicators I like to focus on. One is the actual state of the various parties contesting an election. When a party, particularly a governing party, starts to implode there is a fair chance they are in trouble.

I reflected recently on the conflicting comments from the Liberal leadership over Iraq. Serious as it was, it was an isolated dispute. Now Howard’s flagship newspaper, The Australian, owned by Rupert Murdoch has given its take on a more serious internal dispute.

“Liberal leadership wobbles started on Monday when Mr Howard asked his Cabinet colleagues if he was "the problem". He also sought criticism and suggestions of what he should do in the face of a series of opinion polls showing Labor in a position that he had previously said would lead to "annihilation" for the Coalition.” The Australian

That report conflicted with the rival Fairfax papers views. Far from being a new dispute the Melbourne Age says:

“Tensions between the Howard Government's two leading figures are to be exposed, with Peter Costello accusing John Howard of putting his own interests ahead of the Liberal Party's and suggesting that the Prime Minister's office leaked material aimed at damaging the Treasurer.

“In what amounts to an attack on Mr Howard's trustworthiness and truthfulness, Mr Costello also claims to be worried about the sustainability of the Government's spending programs, many of which were initiated by the Prime Minister.” The Age

Sister paper, The Sydney Morning Herald dropped an earlier story to run:

Costello quells Howard unrest

“Costello has moved swiftly this morning to try and contain any damage caused by his revelations in a new biography about the ongoing tensions between he and John Howard.”

It is a deep rift between the two top leaders of the party going back many years and underscored by rivalries between NSW and Victorian powerbases. It’s just difficult to see what Costello hopes to achieve by undermining his boss so close to an election.

Howard isn’t going anywhere before he has his chance to grandstand at September’s APEC conference. That would leave Costello an impossibly short window to make a successful transition before an election is due.

At best he can only hope to become the new opposition leader, a position which would leave him extremely vulnerable with a number of eager aspirants looking to grab the chance to lead the party back from a wilderness experience.

For all that, the signs of a party in turmoil are increasing. For once the polls might be right. Just a shame it is purely an either or scenario.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Government set to bomb

Australian Labor has a 10-point lead in primary votes, rising one point to 49 per cent, while the Coalition remains steady on 39 per cent in the national poll.

Despite tax cuts and other sweeteners, Howard’s government has not pulled out of its polling slump over the past six months.

Iraq has becomes more dominant in the Australian political contest, voters have strengthened their desire to see Australian troops withdrawn, which is ALP policy.

Sydney's lockdown – no lockdown debate for September’s APEC meeting has not gained the government many friends in the country’s most populous city. The disruption of Dick Cheney’s visit and the recent visit by USS Kitty Hawk, which both closed down parts of the city, still rankles.

"Sydney will not be locked down ... during the APEC meeting," Howard said. "There will be a significant security presence in part of the city, but any suggestion the city will be locked down is completely false."
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said there would be no need for the 21 foreign government delegations to bring their own weapons to the summit.

While the government was hoping to gain brownie points by hosting a major international conference, their own security beat up seems to be negating any positives. Well hell, every good Australian should be ecstatic that George Bush is coming…

Housing affordability is showing as the major economic negative. Levels of mortgage default a rising through the country, particularly in NSW. House prices have crashed by as much as 7.8 per cent in crucial Sydney electorates since the last federal election.
eel back the layers of the property market, and it is clear that house prices have been pointing in the wrong direction for the Prime Minister where it can hurt him the most, in his home state.

The terror threat also looks like it might blow up in Howard’s face over the recent terrorist arrest in Australia following the Glasgow bombing.
A leading lawyer has raised doubts about the prosecution case against the Gold Coast doctor charged with recklessly supporting a terrorist organisation. Mohamed Haneef is charged with supporting terrorism after Federal police alleged a SIM card he gave to a cousin was found in a car used in last month's Glasgow Airport bomb attack.
The Sydney lawyer Phillip Boulten, SC, said the section of law under which Haneef was charged specifically required that the person charged intentionally provided support or resources to an organisation engaged in terrorist activity.

Howard and his government are responding to all this good news with fairly terse comments, suggesting we dumb voters simply don’t under stand the big picture.


Australian Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the decision to cancel the Mohammed Haneef's visa was made on the grounds of ''national interest.'' Australian Federal Police would issue a Criminal Justice Certificate against Dr Haneef that would pave the way for him to be transferred to Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, he said.
''Today I've exercised my powers under the Migration Act to cancel the visa of Dr Mohamed Haneef. ''Section 501 of the Migration Act provides for the cancellation of the visa where a person fails the character test.

Before Andrews had acted, Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile today had said the granting of bail to Haneef was not a setback for authorities. Vaile said bail arrangements were a matter for the court to decide.

Kevin Andrews says the legal team for Indian born doctor, Mohammed Haneef, will be allowed to see the police documents on which he based his decision to cancel his visa.

Seems like the Deputy Prime Minister is well out of the government information loop.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Of mice and campaign managers

Strangest campaign I’ve ever been involved with, so much so I can contemplate writing the expose as it unfolds. Truth is, I think I found a vehicle for the weird stories of this place as well as a reflection on the campaign and my own stories.

Can’t say I ever felt comfortable writing a bio, but this is a fairly selective snapshot. The voice is still a major concern. As essentially an essayist it seems odd going down this track. My first issue is that I simply cannot fictionalise the characters or the stories.

That means I’m avoiding discussion of the various elements of corruption, as I simply do not have the documentary evidence. On the other hand, I don’t mind naming people who would never bother to read anything of substance.

So here goes – Campaign Central (pdf). Please have a look and crits are more than welcome as these are still preliminary notes. After that I get a bit touchy…

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Government in meltdown?

So I am fascinated with potential election outcome predictors and struggling with my preferred economic model given the paucity of data. But another of my favourites is the incumbent government falling apart internally.

Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson recently alluded to the fact that the Iraq war was about oil. I’m not sure why he even raised an issue which is all but dead here, but there you go.

As a result John Howard was forced to claim it was not so, the war was in fact about installing democracy in the region. Given his democratic credentials rival those of his Bush buddy the electorate rolled their eyes and emitted a collective groan. Logically it should have ended there, but…

A day after John Howard’s denial, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said allowing al-Qaeda to prevail would affect Iraq's oil industry and cripple the country economically. Downer said the challenge "is to make sure, first and foremost, al-Qaeda is defeated in Iraq", but this could not be separated from the issue of oil.
Downer admits safety of oil key to Iraq war

The Howard government has been in lock step for so long now it is curious to watch these ‘accidental’ or perhaps even deliberate deviations. Nelson is perhaps the most naïve of Howard’s ministers, speaking truth as he knows it without thinking of the political ramifications. Not so Downer, who simply doesn’t deviate from the party line.

Well, one crocus doesn’t make a springtime, but these slips are starting to mount up, with a few months still to go before the election. I will be watching eagerly for more electoral signs and wonders.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Faces of port

Following on from Of mice and those two-legged things

Each time I have returned to Port over the past dozen years, this is my third sojourn; the basic nature of the place has changed. First it was a family holiday town of around 20,000, fairly innocent but struggling to provide a steady base for local business.

Then the developers took charge and saw the solution not in family holidays but a more upmarket approach. So the quaint and rustic beach houses were steadily replaced by beige holiday apartment blocks and time shares. Prices were higher, of course, to discourage the riff-raff.

Now the town has been designated a regional growth area and new town centre construction and the ubiquitous suburban mac-mansions are putting a new face on the town.

Of course the sordid underbelly was here throughout these changes, the notorious rooming houses and private hotels. There was even a special pub for the local pissheads, now converted to a luxury riverside pub.

The ‘river rats’ were always in evidence, that hardy bunch seen littering the riverside parks around the clock, bottles discreetly wrapped in brown paper bags. Council ordinance, police action and inclement weather have all failed to dissuade this hardy bunch.

Ailing business might complain about the effects of the river rats on their trade, they have to blame someone. The town’s retirees might sniff and complain as the sight assaults their daily walk, preferring the town reflected their own orderly balcony gardens.

But the river rats remain as the most visible evidence of that sordid underbelly, in turn drawing and mingling with those lucky enough to have some form of subsidised housing allowing the guzzling, snorting, spiking or puffing to take place out of sight.

Like any community there are layers which might pass each other without ever interacting. The aforementioned retirees tend to stay aloof from the rest; traders are up to their ears in surviving as traders.

Cops and justice have the good side and bad side, but then the state is renowned for the levels of corruption in its police force. There are still some excellent cops in the system, but the murky edges creep into venue security, and allegedly drug supply.

But above and below – the movers and shakers and the sordid underbelly are said to have a strange symbiosis.

The basic fact is that someone has to finance the local drug trade and who better than those intent on progress – developing every possible financially rewarding activity in the town.

So there is clearly a vested interest in maintaining the underbelly, the market for illicit and abused substances. So having set the background I shall set my mind to storifying the local characters of the underbelly, the users and abusers of this seaside town.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Of mice and those two-legged things

Oddly enough, for a writer, I resent paying top dollar for books. So my reading habits are fed from the shelves of thrift shops and second hand book shops. I’m rarely disappointed, some gem always surfaces.

Recently I was browsing a $2 bin and feeling discouraged by all the Sci-Fi and fantasy, not my preferred genre, or anyone else’s judging by the volume in that bin. But hidden among them was an excellent copy of Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flats.

Steinbeck is one of those authors I tend to acquire then give away to spread the delight of his writing. But since I have been back in Port Macquarie I have wished I had the man’s storytelling skills.

Never in my life have I encountered such a dense mix of druggies, alcoholics, habitual guests of the prison system and general low-lifes. The stories are hair raising, but unlike Steinbeck I can’t find any sympathetic handle for these characters.

The bright side is that I am receiving an education, if it was ever important for me to know the variations of bongs, cones and other drug paraphernalia. I don’t relish the culture of the needle, crowbar or whatever else they style them.

I don’t really need to hear about the repetitive abuse of both male and female serial arrestees. If they don’t like perverted treatment they receive then they should take steps to stay out of trouble.

Most of the stories tend to come back to the household rather than occur here, but there is still more action and unwelcome drop-ins than I’m comfortable with.

The flatmate has taken the not unsubtle hint and taken his consumption elsewhere, but there is always the fear of him bringing trouble back One day either the bogeymen or the cops are going to follow him home.

One telling tale came from a local defence lawyer: “All my clients are in jail for things they did not do!

  • They didn’t wipe their fingerprints.
  • They didn’t pick up the wallet they dropped at the scene.
  • They didn’t respond to the approaching sirens.
  • They did not take their ill-gotten gains somewhere other than their homes…

I toyed with the idea of a Steinbeck type chronicle, but amusing as some of the stories can be, I doubt these deadheads have the charm of his subjects; equally I know I don’t have anywhere his level of genius.

So I will be the mouse on this one. One day I might tell some of the story, one day when I’m far away from this sub-tropical ‘paradise’.

Rovian fancies downunder

Among his many achievements, John Howard is sometimes credited with the invention of "dog whistling" politics - whereby, without any objectionable or racist idea being directly stated, the dog hears exactly the message meant. The Guardian

It is easy to imagine the Howard government have their own version of a Karl Rove, but like Bush the messages are starting to backfire.

Howard has cited a "national emergency" to justify a radical takeover of indigenous affairs that will give the Federal Government control over almost every aspect of Aboriginal life in the Northern Territory.

The move is emotionally charged, containing issues such as pedophilia and child abuse, alcohol abuse, petrol sniffing and other abuses among the aboriginal community. Just the kind of hook the PM is used to dangling in front of the electorate.

Initial polling showed a strong knee jerk response form voters, but the doubts quickly set in. These reports have been around for nearly ten years and it is only when the government is in trouble they decide it is time for action.

A Galaxy poll on Monday found 58 per cent of voters believe the reforms are a vote-grabbing move while just 25 per cent think Prime Minister John Howard launched the scheme because he really cares about the problem.

Aside from that we arte now seeing headlines like: Indigenous land grab fears ludicrous, says Howard.
"The land grab from the Aborigines is actually about uranium and nuclear waste," according to anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott. But her fears are also backed up by indigenous communities faced with the threat of the Federal government using the so called emergency to take back land previously granted to tribal groups.

Nose to nose

LABOR will put a rock star in charge of determining Australia's economic future. That was the simple political message from the Prime Minister's speech on climate change at yesterday's Liberal Party federal council.

Labor environment spokesman is former Midnight Oils front man, Peter Garrett. With an electorate that's increasingly worried about global warming the Howard’s front man is a former merchant banker, Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull’s answer is to privatise resources such as water, relieving the government of even more responsibilities.

At least for now the ‘Rovian’ manoeuvres aren’t making much headway in the polls. On the other hand the electorate is being polarised between two less than perfect solutions. Howard Vs Rudd – Garret Vs Turnbull… Like the Republican Vs Democrat focus, it doesn’t leave much room for real solutions.