Sunday, October 31, 2004

Blog your way to happiness

It seems there is a blogwar which is keeping the student politician population of Melbourne amused. Launching the opening salvo was a man from the left, leading to vigourous reponses from those on the right, too numerous to mention. New blogs emerging everywhere - clearly blog is the new black.

Love to have a beer with Duncan (and Marcus)

It's been a wild couple of days in the Supreme Court as the hearing into the liquidation of the Melbourne University Student Union (MUSU) revealed some juicy insights into the ethical, legal and financial depths that MUSU sunk to in its final years. It now emerges that the grossly incompetent mismanagement which had already been well documented was in fact the tip of the iceberg, with a much greater iceberg lurking just beneath the surface as the HMAS MUSU cruised headlong into the waters of a painfully overstretched metaphor.

Strangely the Melbourne media ignored it, and it was up to Louise Perry at The Australian to share the juicy tidbits:

TWO former presidents of the failed Melbourne University Student Union are accused of setting up companies and creating false identities to win lucrative business contracts from the union.

A Melbourne court was told that Darren Kenneth Ray, president of the union in 2002, and Benjamin Cass, president in 2000, had used the names "Marcus Kemp" and "Duncan Fisher" to win or maintain the business contracts for running student elections.

Court-appointed liquidators questioned the pair yesterday as part of a three-day hearing and have issued dozens of summonses in relation to the misappropriation of tens of thousands of dollars.

The hearing comes nearly a year after a liquidator's report recommended police investigate the union over the altering of records, awarding of contracts, rigging of elections and travel schemes. Nobody has been charged with any offences.

It seems that Ray and Cass (otherwise known as Kemp and Fisher) had been actively involved in a series of companies which won a variety of lucrative contracts from the union without disclosing their interest in those companies. Bizarrely, this included a company, GTS Elections, which won the right to stage the union elections where Cass and Ray's faction played a big (and largely succesful - what a surprise!) part.

The consequences for the terrible twosome could be dire. Whilst at this stage the hearing is attempting to get to the heart of the union's financial woes, legal action couldn't be far off. It appears that a significant amount of fraud has taken place, and there is surely the potential for the two to be required to pay back the ill-gotten gains if fraud has indeed occurred. Perhaps the two have rolled doubles for the third time in the great game of Monopoly that is life.

As a personal footnote to it all: in 2002 myself and a friend were keen to challenge the status quo and formed a short lived ticket. Due to some questionable dealings on our part, the two of us were forbidden from being involved in the election. Who was it who laid a complaint against us? Darren Ray. And who was it who heard the complaint? GTS Elections, a group we now know was taking its orders from the terrible twosome. Hmmm, now things start to make sense.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Gaza Stripped Bare

It was a gutsy move by Ariel Sharon to put the removal of settlements in Gaza up for a vote in the Knesset. Thankfully, he won. It is shameful to see Sharon's opponents within the Likud using the settlers issue as one to try and undermine Sharon, and presumably try and take over the leadership. Political warhorses like Bibi Netanyahu should know better than to play politics on this issue. All sides of Israeli politics have known for years and years that this moment would come - the settlements are unsustainable, costly and politically undesirable if Israel is to demonstrate its commitment to a Palestinian state - and it does no good to make the withdrawl any harder than it has to be.

There is talk that this issue might create an existential crisis for Likud, the party which founded and vehemently supported the settlers, and now look like they will cut off the life line. The argument is that the issue will create two irreconcilable factions, pro and anti settler. This is a short-sighted piece of analysis - Sharon will have his way, the settlers will return to mainland Israel, and the pro-settlers will fall into line. Long the hero of the hard right, Sharon may have just scored himself an entry in the peace camp's "Book of People Whose Guts We No Longer Hate".

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Dinner with friends

Hmmm, any guesses which soon-to-be longest ever serving Australian Foreign Minister was dining at Pelligrinis last night, and ended up sharing a table (you know, the one in the kitchen) with a precocious smart arse blogging ex-Democrat and his two dining buddies?

One big happy continent

The past week has seen an interesting string of events in some of the destinations for Ariontheroad 2004/05 tour:

- THAILAND has shown the painful excesses of military might. In the south 78 Muslim protesters suffocated due to heavy-handed tactics in trying to break up a riot. It is hard to believe that police could so monumentally misjudge the effect of their actions as to allow 78 to die, without there being some malicious intent. Violence in the south has become disturbingly common and Thailand wrestles with a large Muslim minority.

- SOUTH KOREA has gone onto a frenzied military alert after a holes was found in the wire fence at the DMZ border with the north. The fear? North Korean agents entering the country, seeking information, assassination, or possibly even a filling meal. It is a sign of the heightened tension and paranoia that exists between the two sides that such a fairly innocuous event can put the country on edge. Still, with Colin Powell in town and NK having some 'form' on political assassinations, it's not surprising.

- In MYANMAR, there has been a changing of the guard within the ruling State Peace and Development Council (it used to be State Law and Order Restoration Council, but the guys in marketing thought that SLORC would be a tough sell). The previous Prime Minister Khin Nyunt was ousted due to ruptions within the military, and the new man is Lt Gen Soe Win. A step sideways in the long struggle for democracy in Myanmar, if this quote is any guide: "Soe Win, thought to be about 56, is believed to espouse a hard line in dealing with the pro-democracy movement led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi."

Whose Family?

An excellent observation from the brilliant mind of a friend of mine, Mikey:

I was reading through Family First's enlightening policy on the (heterosexual) Family yesterday. As I was doing so it dawned on me that the logo on their web site reminded me more of a stylised crucifix sitting atop a bishop's mitre than what I presume we're supposed to believe is the Southern Cross sitting atop a map of Australia.

It may be artistic license but, with reference to the attached Australian Flag diagram, the epsilon star (the little one) on the Southern Cross is generally positioned closer to the delta star (the rightmost one) than, as the way they have depicted is, at the crux (centre) of the constellation. To me this makes it look deceptively more like a crucifix than the Southern Cross.

I'm at a loss as to explain why the map might be designed to look like a mitre but it looks more like that to me than the map of Australia.

Hope I'm not reading too much into it.


Family First... missing another F

Makes you proud

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

First Tuesday in November a close race

It's just a week away until the electoral circus sets up tent in the US of A. It's remarkable to think about how much this campaign has been transformed since people first turned their minds to it in mid-2002. In the wake of somethingarather in September the previous year, there was a groundswell of pride and patriotism which Bush had successfully transformed into support for his candidacy. To be anti-Bush was to be un-American, and it was a deathzone for potential Democrats. The mid-term elections in November 2002 was akin to the general progression of lambs - or should that be donkeys? - toward the abbertoir of democracy.

By the time names of potential Democratic candidates were being considered, challenging Bush for the White House was seen as a lost cause. Hillary Clinton, depsite launching her book in the midst of it all, ruled herself out. Perhaps she liked the ring of Hillary 08? Then the winner of the popular vote from 2000, Al Gore, ruled himself out, presumably not willing to lose twice in quick succession to a man so utterly beneath him.

Things have come a long way since that point. The turning point seemed to be the lack of success in Iraq. Regardless of the endlessly played arguments for and against the way, Iraq has become a symbol of Presidential recklessness and poor advice. Even amongst those of us who quietly supported the war, there has been amazement at how poor the post-war plans were. The Neo-Cons were Neo-Conned.

John F Kerry (if you mumble the last bit, it sounds just like Mr Jackie O) has put up a strong and sustained fight against very unattractive odds. He has brought the Democrats back into the game, and outlined a compelling alternative vision. Alas, he won't win, and will probably be remembered in history alongside Al Gore as good hearted but unfortunate losers. It could have been worse. Much worse. Even if Bush retains the White House, watch out for Democrat success in the House of Reps, and even the potential to get close in the Senate, largely thank to JFK.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Vaccinations and Vacations (not to the Vatican)

On Friday morning I headed in to the city to visit Dr Charlie, a doctor with a particularly strong interest in travel vaccinations, and stabbing people in the arm with large needles, which is a useful combination.

Started off by running through the intinerary, so we could establish which items on the menu of diseases I might be unfortunate enough to sample. It turns out that my itinerary is not nearly as risky as first thought. Equally important as the countries visited is the places within those countries that will be visited. So whilst there might be risk of disease in places such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, the risk is largely confined to areas outside the major cities, and to those travellers who will be engaged in risky activity, such as biking trips. During much of my sojourn, travel will be in the major cities with only the occassional trip to somewhere remote and probably unpronouncable.

Nonetheless, by the end of the consultation, I had a needle jabbed into each of my upper arms, one of them for Hepititis B, and another with a smooth and succulent cocktail of Typhoid and Hepatitis vaccination. I also left armed with some information on the risk of Rabies and Malaria in the places I will be venturing through - the gut feeling, though, was that the risk is small enough to not worry about 'em.

This won't hurt a bit.

Team Howard

The past two days have given a good indication of the shape of politics for the fourth term of the Howard reign (or the first part of it, till Cossie gets impatient and reaches for the cutlery drawer). The Coalition have announced their post-election line up, with a few interesting absenses. On the Labor side, it'll take the best blood-stain remover that Chopper Read can provide before the shadow Cabinet room would pass an OH&S inspection.

For now, a few snippets on the Liberals, with Labor to follow once the dust has settled:

- It's farewell to Danna Vale from the ministry, who is expelled from the Ministry, and will be no great loss. A mumbling, stumbling faux pas on legs.

- And a much less voluntary farewell from Larry Anthony (the former member for Richmond), Ross Cameron (former MP for Parramatta, and ex-Parly Sec for somethingarather) and Trish Worth (Adelaide, and another ex-Parly Sec).

- Chris Pearce has continued his brisk climb up the political ladder, being appointed Parlimantary Secretary to the Treasurer. It's remarkable to think that in June of 2001 he was minding his own business with no clear path to politics, and had the good fortune of his having his local member dying unexpectadly (sorry Peter Nugent, probably a little callous). A byelection and two Federal elections later, and the Member for Aston is shaping up for a Ministerial spot. Bruce Billson, Sharman Stone, Greg Hunt, Richard (who?) Colbeck, Sussan Ley have also progressed one rung up the ladder of opportunity.

- Tony Abbott has defied speculation and kept the Health portfolio. Perhaps the Liberals are expecting some more argy-bargy in the portfolio. Still a little strange... Brendon Nelson, is there a doctor in the house?

Would you trust this man with your health?

- The talented and underappreciated Gary Hardgrave has been given the new portfolio of Vocational and Technical Education, meaning that he can do more than simply be an apologist for Howard's rejection of multiculturalism in his former position as Minister for Wogs, Take Away Chinese and Citizenship.

- Peter Dutton, the ex-cop who knocked off Cheryl (a bit like Gareth) and then turned Dickson from marginal to safe, has been rewarded with a ministerial spot - Minister for Workforce Participation.

The focus seems to be on keeping things steady at the Ministerial level, but breeding a new generation of young and dynamic MPs for roles as Parliamentary Secretaries. It's a wise move, although for some the pace of change is a little slow. It's hard not to wonder where Petro Georgiou's name is. There's no secret that Petro is not one of Howard's favourite, but to exclude someone who is clearly talented and intelligent from even the most minor of Government positions. Three cheers for Alan Cadman, who has been in Parliament for 30 years, just re-elected for another three, and never been a Minister.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Election season rolls on

It's election time at Melbourne Uni, and despite the chaos of the last two years, the campaign is surprisingly vibrant. There is a definate attempt to 'move on' by all sides, who are desperately keen to put the disasterous past couple of years behind them, even if it means burying some live bodies to do so.

Two days in, and the campaign seems refreshingly clean. No feeder tickets running around, no universal voting to win over the lazy sods, no food vouchers to entice commerce students, no campaigning inside the intimate confines of Union House. Just a clean bit of fun with the emphasis on campaign ideas and policy development.

A few quick snippets:

- The Right have got themselves organised in a super-tight outfit (that's the organising, not the t-shirts, which are a touch on the daggy side) under the branding of Empower. Onboard the good ship Empower is the Labor Right, Liberals and AUJS. No doubt the Rogets was working overtime to come up with something, given that it is essentially identical groups to 2003's Go and 2002's Student Alliance. No International Alliance, and no colleges on board, suggest that it was a rather last-minute operation. As for the rumour that the Empower campaigners have been encouraged to wear short skirts to attract attention - probably best to just put that down to the warm weather...

- The Left are a little less coherent, with three tickets complementing each other. The deal goes part way to avoiding a nasty cannibalisation of the votes (most are vegetarians, you see), since they have chosen not to contest the same positions. The three are Hype, Left Focus and Activate. The problem will be that the branding is confusing and the message a little incoherent. Non-active students (most of them, that is) are likely to be overwhelmed by the clunky operation. No doubt, however, this is a forerunner to a good working relationship in the future, where just a single ticket will be run and peace and light will be spread throughout Parkville. Amen.

- Security guards looking after polling booths. A nasty look, and one that reflects very badly on the participants. If 12 million Austalians can vote without the presence of security guards, one wonders why 30,000 uni students need that extra bit of protection. Still notably absent, however, are UN election monitors.

And ultimately, a prediction: The right have won in each of the past three years, but in each of those three the electoral situation was very different to the one in place this year. The food voucher, regardless of the ethical arguments for and against, provided a huge boost for the right, attracting otherwise apathetic conservative commerce, engineering and law students. Similarly, universal voting and the presence of feeder tickets, were both used by the right to overwhelm opponents. This year, however, is a return to a situation where only truly dedicated students will vote, and overwhelmingly they come from the left of politics. And the result? The left will return to power, with most, but probably not all, positions in the hallowed halls of Union House.

It seems like the Belarusians have taken a leaf out of the Melbourne Uni Right book, if this piece in The Austalian is correct:

Turnout was helped on a rainy day by incentives such as free alcohol and produce handed out at reduced prices at the polling stations.

"No talking in the back row..."

It's only 11 days into Howard's fourth term of government, and already the ALP are in a mess. Despite the predictable calls on election night to take a calm and considered approach to the election outcome, and the need for collective responsibility, it seems that exactly the opposite has occured.

Tuesday it was Lindsay Tanner's turn to spit the dummy and head for the backbench. He'll have some good company to whisper smart-arse remarks to during question time, with former front benchers Kim Beazley, Bob McMullin, Craig Emerson, whilst over on the red leather back benches, John Falkner will be filing his nails and writing his memoirs. Why? What is to be gained by relegating oneself to the backbench, other than to show your inability to play a team game. If you've got the talent to be a frontbencher, then you owe it to your colleagues to stay there (unless your name is Dana Vaile or Geoff Prosser - remember him? - then you are the exception to the rule).

In the logic of the free market, it is the existance of competition which keeps all participants on their game. In politics, this means having a strong, robust, cohesive opposition. At the moment, the opposition is none of these things. The need for an effective opposition is particularly high when the government has such a comprehensive stranglehold on power. The Senate in the last couple of terms kept the government accountable when the opposition was in disarray. Not any more, it won't.

Latham is the man to lead the party, and there is absolutely nothing to gain through recriminations and backstabbing. It is fun to watch, though.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Visaaaaaa Laos Vegas

It's getting painfully close to my departure date for my three month trip through Asia. 27 November is the date that I'm on my way, jetsetting to Sydney, then Bangkok and beyond, and there's plenty to do before leaving.

Last week was spent gathering all the information needed for visa applications. Dealing with government bureacracy is frustating at the best of times, but when dealing with six bureaucracies, where English is not the first language and the government of the day operates with a high degree of paranoia, the challenge is just about insurmountable.

In a strange way, though, the process is a bit of fun. Filling in the various forms is a bit like filling in a cryptic crossword, except that the answers aren't published in the paper the next day. The visa applications start with a familiar pattern, asking all the usual questions. Then they get a little personal - "What date will you be arriving in the country?", "Where will you be staying during your visit?", "Are you intending to work whilst in the Lao Democratic People's Republic?" - and that's when the real challenge kicks in. Never reveal that you're a student, since they only wanted cashed up visitors. Never reveal that you don't really know how long you'll be there for, or where the hell you'll stay. As far as the authorities are concerned, every minute of every day is perfectly planned, as well as every meal, every dodgy hostel, every cheesy photo and every smart arse remark.

Nonetheless, the on Friday the visa applications for Thailand (double entry), Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China (double entry) were lodged, along with eleven passport photos and about as many small fibs.

Next step: immunisations and vaccinations and all sort of things to protect me from just about everything except some dodgy Chinese takeaway.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Ari as an electoral Nostradamus

It's time for a bit of housekeeping, closing off the strands of the election coverage. During the length of it, plenty of predictions were made in 10 crucial seats around the country, as well as a couple of more general predictions on election eve. No matter how wrong I happen to be (and remember, I did predict that the Liberals might win the 2002 Victorian state election) I know I'll never be quite as wrong as Roy Morgan:

Final Morgan Poll - ALP Ahead, Too Close to Call - Possible Hung Parliament

Finding No. 3795 - October 09, 2004

Anyhow, in no particular order, my predictions for the marginals, and how they ended up:

- Solomon, NT: "The verdict - a probable gain to the ALP." Do'h, a bad start to the predictions. The CLP's Dave Tollner managed to hold on to his super-slender marginal, and in fact increase his margin.

- Dobell, NSW: "Prediction - Ticehurst to hold it for the Libs." Indeed he did, quite safely in the end, getting elected without even needing to go to preferences.

- Canning, WA : "Prediction - Randall will avoid being a one-term-wonder for a second time and will hold the seat." Again correct, with Randall increasing his primary vote my a massive 11.2%. The swing to the government was on big-time in the west.

- Adelaide, SA: "Prediction - the Libs SA vote to struggle, and this one will fall to the ALP." Indeed, after a close count, sitting member Trish Worth has conceded, the the ALP welcomes some new talent to the parliament in Kate Ellis.

- Brisbane, Qld: "Ultimately, however, the seat is likely to be caught up in the nationwide swing to the ALP, and Bevis will hold on." Well, the outcome was correct, but the reasoning was not. The swing was definately on... to the Liberals, and mysteriously this seat managed to defy the trend with a 3% swing to Labor. Does homophobia rear it's ugly head again?

- Hindmarsh, SA: "This one will stick with the government." This one remains too close to call, with 0.07% in it at this stage.

- Parramatta, NSW: "The tip - a gain to the ALP." And the ALP it was, in the end, farewelling Ross Cameron from the parliament. Perhaps there'll be a place for him in Family First. Then again, perhaps not.

- Kingston, SA: "Cox to win in a canter." At this stage, it's too close to call with Cox ahead by 0.09%. If a racing metaphor was to be chosen, the victory would surely be by a nose rather than in a canter.

- Melbourne Ports, Victoria: "For Southwick to win this one, he will need to not only increase the Libs primary vote by 2%, he will also need to greatly increase the share of minor party preferences. It won't happen." Danby got over the line very comfortably, in the end, with only the slightest swing to the Liberals. Still, Southwick deserves another shot in three years time.

- Wentworth, NSW: "Turnbull to hold the seat for the Liberals." Turnbull got home safely in the end, although if the Greens had have sent preferences to King ahead of the ALP, things might have been different. As a footnote, King was on Sunday expelled from the Liberal Party for 10 years. Ouch.

So in the end, the predictions were pretty darn good. Out of 10, 7 were correct, 1 was incorrect, and 2 are still too close to call. Taking the two close ones out of it, that gives me a success rate of 87.5%. Not bad!

And just quickly, the more general predictions:
- "Coalition to win with a seven seat majority." - Right result, wrong size.
- "The Nationals to lose three seats." - Not three, but one (Richmond).
- "The Greens to not gain a single House of Reps seat." - Correct.
- "The Liberals to hold most of the marginals in Victoria." - Correct.
- "In Tasmania, Bass (but not Bradden, as predicted two days ago) will fall to the Liberals." - Nope, they both fell, like trees in the forest.
- "In the Senate, this will be the fall of the numbers: Coalition: 38, Labor: 27,
Greens: 7, Democrats: 4" Not really close at all. Understated coalition by one, overstated Greens and Labor, understated Family First. Got the Democrats spot-on, though.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Labor win election

For the second time in two weeks, voters have chosen to give decisive control of parliament to the government of the day. Last week it was the swing toward the government in the Senate which will see it take an extraordinarily commanding position, whilst this week it was the ALP which have conquered all before it in the ACT elections.

17 seats were up for grabs in three, multimember electorates, and the results look likely to end up like this:

ALP 10
Liberals 6
Greens 1

It is telling that the movement toward minor parties and independents seems to have subsided. Instead, voters have rushed toward the ALP government and decided to trust it not only to govern, but to have the balance of power in the parliament. Perhaps voters are tiring of the endless negotiation and finessing which a shared balance of power requires, and are embracing a Jeff-Kennett style decisive government. John Stanhope is the man in the ACT, and he looks moderate enough to use his power carefully, but looks can be decieving. This is the first time in 15 years of self-government that territorians have given a party a majority. I say bring back Modified D'Hondt - that's what this election needs:

Modified d'Hondt was diabolically complicated took weeks to count and confused even the hardened professionals at the Australian Electoral Commission. It was dubbed "the electoral system from Hell". The AEC begged Federal Parliament to change it and a referendum on electoral systems was held in conjunction with the 1992 election.

One hopes that the parties which have been given such power, both federally and in the territory, exercise it wisely. A brave move, dear voter, but a wise one?

The excitement never stops

It's been a busy few days, with snippets that are better 'shown' than 'told'.

Saturday was birthday number 22, and there was a family celebration on Friday. Here's me getting the sequence completely wrong in the blow-out-the-candle-then-eat-the-cake routine:

I'd rather set my hair on fire than eat a jam doughnut.

And here's one of the last ever 69 trams, seen here running down Glenferrie Road about about 9 o'clock on Saturday night. Farewell, green limousine of the night. In the morning comes a brave new era of the 16. Yep, I am taking this far too seriously:

69 has come... and gone.

A glimmer of hope in Zimbabwe

Thankfully there is some sanity and reason left in the new Zimbabwe. The leader of the Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai was accused of treason due to the suggestion that he was conspiring to murder President Mugabe, the man who puts the 'dick' back into dictator. Thankfully Tsvangirai was acuqitted, although it seems the government may appeal the decision. If the mere fact that the accusation was made doesn't show to the world that Mubage is grossly unfit to lead his nation then nothing will. He is in a state of extreme paranoia and is desperately seeking to crush all opposition, since he knows how futile his political future would be if he were subject to even a hint of democracy.

In an interesting exercise in propaganda as news, check out this piece by The Zimbabwe Herald, a daily paper extremely friendly to the Mugabe regime.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A Melbourne Uni quicky (or two)

A couple of things that have caught my eye in the hallowed halls of the University of Melbourne during the week...

The screening of The State of Union, a documentary made about the 2003 Melbourne Uni Student Union (MUSU (at the time not in liquidation)) took place at Union House during the week. For various reasons too boring to mention, I missed the first half-hour, but was engrossed by the remaining hour. It's a spectacular piece of drama that would capture the interest of a viewer even if they knew nothing of the individuals involved, but works on a whole different level with so many familiar faces featuring. The film is obviously partisan in supporting left-wing candidates at the expense of the ultimately-successful right-wingers, but this seems to be a product of the willingness of one side but not the other to participate in the film rather than a deliberate hatchet-job by the film maker.

The film beautifully exposes the dishonesty and crassness inherent in student politics, and leaves no doubt at all that most of the student pollies would flog their own grandmother on e-Bay if there was a preference deal up for grabs. Non-student-pollies will no doubt shake their heads in disdain and wonder why it happens at all. Perhaps the film will help the right after all - it does provide a perfect argument for Voluntary Student Unionism.

The second thing which caught my interest was a flyer promoting an upcoming event at the Clyde Hotel in Carlton:

I can hardly wait...

Yes, it's time to get the cobwebs off the too-and-fro debate over beauty contests. It does seem like a odd move given that around the world beauty contests are deeply out of fashion, even if Australians do occasionally find themselves the winner. The event is based on archaic representations of women and one that fails miserably to ring true for most people today. It's degrading for the hunks of meat who parade themselves on stage, but even more degrading for the tragics in the audience who are clearly used to enjoying their own company (euphemism alert, euphemism alert) and are at risk of choking on their own dribble. Shrill feminist arguments aside, beauty contests seem to appeal to our worst, most shallow and superficial instincts. Even if it were to be balanced with a Mr Melb Uni, it remains an infantile and lowest-common-denominator exercise. It's a tad strange that this event is pitched at university students, a group who on the most part are enlightened souls and can appreciate what a belittling experience it is.

On a purely personal level, I fail to see where the "fun part" is in a night where the major attractions are the battle for Miss Melb Uni and The Cougar Girls. Call me a metrosexual if you will, but surely the fun of having large breasted women in the general vicinity must wear off pretty darn quickly. What does the spectator do once they're sick of paying for overpriced drinks, realise that there's no one to talk to other than other undersexed desperates, and are too busy dribbling to have a crack at intelligent conversation? Moronic. But enough to keep me away from the Clyde Hotel, a (former) favourite of mine.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Done like a Democrat

It's time to apply the blow torch to the Democrats, who have spectacularly and disappointingly fulfilled the low expectations that most in the commentariat had prior to the election.

A quick analysis of the vote on Saturday reveals a couple of interesting things:
- The 2% Senate premuim that the Democrats used to enjoy over their House of Reps vote has disappeared, although it was on the way out during the 2001 campaign.
- The so-called Democrats heartland in South Australia provided no respite from the drubbing the party received. Anyone who suggests the Dems might still win a seat in South Australia should be issued with a calculator and a ball-point pen, pronto.
- The prediction that the Democrats would fail to achieve 4% in any seat in the country was proven to be too optimistic - the party failed to hit the 3% mark anywhere.

This last point has important financial implications for the party. By not hitting 4% anywhere, it has missed all public funding. Given that the party spent a significant amount on the campaign (A4 glossy HtVs, cinema ads, slick website) and corporate donations had all but vanished since 2002, the party would now find itself in a significant financial hole. Given the doom and gloom surrounding the party, it is difficult to see how it could rescue itself from the situation.

Where to from here? Firstly, Bartlett has to go. Much as he is a nice bloke with his heart firmly in the right place, Bartlett has shown himself to be incapable as a leader. He lacks the energy and charisma necessary for a minor party to succeed (note the well worn arguments about the Democrats, One Nation and now the Greens all thriving under the leadership of publicity-hungry, ambitious leaders) and has failed to revitalise a tired party. The Ferris incident from 2003 was bad but not fatal, however the electoral result is.

After each Federal election, the Democrats leadership is automatically spilt. Given that there will only be four contenders, the future leadership ticket writes itself. The four remaining Dems will be Senators Allison, Murray, Stott Despoja and Bartlett. Bartlett will not renominate. Murray is still deeply unpoular amongst the membership and wouldn't dare to. Stott Despoja is not going to make the same mistake twice. Which leaves Senator Allison to lead the party to the promised land of electoral nirvana. Perhaps Natasha might put her hand up for deputy, if the right amount of begging comes her way. Given the way she was treated last time, she would be well within her rights to refuse.

And the future of the party? I struggle to see how it will continue to exist beyond the end of 2005. In the post-mortem (which really is the operative phrase) from this campaign, the party will realise that it is beyond saving. It will take a brave but necessary decision by the party's National Executive to officially dissolve the party, a move which would require the support of the membership. Whilst political reasons form part of the decision, the other is the financial necessity of winding up an organisation that is in dire straits. Once this becomes a reality, the four remaining Senators will sit on the cross-benches until their term expires in 2008. It is unlikely any of them will recontest their seats.

This post requires a bit of a personal context. I spent seven years in the party, growing up inside it and learning about politics and life from people who had hearts of gold. Twice I was a candidate for the party, publicly representing the party. In 2003 I left it, because I'd moved to a different state-of-mind and could no longer honestly call myself a big-D Democrat. It hurts to write of its downfall, but it hurts also to see the oblivious optimism which some Democrats are operating with. It reminds me of the Monty Python scene in the Holy Grail - after having both his arms sliced off by the sword of an obviously stronger opponent, the Black Knight wants to keep going, with the immortal line "It's just a flesh wound."

UPDATE, 14/10 4:00pm: A few quick updates based on some stuff that's come my way off-blog. It looks like the Democrats did in fact break 4%, in the Senate in the NT, where they scored 4.45% (which includes the not insignificant NT donkey vote). So I might instead change my claim to a John Howardesque "In not state in Australia did the Democrats manage to get to 4%."

The other thing that has come my way is the suggestion that the Democrats are still in the running for an SA Senate seat based on some snappy preference deals. I've spent some time to do some more calculations (yes, the calculator and ball-point pen) and I stand by what I said three days ago and earlier in this post. SA will split 3-3 between the ALP and Liberals. For the Democrats to win the sixth Senate seat, they need to be second last or better out of: fourth Liberal, third ALP, first Family First, first Green and first Democrat. If they can get into second last or better, they will be able to benefit from their preference deals and get over the line. When only those five are standing, however, here are the figures I come up with (based on the AEC website figures at 3:45pm):

ALP (3): 0.6048 quota
Greens (1): 0.4719 quota
Lib (4): 0.3420 quota
Family First (1): 0.2888 quota
Democrats (1): 0.2689 quota

Can the Dems bridge the gap to beat Family First? Doubtful.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Film review: Somersault

When the sun has gone down and it's still in the mid-20s outside, there's only one place to go - an air condition movie theatre. To see a film set in the snow. Which leaves you feeling kind of cold. The film was a new Australian release "Somersault", which is currently doing the arthouse (or in true Australian spirit "outhouse") circuit, although it would no doubt be a mainstream release if it was "Fred and Kumar do a Somersault" or "This film has frontal nudity".

Somersault is a slow burn of a film, that takes a while to capture the audience's attention. Once it does, it takes the viewer on an long and bumpy ride through desperation and angst and mild depression, which is essentially a visit back to adolesence. The story centres on late-teen Heidi (played with subtly and skill by Abbie Cornish) who runs away from home and heads to the snow in Jindabyne seeking an adventure and her own inpromptu rite-of-passage. The film spends much of its time following Heidi through bars, jobs, ill-conceived plans, short-lived relationships, sex, drugs, alcohol and snow. Something for everyone.

One striking thing about the film is how course and unconversational most of the characters are. They are, perhaps, a slice of Australia in the country, although the short grunts which pass themselves off as converation is a little wearying. True, the portrayal is probably realistic, but then so is going to the toilet but thankfully director Cate Shortland steers clear of those moments.

The film is thoroughly enjoyable, well written, well performed and captures moments of teenaged angst well. It's a shame it will miss a mainstream Australian audience, although it has made a splash (insert lame diving/somersault pun here) on the international film festival circuit.

As an aside, check out Terry Lane's take on the film:

The more you think about it, the more you might conclude that Somersault just could be a masterpiece of metaphorical representation of good old Oz. It is a boring stinker of a film, but that's fair enough. It is about a character who is ready and willing to have sexual intercourse with any passing bloke, just to see where it leads. Sound like any country you know? Always the screwee, never the screwer.

If Heidi were a country you just know that globalisation would be something that is done to her, not something that she does.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Senate: a new voting system

There is clearly a major problem in the system we use to elect the Senate. For the third election in a row it seems that Senators will be elected on the basis of preferences allocated by other parties which would be deeply offensive to the supporters of those parties. In 1998, the openly gay Democrat Brian Greig was elected to the Senate from WA with the preferences of the Christian Democrats. In 2001, the Greens' Kerry Nettle polled just over 4% in NSW but managed to secure a massive flow of preferences. In 2004 Steve Fielding from Family First secured less than 2% of the vote, but managed to get elected with the preferences of a range of parties including the ALP and the Democrats.

What's the problem? The problem is that voters who vote above the line give the party of their choice complete control over where those preferences go. Sometimes they use that power wisely, otherwise they simply use it for political advantage. The only way that voters can control where their preferences go is to number each and every box below the line - 78 candidates in NSW this year - a complex task that discourages more than 90% of voters from utilising it.

What's the solution? We need a slight variation on the existing voting options. Instead of either one box above the line or every box below it, we need the following alternative:

- Voters can number every box below the line OR
- Voters can number every box above the line, and this will be as if the voter had numbered the candidates from top to bottom in each list in the order of the parties chosen

The advantages are significant:
- Parties no longer decide on the allocation of preference for the bulk of voters, instead the voter themself does this
- Voters who are overwhelmed by dozens of names on the ballot paper can instead chose from the smaller list of parties
- Preferences will no longer flow away from the intention of the voter who votes above the line

It's easy, it's practical, but most of all it's democratic.

Senate rubber stamp

Kind of cute, I thought, and an eerie reminder of the political power that has been consolidated in the hands of one side of politics. It's worth noting that the Coalition will now have control of the House of Representatives, control of the Senate, have appointed all but one member of the High Court and appointed the entire board of the ABC.

Dear Australia,

Please find attached a copy of the rubber stamp you ordered on 09-Oct-04.


Australian Electoral Commission.

And to think that rubber usually offers protection...

UPDATE, 13/10, 9:15pm: Credit where credit is due. Thanks to Kent Winzer for the above piece of internet art. Like Kent himself, it's quick, witty and both of them barrack for Richmond except for the rubber stamp.

Kent experiences the horrors of peroxide.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Senate silliness

Whilst the numbers are looking increasingly clear in the house, in the Senate the result is still far from clear. Traditionally the process for calculating the Senate result is painfully slow. The AEC wait until every last ballot paper is inputted into its computer - twice, to ensure accuracy - and then pushes the button which calculates quota, preference flows, eliminations, and then the lucky six who will spend the next six years on the red leather. To get a clear idea of who will win what before the button is pushed requires a hard slog with a calculator, a mathematical mind, a pencil (with an eraser, of course) and far too much spare time available.

Fortunately, for much of Sunday I had these very things at my disposal (the ample product of all this is below), and here now is the way I read the Senate results:

Coalition 39 (21 elected this time)
ALP 28 (16)
Greens 4 (2)
Democrats 4 (0)
Family First 1 (1)

And here's how I got there, based on this information here at the AEC website...

First preferences give 3 seats to the Lib/Nats and 2 seats to the ALP.

The 6th seat is a three way contest between the first Green, the third ALP and the first Family First candidate.

Because of the flow of preferences:
1. If the ALP are third, they will be eliminated and their preferences will elect Family First.
2. If the Greens are third, they will be eliminated and their preferences will elect the ALP.
3. If Family First are third, they will be eliminated and their preferences will elect the ALP.

At present, after the distribution of preferences and the removal of filled quota this is the way it stands:

Family First 0.70 quota
Greens 0.67 quota
ALP 0.59 quota

If these figures stay as they are, (1) will take place, and Family First will be elected.

First preferences give 3 seats to the Lib/Nats and 2 seats to the ALP.

The 6th seat is a two way contest between the third ALP and the first Green candidate.

At present, after the distribution of preferences and the removal of filled quota this is the way it stands:

Greens 0.75 quota
ALP 1.13 quota

If these figures stay as they are, the ALP will be elected.


First preferences give 2 seats to the Liberals and 2 seats to the ALP.

The 5th and 6th seats are a four way contest between the third Liberal, the first National, the first Green and Pauline Hanson.

At present, after the distribution of preferences and the removal of filled quota this is the way it stands:

Liberal 0.69 quota
National 0.79 quota
Greens 0.53 quota
Hanson 0.51 quota

After Hanson is eliminated (gee that's fun to say), the results are:

Liberal 0.99 quota
National 1.00 quota
Greens 0.53 quota

The Nationals will therefore be elected in the fifth seat, and the small National Party overflow (you need to go beyond two decimal places, but it's there) will push the Liberals over the line for the sixth seat.


First preferences give 3 seats to the Liberals and 2 seats to the ALP.

The 6th seat is a four way contest between the fourth Liberal, the third ALP, the first Green and the first Family First candidate.

At present, after the distribution of preferences and the removal of filled quota this is the way it stands:

Liberal 0.37 quota
ALP 0.58 quota
Greens 0.46 quota
Family First 0.53 quota

After the Liberal candidate is eliminted, the results are:

ALP 0.61 quota
Greens 0.46 quota
Family First 0.92 quota

After the Green candidate is elimated, the results are:

ALP 1.07 quota
Family First 0.92 quota

If these figures stay as they are, the ALP will be elected.


First preferences give 3 seats to the Liberals and 2 seats to the ALP.

The 6th seat is a three way contest between the fourth Liberal, the third ALP and the first Green candidate.

At present, after the distribution of preferences and the removal of filled quota this is the way it stands:

Liberal 0.88 quota
Greens 0.74 quota
ALP 0.31 quota

After the ALP are eliminated, the results are:

Liberal 0.88 quota
Greens 1.05 quota

If these figures stay as they are, the Greens will be elected.

First preferences give 3 seats to the Liberals and 2 seats to the ALP, and a small flow of preferences will give the Greens the final seat.

First preferences give 1 seat to the ALP and 1 to the Liberals.

First preferences give 1 seat to the ALP and 1 to the CLP.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Election day images

A few happy snaps from election day. Given that old habits die hard, election day was spent by my travelling through some marginal electorate. Taking samples of how-to-votes, chatting to booth workers, and taking some happy snaps. For those keeping score at home, Ariontheweb visited Kooyong, La Trobe, Aston, Deakin, Chisholm, Melbourne, Wills, Melbourne Ports, Goldstein, Higgins, Hotham (yes, some non-marginals in there, but geography was my enemy).

The ALP seemed to have multiple messages as people entered the polling booths.

There was Medicare:

Free Image Hosting at

...and Costello:

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and some, but not all electorates, pushed health and education:

Free Image Hosting at

For the Liberals, though, the message was clear:

Free Image Hosting at

Election night thoughts

Ho hum, just another election victory for Howard to throw on his pile of successes. Now is not the time to get bogged down in the detail and the seat by seat breakdwon (see Antony Green for all those goodies) but there are some generalisations which can be made:

- The Coalition have managed to hold almost all the marginals which were up for grabs. This will be extra frustrating for the ALP, knowing they'd they had a string of seats that were made marginal in 2001, and this year was the one to reach success. It will be tougher to win in 2007 than it was this year given the starting point.

- It seems like it's a farewell to Christian Zahra in McMillan (a sad loss to the parliament), Michelle O'Byrne (who?) in Bass, Sid Sidebottom (best name in parly) in Braddon, Anthony Byrne in (the previously safe seat of) Holt. There is some cause for celebration, however, with Ross Cameron looking like losing Parramatta (he has had plenty of 'polling' problems in the past... groan). Lineball in Adelaide, Larry Anthony in Richmond. I suspect both will end up with the coalition after postals.

- Reasons for the loss? The interest rate message seemed to hit the spot with many voters, and the poor ALP vote in aspirational seats is a testament to that. Latham's inexperience seemed to have some impact as well, and the inevitable speculation about how Beazley would have performed if he were leader will reveal that the ALP would have got closer than they did under Latham. Rather than the ALP's weaknesses, it seems like Howard won the election by playing to his strengths. He's a cunning politician, and knew which issues to campaign on and how to dominate those issues. And he doesn't punch taxi drivers.

And the $0.64 question...

Who will Ariontheweb be voting for?

Ultimately, the Democrats. Despite having no great ideological commitment to the party, I do respect and admire the individuals involved, and will be voting for them on that basis - particularly Jess Healy in the Senate. I will be preferencing Labor ahead of the Coalition, both of them ahead of the Greens, and all of them ahead of Family First. In the Senate, like all political nerds, I will be voting below the line, and the toughest choice is not the early couple of preferences, but deciding which of the moronic microparties to put last. The CEC, One Nation, Family First, Socialist Alliance... all dripping with bad ideas and so deserving of the number 65 in their box.

Election predictions

It's just on 2am on election day, and the polls open in just five hours in Tassie (gotta love daylight saving), six hours on the east coast, and sometime next year in WA. It's been a long, tiring election campaign for both leaders, and it seems that the end of it will bring a sigh of relief for campaigners, but more importantly for voters. A few quick predictions on the outcome:

- Coalition to win with a seven seat majority. This represents a slight improvement for the ALP, but not enough to win government. Australian voters are naturally very risk-averse, and will not rush headlong into a change of government. For them to opt for change, they need to believe there is something deeply wrong with the incumbant AND have faith in the challenger. Neither of these is the case this time around.

- The Nationals to lose three seats. Not to the Labor Party, but to the Liberals who are increasingly their conservative dominance outside the capital cities. Watch for speculation of a merger between the two in the next term in government.

- The Greens to not gain a single House of Reps seat. The Greens have been talking up their prospects in Melbourne, Sydney and Grayndler, but none of those three will leave the safe possession of the ALP. The reasoning comes down to some simple electoral mathematics - for a minor party to win a lower house seat, they need to make sure they are one of the top two parties, and secondly that the strongest polling major party falls short of the 50% required to be elected. In the seats mentioned, the ALP primary vote will hover around 52%, and the Liberals will outpoll the Greens by 3-5%. And Cunningham to fall back to Labor.

- The Liberals to hold most of the marginals in Victoria. Deakin, Aston, La Trobe, McEwen will all stay with the Liberals, and McMillan will probably fall as well. Melbourne Ports will stick with Danby, albeit with a reduced majority.

- In Tasmania, Bass (but not Bradden, as predicted two days ago) will fall to the Liberals.

- In the Senate, this will be the fall of the numbers:
VICTORIA: 3 Coalition, 2 Labor (bye bye Jacinta), 1 Green
NSW: 3 Coalition, 2 Labor, 1 Green (adios, Aden)
QUEENSLAND: 3 Coalition, 2 Labor, 1 Green
SOUTH AUSTRALIA: 3 Coalition, 3 Labor (no more Meg!)
WESTERN AUSTRALIA: 3 Coalition, 2 Labor, 1 Green
TASMANIA: 3 Coalition, 2 Labor, 1 Green
ACT: 1 Labor, 1 Coalition
NT: 1 Labor, 1 Coalition

This will result in:
Coalition: 38
Labor: 27
Greens: 7
Democrats: 4

With the coalition in government, this is a scary prospect. What are the chances Andrew Murray, as the most likely of the 11 cross-benchers to support the government, if offered something incredible for his vote. Or alternative, that any of the 4 Democrats are offered the Speakers (yes, President in the Senate, okay) position in order to give the government the numbers??

Friday, October 08, 2004

Thursday: Green's Brown and Risstrom

Late on a Thursday, two days out from election day, and David Risstrom (lead Green Senator-wannabe in Victoria) and Saint Bob Brown put in a powerhouse performance at Melbourne Uni. To a packed auditoriam of 500 people, Risstrom acted as the warm up guy, telling some folksy stories about himself and about what the Greens stood for. Risstrom seems to be permanently stuck in the mould of a local councillor. He seems to have a cluttered, disordered mind and jumps erratically from topic to topic. There's no doubt that his heart is in the right place, it's coherence that is presently lacking. Take his utterly mixed messages on how the Greens would act in the Senate - whoever won office, they'd force them to keep their promises... but they'd also force them to take on board Greens policies. And if the government's promises happen to disagree with the Greens policies... well, um, we'll cross that eco-friendly bridge when we get to it.

Once Brown touched down from Wollongong, however, the meeting took on the vibe and tone of a revivalist church gathering (perhaps the Greens and Family First do have something in common after all). Brown worked the crowd into a frenzy, attacking Howard on refugees, Aboriginal affairs, education and the environment. There is no doubt that Brown has decided that he will push as hard as he can for a Labor government, and have abandoned the pretence of being honest brokers in the middle. Brown is remarkably persuasive and inspiring as a speaker, and the true believers in the audience would have left with the impression that government, rather than just the Senate, was the Greens for the taking.

Wednesday: Foenander Lecture: Sharan Burrow

Wednesday night at Melbourne Uni and ACTU chief comrade Sharan Burrow delived the Foenander Lecture, an annual industrial relations lecture. Burrow played a predictably stright bat given that the event was three days out from an election campaign. My attempt during a question to invite her to comment/criticise the ALP for their 'anti-worker' policy in protecting old growth forests in Tasmania went straight through to Gilchirst behind the stumps, with barely a shot offered.

Burrow seems to be a a progressive, enlightened union leader who could potentially oversee a revitalisation of organised labour. Rather than trying to refight old battles, Burrow has a forward thinking and innovative agenda for the ACTU. At the lecture she outlined an agenda, in which the ACTU is keen to fight the movement toward casualisation of labour, push for flexibility of hours and stand up for maternity leave. Less of a priority is the workers revolution, and the destruction of capitalist pigs. Good to see.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Ari's column that never was

This piece was writen about a week ago, with hopes of reaching a wide audience (well, wider than the bunch of loonies who stumble across the blog, anyhow) via the opinion page of one of our nation's newspapers. Alas, after emails to nine - yep, nine - newspapers, and just two responses, both negative, it's time to concede that it's not going to make it to those great heights. Instead, the residents of blogsville can read it for themselves. Now wouldn't this look better in the Herald Sun than Andrew Bolt's ranting?:

Election 2004: First time voters

On Saturday week, 600,000 young people will cast their first ever vote in a federal election. Some will walk into the polling both with great confidence in their step and follow through on a voting intention that they have been waiting years to express. Most, however, will saunter in filled with uncertainty, and cast a ballot with little enthusiasm. It’s not the often tut-tutted youth apathy that is at work, however, but a lacklustre campaign that has failed to capture the imagination of young voters.

Young voters are notoriously difficult to communicate with and shun many of the traditional outlets that parties use to spread their message. It is no surprise that young voters are remarkably cynical about politics and elections and don’t respond to the well-worn path of pork-barrelling and self-interest that is used to appeal to other demographics. This cynicism is no accident. It is the product of the entire politically-aware life of first time voters being in the era of Howard as Prime Minister. First timers have known nothing but the steady hands of John Howard on the wheel. They are therefore strongly affected by Howard’s approach to politics. The deceptions and loose approach to the truth that many commentators attribute to Howard has a greater affect on young voters than on others, because they have experienced no alternative to it. It’s inevitable that inexperienced voters who see the verbal trickery of Howard will generalise that characteristic to all politicians, and adopt a rather Platonic attitude of ‘damn the lot of ‘em’.


Wednesday, October 06, 2004


It's been an odd couple of weeks of campaigning, with the elephant in the corner of the room that is logging of old growth forests remaining uncommented upon... until now. Both major parties were keen to wait for the other to go first in the launch of their policy on logging and old growth forests, and it was the ALP which went first with their announcement on Monday. Gut instinct says that the policy is a good one, reasonably balanced between the interests of all stakeholders and in the national interest. Of course, given that it was good POLICY, it was unfornuately poor POLITICS.

Latham copped a battering from all sides over the policy:
- The greenies (small g) were critical that the policy, arguing that it was not absolute and immediate in its ending of the logging of old growth forests.
- The unionists were critical that jobs would be lost and that workers would be the losers. The CFMEU even came out and suggested that its members vote Liberal to protect forestry jobs. Good work lads.
- The Murdoch pressed caned it, with the major papers critical of Latham's supposed cave in to the green lobby. Given the anti-Latham feeling within the Murdoch papers, Latham was on a hiding to nothing with this one.
- The Tassie state government are fuming that its interests have been sold out for those damn greenie mainlanders.

Politically, the policy will cost Latham seats. The Tasmanian seats of Bass (marginal) and Braddon (not so marginal) are looking very precarious and will probably fall to the Liberals if it opts for a more industry-friendly forestry policy. On the mainland, where the move is supposed to sure up Labor seats which were supposedly in danger of falling to the Greens, it may shift a few primary votes from the Greens to the ALP, but given that these votes would have flowed to Labor after preferences anyhow, the political gain is an illusion. Not one extra seat will be won by Labor because of the policy, but two (in Tassie) will probably be lost.

Mr Howard, time to come to the crease. These pace at one end, swing bowling at the other, and plenty of spin from both.

Farewell ol' 69.

What a sad day for Melbourne it will be on the night of Saturday, 16 October. That will be the final day that the Route 69 tram will come trundling down Glenferrie Road bound for Cotham Road or St Kilda, depending on your whim. According to the rather sterile announcement on the tram notice board, Yarra Trams have decided to merge routes 16 and 69 together into a new route 16, which will essentially run from Melbourne University to Kew via St Kilda, ie linking the two together in a marathon, 90 minute tram journey.

Never again will young school boys be able to giggle idiotically at the thought of "Root 69", nor will tourists be forced to keep a straight face when asking how to get the 69. A true Melbourne icon will be lost, even if the change is cosmetic.

A new era will dawn as the early tram on Sunday, 17 October rolls down Glenferrie and Balaclava Roads, the number 16 stuck on the front. Bloody globalisation... or something like that.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Family First

It looks like Family First have all but conceded that they're not going to get the gay and lesbian vote after this story broke:

Religious party Family First has disciplined a campaign volunteer for saying lesbians should be burned to death.

Smart campaigning, for sure.

Comic relief aside, it's disappointing the way that yet again the euphemism of the "family" is being used as a softly-softly substitute for the word conservative. There is nothing inherently conservative about the family, yet time after time right-wingers can invoke the family on their crusade against all things progressive. Surely a true "family values" party would support families in all forms, including single parent families and families with gay parents?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

No Moore Nader

In fulfilling the 'activist' part of his life as an activist-filmmaker, Michael Moore has pumped out another letter to his huge (and often uncritical) fan base. Moore has decided to unambiguously throw his support behind the Democrats campaign, in particular Kerry for President. True, the thrust of Moore's message is an much anti-Bush as it is pro-Kerry, but the transition that Moore has made from 2000 is stark.

In 2000, Moore's message was that the Democrats and the Republicans were as bad as each other, and that he was largely indifferent between Bush and Gore. Therefore, Moore reasoned, the right choice was the Greens' Ralph Nader. Moore pushed and pushed and pushed for Nader, for whom the magic figure was 5% nationwide, which would ensure public funding the next time around. The Moore/Nader/Green message cam largely unstuck when the election came down to 527 Floridians combined with the realisation that 97,000 had voted Green rather than Democrat. Ouch.

This time around Moore has learnt the the error of pushing for a minor party under a first-past-the-post electoral system. Even though Nader is back in the race, Moore has ignored him and instead getting behind Kerry. This means that either the Democrats have changed remarkably in the past four years (which they haven't) or Moore is acknowledging that he was wrong in 2000 and indirectly cost Gore the presidency.

This is Moore in 2004:

There you have it. Five Simple Steps. I’ll be doing my part as I travel the country to the 20 swing states. Please join with me in this effort. Kerry is doing his part, he won the first debate (stop the kvetching...of course YOU would have done a better job! But YOU'RE not running for president! He beat Bush...Bush must go!!). Remember, what's at stake in this election is bigger than John Kerry, bigger than political parties and all the other noise that accompanies politicians and their elections. This is about that mother from Flint, Michigan -- and all the other mothers from all the other towns in America -- who have lost and WILL LOSE their sons and daughters in Bush’s never-ending war in Iraq.

And this was Moore's message on the morning of the 2000 election:

How many of you can honestly say Ralph Nader is not the best candidate? Don't reach into your bag of rationalizations -- just answer this one question honestly. If you want all the dirty money out of our elections, you HAVE to vote for Nader because he is the only one -- not Bush, not Gore -- who would eliminate it entirely. If you think the minimum wage should go up more than 50 cents an hour in the next year, then you HAVE to vote for Ralph Nader as he is only one who would raise it to a real living wage. If you believe there should be universal health coverage NOW, then you have to vote for Ralph Nader because he is the only one who would sign that bill. Click here ("20 Reasons to Vote for Nader" sorry, no longer online -A.) and look at this list. And if find yourself in agreement, then how can you NOT vote for Ralph Nader?

Fringe Festival: Bill Shannon - Spatial Theory

To describe Bill Shannon as a ‘unique talent’ would be like describing Robin Williams as ‘kinda funny’ or William Shakespeare as a ‘decent writer’. Shannon is brilliant, and he leaves his audience gasping for more, desperate not only for his physical performance, but also for his refreshing outlook on life.

Since the age of five, Shannon has been on crutches. Rather than let this hinder his mobility, Shannon has used it to his advantage and developed a breakdancing technique involving the crutches. Such is his skill and dexterity that the usually-euphemistic term ‘differently-abled’ is in fact genuine, and probably an understatement – Shannon appears to be more agile and mobile than his crutchless peers.

It's the CrutchMaster!


Friday, October 01, 2004

Medicare Gold and all that

It was an amibitious pitch from Latham for the grey vote at the Labor launch on Wednesday. The central plan - free hospital care for those over 75, and branded as Medicare Gold (presumably Medicare Silver or Medicare Blue-rinse failed in the focus-group stage) - is likely to win support not just for the oldies who will benefit under it, but also their families, carers and those with private insurance who can look forward to their premiums reducing.

It does seem like a gift to the private health insurance sector; the insurers have just seen the 'competition' poach their least profitable and most undesirable customers. For the scheme to work, Latham will need to make sure that the regulator ensures savings are passed onto the consumers, otherwise it will be a great big windfall for the insurers.

Hmmm, so with just 8 days to go, how will Howard respond to Latham's play for his voters?

Time to Knox some heads together

It's refreshing to see that the entire eastern suburbs of Melbourne is not in fact completely the captive of the car and roads lobby. As depressing as it has been recently to see candidates trying to outbid each other to show their dedication to wider, longer, faster, cheaper roads.

Tonight (Thursday) was a public meeting facilitated by the City of Knox, and its focus was putting the Rowville train line on the political agenda. The Rowville train line has been a proposal which has done the rounds for years, but never managed to move beyond being a good idea. Branching off from the Dandenong line at Huntingdale, it would run past Mulgrave, the late Waverley Park, Monash, Rowville and Stud Park, requiring only a couple of kilometres of track to reach a vast swathe of eastern Melbourne. And at a fraction of the cost of the Mitcham-Frankston monolith.

The crux of the problem identified was the question of who would pay for the construction. The Federal Government have run the rather mean-spirited argument that it is solely the State Government's responsibility to fund public transport. So there. Nyah, nyah nyah nyaaaaah, nyah. Except that it is also the State Gov's responsibility to fund roads.... but the Feds will pay for some of that through the "Roads of National Significance" programme. So with the Feds unwilling to contribute money and the State Government without the dough, the line remains unbuilt.

The City of Knox have done an excellent job of focussing on public transport, and are doing everything they can to prevent the eastern suburbs from being more of a public transport-free ghetto than they are at the moment. Other councils, and other levels of government, can learn plenty from the Knox example. Now let's get this thing on track.