Thursday, September 30, 2004

Overland 176 launch, with David Marr

Wednesday night was the launch of the latest edition of Overland at Trades Hall and the guest speaker was Media Watch host David Marr launching a salvo in the media wars. Marr is hoping to strike a blow for the left (sorry, that should be the Left) in its struggle against the conservative right (I mean Right)-wing narrative that he believes is dominating coverage of the big issues. In his mind, Tampa, refugees and all that surrounds it is fundamentally about race, or more specifically racism, and the media have been too gutless to call it that. The conservatives are controlling the agenda, cries Marr, and the frank and free debate that existed before the days of Howard have been stopped.

A bit too much paranoid whinging, to my mind. There are plenty of progressive media outlets constantly carping about the evils of Howard, Bush and all things conservative. The ABC and Fairfax seem to operate on the premise that we are all evil, nasty people who need to be enlightened by their holier-than-thou-ness. The self-criticism of Australia and the west generally is constant in those media, and the progessive narrative which says whatever wrongness there is in the world is all our own fault is startling.

True, Murdoch does keep a conservative tight-rein on his empire, and outside of Melbourne, Sydney or Perth there aint many alternatives to Rupe and so to some extent Marr's point stands stands.

A few bits and piece from the night:

- Marr getting very worked up over the refugee issues, the source of his book Dark Victory, which he claims Beazley has read and didn't like. Marr explained that many senior Labor figures think that if the Children Overboard scandal had not have reemerged in the last four days of the 2001 campaign that the ALP might have won. Even though the incident showed Reith to be a liar, it distracted from Labor's message on health and education.

- Marr providing and then critiquing emails he got from four senior conservative columnists on what it means to be on the Left. The Fab Four were Andrew Bolt, Piers Ackerman, Gerard Henderson and Tim Blair. Marr argues that the consensus from the four was the most salient characteristic of those on the Left is the instinctive negative response to the United States. Marr also demonstrated that he fundamentally doesn't get Tim Blair's cheeky sense of humour.

- Marr savaging the decision by the ABC to monitor itself courtesy of Rehame, or the kids with headphones and buttons, as he characterises them. Objective anaylsis just doesn't cut it when it comes to determining whether or not the ABC is biased, according to Marr, so we should instead just accept his claim that it aint.

Asia Trip: Visas and more

For those of you who are the least bit interested in the progress of my epic Asian adventure planned for the end of the year, a quick update. I'm at what is known as the Boring Bureaucracy Stage of planning. Have a pile of Visa applications to sort through for six of the nine countries I'll be visiting, each of them with their own quirks and bizarre formatting.

I'm also starting to realise the enormity of the land travel I am planning in the early part of the trip. Based on Bangkok, I hope to visit Rangoon, Phnom Penh, Vientienne and Hanoi all within 5 weeks. Already I've found out that Rangoon cannot be accessed via land (whatever happened to that Thai-Burma railway that was built?!!) and the others are going to be rather torurous. True, that is part of the fun of travelling, but it looks like it will be crammed with cattle - possibly literally - on a truck, a bus or a train. No sarcasm intended, I can't wait.

Melbourne Fringe: 400 Columns, Trades Hall

The Age's resident dag Danny Katz is one of the funniest men in print. His weekly columns mix nerdy Jewish humour, a deceptively good understanding of the power of language, savage self-deprecation and a damn good understanding on what makes people laugh. To translate these columns - 400 Columns, that is - into a stage play was always going to be a difficult task, primarily because so much of the humour comes from who the columnist is and the egocentric nature of the stuff that he writes. If it was to be anyone else writing it, they'd be dismissed as a nutter, but because it's Katz it is instead considered schoolboy charm.

CONTINUES IN COMMENTS

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

That'll put the wind up 'em

Oh the irony, but it seems the Greens are engaging in a bit of astro-turfing (creating the illusion of grass roots support for your cause). Glossy full-colour postcards have started appearing, published by "Friends All for Renewable Technologies" (FART... groan). The postcard tells voters:

John Howard's recent energy policy has snubbed the use of clean, renewable sources like wind and solar energy.
...
At this election Vote One for the Environment, and put the Liberals last.


It's the bit after that that is most interesting:

Authorised by Adrian Whitehead, 43 Osbourne Rd Warrandyte, Vic 3113.

That wouldn't be the same Adrian Whitehead who is State Convenor for the Greens in Victoria and is authorising all the Victorian Greens election material?

If you like being taken as a sucker, then why not check out the FART web site.

UPDATE (30/9, 2:10am): After poking around a bit on the FART website - www.fart.fm - have come across a few interesting snippets:

- There is a page on the site which compares the policies of each of the major parties, and it would be no surpise to hear that the Greens come out on top, beating all challengers. Normally these things work okay when the criteria are reasonably objective and factual, but when they are completely subjective then the exercise becomes a farce. Like this one.

- It seems rather bizarre that the URL ends in a ".fm" Yep. Of course. It's the Federation of Micronesia who are the proud hosts of that URL country-code. Any suggestions on why FART chose to take a URL from there??

Not OK

Just what this country needs - another trashy tabloid magazine. As if our collective intelligences hadn't already been insulted enough with the braindead moronic dross that airs nightly on television and the glossy eyecandy that occupies space next to the Tic-Tacs at the supermarket, we are about to be subjected to the Australian launch of UK gutter rag OK!

It's worthy being highly suspicious of any publication that includes silly punctuation in the title. It's a dog-whistle technique, used to scare off thinking people and attract the types who need something exciting at the end of every story, every sentence, and in this case, every word. It's not even the sort of word that it worthy of an exclamation mark, and certainly not one that is worthy of having a publication named after it. I wouldn't go and read Whatever! or Alright! or even I'll be there in a minute!

Another worrying part is that OK! have made public the fact that they are willing to pay for stories, a practice that Australian tabloid magazines have so far been reluctant to engage in. The problem with paying for stories is not just the philosophical objection that it commericalises and commodifies news. More importantly, the problem is the practical one that it encourages the distortion and 'talking-up' of stories by the participants, eager to add zeros to the value of the check that will come their way. It's the journalistic equivalent of sweet nothings whispered by a prostitute.

Finally, OK! and its glossy-covered comrades are an insult to women, who if the magazine shelf is any guide spend their lives drooling over celebrities, paranoid about their weight and bitching about each other. Women are intelligent, enlightened beings and the publications aimed at them should reflect this. It's an unfortunate trend that news magazines, like the underrated Bulletin, are perceived as being the men's domain, whilst the lightweight pap is for women.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Melbourne Ports battle: from East to West (Bank)

It was toe to toe, head to head, Scopus graduate against Scopus graduate as the two main candidates in Melbourne Ports faced off against each other on Sunday night in an election debate sponsored by the Australian Jewish News. Michael Danby and David Southwick presented themselves for scrutiny by a predominantly Jewish audience, and the contest was fierce.

Danby was noticeably more polished and confident in his presentation, and looked every bit the seasoned competitor compared to the young(er) and inexperienced Southwick. Danby presented his message exceptionally well to an initially reluctant audience. He turned many of the ALP's weaknesses into strengths, and showed a keen eye for the prejudices of the crowd. He dealt with the anti-Israeli sentiments in the left faction of the ALP with a disciplined message that the leadership of the party were supporters of Israel and that the views of fringe-dwellers were irrelevant. As the issue continued to reoccur through the evening, Danby diligently stayed on-message and remained gaffe-free.

Southwick failed to press home the natural advantage that he had on this issue - the unambiguous support for Israel from within his party's ranks. There were many opportunities for Southwick to demonstrate that his party was the natural choice for Zionist voters, but failed repeatedly to make a strong impact. Danby played a very effective spoiler role, just when Southwick appeared to be getting on track, there would be a reference to Ross Cameron (the Liberal chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine) or Australia at the UN and the Liberal message was dulled again.

More noticeable was the battle on funding for private Jewish schools. This should naturally be a very strong suit for Southwick, given the government's support for the independent schools sector and the ALP's rather perilous temporary exemption from funding cuts for Jewish schools.

Southwick was the verbal equivalent of a man tripping over his own shoelaces. Given a 'free kick' to promote the benefits of the government's SES (the so-called postcode system) he made a reference to the fact that only if he was elected would the SES system help Jewish schools. Beg yours, David?? Yep. He said it. And Danby made him pay big time.

Various flotsam and jetsam from the evening:
- The carol singers at the front gate from the Citizens Electoral Council, led by candidate Aaron Isherwood, whose glossy propaganda (where do they get the money??) boasts that he is the "audio-visual production manager for my party", in other words, choir conductor.
- Danby commenting that the two Jewish candidates made the election look like an episode of Seinfeld, "with me as Jerry and my opponent as Newman." Touche.
- Southwick addressing the issue of Aboriginal reconciliation by celebrating the downfall of ATSIC, or "Aborigines talking shit in Canberra" as Southwick's many Aboriginal friends put it.
- Plenty of plants in the audience asking tough questions of the opposing candidate, usually to be exposed by the moderator or candidate. A bit of a tiresome tactic.
- Southwick hitting the spot with a cute take on Latham's Ladder: "It's only because of the Liberals that we have a ladder. Under the Labor Party, we couldn't even afford to rent one." Cute.


ALP can't stop scratching

The ALP used Grand Final weekend to launch a new ad in that other epic battle that will probably be decided by Queenslanders (lame, I know). The 'scratchie ad' was put to air, and puts the focus right back on to Howard, Costello and the plans for succession. For those who were too busy praying or breathing in fresh air rather than watching the footy, the ad features a scratchie card with Howard's face in view, and through the ad the face is scratched away to reveal Costello lurking underneath. A clip from Abbott from earlier this year then spells out that if the Liberals a returned, power would inevitably transfer from Howard to Costello.

Scratch, scratch, scatch... and he's gone!Scratch, scratch, scatch... and he's gone!Scratch, scratch, scatch... and he's gone!Images courtesy of ALP

Accepting that the premise of this commerical is correct and Howard will not sit out the full term - sounds perfectly reasonable from here - the crux of the ad is that Costello as Prime Minister is bad news. The ALP have presumably done their research and realise that Costello is just not popular; he's smarmy; an economic rationalist; a young turk; a spoilt rich boy. All of which amounts to a character who scares off conservative voters, and is someone most people cannot warm to. Ironically, it identifies one of the PM's strengths in doing so, namely that he is conservative and reliable and reasonably homely.

Perhaps that is the inevitable fate of someone who sits only in the Treasurer's seat, and needs to frequently tighen the purse-strings. No matter how well the person does the job, they are cast negatively in the public's mind as a scrooge. That's not to say that they can't grow out of it - after all, both Keating and Howard managed to do it - but it takes time.

Is Costello really that bad? No doubt the polling says so, but some believe otherwise (ie, me). Costello is much more socially progressive than his conservative leader, he has a national vision more in tune with those under 40, he is young, energetic and equipped with new ideas, and he has a sense of humour. All factors that make some people more likely to vote for the Libs under Costello than under Howard. Obviously those are the views of a minority, and Costello has plenty of hard work to do to win over his critics. But are the problems he faces intractable? Not likely.

On a quick, styalistic note, you can't help but notice that the images of Howard, Costello and Abbott are all in black and white. Now either the ALP are subconsciously trying to recreate the B&W days of Whitlam, Latham is taking his Collingwood support too far, or the ALP are messing with our minds a little and trying to make the three of them look that bit more shifty, untrustworthy, and tougher to relate to. What a cunning array of stunts.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Film: The Corporation

If a corporation was a human being, would we consider it a psychopath? After all, it’s completely selfish, shows little concern for others, and seems to break the law with reckless abandon. At least that’s the conclusion of the film-makers behind The Corporation, a new (well, kinda new at least) Canadian documentary in the tradition of Bowling for Columbine and Supersize Me.

Unlike its predecessors, the film makes an effort to achieve balance. Apart from it’s final 20 minutes, with its comrades’ call to arms, the film is not a simple propaganda flick with a spirited film-maker in the pulpit. Instead it states its case and accepts challenges from a variety of perspectives, some of them successful, some of them not. Credit should go to any film that can include both Milton Friedman (living legend and Nobel prize winning economist) and Noam Chomsky (Che Guevera in a pullover knitted by his mother).

The critique of corporations starts narrowly and then grows. It’s an interesting thought exercise to take the DSM-IV (Diagnostics and Statistics Manual, the bible for shrinks) definition of a psychopath, and then stretch and pull that definition to apply it to an organisation. If you’re in a generous mood, you might argue that the film has proven its case. If you thinking a little more critically, you’ll probably have your arms crossed and your head dizzy at the frequent rolling of eyes.

The film then progresses to some worthwhile case studies of the corporation in its natural habitat. Privatisation in the developing world, free speech in the corporate-owned media and accountability for private gain at a public loss is explored. On a cinematic level, it is as lazy as it gets to play some old Michael Moore The Awful Truth and The Big One stunts, and shows a lack of inventiveness in making the point.

Moore seems to be getting around a bit.


The problem with the film’s premise is this: the corporation may be a legal entity in its own right, but as a moral entity it is simply the sum of its parts, namely owners, directors and employees. It is a straw man argument to accuse a corporation of lacking a moral compass, when instead its moral compass is that of the individuals who are making decisions from within it. By all means, it is valid to attack the actions of irresponsible directors and greedy stockholders, who abandon all principle in reckless pursuit of a buck, but that unethical behaviour is the unethical behaviour of individual actors who are, from all reports, generally not psychopaths.

The Corporation is successful at exposing plenty of the excesses of corporations. Whether it manages to demonstrate that these excesses are so disastrous that they overshadow the considerable positives a corporation brings, and should therefore be abandoned, is doubtful. It’s unfortunate that the positives – employment, innovations, economies of scale, development – are all quietly acknowledged and then ignored.

As a film, it is a thoughtful contribution to the globalisation debate that has died down a little since September 11 (perhaps you could say priorities shifted from 7Eleven to 9-11?). It makes its point, calls for a revolution of the couch potatoes, and leaves it up to the viewer to work out how it all fits together.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

It's a referendum, but on what?

It was a brilliant piece of politicking by Latham yesterday as he launched the party's policy on public hospitals. It was Latham at his strongest, targetting a human services issue, keeping the message simple and effective, and looking every inch the caring leader. The policy itself is strong, and a stark contrast to the approach of the Liberals, which is essentially to pay the private sector to do the same thing.

The best part of Latham's message on Wednesday was his assertion that this election would be a referendum on Medicare. Brilliant. Clever. Effective. The statement (surely a deliberate remark rather than one of Latham's throwaways) works well for two reasons. Firstly, it gives the campaign a central theme which has thus been lacking; 1993 and 1998 were on the GST, 1996 was on Keating's vision, 2001 was on Tampa, but what was 2004 going to be? Latham has just had a good stab at framing the election, something that neither leader had been able to effectively do thus far. Secondly, it puts Howard on the backfoot. The footage of Howard during this doorstop was particuarly cringe-worthy:

HACK: Do you believe health and Medicare are quite as high on the priority list as Mark Latham's indicated, he seems to have said today that October 9 as much is going to be a referendum on those issues? (BTW, who said the standard of grammar amongst journalists was dropping? -A.)

HOWARD: October 9 will be a referendum on who can better manage the Australian economy and keep this country strong at a time of international terrorism. They are the two dominant issues of the election.

HACK: But Medicare's got to rate pretty high up doesn't it?

HOWARD: (pauses and looks like his hearing aid might be playing up) They are the two dominant issues of the election campaign.


Can Latham sustain health and education as the core issues right up until election day? If he can, then he must be a good chance of victory given that his message is so much better received than his opponent. But if Howard's reading proves correct and it's interest rates and terrorism, then things will shift back. Surely this makes the media a powerful player in the next fortnight - it is they who will collectively decide which narrative proves to be correct by making it correct. Perhaps as the old economics textbooks explains, it's either gonna be guns or butter.

Bartlett the Blogger

It's always flattering to receive a kind word on someone else's blog, and especially flattering when that "someone else" is someone you greatly admire:

Check this out from Andrew Bartlett Online on 22/9:

For people who like looking around blogs on social issues, you could also try this one - http://www.ariontheweb.blogspot.com/ . I know this guy a bit. Nice enough and used to be a Democrat. Having just gone there, I note he's said I’m the only person who could look bored bungy jumping. Also a comment from someone who says they can't vote for me cos I'm too weird for wearing purple all the time.


I'd be happy if "nice enough" appeared on my epitaph. Thanks Andrew.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Regime change in Indonesia

Congratulations to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is not only the newly-elected President of Indonesia, but is also a tongue-twister given to Javanese school children, who in order to pass primary school must say the name without either laughing or doing the gun-trigger action when saying the Bambang bit.

Anyhow, Yudhoyono seems like a major step forward after the ineffective and clumsy rule of Megawati Sukarnoputri. Megawati seemed unable to properly combine the need for concensus with the need for action, and was painfully bogged down in petty politics and saw the nation slide backwards under her rule. It's no surprise that Indonesians voted her out of office after a single term.

Yudhoyono seems like a doer as well as a thinker, and given the challenges facing the archapelago, this is a positive step. As well as tackling terrorism in his midst, SBY (yep, that's what they call him) needs to reignite a fragile Indonesian economy and continue with many of the reforms that started after the regional economic 'crisis' of 1997.

There's always danger in having a military man in a position of political power, but given that he seems to be a free thinker with his military experience very much in his background, he is a decent choice.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Liberals lampoon Latham's Liverpool legacy

Sunday morning the Liberals launched a new TV ad, which presumably will be followed by print and potentially billboards, focussing on Latham's inexperience and implying that he'll have his 'L Plates' on when he gets into Government. The ad piles on some of the evidence from his time on Liverpool council, but the fear in the ad runs deeper than that; it implies that Latham is not a safe pair of hands. For now the message simply focussed on economic management, but it is not exactly a chasmic leap to imagine the message will spread to national security and refugees (remember them?) as areas where Latham is a dangerous choice.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us


It's a clever strategy from the Liberals, and one that many suspected. Howard is old, boring and stuffy... or wise, experienced and reliable, depending on your viewpoint. The way that the strategy works is that on the surface it may be a straight-out attack ad, but in reality it is designed to highlight Latham's weaknesses in areas where Howard is strong. Given events around the world, an recently reinforced in Indonesia, voters are becoming more and more risk-averse, and hence more inclined to support the incumbant.

There is a lot of trust involved in being the challenger, as Latham is, and asking people to let you run the joint. If people are feeling at all insecure, they'll stick to the bloke in charge at the moment. The Liberals know that, are hence are playing up the threat, and playing down the ability of their opponent. And it'll work.

UPDATE (23/9, 3:12am): The Learner Latham has indeed made an appearance on a billboard, in this case on one of the most prominant bits of advertising real estate in Melbourne. On the corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets, directly opposite the Nike (boo hiss) site, a shifty looking Latham stares ominously over the passing throng. Ouch.

How low can you go?

The Age's man in London Peter Fray wrote an interesting piece in Saturday's paper about a story that has been buzzing around London for a while:

The political excesses of the British press are a wonder - or horror - to behold, but there is one story that for several months not even the most lurid paper has dared to touch.

It concerns an alleged crisis within Prime Minister Tony Blair's family and is widely considered to be behind this week's disclosure that Mr Blair nearly quit this year.


So just what could this story be? Ariontheweb values the ability to sleep at night, and so doesn't want to get his hands too dirty on this one, so you can do your own digging...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Get over it

Painful as it is to say it, the non-Victorian Grand Final next week is definately GFF (Good For Football). The league is a national CLUB league, meaning that players are lining up for their teams, not their states. It is irrelevant whether they are from Fremantle or Footscray - they're the other blokes, on the other team.

Those whingers and moaners who are pissed off that there is no Victorian side in the game need to ask themselves if they are genuinely fans of a national league, or are they simply parochial supporters who see the AFL as just the VFL after the renovators got to it. Economies-of-scale mean it is a national league or bust (well, national league or WAFL, which is much the same) and we should celebrate it rather than mourn it.

Carn the mighty (Pordadelaide) Magpies!!!!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Freeway fun and games

Transport is the big issue that will decide the eastern suburbs of Melbourne this campaign. Forget terror, national security and war in Iraq, it'll be a big stretch of bitumen from Frankston to Mitcham that will be the major vote-grabber, particularly the question of who's going to pay for the thing. The State Government Bracksflipped soon after the last state election, deciding on a toll road, and the Federal Government are playing hardball, denying Federal funds unless the state stick to its original promise and make it toll free. It does seem like a rather arrogant move by the Federal Government to decide to be the enforcer of the State Government's electoral promises, but cynical politics prevails.

Okay, so on the ground, how does each party respond? The Liberals are unashamedly selling themselves as the motorists best friend, promising a big fat long and FREE road. The ALP will put pressure on the State Government to forget the tolls, and will direct federal road funding elsewhere in the state (but, God forbid, not to rail) but seem to be in a muddle. The Democrats? Against the freeway, toll or otherwise, unless you can plant Meg Lees in the middle of it and have Government-funded-eco-friendly-ethanol-fueled-steamrollers for all.

But the Greens? Ideology and principle says that it should oppose the road, and push to shift funding toward public transport. This would be a thoroughly desirable position, and it one that would do this city a lot of good if it was to be put into practice.

Amongst the best bits of the Green's stated policy:

1.7 favouring walking, cycling and public transport as the preferred modes of ‘passenger’ transport.

2.2 reduce car ownership and use for urban commuting while improving the quality of service provided by public transport, especially in frequency, speed and convenience

2.4 make users of private transport aware of, and ultimately pay for, the full costs of their transport choices
2.5 make users of private transport aware of, and ultimately pay for, the full costs of their transport choices
(yep, they believe it so much they included it twice)

How then, do we explain this odd piece of politicking from the Greens candidate for Aston, Michael Abson?

Clearly the policies of a party opposed to freeways and in favour of tolls.  Photo courtesy of Anthony Morton and the PTUA.


There is no possible way that this could be consistant with the Greens transport policy. Yes, it's one thing to have the right to differ from the party position, but it's another to completely and utterly misrepresent the party's position and confuse the electorate. In the words of a Queensland Senate no-hoper, Please Explain.


Friday, September 17, 2004

Greens back Bungy Stunt - No Strings Attached

Andrew Bartlett has proven himself the only pollie in Canberra who could look bored during a stunt like this:

Snap!!!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Tumultuous Thursday

Just as footballers around the country celebrated Mad Monday a fortnight ago, drinking plenty, singing karaoke and just generally making a nuisance of themselves once the season was ancient history, political parties have a similar version, except this one is Tumultuous Thursday (yep, okay, it sounds a little desperate, but work with me). Midday Thursday (16 September, this time around) is the close of nomination for every seat around the country, and more crucially in the Senate. This is the latest that anyone can nominate themselves, and is usually the time that a few surprises emerge; did anyone mention Pauline?

MORE IN COMMENTS

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The broad Liberal Church

Howard at a door-stop in Perth, today:

"As I've often said in the past, the Liberal Party is a broad church. If I can sort of, you know, push out the boundaries of the ecclesiastical allusions, it is a broad church and it emcompasses people who are Christian believers and there are various gradients of that too. There are traditional Protestants, traditional Catholics, born-again Christians, and people, perhaps, of a more reformist Catholic tradition and we have non-believers and I think it's a party for all of the talents and all of the beliefs and all of the non-beliefs as well."

Gee, John, that's all the colours of the rainbow.

Senator Hanson?

So Pauline is running for the Senate in Queensland... again. Pauline made her crucial political mistake way back in 1998, when after holding the seat of Oxley for a single term, she chose to run for the House of Reps again, this time in Blair, rather than running for the Senate. Alas, One Nation won that very Senate seat in 1998, with Heather Hill, then Len Harris, flying the flag for the party. Given that Harris' profile makes Andrew Bartlett looks like a pop-star, it was clearly a mistake. Just how different would things have been if Pauline was a Senator for the past six years?

Just like in 2001, Pauline will pick up a couple of percent, but do no more than give the Nationals yet another headache.

Any redder and she'd be in the Greens.

Tough times in Toorak

There always a dash of excitement that comes with heading down to shops in the 'burbs and finding a copy of the Toorak Metropolitan News stacked invitingly on a park bench. For those not fortunate enough to live in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, the Toorak News is probably best described as one part Andrew Bolt, one part local Rotary club, six parts Yellow Pages, all in full-colour newsprint.

There are plenty of reasons to love the Toorak Metropolitan News, and here is a mere 6 of them:

- The Name. News from Toorak? Nope. Produced in Toorak? Not if the St Kilda Road address is any guide. Distributed to Toorak? Yes, and 40 other suburbs in a 20km arc south and east of the CBD. Perhaps TMN are a fan of my idea of keeping the property bubble alive by naming every suburb relative to Toorak; Footscray is "Toorak West", Lilydale is "Outer Toorak", Heidelberg is "Toorak Hills"... adds thousands to the value!

- The random Capitalisation. Doesn't Matter whether it deserves it or Even requires it, it just get's popped in there to Add some authority to whatever is being said. This is joined by, random punctuation; that never really looks Right.

- The completely shameless advertorials; without anything at all to identify it as advertising. All that hokey enthusiasm for whatever crap is being flogged, it makes you want to spend, spend, spend. Yep, I do need the services of Professor Wang, the Psychic Healing Professor. Now.

- The crackpot editorial line. With opinions and arguments completely lacking in evidence, logic or relevance, this stuff is irresistable. Take this quote from the September edition, straight off the presses: "Nobody has bothered to comment, (sic)that financially, Australia is one of the safest Countries (sic) in the World (sic)... The economy has been doing nothing else but improve over the last 12 years." Best of all, the repeated use of "I", without a by-line telling the reader who "I" is.

- The letters page. In this case it's People's Views, although my money is a bit of a creative writing exercise from the editor, giving the strikingly similar style that our mysterious anonymous editor and his/her army of letter writers seem to have.

- The columnists, presumably carefully selected to make the editor look like the normal one. There's Bruce Ruxton, God Bless Him, rabbitting on about the same crap that's kept him in the papers for 30 years. And then there's new columnist Adrian Jackson, sufferring from relevance depravation syndrome since discovering constantly savaging the Israeli government is not the best way to score yourself Liberal party preselection.

So do yourself a favour, grab yourself a copy, sit back and enjoy the dizzying heights that mediocrity in publishing can reach. Now where can I contact a good Psychic Dentist?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Hostages - Forced Iraqi Hospitality?

There was a painful inevitability about it if the suggestion that two Australians have been taken hostage in Iraq proves to be correct. With the nationals of countless other countries being taken hostage, sooner or later it would be Australia's turn. Of course, Australia must stand firm and not let its policy be dictated by terrorist nutters who were obviously neglected as children, in this case the Secret Islamic Army and its northern armed wing, the Horror Brigades (both of whom clearly need to work on their PR strategy, if the names are any guide).

The story is still emerging, but if the central premise is correct then it's going to be a painful couple of days ahead.

"Take Me Out" - Richard Greenberg - MTC production

Picture a drunk guy stumbling round a pub near the time of last drinks. He lurches unsteadily in several different directions (often all at once) and picks on people in all corners of the room. He is itching for a fight, wants an opponent to get his fists into, and is happy to take on several at a time. He is indiscriminate, and doesn’t pick his target carefully at all. Even if he might have a chance against one of them, against many he doesn’t stand a chance.

“Take Me Out” is a bit like the drunk guy at the pub. It’s not content to take on just one or two taboos in a night, instead it wants to take on a whole army of them, one after the other and often in quick succession, and with weaker impact each successive time. The context for this is the locker room for a baseball team. Initially the taboo of the gay-male-as-sports-star is explored, with some fine dramatic moments and a tight script. Then the play considers the identity of African Americans, and as one character wryly observes “Baseball is the one area in life where white people will cheer for a black hero.” Then the role of language is played out, with the isolation of the Latino and Japanese team members and their exclusion from the group. And finally the hillbilly, the backwards hick who has risen far above his station in life just by being a part of the team. It’s a lot for a playwright to explore in a single play. But in the hands of Richard Greenberg, however, it looks effortless.

The latest production of the Melbourne Theatre Company, “Take Me Out” is a thoroughly interesting and edgy play. The all-male cast of 11 brings to life a team of major league baseballers enjoying life at the top of their profession, and the people who shape and influence them. When one amongst their ranks outs himself as gay, the dynamic of the group changes and a culture of fear and suspicion emerges, largely in spite of the efforts of the chief protagonist. In many ways the play serves as a parody of American conservatism, which seeks to idolise its sporting heroes without giving them the dignity of being human. Instead they are positioned as moral yardsticks, when the truth is often more complex.

As a theatrical production, TMO is absolutely stunning and is a beautifully executed piece of drama. The set is deceptively simple at first, but is used to great effect as the play develops. Throughout the two hours, the stage is transformed from a locker-room to an apartment to an office to a shower to a police interrogation room, all of which are highly tactile and designed with great dexterity. Music and lighting combine well to create the right mix of either sentimentality or righteous indignation, depending on what the moment requires.

The ensemble cast is bold and enthusiastic, and carries off the accents required of the script with great aplomb. The requirements for the role are rigourous, and all of them fulfil their onerous duty well. The male nudity in the play is considerable, and occasionally appears gratuitous, although the temptation to ham it up or play the situation for cheap laughs thankfully is avoided. There are great dollops of nude locker room philosophising, an element which would improve many a bland theatre production. The cast seems as comfortable during the early humour as it does when the play reaches a high emotional pitch. It is a particularly impressive performance from Kenneth Ransom, as the handsome, well spoken central character Darren Lemming. Ransom gives Lemming the affectionate, likeable personality that the lead needs to have for the story to hold together in the dramatic second act.

The play does suffer a little in its cultural translation. The script seems to have undergone very little adaptation at all for a non-American (and equally importantly, non-baseball) audience. The hokey sentimentalism of life at the baseball is completely lost on an audience who have no collective memory of the sport. Some of the best scripting are the brief narrations which posit baseball as a metaphor for democracy, and it unfortunate that the subtleties are lost. It would not be a huge leap of the imagination for the story to be told in an Australian setting, perhaps within the cosy confines of a football locker room. Perhaps a courageous Australian playwright in the David Williamson mould needs to take on the challenge.


Monday, September 13, 2004

Debate - a good mark for Mark

My gosh, it's amazing, what an incredible thing that no one expected to see in the debate. Michelle Grattan smiled! And even cracked a joke - with Laurie! Oh, how my heart did flutter with joy.

Less importantly, the debate went ahead with quiet determination rather than gusto on the part of the participants. Howard and Latham both took a very risk averse approach to the debate, hammering out some preprepared lines and a few clever 'squirrels' of the questions asked just to make sure they got their message through. There was a lack of discipline on behalf of the moderator Laurie (perhaps he was too enamored with Michelle?) who too often would follow one leader's comments by inviting the other to respond, and to then respond to the response, and respond to the response to the response. A bit like dueling banjos after a while.

Latham looked surprisingly strong on national security, wisely avoiding a heavy hand on Iraq, and instead emphasising the need for a more localised, regional approach to defeating terror. His message about Howard being too busy fighting on the other side of the world rather than focusing on genuine local threats was a good one, and had Howard on the ropes. Latham was too clever for his own good when he tried to bring Howard's succession plan into the debate on security, when it lead Latham to suggest that the war on terror could be won in three years. We like optimism, Mark, but we prefer reality. Ultimately, on that issue, Howard seemed more self-assured and presented himself as having a steady hand on the wheel compared to the young buck challenger.

On the raft of domestic issues, Latham hit the mark. Medicare and funding for schools got a run, and Latham made Howard look like he was merely playing to his constituents rather than the national interest. It was here that Latham managed to get out his ladder of opportunity, and even allowed himself to look down at the lower rungs that he had climbed in his younger days.

A few quick observations from an interesting night...
- Latham seemed to have problems with his posture. While Howard was looking straight down the barrel of the camera for much of it and was well lit, Latham seemed to stare 30 degrees to the right, creating a poor shadow and shifty eyes.
- As predicted, the panel was clumsy, poorly structured and seemed to lack a point. With just two questions each, but seemingly a mountain of questions for the compare, it just didn't look right.
- Surprisingly, neither Howard nor Jim Middleton (the panelist who discussed leadership issues) brought up Latham's relative inexperience.
- The worm produced an amazingly pro-Latham result. From the clips shown, it appeared that voters were tiring of Howard's stale conservative approach, and warmed to a bubbly Latham. Surprisingly, national security played better for Latham than for Howard.
- Unusual choice by Nine to chose Annabel Crabb as their guest pontificator. Crabb is good talent and very presentable (TV talk for 'a bit of orright') but seems a tad verbose for the rigours of commercial television. Why not use the in-house talent at Nine?

And my verdict? Latham, but only just, and certainly not the 67-33 split given by the worm puppeteers.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The not-so-Great Debate

Tonight is the one (and likely to be only) leaders' debate for the election, and like most debates in previous years, it will be watched only by political tragics and masochists, neither of whom are key to deciding the election winner. Still, beyond actually hitting the voters who matter, the debate does have a large amount of momentum value, especially so this time around given that it will be the ice-breaker after three days with almost no campaigning.

Howard is naturally more suited than Latham to the debate format. Howard has a sharp intellect, is very verbally dexterous, and loves a good argument with a willing opponent. Latham, however, is more a man-of-the-people (providing the people are not taxi drivers or Presidents of the United States) who prefers interacting with punters to make his point rather than arguing with a political opponent. He isn't as verbal or as sharp as Howard, but has a more casual, conversational approach. It's not wonder than Latham was pushing for a "Town Hall meeting" style debate rather than a clinical audience-free one.

The Rodent (George Brandis' name for him, not mine) was very tactical is pushing for a change in format from past years. The traditional format of the two leaders plus a single moderator is gone, and a panel of five is instead in place to ask the questions. Five journalists, two leaders, one hour... it'll be hard for anyone to get a decent amount of airtime, which is exactly what the PM wants. He realises that Latham is not nearly as well known in the electorate as Howard himself is, and so Howard wants to deprive Latham of oxygen, and a beefed up panel is the way to go. The format was tried in the 2002 Victorian state election, and the result was rather weak with a scattering of questions and a lack of continuity.

Life-like miniature models of the leaders.


A couple of things to watch for during the debate:
- Latham drawing repeatedly and graphically from his own life experience, usually mentioned in tandem with his ladder of opportunity.
- Howard frequently trying to divert attention to terrorism and national security, as part of his approach to scare the electorate into returning the incumbant.
- A couple of poor attempts at humour by both candidates to die miserably.
- A nervous Latham to be a bit twitchy and insecure at first, shades of Howard in a former debate.
- The Greens staging a protest outside, whinging about not being a part of the action.
- The debate to be easily outrated by Australian Idol on Ten. No surprise there.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Greens in on the ACT

Just what are the Greens on about, talking up their prospects of winning an ACT Senate seat?? Time after time during this campaign, the Greens seem obsessive about promoting their ACT Senate candidate, Kerrie Tucker, often when it would seem more strategic to promote the lead candidates in a number of states where the Senate vote will be in the balance. Take this quote from a press release from Saint Bob during the week:

He said that a key to stopping the Coalition turning the Senate into a rubber stamp for Mr Howard is the election of Greens ACT Senate candidate Kerrie Tucker MLA.


So Kerrie scores a mention, but there's no sign of David Risstrom, John Kaye or Drew Hutton, all lead Senate candidates in other states, and all much more likely to get themselves elected.

For a minor party to get a Senator elected in the ACT or the NT is an epic task. The electoral system means that, with two senators being elected in each territory, the quota in 33% of the total vote. So in 2001, both Liberal and Labor had their Senators elected in both territories (okay, twas the CLP in the NT) without any need for preferences at all. A similar pattern is seen in every election since the territories started electing Senators in the 1970s. The closest any minor party has got is the Democrats in the ACT in 1998, when Rick Farley received exactly 16.6% of the vote, half of the quota, and was easily beaten by both major parties.

Okay, so why would the Greens talk up their chances in the ACT? Would it have anything to do with the ACT election taking place just a week after the Federal poll, on October 16? Here's the logic. Voters in the ACT are likely to vote the same way on consecutive Saturdays and will only want to make up their mind once rather than twice. Therefore, if the Greens are to play a part in the Territory election, they will also need to play a part in the Federal poll. So much as common sense says the Senate seat is not winnable, to concede defeat would also be to concede defeat in the Territory election, where the Greens are very much in the game. The stake in the territory parliament is significant - the Greens, Democrats and an indie have shared the balance of power since 2001, and the Greens would dearly love to have the balance in their own right.

Paranoid? A bit. Consiratorial? A lot. Truthful? We'd have to ask Bob and Kerrie to find out.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Jakarta Bombing

Was it linked to the election campaign? Was it linked to Australia's involvement in Iraq? Was it linked to the complete and utter failure of the Australian government to adopt fundamentalist Shari'a law?

Without all the facts being at hand, any speculation would be premature and, well, speculative, which of course has never stopped any previous speculation. Of course any discussion of the attack needs to begin with the usual caveats... 1. Condolences to all the victims and 2. This was an act of terrorists distorting rather than expressing a religious faith.

It seems naive to dismiss the possibility that this was timed strategically to influence the result of the Australian, and potentially Indonesian, election results. The bombing may lead voters in both constituencies to doubt the virtue of their national governments, and consider the potential for change. The Madrid scenario may be playing itself out again, with an electorate already discontented with their national leadership giving extra motivation to keep their country out of the international spotlight. The pain from the train in Spain may happen again.

Was Iraq a contributing factor to Australia being targeted? Maybe, although it's worth remembering that nations with various positions on Iraq have all been targeted in terror attacks in recent times. Two French journalists kidnapped, bombings in Turkey, all challenge the idea that Australia is an increased target. It's also worth repeating that the first time Australia become a major target was in Bali in October, 2002, five months before Australia had committed troops.

There's probably much truth to Howard's line on these things, that we are not being targeted for what we've done, but for who we are. Unless Australia is prepared to make fundamental changes to it's way of life, then those who commit acts of terror will not be satisfied.

The worst possible response would be a panicked electorate which lets itself be spooked by what happens. It would be wrong to either rush to condemn the incumbent for increasing our visibility as a target, or to nestle in the comforting bosom of a father figure. Whether either of these happen will be revealed in the next few days, and it seems inevitable that national security will be catapulted to the front page... again. This is unlikely to help Latham with his health and education pitch, and will no doubt see Howard dust off his 2001 strategy for an encore. Things just got interesting.

Thursday - Richard Woolcott @ IPCS

Just weeks after being dismissed as a "Doddering Dacquari Diplomat" by De-Anne Kelly, that "Looselipped Layabout Lackey" from Queensland, Richard Woolcott has again spoken publicly about his concern with the Government.

The forum for Woolcott was the Institute of Postcolonial Studies in Melbourne, and Woolcott maintained his diplomatic air whilst quietly savaging most aspects of the Government's handling of Iraq - before, during and after the war. Criticism from Woolcott should carry plenty of weight - in the fine public service tradition he is apolitical, he has exceptional knowledge of international relations, he is familar with the major players and he offers sound judgement. Woolcott is no 'Usual Suspect', taking a number to attack the Government like it's the deli at Prahran Market.

The nub of his presentation has been published in The Age today and Woolcott focuses on 13 myths perpetuated by the Governments of the Coalition of the Willing. Some of the myths are overstated, but many have a strong element of truth to them. Without discussing the facts surrounding each of them (there are plenty of conservatives with keyboards at their disposal, and many of them have discovered the internet).

Broadly, however, Woolcott points out that the coalition of the willing seemed to continually change the goalposts both in terms of the justification of the war, and the likely outcomes of intervention. He is right that the initial justification - Weapons of Mass Destruction - has been debunked and was conveniently replaced by the overthrow of Saddam as the justification. Then in the aftermath of formal hostilities, the safer, more ordered Iraq that seemed an inevitability if the advocates were to be believed is yet to materialise.

Still, ultimately the decision to invade will be judged historically by the outcome. For all the flaws in the process - and they are major and need to be addressed if the Government and public service is to regain trust - the decision was the right one if it puts Iraq on a path to democracy and ends the tyrannical rule of one. Furthermore, a democracy in the region will have incalculable benefits to other nations, who over time will feel pressure from their own people who see a better form of government in the new Iraq. It'll take a while, and there'll be plenty of blood spilt, but if a democracy is the legacy, then the invasion will by justified.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Latham, tax, and bouncing babies

Who said blokes can't give birth? In what seemed to resemble giving birth to a watermelon, or a small elephant, or something else that's not supposed to pass through a small hole, the ALP have finally pushed and pushed and pushed and produced their own cute-as-a-button tax policy. The pressure was on for 4 months solid since the budget, and the ALP took a softly-softly approach, telling anyone who'd listen to wait until the election campaign and all would be revealed. Like all new babies, this one is small and a little delicate, and with some rough handling can be in big trouble.

$8 a week saving for working families is a pretty ordinary result for such a long awaited document. And it gets worse then that when the reduction in Family Tax benefits is factored in. At least Latham had the targetting right, helping those below the $52k threshold. The size of it just doesn't seem like a real vote swinger, the sort of thing that could win over a family already concerned about interest rates, towelheads and other things that Howard tells us are a threat to national security.

There are two possibilities for why we are being underwhelmed by the ALP's tax cut. Firstly, there's more to come, and this is merely a teaser for more cuts to be announced during the campaign. This is, if you like, the first of twins, triplets, or maybe even quads. The second possibility is that Latham is keeping plenty of cash up his sleeve to spend on more initiatives to be announced during the campaign. There might only be the one baby, but it's going to have a 24-carat gold rattle to play with, to continue an already strained metaphor.

Either way, on Medicare and tax cuts, it seems like it's two to Howard, nil to Latham, in the PR stakes at least, even if it's pretty equal on substance.

POST SCRIPT: A bit like the tax policy itself, this post is very late and rather poorly timed. But snot my fault. The Blogger software was down for 48 hours, and turned me into a mute.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Go Harvey Go!!

As well as having the most annoying jingle on television, radio, and anywhere else you happen to stumble into its audio-assault range, Harvey Norman have a poor record when it comes to customer service. Last month crikey(.com.au) revealed the existance of an internal document asking employees to look out for ACCC reps on the prowl, such is the paranoia within HN:

"Please enure that should you or any of your staff be suspicious that a customer could be from the ACCC, be sure to take a photo of the person, with a digital camera (no more bold) clearly showing their face - maybe say 'smile customer relations day'."


And now the up-and-coming consumer rights site www.notgoodenough.org has devoted its top ten list of consumer complaints exclusively to Harvey Norman. Makes great reading, and is probably the a case-study in waiting for marketing students keen to know how not to treat your customers.

At least someone leaves the store satisfied.  Right Gerry?

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Seat Watch - Wentworth

Quick quiz - when the voters of Wentworth cast their vote in the '01 Federal election, did they vote for Peter King, or did they vote for the Liberal Party? It's a trick question. Of course it was the Liberal brand they voted for. Most of them had never heard of Peter King. So what would have changed between then and now?

The media seem to be getting itself in a collective lather over the prospect of the Liberals losing one of the jewels in the crown. The candidate is millionaire-republican-merchant-banker-Sydney-man-about-town - no it's not Rene Rivkin - Malcolm Turnbull. Reality is that Turnbull's a shoo-in, and nothing will change that.

Even assuming a three cornered contest, between Liberals, ALP and Independent King, the seat would still stay with the Libs.

It's David Patch!Malcolm in the MiddleThe King is dead.  Long live the King.


King will no doubt preference the Liberals ahead of the ALP, consistant with his claim to be a 'Liberal Independent'. Even if he didn't, voters with the savvy to vote for an indie are more than capable of defying a how-to-vote card. So if King was to shave off 10-15% of the Liberal vote from 2001, most of it would flow straight back to Turnbull ahead of the ALP on preferences. For King to win, he would have to run second, and therefore ahead of the ALP, and rely on ALP preferences to get him over the line. To do so would require 30% of the vote - a most unlikely prospect for a sturdy-but-unremarkable independent.

Okay, so the ALP run dead - it'll depress the ALP vote a bit by a few percent, but those few percent will spread all over the place amongst a cacophany of noisy candidates. And the ALP not running at all? Liberal vote will jump 10 percent, guaranteed, from voters who will only ever vote for a major party.

Whilst the Libs have got Turnbull as their man, the ALP have David Patch, who has handled himself exceptionally well for a candidate preselected in an unwinnable seat. Hopefully Sussex Street can find a winnable spot for him in the future.

All the preference deals in the world won't get him - or King - over the line. Turnbull to hold the seat for the Liberals... and to be on the front bench as soon as the short man declares his innings closed.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Hmmmm, what happens next?

Ever get a sense of deja vu around election time? There are plenty of things which repeat themselves each and every time - debates about the debate, accusations of ABC bias, scaremongering on budget defecits... and Green's preferences negotiations. This is one of the lamest, most predictable exercises in politics, but for some reason the major parties get caught up in the environmental bidding war every time.

Here's how the stragegy works: the Greens talk themselves up as being the Next Big Thing, with good polling, money to spend, and a wave of support going their way. They make themselves out to be the kingmaker, the ones who won't get into government, but whose preferences will be crucial to deciding who does. Then they play the waiting game, waiting to be wooed by the major parties who give a concession here and a concession there to the environment, desperately keen to pick up the preferences. The Greens then go public and talk about how they are "seriously considering their options" and "weighing up the respective policies". And then they preference Labor. Every time. Without fail. Which they were going to do from the start, anyhow.

Bob's shown a clear preference here.


The Greens are the socialists of Australian politics. They are for those who have given up on the Labor party, and find even the left faction to be a bit of a sell-out to liberal-democracy. Their natural preference arrangement is to number methodically from left to right on the ideological continuum. The Democrats (although this has been breached in the past), the ALP, the Libs, and the nutty redneck parties. Given this no-brainer, why-oh-why do the majors pretend it aint so??

This is not intended as a criticism of the Greens - they play their poker hand exceptionally well, and manage to provoke policy shifts in other parties that is well beyond what their numbers suggest they should be capable of. It is a criticism of the major parties who seem to have no collective memory of past elections. They should be smart enough to figure out what the Greens are doing, and call their bluff. Either way, the outcome would be the same. It's just that they can avoid doing the limbo under the branch of a eucalyptus along the way.


Try spinning this one into a positive

Just what on earth were they thinking at the Grozny Concerned Citizens Club (or whatever it was) when they decided that instead of protest marches with placards and folk music, the best way to create a free Chechnya would be to take children hostage and kill them??? Surely they should have had a chat to the guys in Public Relations before they went with that idea.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

No-show Nelson

It was fun an games today at Melbourne University as rumour spread of a visit from the education minister, Brendan (half-)Nelson. As if the rumours were of a visit from Elvis himself, there was a ripple of excitement which passed through the student body. Left-wing students put up posters of the minister, urging us to interrupt his plans to address a group on his plans to destroy university education (well he probably wouldn't phrase it that way).

By 12:30pm, the protesters were out in force, with ill-fitting t-shirts and a megaphone as the means of persuasion, and even a Channel 10 camera along for the ride. By 12:45pm, however, things were looking a little shakey. Alas, it was revealed, the minister was never scheduled to visit the University, and no one beyond those protesting against it were aware of any planned visit. Do'h. So desperate were the protesters to have not wasted an hour of their life boxing at shadows that a bad bit of street theatre involving a giant pair of scissors was staged. Something about Nelson wanting to remove a testicle off every student to pay for their education. Or something like that.

Still, the fact that a noisy protest was staged and the minister failed to materialise means that the protesters can technically claim that it was a success. Using this logic, they can also claim to have successfully kept the campus free from Osama bin Laden, George Bush and Delta Goodrem.

Sparring in their own corners

It's been a very tentative start to the campaign by both major parties. So far the election seems to be taking place in an echo chamber, with no substantive issues actually being discussed, and minor verbal gaffes being blown out of all proportion. The big three so far, not one of which will swing a single voter, is:

- Mark Latham on 2GB ruling out a payroll tax, even though the ALP support a 0.1% levy to finance workers entitlements in case of company collapse.
- Trish Worth (one of the more refugee-friendly Liberals) making a poorly chosen comparison between quaratine for pets and for asylum seekers.
- Senator George Brandis possibly but probably not calling Howard a "lying rodent" whilst in private company.

So far nothing of substance is on the table, and the campaign threatens to be an issue-free zone, where both sides are making themselves a small target and there's no engagement. At least it gives the minor parties some space to breath.

Seat Watch - Melbourne Ports

One seat that is being very keenly fought is that of Melbourne Ports, in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. Despite being an affluent seat whose demographics lean toward the Liberals, the seat has stuck thick with the ALP, perhaps due to large pockets of Jewish and gay and lesbian voters, traditional supporters of Labor. This time around, the Liberals can sniff blood, and are going full bore to win the seat.

The incumbant is controversial Labor MP Michael Danby, a member of the Unity fanction and perhaps one of the most conservative within the Labor caucus. Danby has made many enemies within the parliament and the media, with MPs on the left - notable Tanya Plibersek and Julia Irwin - being critical of Danby's unstinting support for Israel, and outburst such as this one directed at SMH columnist Alan Ramsey. Danby does, however, know how to get his constituency on side. With 3 in 10 Melbourne Ports voters identifying as Jewish, Danby knows how to use the issue of Israel to his advantage. In the 2001 campaign, Danby published ads in the Australian Jewish News arguing that voters should support Israel by re-electing Danby. Hmmm...

This time around, the argument will be harder to make. The challenger is Liberal mna-about-town David Southwick. Unlike previous recent candidates for the Liberals in Melbourne Ports, Southwick is Jewish and is prepared to take on the incumbant on the issue of Israel. He has also adopted the issue of funding to private (Jewish) schools, which would be in doubt under Labor's education funding model. It is an impressive campaign, and one that will make an impact. Less impressive is the vacuous slogan that Southwick has plastered on every billboard around the electorate - Delivering Community Values. How does one deliver values?? They can be held, yes, and they can be expressed. But deliverred? It sounds like one buzzword in a chain too many.

Ultimately, this seat will be determined on preferences. In 2001, the Liberal candidate secured 274 more primary votes, but after preferences, the margin was almost 9,000. Why? The 9% to the Dems and the 11% to the Greens flowed heavily to the ALP. This time around, most of those Democrats votes will be cannibalised by the Greens, making the Libs' task even harder. 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. This time, at least. Danby will be on notice, though, that he can't take the seat for granted.