Thursday, February 28, 2008

Local corruption?

My local council has been sacked, accused of misleading the community about the Port Macquarie Cultural and Entertainment Centre, known as the Glasshouse. The sacking is based on a cost blow-out from $6-$7million to $41.7million for the new building.

There have been cries of corruption for years in this town where growth is the biggest industry. Council has traditionally taken a bulldozer approach to override community objections to developments. This time they did it with there own development, perhaps the final straw.

No doubt there is a political motivation here; sacking a conservative council so soon after the Labor led Wollongong Council hit the corruption headlines. Even so our local council has rarely been inclined to listen to ratepayers, hence the convict protest in the previous post.

I’m looking forward to an administrator run council for a while. There was certainly no real democracy under the old regime. My only concern is that it was the elected councillors dismissed. I’m hoping the process now takes a good look at the entrenched, non-elected administration.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Street theatre politics

I’ve posted a piece over on RAGEBOT - Rage in a Cage – the latest foray into political street theatre by my brother Robin. Robin is inclined to civil disobedience to make a point, but is finding some strategic dressing up far more effective.

The Convict echoed cages erected to block pedestrian access to street crossings. We didn’t get the media we were seeking with this one, but the cages were removed within a week.

The other two efforts pictured here where Robin’s comment on our recent federal elections. Each costume selected has some sort of historical relevance to our region. Port Macquarie NSW, for instance, was a convict settlement.

The first, in his long johns, was a slap at the government taking our shirts. He’s pictured with a statue our first Prime Minister, a drunken sot who was probably shirtless on many occasions.

The second, the undertaker, was in relation to the death of our hospital system in this country under the Howard government. We had originally planned on engaging some nurses in skimpy outfits and an assault on our local, understaffed, emergency section.

Each of these approaches has made an impression, either on the media or the real target. The approach not only assuages Robin’s anger on various issues; while bordering on civil disobedience the underlying humour is actually very powerful.

Robin didn’t come to this out of the blue. Over many years he’s used a clown (Catweasle), not a terribly sympathetic clown, but effective as a marketing tool. He’s also dressed up as an eagle for a pizza place, a penguin for a radio station and a dog for a TV channel, among others.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The political pendulum is still swinging

Okay, I know my hobby horses get tiresome for some, but they obviously excite me. So I have two pendulum posts in the pipeline just now, the first political the second economic. The political slant supports some recent posts which compare Australia’s PM Rudd and presidential hopeful Obama.

If Obama is riding the same demographic wave as Rudd, does that make Clinton the US equivalent of Howard: a once-formidable political operator caught on the wrong side of history? Howard, like Clinton, didn't see Obama coming. A year ago, he said that Obama was the preferred candidate of Osama bin Laden. THE AUSTRALIAN

Few politicians manage to ignite the interest of young voters. Kennedy did, of course, and a decade later Gough Whitlam in Australia. Rudd and Obama are cast in that slippery mould that the political establishment seem unable to recognise or fight.

Comparing the numbers
Look at the figures: Obama extended his lead over Hillary Clinton among Democratic voters aged 18 to 34, and for the first time he beat her among those aged 35 to 54. The score in Obama's favour is 61 per cent to 34 per cent in the youth belt and 51 per cent to 42 per cent in the adult belt, according to the Gallup Poll.

The last spot on the electoral body clock where Obama trails Clinton is with those Democratic voters aged 55-plus. Here, the former first lady and New York senator leads the upstart Illinois senator by 51 per cent to 37per cent.

These numbers echo Australia's generational divide last year, when Kevin Rudd dominated John Howard in the two-thirds of the electorate aged under 55, leaving the former prime minister ahead only in the grey belt.

So what is the big secret for Obama and Rudd, where does this appeal come from? If there is no dollar sign to attach to a young person's vote, then that vote has no value in the discourse of politics because politicians are generally too dull, and too pragmatic, to think beyond the handout.

The tactic is to allow the current political establishment, including Clinton, to accentuate their establishment status while offering a refreshingly transforming alternative. True the substance seems light, but if Rudd can be taken as an example the reality is staggeringly powerful.

Rock ‘n Roll Politics

Some are calling it the rock ‘n roll approach to politics, reaching directly to the interests of the young with style rather than content. The establishment have devalued content, and have no idea how to package a message that the younger demographic will feel as well as hear.

During the campaign here late last year I complained that I was attracted to Rudd as potential Prime minister, but felt we were buying an unknown quantity, a pig in a poke. I hear the same argument about Obama.

But Australia took the risk and even many who did not swing to Rudd on election day have certainly swung since. I should qualify that, we don’t vote directly for PM, but you can’t tell most voters that as the leader is presented as the party.

Among Rudd’s first action were to ratify the Kyoto Agreement and a soft, behind the scenes, intervention to stop Japan hunting whales this year at least. The Sorry speech of course was an added bonus. All three issues are at the heart of the younger vote.

The powerful aspect of all this is the potential of engaging two generations who have largely ignored politics. Without people being engaged our countries are continually at the mercy of a self serving public sector. When the people are aware then the politicians and bureaucrats are wary.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cash, politics and corruption

“In the human race always put your money on self-interest; you can be sure it's the only starter always trying.” Jack Lang an infamous former Premier of NSW

Political endeavor, as we well know, is rife with self-interest and corruption, even it this wasn’t Lang’s primary target. There is a clear obscenity in the vast amounts of money poured into campaigns, but a greater obscenity when narrow interest groups can buy political favours.

Our friend over at updateamerica often raises the concept of MOOP (Money out of Politics) as an essential and basic reform if we are to regain functional democracies. I agree entirely, but always with the knowledge that the inherent self-interest is always the major hurdle.

Of course self-interest can also be used to drive this kind of reform. Lang’s state of NSW is now facing a major electoral funding scandal and there is a level of self interest in curtailing certain kinds of corporate ‘donations’. In this case the clear target is construction and development.

But not, I might add, the wider problem of business buying favours. The self-interest has not yet flowed across to the wider concept, just the one specific errant sector. True this is a rich seam of corrupt cash for local and state governments, but not the only one.

We have seen in the past that gambling, technology supply, taxi and transport, energy supply and of course procurement are all capable of being milked for vast sums of crooked cash. The story is similar with Federal governments, especially with big ticket procurement, technology and international trade.

Canada’s tough election donation laws are a great model on the vote buying level, but even there money buys influence, as we witnessed with the sponsorship scandal. Political, public sector corruption is a Hydra. You can sever one head and another is ready to take its place.

Taking the cash out of politics will never be an easy task; the key has to be creating a level of self-interest that discourages corrupt practices. It’s difficult to envision more laws achieving that when existing laws are so easily ignored.

Perhaps a new wave of thinking personified by Australia’s Rudd and the US’s Obama could conceivably drive change by driving a different public expectation of political behaviour. It is only when we, the people, refuse to accept corruption in the public sector that it will become an imperative for the self-serving to comply.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New rendition of old story

Corrupting our language is a cause of constant pain, and the Bush administration should go down in history as word destroyers. Rendition is one of them, for centuries it was happily a synonym for a translation or interpretation – a rendering.

Under Bush it has taken on a sinister definition, rendering means handing terror suspects over to third parties who have no qualms about torture. Frankly I was hoping the who murky issue would fade away, but now the UK have stirred things up again.

United States officials have sought to quell the fallout by apologising to Britain for what they said was an "administrative error".”

The CIA used a US military airstrip on the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to refuel planes carrying two suspects in 2002. That fact was not uncovered until a "self-generated" review by the CIA in late 2007 after persistent media reports.

One of the two prisoners is now jailed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and the other was released to his home country, where he has since been freed. UK PM, Gordon Brown would probably like to forget the whole thing, but UK media aren’t as compliant as the US version.

Brits are particularly sensitive about US military illegally using their facilities, and it is always a political minefield for UK governments. Brown has not continued his predecessor’s love affair with Bush, and will go down the politically expedient route. I wonder if that means the US will render CIA officials to Britain for some serious interrogation?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Warning – more corruption

This blog was born out of corruption, but respect for visitor’s sensitivities suggested a broader focus. Still, your correspondent still has an unhealthy fascination with public corruption. Controlled for the most part, but sometimes I can’t resist.

I can warn readers that there is a doozey breaking in my home state just now and Australia is close to world leaders when it comes to juicy corruption scandals. With five state ministers, a city council and countless others wallowing in sex and money allegations how can I resist?

The last NSW state election, last year, was a ‘lose - lose’ situation. It was the reason I returned to port Macquarie, to assist in the re-election of Rob Oakeshott to parliament. Robby began on the conservative side but finally jettisoned that to become an independent. I guess it was an ill hosen, but effective path into parliament.

My support for him is not unequivocal, but on evidence I regard him both as a friend and a worthy representative. By supporting Rob I was making my own statement – neither major party was worthy of support, and Robert Oakeshott MP is still more than worthy.

The Labor Party under Premier Iemma has been a disaster waiting to happen. Self interest and ineptitude have kept the media busy, and done little to instill confidence. The conservative Liberal/National coalitions are still riven by their majority Christian right controllers, and offer nothing as an acceptable alternative.

Now we are left with a rapidly collapsing government and a struggling opposition. Certainly I intend to reveal the salacious details of this drama as it unfolds, but corruption is jus one aspect of the wider story. A weak, ineffective opposition almost guarantees a corrupt government. In politics as in life, balance is paramount.

That is a longwinded intro, with the best intentions. I will be using Grub Street to record this unfolding drama and I don’t expect loyal visitors share my passion. Any posts on this will be additional to the more general posts. Thanks.

Related post: NSW A State of Corruption

NSW A State of Corruption

Corruption is a constant in Australia, as with most places, and the most populace state of NSW seems to do it better than most. The latest eruption now concerns:

· At least 14 people who worked for a major regional City Council between 2000 and 2007.

· Five state government ministers

· A number of party connected people on the state payroll

· Major developers and construction companies

· Sex and cash

The list of ministers raises some immediate concerns:

  • Attorney General John Hatzistergos
  • Police Minister David Campbell
  • Waterways Minister Joe Tripodi
  • Tourism Minister Matt Brown
  • Health Minister Reba Meagher

The link with each of them involves either direct campaign funding or involvement with a sleazy Labor party heavy and alleged corruption middleman, Joe Scimone. The real concern is that the states top law identities have been named in this investigation, never mind the fact three other ministers are implicated.

The revelations come out of an inquiry by an international role model on corruption fighting, the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC). That we require a standing commission is a sad commentary; that this commission periodically hits right at the top is encouraging.

I’m not sure how far I will take this, certainly not into the salacious sex for favours, but you can be assured I will be following up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brutal political tactics

Kevin Rudd’s popularity is soaring just 11 weeks into his Prime Ministership. Opposition claim his actions thus far have been merely symbolic, which is true in a sense, but of course many acts of government and community are symbolic.

Australia’s ANZAC Day or the Veteran’s Day in the US are purely symbolic but enormously important, even to those of us who deplore war. The Sorry Day resonated through the community here with a promise of new beginnings; symbolic yes, but concrete.

Rudd has also set the path for major legislative changes, despite the opposition still controlling the Senate. The strategies and tactics have been mind-blowing. Again the Sorry Day, where Rudd claimed in parliament;

“We started acting on this in the first 11 minutes of our government. In 11 weeks we have bought it to a reality. The Howard government did nothing for 11 years.

On Howard’s draconian workplace laws which Rudd is determined to roll back, despite threats from the opposition, the light has turned green. The conservatives have vowed not to fight the dismantling of the laws. Why, when they have the numbers to block it in the Senate?

There is a mechanism in this country whereby if the Senate stalls or rejects legislation three times the government can trigger a double dissolution. That means the House of Reps and the full Senate would face a fresh election; an election triggered on an issue that lost Howard the government in the first place.

Rudd is also scoring big points on his inclusive bi-partisan approach. It’s a double bind for the conservatives:

If they reject the opportunity to work positively for solutions the electorate sees them as mindless obstruction.

If they join the government in taking on the country’s problems the conservatives risk losing any real distinction as parties or a distinctive movement.

The truth is, from the day Rudd knew he had won government he began campaigning for the next election. True there are going to be some hard economic times ahead. Most know that the mess is inherited, and I expect Rudd’s tactics might just mitigate any other fallout.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The princess, the Nazi and the butler

Al Fayed said the French intelligence service, police and medical service had "helped the British intelligence (service) to execute the murder" and later cover up the evidence at the request of Prince Philip. (Harrods tycoon has his day in court)

The belated inquest into Princess Di’s death is a circus worthy only of European royalty. With one or two notable exceptions the institution is well past its use by date and the British royals little more than a tourist attraction and popular media fodder.

The inquest itself should be conducted under the stringent guidelines of a court, with rules of evidence overriding speculation and intrigue. Instead the inquest is smothering in speculation, in supposition and conspiracy theory.

Royal cover up

Al fayed has made numerous unsupported claims while in the stand. Okay, history tells us of the Teutonic background of the British royal family. We know the young Greek prince Phillip was nurtured in a nest of fascist sympathizers. We know he is not a sympathetic character. What does that have to do with the death?

"She is also I am certain part of the cover-up," al Fayed said of accuse Diana's sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale. No evidence, but as he says, how can you collect evidence in a conspiracy of silence. He might be right, but he didn’t become a wealthy retailer by relying on conjecture.

The butler Paul Burrell

The butler Paul Burrell admitted to lying to the ongoing inquest, in a recently recorded interview. "I was very naughty and I made a couple of red herrings, and I couldn't help doing it ... I know you shouldn't play with justice and I know it's illegal and I realise how serious it is."

He was speaking to a friend in a New York hotel room: "Do you honestly think I've told everything I know? Of course I haven't ... I didn't tell the whole truth." And why would he, Americans are lapping up his gossipy books.

Therein lays the problem with this ongoing media circus. The inquest was a grudging, even token, gesture by an establishment that wants to let the whole thing go. But it is driven by cheap, sensational media interest and a wealthy dad of the co-deceased. Never mind rules of evidence when the story is so juicy.

Some links:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Oceans of plastic garbage

“It has been described as the world's largest rubbish dump, or the Pacific plastic soup, and it is starting to alarm scientists. It is a vast area of plastic debris and other flotsam drifting in the northern Pacific Ocean, held there by swirling ocean currents.” Floating rubbish dump 'bigger than US’

At last we are hearing some serious discussion on climate change, but there are other areas of global environmental shame that should be on the agenda. TomCat over at Politics Plus jogged me today No Pristine Oceans Left on an issue I’ve been meaning to look at for some time.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre) is a swirling vortex of ocean currents comprising most of the northern Pacific Ocean. Apparently this story was all over the net for a while, but lets spread it some more.

According to says Dr Marcus Eriksen, research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, founded by Moore, The "patch" is in fact two massive, linked areas of circulating rubbish.

3 million tons of the floating junk

It stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the coast of California, across the northern Pacific to near the coast of Japan. About 3 million tons of the junk floating in the garbage patch is plastic. This is one of Earth’s five gyres: massive circular-current vortices between continental land masses that move debris toward the center.

A range of rubbish has come up in trawling expeditions, including;
• A drum of hazardous chemicals
• An inflated volleyball, half-covered in gooseneck barnacles
• A plastic coat hanger with a swivel hook
• A cathode-ray tube for a nineteen-inch TV
• An inflated truck tire mounted on a steel rim
• Numerous plastic, and some glass, fishing floats
• A gallon bleach bottle so brittle it crumbled when handled

North Pacific Gyre

Historically, flotsam in the gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics do not break down like other oceanic debris, meaning objects half a century old have been found in the North Pacific Gyre.

Instead the plastic slowly photodegrades, becoming brittle and disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces which enter the food chain and end up in the stomachs of birds and other animals.

Charles Moore, is the oceanographer who discovered the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch". A former sailor, he came across the sea of waste by chance in 1997, while taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race.

He had steered his craft into the "North Pacific gyre" – a vortex where the ocean circulates slowly because of little wind and extreme high pressure systems. Usually sailors avoid it.

He was astonished to find himself surrounded by rubbish, day after day, thousands of miles from land. "Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by," he said in an interview. "How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?"

I would have to ask; how can such a massive environmental disaster go unnoticed? How can we continue to ignore such massive environmental destruction?

Ban plastic shopping bags

Australia is as guilty as any other country, though not for that particular mess. We are just getting around to talking about banning plastic shopping bags and putting deposits on drink containers.

This is more a response to increasing fouled costs and beaches, of wildlife constantly killed or injured by tangling with junk. Here on the glorious sub tropics we have volunteers busy untangling pelicans and other sea birds from thoughtlessly discarded junk, including fishing line.

I hope others are as horrified by this story as I am. We talk about so many of the social failings of our governments, this environmental shame needs more than talk; it needs real, immediate action.

A plethora of opposition leaders

The lucky country that is what they call Australia. And how lucky we are now to have opposition leaders coming out our wazzoo! The (currently) official opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, can take full credit for this L'Embarras des richesses.

It seems Brendan shares PM Kev’s ideas of inclusion and consensus. Rather than stymie the many voices on the conservative side he is allowing ‘open mike’ as it were. Most prominent challenger, Malcolm Turnbull has been fairly mute since some early, unseemly attacks on his leader.

Turnbull might have decided it is best to sit and wait for the hapless Nelson to dig his own hole. But Senate leader for the conservative side, Nick Minchin, is happily sniping at both Nelson and Turnbull. Neither is close enough to Attila the Hun for his liking.

In fact former seminarian and Howard attack dog, Tony Abbott might be a more likely candidate for mouthpiece for the far right. Oddly, while there is talk of the Liberals and Nationals merging into one conservative force it starts to look like the far right and the moderates might split into two distinct parties.

I don’t mind the current round of self destruction, except that in the longer term a government is generally only as strong as its opposition. With the best will in the world, lack of vigorous scrutiny leaves the door open for sloppy administration. Even a robust media cannot compensate for weak parliamentary opposition.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An Obama Rudd Aliance?

If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, they say, it will jump out straight away. But, if you place the same frog into a pot of cold water which is heated only gradually to reach boiling point, the frog will not realise the danger until it is too late. Frogs' survival instincts are wired to detect only abrupt changes in temperature.

Barrack Obama came onto my radar during the 06 mid term elections, where he used that campaign trail to test his own. Kevin Rudd a little earlier when he fought a single handed battle to expose the Howard government’s involvement in the infamous UN Oil for Food scandal.

As it turns out, the style of these two is very different, but the substance is showing startling signs of alignment. The style brings to mind the frog analogy. Perhaps the US demands a star candidate operates at boiling point, where the Australian system is more amenable to the simmer.

My concern is that I like Obama, or at least the direction he wants to take the US; sometimes I get the impression he and Rudd are copying each others answers, with one scrawling them with great flourish, the other in a neat prim hand. The answers are still the same.

To make an impression in this election round Obama must be on the boil, which sets dangerous expectations on a successful candidate. Rudd was so bland in his campaign, and continues to be as PM, that nearly anything he does now seems audaciously brilliant. The expectations on a successful Obama will incredibly challenging to deliver.

Both Obama and Rudd are taking public policy in the right direction; they both seem to represent ideas of inclusion and tearing down ideological barriers. They both seem to want to deliver the best outcomes for the greatest number of the population.

Obama suggests that legislators should legislate and the President assist them in doing that, not bully them into his agenda. Rudd has already invited the Australian opposition to be joint partners in resolving the thorny indigenous issues.

Obama cites his constitutional law background and a desire to return his country to the intent of the constitution, after a decade or so of trampling the document. In many ways I see Rudd changing our constitution, the one Britain gave us, to serve this country better. But it will be organic and popular change – oh and legal.

Mainly I fear that Obama’s need to be at boiling point will force the frog out of the pot before it is ready to serve. I hope not, the US is a similar culture in some ways but very different in most.

Until the Bush/Howard alliance we were much further apart socially, but thee is still a significant gap. The gap is fine, Obama’s ability to keep the frog in the pot is a worry.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Real conservatives don’t say “I’m sorry”

So we covered the powerful and long awaited apology to indigenous Australians, so the other side should have their say too. I did note previously the Howard’s cowards who left the chamber before this historic event.

There was Wilson (Iron Bar) Tuckey, who as a Howard minister declared that if we cut down our forests Australia would no longer have a bush fire problem. Well he’s right, and perhaps if we exterminated anyone with aboriginal blood he would not have been moved to walk out of parliament rather than listen to an apology.

There were others that left, and some who were not welcomed into the chamber and some who simply raged in dissent even if they could not leave. I have detailed the list of those who left. Senator Nick Minchin wasn’t welcome in the lower house and Tony (the Mad Monk) Abbot didn’t have the guts to more than sit and fume.

Minchin apparently envisions himself as the country’s saviour of conservative ideals, the anointed heir to the beloved former Prime Minister John Howard. Tony, the Mad Monk, Abbot was Howard’s long time attack dog. Abbots sobriquet comes from his time spent in seminary before he turned to politics.

On the day after one of this country’s most magnificent and delayed event Howard’s legacy is still alive and well; still trying to destroy the dreams and hopes of a nation. I don’t intend to dwell on the negatives, but given I’m telling my North American friends about the positives I should also tell them about the arseholes.


In a remarkable display of bipartisanship Tony Abbott warned that the Coalition would not accept anything less than equal say in the ‘war cabinet’ established to resolve the shortcomings of indigenous policy.

The cabinet is charged with following the apology with practical measures to close the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in life expectancy, education, health and economic opportunity.

Given his obvious hostility to the idea of bipartisanship Abbott seems a choice for indigenous affairs spokesman.

UN cowards?

United Nations police were "bloody cowards" who left East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta lying bleeding outside his house for nearly 30 minutes after he'd been shot, the President's younger brother has said.

Arsenio Ramos Horta told The Age he cradled his brother's body, trying to stem the bleeding from his bullet wounds, as he waited more than 20 minutes for an ambulance. The Age

President Ramos Horta was shot twice in the back and lay bleeding in the roadside out the front of his house. He had been on his morning walk and been warned twice not to return home. The first from his niece who was also his housekeeper and being held by the rebels, the second a diplomat who saw the rebel attack on the house.

Earlier charges were confusing, as are these latest. They talked of the rebels disarming his personal guard, then of the failure of Australian and New Zealand troops. I’m not sure these days what constitutes ‘UN Cops’, but I can understand the anger at the failure to protect.

Obviously Ramos-Horta was not in danger on his morning walk or the personal guard would have been with him, they stayed to protect the home and failed. He will survive this attack, variously described as a coup and a kidnapping gone wrong.

Australia and New Zealand, UN apart are a key to the future of East Timor. Perhaps former administrators Portugal also have a strong role to play. We all live in divided countries, division seems to be the rule, but this is not Iraq!

Ramos-Horta, Xanana Gusmao and others are still fighting to mould a small but strong democratic society. The historic enemy want the same thing, I believe. It will take a bit of strength now to pull both sides into a functioning whole.

Not the body language…

I recall once meeting an Asia toddler who could prattle away perfectly in Mandarin. I was impressed, because I know I’ll never get to first base with a complex tonal language, but this ankle biter was all over it.

Kevin Rudd is also at home speaking Mandarin, probably Cantonese and a bunch of unfathomable tongues. The fact is, he’s a focussed sort of bloke, and when he became aspiring PM Kev learned how not to speak body language.

I like that in the sense that the message comes back to his words, but it is disconcerting and leaves a lingering distrust; if only because we expect to see the whole package. I was thinking about this watching Rudd say sorry. The vid is in the previous post.

There have been recent reports about formally teaching people to read body language. I think the concept is dangerous and a crock. Dangerous because body language is unconscious and has no hard and fast rules; that various movements can have a range of possible reasons.

I recall the first time I flew into the US I was warned not to move my eyes in customs; that darting eyes suggested some sort of guilt and looking up and to the left when answering a question suggested an attempt to make up an appropriate answer.

The reality, as has since been recognised, is that customs is a stressful place to be and many of the ‘signals’ can as easily be straight nervous reaction as any kind of guilt. Just a plain bloody waste of time, which is a shame as it might have done away with the KGB tactics now employed.

A crock because both the making and reading of body language is instinctive and intuitive. As soon as people are given a set of guidelines they start over riding the natural capacity to read body language without thought.

But body language can also be very manipulative in the right hands (no pun intended). Kev can turn it on and off as he requires. A good student of the language can emulate empathy and a whole range of emotions in small groups or one on one.

Personally I prefer the whole thing be left to instinct, but if people are to be taught how to read it they’d better also be taught how to uncover intentional manipulation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Not Sorry today

I saw early this morning that today’s Federal Parliament Sorry speeches were going to be a very emotional event. I’m not sorry to have witnessed this momentous occasion. I was delighted to note that all free to air TV stations here carried the full coverage of the speeches.

Rudd himself, is still a grey version of Harry potter. His speech was quiet, no soaring rhetoric, no emotional show, just a well presented and argued apology. Though he did echo Obama type concepts; particularly the post-partisan solution to thorny problems.

Rudd took the challenge right up to the conservative opposition and proposed a commission to address the realities of overcoming the continuing shortcoming in dealing with aboriginal social problems. Including the fact that infant mortality is four times that of the rest of the population and life expectancy some 17 years shorter.

The proposal is that the Prime Minister and Opposition leader jointly chair this commission to determine a non partisan approach to delivering solutions. But in the end Rudd amazed me again by delivering this first step without histrionics, without flowery rhetoric and without qualification.

I almost felt sorry for Brendan Nelson, opposition leader. He seemed to be caught between a rock and a hard place. His body language and his words where he felt safe to insert them, spoke of a deep personal understanding. That was all overshadowed by the need to satisfy his conservative coalition, to modify the apology with excuses.

Outside broadcast teams reported that many of the thousands watching on strategically place big screens literally turned their backs on Nelson. I guess the lesson for poor Brendan is that you are not a leader if you must follow the party rather than the dictates of your heart and mind.

But there was so much that I wasn’t sorry about – like the tee shirts worn by many aboriginal observers with the word thankyou emblazoned across them. Yes is all symbolic, but I believe Rudd put substance into that symbolism. The apology part of the speech, it is worth a read.

Speech by Hon Kevin Rudd MP – Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples (PDF) from Hansard.


I was trying to find out about a suspension of standing orders, because within the chamber were a group of aboriginal leaders and former Prime Ministers. Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were evident, but no John Howard. Johnnie didn’t show up.

Some current coalition members had also left the chamber rather than show a semblance of decency. Just for a record of history conservatives: Wilson Tuckey, Alby Schultz, Don Randall and Sophie Mirabella were absented themselves for the apology.

You tube Sorry Speech –

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The day before

In the lead up to a Wednesday, 13 February landmark reconciliation speech in the new Australian parliament I was a little pissed off that on the opening day of this historic session we were only being offered televised playground.

In the event, playground – question time – did not occur, instead it was one of the most amazing displays I’ve seen in this country. I missed the first part where:

“With faces painted white and with a digeridoo — an ancient wind instrument — blowing a deep drone in the background, Aborigines of the Ngunnawal tribe called on spirits to welcome newcomers to Parliament in a ceremony held in a hall of the national legislature.”

I did see Ngannawal elder Matilda House deliver a well written welcome and a moving reply from Rudd. The poor opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, was apparently caught unaware and fumbled through a response. I would have fumbled when the Prime Minister invited “the Leader of the Opposition to support my comments”.

It was along the lines of “when did you stop beating your wife?” Still, apparently an historic precedent has been set and future parliaments will be opened with a similar ceremony.

I’m not sure this should be set in concrete, but for now in these early steps, it is monumental. It really does feel like my country is moving forward by recognising the past.

Ramos- Horta – East Timor in coma

East Timor (Timor Leste) President, Jose Ramos-Horta, is in an induced coma in Darwin and his country is under a state of emergency following a coup attempt.

There are fears rebels will launch another attack within days after they shot Ramos-Horta up to three times and fired on the motorcade and home of the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, in dawn raids in Dili.

Rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who was wanted for murder and escaped from prison in 2006, was killed during the gun battle at Ramos-Horta's house. MPs are demanding to know how Reinado and his men came to be driving an almost new government vehicle, with government number plates.

The house where Mr Ramos-Horta liked to entertain foreign guests was being guarded by Australian and New Zealand troops. Dili remained calm yesterday as Australian and New Zealand troops and 1600 United Nations police guarded main roads and government buildings.

Reinado, was an Australian-trained military officer who eluded the SAS, held his government to ransom and rallied large sections of the population behind him with his quixotic yet confused cry for justice. Analysts believe there is no easy replacement for the rebel leader and the manner of Reinado's death has done great harm to his cause.

A self-styled folk hero who created an identity in the mould of Dom Boaventura, the Timorese folk hero who led the anti-Portuguese resistance a century ago, Reinado had initially gained widespread kudos in 2006 when he sided with 600 irate military officers who abandoned barracks citing discrimination.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Jose Ramos-Horta shot in the stomach

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is still contacting the Indonesian Embassy in Dili to seek confirmed information on the security situation in Timor Leste following the shooting by rebel soldiers of President Ramos-Horta in a pre-dawn attack on Monday. Antara

The Indonesian government don’t know what is going on in East Timor, and if they know the Australian government aren’t saying. Some reports are saying: East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel laureate, was shot in the stomach on Monday when rebel soldiers attacked his house.

There have been reports that former president and now Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was also in the house during the attack, but is safe. There have also been suggestions that Ramos-Horta has been taken to an Australian military hospital in Dili.

I don’t want to pontificate or second guess on this situation. I will express a deep concern and hope for a great man.

I’m tracking on Google news at this link - Jose Ramos-Horta - Remember to refresh if you follow the link.


Ramos Horta to be evacuated to Darwin


Ramos-Horta stable after bullet 'in the back' This report says tat the attack was an attempted coup.

Jose Ramos Horta shot

Reports from the East Timorese capital Dili say the country's President Jose Ramos Horta has been injured in a pre-dawn attack on his home. ABC Australia

There are also reports that fugitive rebel leader Alfredo Reinado was killed by return fire from presidential guards during the attack.

News is still sketchy and I will try to update later.

Sorry for the lack of info here, I’m tracking on Google news – at this link Jose Ramos-Horta Remember to refresh if you follow the link.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Regulating the free market

“The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) raised its official cash rate 0.25 per cent to 7 per cent on Tuesday.” Sky News

Australia is facing a growing inflation threat – consequently driven by rate rises, although the affects of raising the price of money is specifically quarantined from the Consumer Price Index used to determine inflation.

The immediate result has been for banks to raise interest rates again, one bank’s hit was nearly double above the official rate with most others well above the 0.25%. The banks blame lack of profitability because of exposure to foreign markets.

Kevin Rudd’s new government has responded to the avaricious banks, albeit tentatively, by forcing banks to take the cost and drama out of changing banks to find better deals on credit and deposits.

Of course the banks, like telcos, have built in enormous disincentives to churning. Non-bank financial institutions (here that means credit unions and building societies) already offer a no cost, pain free swap. That swap, apart from costs might mean changing a number of direct deposit and debit transactions.

Of course the banks might respond to Rudd’s regulating by simply declaring recalcitrant customers, those who want to swap banks, unsuitable customers. They have already forced many low return customers to the non-bank sector.

Warren Buffet is envious of the profitability of Australia’s big banks, and they have apparently been out-earning his Berkshire Hathaway vehicle. They aren’t about to give up those huge profits easily, and this first shot at regulation really only touches on the crying needs.

I’m hoping this is a case of ‘stay tuned’ for the bigger regulation guns to roll out. I want to see a situation where either the government or an independent group actually regulate bank rates again. The banks gamble, but when they are losing they simply charge their customers to make up the loss.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Advance Australia – Sorry

For near 200 years, government in this country, state and federal, considered "full-blood" Aborigines no better than vermin. The "Aboriginal problem", so-called, was confined mostly to what to do about mixed-blood children fathered by white Australians. Mixed-race numbers were increasing as rapidly as full-bloods were vanishing. Which is why, from 1890 to the early 1960s, generations of part-white children were forcibly removed, in all states, from their Aboriginal mothers. SMH

Next Wednesday – Australian time, the federal parliament is going to say sorry to the aborigines for the hideous treatment dished out over the past 200 hundred years of European occupation.

Some of have hoped that the apology, without taking guilt on for behaviour beyond our control, will be a sincere and healing process. Some of us hoped that back in 1965 when we worked so hard to have Aborigines actually recognised as people under the constitution.

For the love of Christ! Make this work as an honest attempt to recognise and deal with the real issues. Not like the 1965 effort which only gave white Australia an excuse to forget the problems. It is a problem we must deal with now!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ghosts of the Liberals

Ghost of the Liberals Past

I guess there is something poetic about a dying government leader feting a dead one. George W and his buddies are planning to shower former Australian PM, John Howard, with tin foil medals in Washington next month.

Apparently the bloke who smells like last weeks fish here, the bloke our country, his party and electorate have rejected, is a hero among the ranks of the Republican elite. Little wonder they are struggling the fire up the US electorate when their heroes are tired has beens.

Ghost of the Liberals Present

But back here at the sheep farm we call the National Capital – Canberra – the stench of John Howard is still wafting around in the person of Senator Nick Minchin. This member of what a former PM once called an ‘unrepresentative swill’, the Australian Senate, sees himself as the saviour of conservatism.

Minchin is said to be the kingmaker responsible for giving us a lame brain as replacement Liberal Party leader. Brendan Nelson is probably a nice bloke, but he is putty in the hands of Howard’s true successors. A tougher, and less savoury character, Malcolm Turnbull, was torpedoed by Minchin’s conservatives because he refused to play their game.

Now Minchin is busy trying to mould the two conservative parties, Liberals and Nationals in to one cohesive ball of slime. He calls for a united conservative party to effectively compete with their "great political enemy". I think he means the anti-fascists.

Ghost of the Liberals Future

Ah, that would be that group of weary fundamentalist jerk-offs wandering the political wilderness for the next forty years. Liberalism is a sort of benign conservatism, but under Howard anything benign was hunted out of what he laughing referred to as ‘the broad church’.

I doubt there will be any Tiny Tim to bring joy to a bleak conservative future. In fact I’m reminded of an off-colour song that might become to the funeral dirge, it’s a play on Christmas in the workhouse and ends…

…Then up spoke a young lad, in a voice as bold as brass “We don't want your Christmas pudding, you can shove it up your Arse”.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Health perspectives

Australians express as much anger over the delivery and support of the country’s health system, but complaints are trivial when compared to the US. There are aspects in the Americanisation program form PM Howard could never change. The best he could do was to reduce hospital infrastructure funding.

Australians might be subjected to long waiting lists for hospital, or even emergency admission, but at least there is something to wait for, even for those who can’t afford health cover.

The arguments here, as a consequence, are quite different:

Health Cover

Since the 1970’s Australia has had basic health cover for every citizen. It isn’t perfect but the safety net is sort of there. There have been repeated attempts to cajole and force private cover, the problem there is that private clients still tend to pay over and above those under free cover.


There is a mix of public and privately run hospitals. They both suffer the same issues, a shortage of health care professionals and unwillingness to provide sufficient reward to staff. Hospital staff are increasingly treated like hospitality workers when it comes to wages and conditions.

In line with current business thinking the major investment is being put into equipment as though the whole system can simply be automated. There are constant horror stories coming out of outpatient and emergency departments, mainly because the personnel are not there to deal with patient numbers.

Early Intervention

Screening and early intervention have long been key issues here. Breast and prostate screening, the most common cancers here, and an effective program saves more than just grief but extends through to cut the enormous cost of potential hospital treatment.

Prostate screening is no as simply for blokes as getting a ‘little prick’, a small blood sample. Breast screening is problematic, with at risk women often unable to access an affordable service. Well they can get a rebate, but they still need the money to pay up front.


US negotiators have gone to great lengths to force Australia to abandon its subsidised pharmaceuticals program. John Howard was keen to accede to this demand, Australians weren’t.

The problem for Howard is that the subsidy program costs money, OUR money! The US negotiators were more concerned that the program effectively makes the Australian government the primary buyer of pharmaceuticals. With the subsidy issue in mind imports must be approved for price as well as the various efficacy issues.

The US tried to pull the pricing thing on India too. They said “fuck your intellectual property rights” and have developed a full parallel industry delivering affordable pharmaceuticals to their market.

I’m just skating across the top here, but the differences are comic, I’m sure. And we Australians are still not happy with out lot…

Monday, February 04, 2008

Bad news, Good news …

“The strong monetary intervention of central banks, especially the Federal Reserve, may help restore confidence. But many economists doubt it will be sufficient to prevent a serious economic slowdown in North America and Europe and perhaps later in Asia. There is usually a lag of 12 months or so before interest rate changes have a significant impact on the economy, but the more fundamental concern is that monetary policy may not have its usual punch. This is because the paralysis in credit markets is not due to the high cost of money or the incapacity of banks to lend. It stems from the lack of trust in capital markets and intense risk aversion...” government might need to throw the switch to deficits

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke says ''fiscal and monetary stimulus together may provide broader support for the economy than monetary policy actions alone''.
He also hinted at the kinds of stimuli that might be most appropriate. Money, he said, should be put in the hands of ''low and middle-income households that would spend it in the near term''. He is not worried about a temporary blow-out in the fiscal deficit and is hopeful that inflationary pressures will soon ease.

A worldwide economic slowdown is predicted for later this year, though is already biting in the US. Australia is actually tweaking monetarist and fiscal controls to cool an overheating economy, so an imposed slowdown would be helpful here.

Promised tax cuts should be ditched, as they will simply feed inflation, negating any real benefit. A more effective approach would be to impose, through the Reserve Bank, regulatory controls over bank rates and fees. That would be an immediate benefit where tax cuts would simply be mopped up by increased bank rates.

A slow down would then allow our surplus to be put directly into much needed infrastructure development - education, health, low-cost housing, urban roads and freeways, public transport, ports, energy, rivers and water.

Okay, I’m in danger of being labelled a lefty here, but the fact is a government should be managing the economy for all – and for long term. But a US recession can only be good for Australia, so long as the situation is fully utilised.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Take Rupert and Sol, please…

There are, as Americans sometimes remember to remind themselves, two Americas. There is rich America and there is poor America; America of the have-so-much, and America of the have-nots.
There is bold, noisy America that insists on ever reducing the size of government; and there is timid America that seeks a way to provide health insurance for its 50 million citizens who have none. Evading the eclipse of empire

The rest of the article was a plodding review of Cullen Murphy’s new book The New Rome? Cheerleaders for that bold, noisy America include the likes of former Australian, Rupert Murdoch. Don’t thank us, you are welcome to him.

But I warned before, when Rupert started playing footsies with Hillary, the man is shameless in the pursuit of building and defending his media empire. Loyalty is a simply thing to Murdoch and doesn’t reach beyond his business.

If the New York post has now come out in favour of Obama you can take that as a hint that Rupert can see who the next likely POTUS will be, and does not want to be left in the cold. If Obama fairs well in the Super Choose Day battles Rupert will become his new best friend.

Oh, we share so much, America and Australia, and some I wish we didn’t. But another of those have-so-much Americans has been doing battle with governments here for the past few years as CEO of the once government owned telco, Telstra.

Sol Trujillo is a feisty character, former head of US West Inc, based in Denver and confidant of Bush and advisor to McCain. Between taking pot shots at the Aussie government Sol is busy shoring up the Hispanic vote for the Republicans.

Trujillo's importance to McCain has become clear after the Hispanic vote proved pivotal in him winning the Florida primary despite failing to attract traditional Republican voters.

Sol is finding Kevin Rudd a much more difficult opponent than John Howard was. Telstra, through an unpopular sell-off of public assets control much of the landline infrastructure in Australia. It’s aging, but the giant telco refuses to upgrade unless government gives them an open cheque on what they can do and what they can charge.

Howard knew that would be political suicide, but simply stalled, ducked and weaved as the country fell further behind in the technology race. Our broadband is appalling, by any standards and narrowband totally unacceptable. But Sol doesn’t negotiate; Sol slaps the terms down and demands.

Rudd is less a politician than a super bureaucrat, he doesn’t grandstand or bluster and he doesn’t fold easily to demands. He wants broadband available across this sparse country and I can almost guarantee that he will get it, at a favourable consumer rate.

So there you go, Sol isn’t long for this country and the market is far too small for more than passing interest by Rupert. I wager Sol will be back in the US, full time, shortly concentrating on his back room intriguing. You never know, he might even be engaged to rebuild a shattered Republican party.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Mental, dental and homeless

“We don't believe it is something which a country as wealthy as ours in the 21st century can just ignore. I don't want to live in a country where we simply discard people.” Kevin Rudd

There are considered to be 100,000 people homeless on and given night in Australia, okay a drop in the bucket in US terms, but for our small population. Well Kevin Rudd is taking the problem on, and in the effort addressing another long seeping sore, the closure of psychiatric facilities.

One of the legacies of economic rationalism was to cast mental patients into the community, with minimal support. Research is showing they make up a significant number of our homeless population.

Another area that surprised me was dental care. Even the most careful Australian have dental problems because of the lack of vital elements in the water and soil of this ancient land. But poor teeth were cited as a second reason for homelessness.

The mental health issue was highlighted again this week when a young woman was killed in a car crash. The driver of the other car should never have been behind the wheel, but thee was no one to supervise his activities. The woman’s family forgave him, but they aren’t forgiving the governments who took away that vital supervision.

Kevin is talking the talk, revealing information we might have suspected but never knew. It will be an exciting year if this government starts delivering. If not I will be looking for sponsors for an immigration application.