Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hamish Malcolm

I was devastated to learn this morning that a friend of mine has passed away. Hamish Malcolm died of cardiac arrest a week short of his 26th birthday. I came to know Hamish this year as a friend, and occasionally rival, within the Political Interest Society. Hamish was a passionate lefty who believed strongly in justice and tolerance, but always managed to keep a sense of humour, often richly sarcastic. Having spent most of his life in Britain, that was where his heart lied, although he was rapidly becoming an honourary Australian after settling in Melbourne to continue studying.

Hamish had a significant on-line presence. You can read his blog Omission of Mercy as well as his lively blogger profile.

Here is the email recieved from the Melbourne University Debating Society explaining of Hamish's death and the events to celebrate his life:

Dear VCs Cuppers,

MUDS has recently received some very sad news regarding one of our members, Hamish Malcolm, who you may have met, chatted to and debated with or against during the VCs cup. He passed away on Wednesday, following a cardiac arrest, aged 25. Hamish was extremely friendly and always keen to be involved with MUDS and he will be sorely missed.

Hamish's funeral will be held this Monday, Oct. 31st 1:00 pm (please arrive early) at Lilydale Cemetery & Memorial Park 126-128 Victoria Rd.

His family has requested that the dress for the funeral be very casual (ie: jeans, cargos, etc.) and that no flowers be brought as the family is providing one floral tribute.

The following night Hamish's good friend Ali Lemer has organised to celebrate Hamish's 26th Birthday which would have been that day. So on Tuesday, Nov. 1st 7:30 pm at 6/48 Leicester Street (between Victoria and Queensberry, opposite Queen Vic Market) Carlton please join us to remember the good times. If any of you have photos of Hamish, Ali was making a slideshow for Tueday and would greatly appreciate any help in this regard. If you can help or need to contact Ali his phone number is 04xx xxx xxx and email

If any of you would like more information regarding either of these events please contact us.

We hope you are all well,
and best of luck with assessment period,


Rest in Peace, Hamish.

Hamish Malcolm
Hamish Malcolm, 1979-2005

UPDATE, 1/11, 10:25am: Though I only knew Hamish for a few months, I can't help but think of him frequently. So young to be taken from us. I'll be going this evening to the tribute night for Hamish. Apologies to Ali, Hamish's girlfriend, for repeating the MUDS mistake of calling she a he, and also for publishing a mobile number. Sorry, Ali, and my heart goes out to you for the loss that you've suffered.

UPDATE, 13/11, 9:13am: It's been wonderful to see the comments and emails from some of Hamish's friends in the UK. A touching tribute to Hamish has been published in a local newspaper. A memorial service has been planned at Hamish's old university in the UK, Nottingham Uni. It's taking place on 20 November at 2:30pm in the Portland Building. Details in the article. Any reports back from this service would be most welcome.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Unimelb election wrapup

As election week 2005 at Melbourne University comes to an end today, it's worth reflecting on one of the more peaceful campaigns in recent years. Having seen the skullduggery of the 2003 election in the State of the Union (the official website even refers to it with the adjective 'skullduggerous' - nice work, lads), one expects all sorts of silliness to be going on. To the casual observer, though, there was little smoke nor heat.

The most visable presence on campus was the Left Union ticket, who were out in force last week and again during the election. Combining the considerable resources (oh, the irony) of Socialist Alternative and the left wing of the Labor Party, Left Union were the well organised voice of the left. In what was a real trademark of the entire election, there were few issues of substance raised by the Left Union folks. Apparently, they're really truely absolutely positively opposing VSU. And the war in Iraq. Still, these guys in their suave red t-shirts are an electoral force to be reckoned with.

The rival on the left were Activate, replete in Green. These guys are the non-aligned left, without a formal politial affiliation but their hearts in the right place (shit that sounded patronising). These guys were running on many of the same issues as Left Union, although with slightly less Stalinist zeal, which is most definitely a good thing. Given the connection with Students for Change, a worthwhile group trying to inject some integrity and transperancy into a union which desperately needs it, these guys were focused on life on campus as well as off it. For a fence-stradling centrist student like AOTW, Activate was the lefty ticket I could vote for with confidence.

Surprisingly disorganised this time around was the right wing (yeah yeah 'a broad cross-section of students' and whatever other spin they might want to try) coalition of Labor Right, Liberals and AUJS, under the banner of Fusion. Completely unsighted on campus until election week, they were later hard to miss in their camp bright pink t-shirts. Fusion were pushing a rather populist message during the campaign, promoting its completely unviable 'free gym membership' policy. Yawn. Still, the last thing that the union needs are a bunch of mad lefties wasting money and breaking stuff, so there's some merit in getting some Fusion folks elected.

Rounding out the Melbourne (Uni) Cup field were the Liberals, who made a sad sight prostituting the party brand name to act as a preference funnel for the Fusion ticket, where the Liberals had scored themselves some juicy positions. Old hack candidates, no real message beyond the oh-so-hilarious "You know we're Right" slogan... the only thing going their way was the superslick full colour leaflet thrust into my hand. Obviously the campaign was not quite as anorexic as it could have been.

Honourable mentions of course must go to the chilly-loving Kung Fu Banditos, Ken Courtis, the committee-loving, afro-wearing Josh Cusack, and of course the wonderfully dedicated Farragon of Virtue Farrago ticket. But the question must be asked, where was everybody's favourite nutter, Menachem Gunzberg? His absense was disappointing.

Predictions. For those whose memories extend back far enough, a left wing dominance of Union House is business as usual. Without a strong incentive to vote, turn-out is slack, usually dangling in single-figure percentages. Those who do vote are the highly motivated, politically aware students, and overwhelmingly these are on the left. Headstrong socialists are much more likely to cast a vote than lazy conservative engineering students, if only because they have no shame being caught within range of the ballot box. Incentive voting distorted the balance for a couple of years, bringing otherwise apathetic students out to vote if only for the promise of an $8 food voucher. Without this, we're likely to see a big swing back to the left.

Most likely, the Left Union guys will sweep the pool when it comes to Office Bearer positions. With resources, their roughest edges smoothed, and a hard core of lefty arts students, it's hard to see LU falling short of union dominance. Committees will be a little more finely balanced, with the 7 positions on each likely to be around about a 4-2-1 split (Left Union-Fusion-Activate), although there are enough minor parties and indies to upset the balance. In the battle for Farrago, Farragon are in with a chance although will be hampered by the momentum other candidates will recieve through running a full slate of candidates. As for turnout, the look of complete and utter boredom on the face of the four polling booth staff sighted on Wednesday, as well as the absense of a queue, suggests that the campaign has failed to ignite the imagination of most students. Look for a turnout between 5 and 10 per cent. Sad but true.

Disclosure, disclosure: I got links to just about everyone, so I suspect I'm biased in all directions. I'm a member of AUJS, scrutineering for Lib member Ken Courtis, wrote an article for the left-wing Farragon guys, am mates with one of the ALP guys. So get over it.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Facing death in Singapore

Normally I'm not a fan of popular attempts to influence justice systems, but the presence of the death penalty, particularly in a country as enlightened as Singapore, is appalling enough for me to take action. Though I doubt it will have much effect, I think we owe it to a fellow human being to do all we can:


NGUYEN TUONG VAN - Please don't hang this man

He now faces execution, possibly within 10 days.

Nguyen's mother fled Vietnam alone in a boat in 1980 and had her twin sons in a transit camp in Malaysia before being accepted into Australia four months later.

Nguyen's Australian lawyers described the decision as "devastating for him, his family and friends".

Lex Lasry QC said Nguyen had always admitted his guilt and given constructive help to authorities including the Australian Federal Police.

"The decision appears to pay no heed to the provisions of the Singapore Constitution that make specific reference and provide for clemency to those who assist the authorities with information which can be used to prosecute others," he said.

Mr Lasry called on the Singapore Government to reverse its decision.

Nguyen was sentenced to death last year after being found guilty by a Singapore court of smuggling almost 400 grams of heroin from Cambodia via Singapore.

Nguyen said he had the drugs because he was trying to raise money to clear debts incurred by his twin brother.

Please write to the President of Singapore Mr S R Nathan and plead clemency for Nguyen Tuong Van. email:

Please address the President as Your Excellency and end the letter with Yours respectfully.

As an interesting local footnote to this case, the 'debts incurred by his twin brother' referred to in the third last paragraph are in fact the legal debts of his brother who was recently convicted of murder in relation to the Salt nightclub killings just a few minutes north of my humble abode. (After playing around with Google for a while, I realised that this information was not on the public record, but I have been told of its truth by a reliable source. So there.) Regardless of Nguyen Tuong Van's brother's folly, he - and the rest of humanity - absolutely deserve to be spared the death penalty. So let's get those emails flying Singapore-bound.

UPDATE, 1/11, 11:30am: I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong. Having reviewed the evidence, I believe that I was wrong in my claim that the brother of Nguyen Truong Van had a link to the Salt nightclub murder. Having read this piece in The Sunday Age, which refers to Nguyen's twin brother Khao as living in Western Australia, and comparing this with the names associated with the Salt killing (and the fact that they were convicted and incarcerated), I believe that there was no connection between Khao and the killings. A relied on a single source for this information, one that I believed was reliable, but they have proven not to be so. No doubt the Nguyen family have got much much more important things to worry about than my scuttlebutt, but I'm deeply sorry for publishing the misinformation.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Another take on IR reform

I was impressed by this take on the government's IR reforms, published on (in?) Crikey today and written by an old friend of a friend of mine. After starting from a fairly neutral perspective, I'm becoming swayed by the merits of the IR reforms and am growing tired of union sob-stories. Plenty more to come, though, I'm sure:

12. The IR ads the government should be running

Crikey's occasional corporate law correspondent Adam Schwab writes:

Much has been said about the fact that the Government is spending around $100 million advertising its planned changes to the Workplace Relations Act. But not much has been said about the pathetic advertisements that have so far been produced. The Government would be better off sacking their grossly overpaid advertising agency and media buyers and running ads like this:

Advertisement One: Cameras focuses on an employee rifling through the handbag of a fellow employee and removing money from her purse. Midway through the act the thieving employee is caught by a manager and summonsed to the manager's office. The manager tells the employee he can no longer trust him and that he will need to find another job, and offers the employee a generous one month payout. The employee swears at his manager and says he's going to call the union.

The next scene is a hearing at the Industrial Relations Commission in which the Commissioner announces that the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable and that the manager must re-employ the thief in his previous position as he was not given a proper warning before being dismissed. The Commissioner also announces that the thief is to receive pay in lieu for the time he was away from work. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads:“The New Workplace Laws – Allowing thieves to be sacked."

Advertisement Two: The owner of a small firm (which has around 10 employees) gathers his staff around and tells them that due to a flood of Chinese imports the only way the business can survive is to lay off four staff members. The ad then flips to a scene in the Industrial Relations Commission, in which the four sacked staff members are awarded six months' pay because the redundancy was not deemed to be fair by a commissioner who also happened to be a former union boss.

The next scene shows the business owner shutting the gates to his business and apologising to the six hard-working staff members who lost their positions when the business went bankrupt. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads: “The New Workplace Laws – Saving Australian jobs."

Advertisement Three: Three CFMEU members in workers attire are standing around a building site. One of the builders looks at his watch – it is 11.30am. Another builder says he has had enough work for the day and that they should head across to the pub. Four hours later, their supervisor strolls into the pub and notices the three builders in a drunken state. He asks them why they have been in the pub for so long. One of the builders replies: “safety concerns." The supervisor asks what exactly were the safety issues, to which the builder replies: “can't remember."

The next scene shows Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, announcing that the Spencer Street Rail Development, like Federation Square, will be completed two years after its scheduled completion date and won't be ready in time for the Commonwealth Games. The last scene is of a Japanese businessman who announces that his company will no longer be building a new factory which was to employ more than 1,000 people in Melbourne, due to industrial relations concerns, but instead will build the factory in New Zealand. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads: “The New Workplace Laws – Creating Jobs for honest Australians."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1999

After a two week hiatus, I'm finally back on board with my blow-by-blow, catclaw-by-catclaw account of the best bits of The Latham Diaries, which I notice is already being discounted by some retailers. Yesterday's epic is tomorrow nestling against the Complete Works of Max Walker. Sigh.

Friday, 29 January

In New York I met with Clinton's campaign adviser, Dick Morris, who has an amazing instinct and feel for politics. I explained my sutation is Australia and he got it straight away. He reckons that 'This period of ostracisation is essential to your success'. We also talked about the Third Way and the triangulation of policy. He sees it as a spin-off from Hegel's dialectic interpretation of history - out of two conflicting positions a synthesis emerges. - Page 96/97

...and this was Morris' recall of this same conversation, on the ABC in 2003:

JOHN SHOVELAN: Dick Morris first met the Opposition leader when Mark Latham sought him out on a visit to the US four or five years ago.

DICK MORRIS: I think he wanted to learn as much as he could about President Clinton's third way in triangulation and how that worked in the United States. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of history and of politics. He's brilliant and I really feel that he just has a wonderfully penetrating, inventive mind and I was thrilled that he now is going to be the leader of the Australian Labor Party. It really marks a decision by them that they'd rather not lose the next election too.

I'm a Morris fan, but I think on this occasion he was blinded by the Latham charm into seeing a visionary when instead all he had was a charlatan.

But back to the diaries, here's a pearler from Paul:

Tuesday, 30 March

Keating calls, very greatful for the intervention. He gives me some of the history of his run-ins with Kerry Packer. Before the 1993 election, Graham Richardson (now working for Packer) said to Keating, 'At least we still have Packer on side'. But Paul reckons, 'That was bullshit. Anyway, what was he going to do, get Laurie Oakes to fart twice instead of once on TV every night?' Classic stuff. - Page 101

If you say so, Mark. And here's another one from Keating:

Friday, 16 April

A corker of a day - a briefing and then lunch with Keating at his Sydney office. The man is a comic genius. Best to record his observations in his own words.

On the restoration of the heritage building in which his office is located: 'The National Trust sent around an adviser, a bloke in a turban, telling me what to do. I said to him, "Listen, mate, I first visited this building when I was seventeen years of age. You would ahve been selling pappadams in Bombay back then"'.
- Page 103

Surely Keating's comment is on a par with John Brogden's mail-order-bride comment about Helena Carr, yet no one has raised a storm over JPK's comments. Double standards? Or have we just conceded that Keating is a tired and cranky old man of whom we stopped expecting high standards long ago.

And now Ari uses a new word on his blog:

Thursday, 2 September

But they are not all bad. Give me (Senator) Rosemary Crowley any day of the week. Years ago, Joel's dad and predecessor in Hunter, Eric Fitzgibbon, told me the story of Rose visiting a colleague's electorate and getting into a discussion with some of the locals about their cars. She floored them by pointing out, 'Listen, you blokes, I have had more rubber up my cunt than you've got on those tyres'. Rose for PM. - Page 113

Time to get out of the gutter...

Tuesday 28 December

Parliamentary poltiics is not longer a viable instrument of social reform. The big issues are social - the breakdown in trust and compassion between people. But the state has no compass or toolkit with which to handle these issues. It relies on the exercise of centralised, hierarchical power; law-making and bureaucratic control over people. It is institutionally incapable of dealing with the big social policy questions: mutualism, devolution and civil society. - Page 124

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Brown on Latham

I wrote this on Tueday, when it was mildly newsworthy. It's now Friday night, and it's ancient history. Here it is, anyhow:

Senator Bob Brown has remained quiet on the Latham-front, but stood up to be counted last night at Melbourne University. I've always had mixed feelings about Brown - whilst I reject his misanthropic ideology, I think he's an exceptionally talented and perceptive politician. Far from being a voice from outside the political establishment, Brown is capable of the sort of brutal tactical approach that would make even the most seasoned Labor numbers-men proud.

His talk last night was on the topic of "Ten reasons why a young person should get involved in politics", a very direct contradiction of Mark Latham's speech at the same venue last week. Brown stuck loosely to his theme, although meandered through all sorts of themes. By the end, though, it seemed that Brown's attitude was not far from Latham's: the Labor Party is not an appropriate vehicle for social change, parliamentary democracy in Australia is highly flawed, popular public movements are more likely to achieve action than voices in parliament.

Brown is remarkably positive and upbeat about the prospects for the Greens. Given that the coalition have secured the balance of power in the Senate, the voting power of the Greens Senators have been severely diminished. Rather than being despondant at this parliamentary impotence, Brown seems to relish the task. Perhaps this offers some insight into the way the Greens like to play politics - rather than get involved in the pesky business of making decisions which actually affect political outcomes, and the compromise that inevitably comes with it, they prefer to be shrill and absolute. Ironic as it is, but fact that the Greens votes count for so little mean that Brown and his party have avoided some difficult dilemmas.

Brown made a frank admission. When asked about the future prospects for the Greens, he acknowledged that "the trajectory of human history" suggested that once the Greens become an established part of the political scene that they would become as compromised as the Liberal and Labor Parties. It was a bold admission, and a truthful one as well.

A couple of quick snippets from Brown's speech:

- Brown admitted he attempted to join the Liberal Party when he was 21 and by his own description, "young and confused". According to Brown, the fact that his local Liberal office was closed at the time he approached it. Strange.

- The Senator threw himself behind a rather juvenile campaign being run under the banner "Out education shouldn't cost the Earth", a campaign encouraging students to bombard the Australian Vice Chancellor's Committee switchboard with calls encouraging 'greener' campuses.

- Brown spoke at length about the principle of "One person, one vote, one value" without even the slightest hint of irony. Someone ought to tell the Senator that as a Tasmanian he was elected with just a tiny fraction of the votes that a NSW Senator is elected with. Hardly 'one value'.

What about Bob?
What about Bob?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bali carnage

Yet again, violent thuggery has proved itself to be a blunt instrument. We should not forget that Indonesia is a democracy (albeit a fledgling one) and those who turn to violence for their cause are those that cannot win in the battle for hearts and minds. For Indonesia's sake, JI should finally be criminalised by the archapelago, and authorities ought to ruthlessly crack down on those involved. Spare us the 'root causes of terrorism' argument, please.

The Australian media have been squeamish about naming the victims, but not so the Indonesian media. I don't speak Indonesian, but I have a fair idea of the fate of those who appear on this list in the Bali Post.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Where's it buried?

A ripper yarn by Sly of the Underworld in today's Age, putting together the missing peices (nope, not a type) on Victor Peirce (told you) and the horrific Walsh Street slaying in 1988. I was very interested to read this paragraph:

Allen was a prolific drug dealer in the early 1980s. "I saw Victor with cash, sometimes $50,000, sometimes $100,000. I saw Dennis with $500,000." Allen had many bank accounts but also liked to bury cash so it could never be traced. Much of it was never recovered when he died of natural causes in 1987. "When he got sick he couldn't remember anything. It must all still be buried around Richmond."


He speaks! Latham hits Melbourne University

During the week Mark Latham made his one (and so far, only) public appearance to promote his book, at the University of Melbourne. Latham spoke in the sterile and lifeless Copland theatre, buried deep within the Economic and Commerce faculty in a way that leads one to conclude that it doubles as a bomb shelter. Latham's speech, on the topic "10 reasons why young idealistic people should forget about organised politics" (which leads to the conclusion that there are plenty of reasons why young narcisstic opportunistic people should enter politics). Anyhow, Latham's speech attracted a fair bit of attention, particularly in The Age. Michael Gordon wrote about it, whilst the Op-Ed page published an extract of the speech itself.

The Age website also published the full text in a Word document on its website, obviously straight from the source, given that one "Janine Lacy" is listed as the author (head to File, then Properties, the Summary). Even more intriguingly, the title listed in this section is "27 December 2004", suggesting that it has been a while in the making.

As has been his want over the past fortnight, Latham was throwing plenty of punches during the speech. Whilst the stated theme of the lecture was a discourse on organised politics, Latham savaged the media for its treatment of him, and seemed to have as much contempt for the press as he has for his former Labor colleagues.

A few snippets of interest that haven't had a run in the mainstream media:

- Latham descibing his successor as Member for Werriwa, Chris Hayes, as "handpicked by the Sussex Street machine", SS being the headquarters of the NSW Labor Party.

- Latham said he had received numerous letters of support from various MPs (presumably they weren't all from Julia Gillard, perhaps with a different coloured pen?). One Labor frontbencher apparently wrote to Latham saying 'Congratulations on the book. It's mold compared to what really goes on.'

- Marky Mark described SMH journo Brad Norrington as a "Sussex Street Press Secretary" and insinuated a relationship between journalists Matt Price (The Oz) and Annabel Crabb (The Age), explaining that "No two friends are closer in Canberra".

- Latham was surrounded by security guards, and left before signing my copy of his book. Bastard.

For what it's worth, my take on the speech itself: Latham seems to miss the point the change can be achieved through both top-down and bottom-up methods, and that there is no need to disregard one in order to achieve the other. He frequently encourages young people to get involved in community and local programs rather than looking to organised politics as a means of achieving change. He does make the point effectively, though, that politics as it is currently practiced is a disfunctional process, and that there is a need for structural changes. His passionate dislike for both the media and the Labor machine is well-founded, though his 'bat, ball, go home' solution is a disappointment. Fundamentally, the problem with Latham's case is that it is so obviously fuelled by his own personal resentment at the rejection he suffered rather than a dispassionate analysis. Whilst there were plenty there to listen, most found Latham registering highly on their bullshit-meter.

Latham: too much hot air
Latham: too much hot air