Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Glenn Stevens and Barnaby Joyce (or The teacher and the kid sitting up the back not listening)

OK, I know I said I was on a 2 week break, but today I noticed the Hansard of Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens’ testimony before the Senate Economics Committee from this Monday was up on the Parliament house web site, and I just could not resist giving it some coverage. (Apologies for it being a tad long!)

Let’s take up the action from when Barnaby Joyce (via telephone from Christmas Island) begins his questions, it is instrumental in displaying the bizarre world of Senate hearing where an expert is asked questions by someone who is the personification of “a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous”.

Senator JOYCE—Does the amount of Australian borrowing—government borrowing—force up the amount of interest rates and, if so, by how much?
[Joyce gets straight to it – he wants Stevens to give him a juicy quote to put on a media release]

Mr Stevens—I take it that we are talking about the rates that the government actually pays to borrow at—
[Stevens, cool as you like, quickly demonstrates that the question is actually not as straight forward as Joyce thinks it is]

Senator JOYCE—And also by reason of the government’s involvement in the market. Between the state governments and the federal government they were in there now for hundreds of billions of dollars. How much effect is that having on interest rates in Australia or is it having any effect at all?

Mr Stevens—I do not think that it is having a significantly large effect on the rates that they are actually paying at their tenders. As I said earlier, the 10-year yield in Australia is in the bottom half of the fives, I think, at the present. These rates go up and down but that is not materially different from the sorts of rates we have seen on average for a decade or so.
[Bugger, no quote there. In fact he’s killed Joyce off – and also started talking about Bond yields, rather than the easy media friendly home loan interest rate. This is not what Joyce was after at all…]

Senator JOYCE—Less than a per cent or more than a per cent or—
[So Joyce ignores complexity and keeps searching for simplistic numbers]

Mr Stevens—I think the effect, if any, is quite small. It is certainly not more than a per cent, no—much less, if anything.
[A quite small effect???!! Hang on! That’s too simplistic!!]

Senator JOYCE—Is there any extent of government borrowings where it does have an effect, or are government borrowings irrelevant?
[He keeps plugging away, seemingly unaware that Stevens has already given him the answer]

Mr Stevens—They are not irrelevant, but this is an area where over the years, in my memory at least, the studies which try to pin this down empirically find a pretty wide range of estimates and often they struggle to find much effect. I think that if we had much larger debt burdens, like 50 per cent of GDP or something like that, we would see a noticeable premium on Australian debt reflecting that, but I do not really think that one can claim that there is a significant measurable impact on these yields at present. These yields, presumably, embody the market’s expectation of all the things that are ahead.
[Stevens throws out the figure of 50% of GDP as an example of how huge things would have to get, in the hope that Joyce will realise we’re talking fantasy land]

Senator JOYCE—Okay, say, 50 per cent of GDP. Now Australia’s GDP is about $1.2 trillion, so we are looking at about $600 billion. Is that a fair analysis of what you are saying when you talk about debt levels of GDP?
[He hopes in vain; Joyce thinks he’s onto something!]

Mr Stevens—What I am saying is that with debt positions of 10 or 15 or 20 per cent of GDP, the likely impact of that on the premium that our government pays over and above what other governments would pay is likely to be pretty small. The most likely cause of a big rise in government borrowing costs is the borrowing by other governments around the world. After all, it is a global capital market.
[Stevens starts off with Gov of RBA speak for “Listen you dolt!”… and then points out that the Australian financial market is part of the world market – you know of which Australia is a very small player]

Senator JOYCE—I am not looking so much at the premium of what we pay to other governments, because other governments are in hock to their eyeballs as well. I am looking at the effect on the domestic borrower in Australia by reason of the largest purchaser of money in the economy being the Australian government. What is the percentage effect on them?
[Stevens might as well have been speaking gibberish, Joyce doesn’t realise Stevens has already answered this]

Mr Stevens—My point is that the Australian government borrows in a global market. There are free global capital flows here and long rate in Australia is driven more strongly by what happens in global markets than by what happens here, frankly, at the sorts of debt levels we are talking about. If we were talking about much, much bigger debt levels that would be different. But in prospects—
[Code for, “Ok. Let me say this, One. More. Time]

Senator JOYCE—You mentioned 50 per cent. Australia’s current federal debt is around $100 billion or $115 billion, and the states’ debt is heading towards quarter of a trillion dollars, so we are heading way over $300 billion already in government debt—and, as you know, but others need to be informed, the federal government has underwritten the states’ debts—so we are well on our way towards having 50 per cent government debt.
[Joyce gives up – no easy answers here, and gets back to that 50% figure that Stevens threw out earlier, he obviously thinks he’s tripped him up on that]

Mr Stevens—I do not think that I agree with that.
[Code for “Quite possibly that is the dumbest thing I’ve heard all year”.]

Senator JOYCE—What is your view?
Mr Stevens—The 50 per cent anyway was a reference to federal general government debt—
Senator JOYCE—Just the federal government?
Mr Stevens—Remember the Maastricht Treaty that all the Europeans had to sign to get into the Euro area? It was a matter of whether they could or could not meet it, and that was for debt to GDP of 60 per cent. Actually, Australia would have walked in on that criterion had we been part of Europe. So this is a world where we have got the G7 group gross debt to GDP going to be 100 per cent pretty soon. We have got countries like Japan at 140 or 150 per cent and a number of countries in Europe not much different from that. We are talking about debt numbers for Australia in gross terms and even if you do add the states in I would have thought it would be significantly less than 50 per cent of GDP.
[OK, you’ve just lost the Senator here Stevens. Masstricht?? Europe?? What the… you… I mean… look, stop showing off how bloody smart you are!!]

Senator JOYCE—But the budget position is for $517 billion, half a trillion dollars. We have only got a $1.2 trillion economy. We are getting up there.
[Joyce has latched on to the 50%, like a mangy dog with an even mangier bone]
Mr Stevens—Hang on, what is the $517 billion? What figure is that?
[Code for, “What the hell are you talking about, Senator???”]
Senator JOYCE—In the budget—and I have not got the papers before me because I am in Christmas Island—the gross long-term liabilities were to the extent of half a trillion dollars by 2013 or 2014.
[As an aside, why is he on the telephone? Don’t these guys have Skype?]

Mr Stevens—I am not familiar with what that figure represents. There is not much argument that the state of the government accounts in this country is just so superior to virtually anybody with whom we would want to compete.
[“I am not familiar” means, “That figure is completely bullshit and meaningless, but if you want to pretend it means something, go right ahead Senator”]

… at this point Joyce asked some nothing questions on what might happen when the stimulus stops. We pick up the action when Joyce gets on to debt.

Senator JOYCE—Has there been any statement about peak debt or about when federal debt will actually stop going up and start coming down?

Mr Stevens—That is the budget papers.
[Ouch; a withering put down. “Has there been any statement?” Yeah you fool – the Budget – you might have heard about it, comes out in May every year… it’s on TV and everything – gets a mention in the papers as well…]

After a follow up that demonstrated Joyce really thinks the Budget is not a Budget statement, he gets on to the stimulus itself:

Senator JOYCE—In relation to the stimulus payments, if a portion of the stimulatory effect driven by the $900 cheques were compared with the effects of exports and export dollars, what portion would it be?
Mr Stevens—The first round of payments—the ones in December, as I recall—was a little bit under a percentage point of GDP—about 0.8 or 0.9.
Senator JOYCE—What was the percentage of GDP for exports in that same period?
Mr Stevens—Exports are about a fifth of the economy, but you have to work out here what you think the counterfactual was. Exports did not really grow very much. The point about exports is that they did not decline by from 10 to 35 per cent, like everybody else’s exports did. That is the big point there.
Senator JOYCE—What portion of the economy’s GDP was exports?
Mr Stevens—It is routinely about one-fifth.
Senator JOYCE—About 20 per cent. So the effect of the stimulus was less than one per cent?
[Joyce thinks he’s onto something here – he thinks he’s proved that the stimulus didn’t work because as a percentage of the contribution of export to GDP it’s less that 1%. No I don’t understand why he thinks this means something either.]

Mr Stevens—The debate over the stimulus measure is that it was worth about eight-tenths of one per cent of GDP. Did people spend it and, if so, how much of it and how soon?
Senator JOYCE—Eight-tenths of one per cent?
Mr Stevens—Yes, to growth.
Senator JOYCE—How is eight-tenths of one per cent at all responsible or quantifiable against the massive effect of exports? How can a $900 cheque be responsible for putting one tonne of coal onto a ship?
[Ok, you lost me here Barnaby, let’s see if Stevens has kept up]

Mr Stevens—Senator, I think you are comparing things that cannot be compared.
[Code for, “You really have no idea what you are saying do you?”]
If I take the level of exports—it may be 20 per cent of GDP—and it does not grow, then it has not contributed to growth. If there is an impetus into the economy that is half a percentage point of GDP then that contributed to growth in that quarter of half of percentage point, whereas exports contributed no growth in that quarter.

Senator JOYCE—But a slight reduction in exports is likely to reduce exports by eight-tenths of one per cent, and that would have a massive effect. Obviously, the economy is being driven by exports, and three-fifths of five-eighths of hardly anything is what the effect of the stimulus package was. If exports go down by eight-tenths of one per cent, which would not be much of a change to the quantum of exports, then all the effects of the stimulus would be negated. That goes to the next statement: how do you reckon we will go with an emissions trading scheme which might do precisely that?
[The Emissions Trading Scheme? What the hell? Barnaby is obviously now just bringing up whatever happens to be floating through his head, and from what he has been saying thus far, I’d say any idea floating in his head is not in grave danger of bumping into any others]

Mr Stevens—I have no comment on the emissions trading scheme. On the broader issue, it is quite true that had a very large fall in exports occurred it would have meant a much weaker economy than we have had. While I am not here to defend the stimulus package, I do not think that means that the stimulus package either was infective or should not have been done. That does not follow from that statement.

Senator JOYCE—It seems that the vast majority of the GDP is return on export dollars. Shouldn’t there be a greater investment in what actually brings about those export dollars? Shouldn’t that be a far greater investment in that than in what prospectively could have just been the purchase of imported chattels—imported retail goods?
[Joyce demonstrates yet again that he has not understood (or perhaps, not listened to) anything Stevens has said. Stevens has noted three times already that exports account for around 20% of GDP – Joyce himself has said it once, and yet for some reason he thinks that 20% is “the vast majority of the GDP is return on export dollars"]

Mr Stevens—Actually, 80 per cent of our GDP is produced at home. It is not true to say that most of the economy is a return on exports. A significant chunk of it is, but it is one-fifth, which, by the standards of many other countries, is low. We are not that open an economy in comparison to most in Asia or Europe.
[And after that complete put down by the teacher to the student, Joyce’s part in the proceeding finishes. He ends no wiser than when he started. Stevens probably feels his IQ has dropped just through having to undergo the experience and was thinking of the thousand better things he could have spent his time doing… important stuff like ordering his 2010 desk calendar or slumping back in his chair for 5 minutes wondering if he should cut his toenails…]

Here’s a quick snippet of other things Stevens said in his testimony:

Senator BOB BROWN—Governor, if we take the stimulus measures domestically and internationally away, do you think the result would have been different?
Mr Stevens—It would have been weaker, yes. I do not have any doubt that that is true.
Senator BOB BROWN—Do you think we would have faced a recession and/or depression in this country had these stimulus packages not been there?
Mr Stevens—I do not think we would have faced ‘the Great Depression’. …. We would have been affected. We would have had recession. I am not sure we would have had depression—personally I would not have thought that—but we certainly would have faced a deeper downturn than we have ended up having. And that is costly, of course.

That is as blunt as an RBA Governor ever gets.

How about this:

Senator COONAN—… The measures will be pushing up the level of GDP until at least mid-2012. Is there not a risk that this big budget stimulus will become destabilising if it is not recalibrated as the emergency has passed, and won’t that show up, for example, in asset bubbles, particularly in the housing market?
Mr Stevens—The potential for asset price misalignments or bubbles is obviously something that we need to be wary of. I would say that the possibility of very low interest rates for a long period is the bigger contributor to likely imbalances. That is actually an argument, I think, for making sure that the return towards normal on monetary policy is not delayed.

Here Stevens is screaming out loud to the nation that extremely low interest rates are NOT GOOD for the economy. Low interest rates, not fiscal stimulus, will likely lead to a housing bubble, and then before you know it, we’re like the USA, and the bubble bursts, and yet interest rates are so low you can't lower them to increase demand, and so all the work has to be done on the fiscal side, which means massive, massive deficits and well, good night nurse.

Everyone should repeat this over and over: If interest rates go up that is a good sign, because it means things are going back to normal!!!

Remember this: At the November 2004 election, when Howard and the Liberals were bragging about “interest rates at record lows”, the cash rate was 5.25%. It is now 3%. So until it gets back up to 5.25%, Joe Hockey and Turnbull and Coonan and anyone else should shut the hell up about interest rates, because if 5.25% is good enough to boast as being “record lows” then anything lower than that cannot be attributed to wasteful ALP spending.

Remember as well at the 2007 election, rates were 6.75%, and NO ONE is suggesting they are likely to even get close to that level any time soon.

On interest rates, the Liberal Party has nothing to say, and after their efforts questioning Stevens they’re also quickly getting to the point of having nothing else to say on any matters economic. Just a pathetic performance.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Time for a break

Since I started this blog back on 15 July last year, I've written 324 posts or around five a week.

I pretty much broke the first rule of successful blogging right from the get go, which is that you should blog only on one subject. My first ten blogs were on the Tour de France, golf (twice), TV, the Olympics, Obama (and U2), a Flick of the Week, and three posts on Australian Politics.

Mostly I write whatever is in my head that day - usually related in some way to some current event. Generally this means when Parliament is sitting, there are lots of politics posts, with a few cultural ones fitted in somewhere; and when the MPs are off in non-Canberra environs I get a chance to write about more leisurely pursuits such as books, films and sport.

My last ten posts reflect this somewhat, as there were three film posts (one Flick of the Week post, an Oscar post, and one on the box office performance of Balibo), three posts on politics, one on music, one on books, and two on tennis.

No consistency there, except that you really have no idea what I will have written when you log on.

I do have a few regular posts - my "On the QT" wraps of Question Time (which are often the toughest to write as I am usually torn between going for the laughs and making a serious point - the ones that do both are obviously the best); the "Flick of the Week", which I actually average about once every 16 days, so I'm stretching the definition of "week" somewhat; "A Song a Year", which now that I am getting up to 1994 and my life leaving university and youth behind are getting a bit trickier; the AFL Power List, which did nothing to help my tipping this year; and the "Oscar is always wrong" posts, which I want to do more of, but are actually quite hard to write, because they require more thought and analysis than even the politics ones.

It's a nice mix of things to keep me "regular", as I know I'd get bogged down on just the one topic. I am tossing around a few ideas for some more regular features - mostly on cultural things - Question Time is more than enough regularity for politics, especially as I generally do posts on the latest Newspoll as well.

Occasionally I have thought about changing, as I know some people who read only the politics ones and others who gives those a wide berth. But, bugger it, that's just how it goes! While I once considered having two blogs - one for the cultural stuff, and one for the politics - I felt that might be pushing the boundaries of split personality too far; especially as I know I would feel a need to write for both each night, and thus my evenings would quickly disappear completely.

And anyway, this blog is about running the gamut, so I'll keep writing on the whatever pops into my head as I drive home from work or while doing the dishes.

All this is a round about way of also saying I'm taking two weeks off. With the footy now finished, no major sport going on round the world, and parliament not sitting until the 19th of October, it's a good time to have a little rest and recharge my batteries before busy run up to Christmas.

So I'll see you all back on or around the 11th October.

I leave you with a fun clip from 1989. When I was in Japan in that year, I unavoidably I became enamoured with some Japanese music. A popular all-girl band at the time (sort of a Japanese Bangles) was called Princess Princess (thereby achieving the requirement of all Japanese bands in having an English name that is completely meaningless). Their hit song of that year was "Diamonds", which thanks to the wonders of the Internet and youtube, I can replay for you here. 'Tis a fun little song... but fear not, I shall not make JPop a regular feature (or I don't think I will!)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oscar is Always Wrong (except when it’s right) Part VII: 1997

I haven’t done an Oscars post for a while (since June!), and I have to admit the main reason is that I was up to 1997, and for mine, 1997 was not a great year for film. Have a look at the top 10 grossing films in the US:

1 Titanic $600,788,188
2 Men in Black $250,690,539
3 The Lost World: Jurassic Park $229,086,679
4 Liar Liar $181,410,615
5 Air Force One $172,956,409
6 As Good as It Gets $148,478,011
7 Good Will Hunting $138,433,435
8 Star Wars (Special Edition) $138,257,865
9 My Best Friend's Wedding $127,120,029
10 Tomorrow Never Dies $125,304,276

Not a real Golden Year is it? Titanic creamed everything in its path, which right off the bat has me in shudders. Perhaps there are people around hoping Liar Liar will be screened this weekend on Channel 10, but I doubt it. OK, My Best Friend’s Wedding is very good rom-com – people forget how much of a spiral Julia Roberts’ career was in at that point, Cameron Diaz wasn’t yet Cameron Diaz, Rupert Everett took first place as everyone’s favourite gay guy, and Dermot Mulroney err…ahh well he wasn’t completely awful. It also makes you wonder if PJ Hogan can direct anything good ever again – Confessions of a Shopaholic?? Please. I also enjoy Tomorrow Never Dies, but pretty much everything else on the list is pretty avoidable (having seen Men in Black roughly 15 times on Channel 10, I can do without a 16th).

But there’s no Best Picture winner in that lot.

If you want to remember what 1997 was about – think Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Yep, that was the year there were two films about volcanoes. It was also the year the classic The Day of the Jackal was remade as the execrable The Jackal, and also the year in which the rather fondly remembered TV show The Saint, was remade as the try-to-sear-from-my-memory The Saint (oh Phillip Noyce, you are so much better than that!). It was also the year of Batman and Robin – yes the Bat-suit with the nipples…

As I say, not a golden year.

But let’s look at Best Picture:

Winner: Titanic
Nominated: As Good as It Gets, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, The Full Monty.

Should have won: LA Confidential

There are those who would argue that Titanic has to win – it was the film of the year, and to take the award away is to forget how beguiled the world was by it. And I have to admit, I can see that argument, and would be prepared for the boat film to keep the Golden statue, if LA Confidential wasn’t so good, and Titanic wasn’t so God awful.

Look, ok, there are some good things about Titanic – the sinking is great, Kate Winslet is her usual amazing self, and Leo DiCaprio does well with what he’s got. But oh God it’s long, and oh God you just want the damn thing to sink, and has there ever been worse dialogue in a film not written by George Lucas? And why does Winslet not share some of the raft she’s clinging to? And why oh why does the old lady throw the stone back into the ocean???

Of the nominated films, I would also drop As Good as it Gets – I can’t recall the last time I watched it, and there is no way I would ever feel like sitting through it again – Jack Nicholson is pure ham, the story is slight and predictable, the only good thing is Helen Hunt. Good Will Hunting? Sorry, no good will from me here. Quite possibly the weakest Best Screenplay Oscar ever.

The Full Monty stays. Yeah it is slight, but it is all heart; it’s real, and even after all these years, and all those many viewings, it is still impossible not to have a huge smile across your face when the credits roll at the end.

Of the other films that year that I would give a nomination to, I would put in Boogie Nights (not a great film, but one of the most interesting of the year), and Wag the Dog – easily the most prescient film of the year, and my runner-up.

LA Confidential does suffer from a degree of over-ratedness – it is not in the same ball park as, say, Chinatown, but it contains so much that is top drawer that I am prepared to forgive that which holds it back from true greatness. The ending for a start. Now I know in James Ellroy’s novel the Bud White character gets shot up, but lives; but he doesn’t get shot up like he does in the movie, and in the movie his reappearance at the end is horrible – it almost kills the film, especially as the last time you had seen White he was shot at point blank range in the back. The movie would have been a classic had he died. The other horror of the ending is Guy Pearce as Ed Exley spending 5 minutes explaining the entire movie. We don’t need to know what the movie was about; we don’t need to know it was about heroin; we don’t need to know any of it. Hadn’t these guys ever seen The Big Sleep?

Noir isn’t about answers; it’s about questions. If the journey is good enough, people will come back to try and work out what happened (and also to enjoy the ride)

But as I say, I forgive it, because everything up to the last 10 minutes is amazing. What a cast – Russell Crowe in his ascendency – his Bud White, deserved comparisons to early Brando; Pearce in the best thing he’s done besides Memento, is all fidget and nerves mixed with steel; Kevin Spacey before he thought he needed to be the lead, is perfect as the “love’s the camera” Jack Vincennes; and James Cromwell is pure ice cold malevolence – amazing to think this is the same guy who 2 years earlier was Farmer Hoggatt. And then there’s the other bit players - David Strathairn, Danny DeVito, Ron Rifkin – they are just a joy to watch.

So good is the acting and script that we can even cope with Kim Basinger in the lead female role. She’s not very good, and you can’t get past the fact she is Kim Basinger, but she doesn't bring down the film in the way that Billy Zane does with Titanic.

I have the DVD, but to be honest hadn’t watched it for a while; however, in the last month it’s been on high rotation on Foxtel, and whenever I am channel surfing and I come across it, I always stop and get suckered in.

Great acting, great writing, great direction, great music, great sets and costumes. Just fantastic work all-round, and it gets my Best Picture for 1997 (an award which also might have helped it earn more than the $64m it did – this one deserved to go over $100m).

I have to say I don’t agree with the acting awards in this year either, but I’ll leave those for another post. (And I’ll do it sooner than 3 months I promise!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Balibo and the Australian Film Industry

On the weekend, Robert Connolly’s film Balibo made $64,467 to scrape into 20th place on the Australian Box Office, and sneak over the $1 million mark in box office gross to $1,055,892. It’s unlikely to be around for much longer, and unlikely to make much more money. Given Connolly’s first two feature films, The Bank and Three Dollars made $2.5m and $1.4m respectively, I have to say I am pretty disappointed by the result. baliboposter

Given the great reviews it received, the above average attention in the press on the film and the issues surrounding it, plus Anthony La Paglia being fairly well known, I thought it was a chance to crack the $3m mark. It won’t even get close.

charlie_and_boots_ver2 At the moment the Paul Hogan and Shane Jacobson flick, Charlie and Boots is at the $2.5m mark, and looking like going strong for a while yet. Given it is also the type of film that will do well in regional areas, the makers would be pretty hopeful that it will get close to Hoges’ last film, Strange Bedfellows, which made $4.8m back in 2004.

So is Balibo a flop? And why didn’t it make more money?

First off, perhaps I am being cruel to Balibo – comparing a film based on the true story of six journalists being murdered in East Timor in 1975 to a thriller about someone using the banking system to meet out justice, is probably unfair given the later is an easier sell. The Bank, due to the addition of the female character played by Sibylla Budd, could be put in the “sexy thriller” class so popular with television crime series.

If we compare Balibo with the films more close to its genre we see a (perhaps) clearer picture.

Take Hotel Rwanda – another based on a true story film set in a war zone, that certainly didn’t make for easy watching (and yet which ends on a much brighter note than Balibo). In 2005 it made $1.08m in Australia – a figure pretty comparable to Balibo’s – and it was released in Australia after it had been nominated for 3 Academy Awards. The Clint Eastwood war/drama Flags of Our Fathers, again a film based on true events and not particularly packed with joy, made $1.85m here in 2006. The Nic Cage thriller Lord of War, again based on a true story, this time an arms’ dealer, and which features pretty full on scenes of war and violence. In Australia, it made $1.74m in 2006. And this year, another Australian film, the adaptation of the J.M. Coetzee novel Disgrace, which is violent, unsettling and decidedly not a date movie, made $1.1m.

So in that context it hasn’t done so badly. But perhaps we can be a bit more critical (or at least disappointed) by its box office performance. Consider The Killing Fields, back in 1984 it made $2.55m – well over double, and considering the increase in ticket prices since then you could suggest that would be a lot more in today’s money. The heavy political thriller Syrianna, was able to overcome its near incomprehensible plot to make $3.85m in this country in 2006 (released around the same time as Lord of War), the hard hitting thriller, The Constant Gardener made $4.48m in 2005 (and that was before Rachel Weisz won her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the film). And then there is the biopic of Che Guevara The Motorcycle Diaries, despite being in Spanish it made $3.5m in 2004.

So what did these films have that Balibo didn’t? Well obviously no George Clooney or Matt Damon like there was in Syrianna, no Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz (nor John Le Clarre) like in The Constant Gardner, and The Motorcycle Diaries got a very strong run in the awards, had an amazing soundtrack and was about a very famous figure, and all in all was pretty life affirming.

So was Balibo stuffed because it didn’t have a star? Well no – La Paglia is not a nobody; but given the subject matter, and lack of a female role, they had to market it differently. Take the poster above. I think it is very striking. But I know what the film is about; to those who have no idea it looks like a political poster you might see on the wall of some left wing student organisation (and indeed were I a uni student the film poster would be on my wall). But far better is the poster used internationally:

balibo14Immediately it conveys a sense of what the film is about – war – but importantly it also gets across that La Paglia is in it, and highlights the importance of the Ramos-Horta character – you might not know who the other guy is, but the poster conveys a sense that these two guys are going to be together. It might not quite look like a “buddy-pic” but at least it gets across a feeling to someone who has no idea about the subject that will make them feel comfortable enough to buy a ticket.

The poster highlights a problem this film had from the start – the subject is important; but the last thing people want to see is an “important” film (unless it’s by Steven Spielberg and is about the holocaust – and even then, they’ll be worried going in). But Balibo too often was presented as an “important” film; when it was given a rave mention on the breakfast program Sunrise a couple weeks ago, Kochie made a huge deal about how every high school teacher should be taking their students to see it, and how it was such an important subject. I kept screaming at the TV for them to say that people should go see the film because it’s a bloody good flick that will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time.

And that was what got lost – it is basically a thriller. It is not a documentary, but really, the way it was talked about you could have been forgiven for thinking it is.

I think it was a stunning piece of movie making, certainly as good if not better than The Constant Gardner, Syrianna, and Hotel Rwanda. But those pictures all received Academy Award nominations, and this now seems unlikely for Balibo, given it didn’t generate much buzz at the recent Toronto International Film Festival – unlike Mao’s Last Dancer which won the runner-up People’s Choice Award, and The Boys are Back, which received an 8 minute standing ovation and great reviews in Variety, the Hollywood Review and Cinema Daily. If those two films (Mao’s opens next week) don’t each make over $3m here (at least), I think that will be more indicative of the fact that there are big problems with the Australian Film Industry (and perhaps the Australian film “brand”).

I still don’t know if even had they used the different poster, had played up the thriller angle, and got some international awards whether Balibo would have made more money – after all it did make the same as Hotel Rwanda, and that had the benefit of Oscar nominations and a Hollywood marketing team; but there is one thing that I do think would have made a difference – the number of screens Balibo was shown on. At the most it was on 49 screens throughout the entire country, by comparison Quentin Tarantino’s latest flick, Inglorious Basterds was on 241 screens, Pixar’s Up was on 434, even the somewhat arty The Young Victoria was on 118. Yes there are lots of problems with the Australian film industry, and making good films is the first of them (though I would argue that’s happened a fair bit this year), but one of the major ones is getting quality Australian films being shown on enough screens to ensure that should people actually want to go see them, they don’t have to trek across the city to some small independent art-house cinema to see them.

Australian audiences deserve better; Balibo sure as hell did.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What Price a Job?

At the moment the Senate is conducting hearings into the Government's stimulus package. Yesterday a number of economists fronted up to give their views. Two of them – Steven Kates and Sinclair Davidson from RMIT predictably came out in favour of the Government winding back all of the stimulus, and in fact argued that the Government should have done nothing, because the stimulus package didn’t create any jobs.

Kates pretty much kept to the line that classical economic theory was more important than any evidence which could refute such theory and thus all of the stimulus was a waste. Davidson (who is a senior fellow for the Right Wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs) is hardly your unbiased academic. When asked by the committee to state one decision made by the Rudd Government that he agreed with he stated the decision to appoint Kim Beazley as US Ambassador. When asked to name an economic policy he agreed with he said the decision by the Rudd Government to implement the Howard Government tax cuts. It was a joke really. He took an extreme partisan position and came across as academic and swayed by the facts as a Fox News anchor.  At one point he even disputed there had been a mining boom.

Kates came out with the wonderful bit of economic bullshit that the stimulus package had cost $1.5 million for every job it created (though he pretty much denies the stimulus did create any jobs which somewhat destroys his argument… but logic wasn’t really in play here). So where does this $1.5m come from? Well given that it is trumpeted by the Government that 200,000 jobs have been saved, 1.5m x 200,000 gets you $300 billion, which is the standard amount of debt that the Liberal Party wheels out saying the Government will have to pay back, so it’s not hard to see how he got the figure of $1.5m.

Firstly let’s have a look at the “didn’t create any jobs argument”. Both Kates and and Davidson argued tax cuts and decreases in interest rates are the best (in fact when you get down to it, only) way to stimulate the economy. They based this on theory. Davidson said if you say Australia’s stimulus package worked, then why haven’t all the other countries that put in stimulus packages also kept out of recession. Apparently he must think that our stimulus package is exactly the same size targeted exactly the same way and done at exactly the same time as other economies. That a Professor of Economics can come out with such tripe makes me think I should have stuck in the Economics field after getting my 2nd Class Honours Degree, because I’d probably be head of RMIT now. Methinks Davidson has spent too much time living in the ceteris paribus world of economic theory. All things are not equal in the real world unfortunately…

Davidson also produced a paper of his which he suggested showed that the $10b stimulus package (the “cash splash”) had no impact on retail sales. He said that the retail sales in the last 6 months (in the graph on the right), [retail.JPG]while constituting a jump, were not significantly above the long term trend.  He is not able to countenance that the cash splash ensured retail spending stayed at trend levels, because he says the Treasury didn’t do any specific modelling on the cash splash so there is no way it could have worked.

Yep, essentially he argues that because the Treasury didn’t do the requisite amount of theoretical work beforehand, the results can’t be attributed to the stimulus.

And they wonder why people talk of academics living in ivory towers?

His argument is like saying someone couldn't have survived falling off a roof onto a mattress because they hadn’t done prior analysis of the mattress to determine if it was the right thickness, whether the speed at which they would hit the mattress would result in injury or death etc etc. Davidson in effect, does not believe that the Treasury could have known that a mattress would soften the blow of the fall and thus put one there after making a quick estimate of how thick it needed to be to save the person falling from the roof.


Another of the economists in attendance, Andrew Leigh of ANU, did a rather more bizarre thing. He came to the committee armed with research based not on his theory of what people did with the stimulus money, but on his actually asking people what they did with it. He wanted to see if the amount people said they spent of the cash splash was more or less what people overseas spent when they got tax cuts as stimulus – essentially he tried to answer the question of whether it was better to cut taxes or give a cash handout to stimulate the economy.

Leigh also came to the committee with a rather different attitude to Kates and Davidson – he admitted to the committee that he wasn’t perfect and neither was his research! (Astonishing, I’m surprised they let him through the doors).

Leigh found that the amount of spending done by households has no relation to the income – ie rich people spent as much of their bonus payments as did poor people. He did find that there was a significant relationship between those who spent the bonus payment and those who were worried about Government debt. So if you were worried about the debt you were less likely to spend all of your bonus. Overall he found however that 40 percent of those who received the bonus payments spent them – almost double the amount for the tax rebates in the US in 2001 and 2008.

Although Leigh does not state categorically that this proves payments were better than a tax rebate (he is not so stupid as to think his one paper proves all), it does go a good way to countering the arguments of the Liberals that people are more likely to spend tax cuts than bonus payments.

One other economist who appeared before the committee was Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute (a left wing version of the Institute of Public Affairs). He came with a fairly stunning proposition – he said of course the stimulus packages had created jobs and is needed, because if it didn’t where did the money go? Inflation isn’t rising, and employment remains weak. If the stimulus wasn’t needed, inflation would have risen  - because it would have created excess demand. When asked about debt and interest rates by the Liberal Senators, Denniss pretty much shrugged and said, so what? He explained that it was obvious unemployment was growing, so the Government should do what it could to keep people in work. When Senator Coonan asked again about rising interest rates, he echoed something I wrote a couple weeks ago. He said “If I had to choose between losing my job and paying an extra 1 percent on my mortgage I know which one I’d choose”.

Denniss dismissed the Liberal’s concerns about debt, saying it is manageable, and so long as the work being done with the stimulus (he wasn’t real supportive of the cash splashes) was building something that we otherwise would liked to have built sometime in the next 5-10 years, then we were obviously getting value for money.

He also said the most sensible thing of the day. He noted everyone goes on and on about keeping the budget in balance over the cycle – well if that is true then that means that when the economy is going into a recession the Government must go into deficit. Otherwise he said, all this talk about keeping the budget in balance was just bull, and what people were really saying was always keep the budget in surplus, which was just stupid.

Which brings us back to the $1.5m per job argument. Denniss pointed out that costing the amount of each job was not simple, and subject to many many assumptions. He pointed out that when a person loses their job it takes on average a long time to get it back, and similarly that when the national unemployment rises, it takes longer for it to fall. He also pointed out that even when GDP growth returns to positive territory the unemployment level keeps rising – it lags. unemppath1

Over at Crikey, economics and pollster blogger Possum Pollytics (Scott Steele) did some very interesting analysis as well on this issue. He found that in the 1980s and 1990s recessions it took between 20-30 months for unemployment to peak, but a further 80 months for it to fall back to the levels it was at the start of the recession.  Essentially this means that a job lost now takes a long time to get back. He estimates that were unemployment to reach the 8.5% mark treasury was forecasting back at the budget, it would be about 2016 before we got back to our pre Global Financial Crisis level.  However, let us submit that the stimulus has worked and that unemployment will “only” rise to around where it is now  i.e 6%; on that measure if we follow the same return path as the last two recessions, we will be back to pre-GFC levels in 2011.

All this neatly demonstrates that it is bloody important to keep the unemployment rate down.

It also demonstrates the complete and utter stupidity of saying the stimulus jobs cost $1.5m each. To do so is to ignore the amount of welfare paid over the perhaps 5 years it takes to get all, the impact on GDP foregone over that period. As Possum writes:

When you dump a bucket of money into an economy like the government did, it has consequences – there is simply, absolutely no “debate” on this from anyone that can find their economic arse with a map, a GPS system and a set of directions.

The only real debate – and lets be blunt here, it is THE only REAL debate here – is over whether the squeeze is worth the juice, whether the costs are worth the benefits. Yet on this question, the popular cliché of “each job saved cost $X” is not only worthless, it is comprehensively dishonest to boot.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Too Many Books, Not Enough Eyes

Last night I made a foolish error and paused at one of my bookshelves and instead of just looking at the books and trying to decide what I would read next, I counted how many books on the shelf I hadn’t read. When I got to 28 I stopped. At that point I was still amongst the familiar black spines of the Penguin Classics. It was no consolation that there are more books on my shelves read than there are unread. What it meant was that I had to face up to the fact that the book buying spree I have been on for the past 12 years has finally got the better of me.

OK maybe it reached that point a while back, and I was too stubborn to accept it, but I know in the last year or so I have been buying books pretty regularly – mostly from second hand stores, and while some I would read straight away, for every one of those, would be at least one (or two) that got put on the pile. MIddle (3)Take Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. I have been meaning to buy it for ages, but not enough to pay the price that it costs at the local Borders – and it’s not the type of book that gets on the K-Mart shelves at 20% off.

But a few weeks back I found a great, good as new copy of it in my favourite second-hand book store for $8. So now it sits on my bookshelf waiting for me to read it. Do I think I was wrong to buy it? No – it’s there and I have to admit it is near the top of my “I think I’ll read that next list”. But the sad part is that Middlesex isn’t included in that group of 28 that I counted last night. Neither is Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children or Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red. And I really want to read them as well (and the multitude of other books on my shelves, the number of which I am too scared to tabulate).

Now the thing is, I also have far too many DVDs as well. My wife and I have scores of TV series on DVD that we want to watch, except the problems of young children who don’t want to sleep, work to be done in the evening (my wife is a teacher, so that means she spends almost every night marking – lest you think that teachers all stop work when the school bell goes) and the good TV actually on right now means our stocks seem to get bigger… and yet we keep buying them! And why not? We never go out to the movies (baby sitting is horrendous to organise) We don’t eat out – restaurants with a three year old and a six year old who hate most food except little franks and noodles? No thank you. So how else are we to display our marginal propensity to consume?

And yet DVDs are easy – a movie can be done in a couple hours without any sweat; but books are a bit of a weightier problem (literally). Of the 28 unread 19th Century novels, all of them are stereotypical 19th Century novels. Which means the authors have decided that it can’t really be a novel unless they reach at least page 650. So I know that I would be lucky to read one a month. And even if I did keep that pace up (which I won’t because I have all those DVD to watch as well, so by the time I get to bed it will be too  late to read much more than 20-30 pages) you don’t have to be good at maths to know that 28 books at the rate of one a month will keep me busy for quite while. And remember that’s not counting Middlesex and Co.david C


And the worst of it is I am currently re-reading David Copperfield – a novel I have read I think 3 times previous! Why am I reading it now? Well because a few weeks ago in my favourite second hand book store I came across a near new copy of it that was a different edition to the Penguin Classic version I had owned since 1993. It was in the larger format than the old Penguins, and my wife and I had recently bought and watched the DVD of the BBC mini-series adaptation of the novel (featuring a very young Daniel Radcliffe) and well, it made me wish to read it again.

And I have to say it has been a joyous experience. I last read it, I think, about 10 years ago and while some chapters are quite familiar, others I had forgotten, and now rediscover like an old friend on Facebook who you actually do want to send a friend request to. Once again I found myself hating David’s silly (oh so silly) wife Dora, and yet once again find a tear coming to my eye when I read of her death. Once again I shake my head in scornful disgust at the snobbishness of Steerforth, and once again I find myself blinking away tears when he drowns.

Dorrit But while the past 730 pages have been a joy (70 odd to go – should finish it tonight!), part of me feels a level of guilt that I have spent time reading it and not the near new copy of Little Dorrit which I bought from my favourite second hand book store. I thought this even more today at work when I read that the BBC mini-series adaptation of the novel won an Emmy for Best mini-series, so I know I shall in the future buy that as well, and I would like to have read the book first – lest I have to do as I did with Bleak House and put off reading the novel until sufficient time had past that allowed me to forget the BBC adaptation. In that case it meant keeping the unread copy of the novel on my shelf for a further three years (and it had already been there for seven!)

And here’s the other problem – also on my shelves are books I have already read but wish to do so again. Yes I may have read Catch 22 about 7 or 8 times, but what harm could there be on another go? And War and Peace deserves to be read at least twice. I last read Les Miserables in 1992, Crime and Punishment in 1994 (the same year I last read Solzhenitsyn’s  The First Circle), Snow Falling on Cedars in 1996, Ulysses in 1999 (though I read it twice that year), and I can’t even remember when I last read The Grapes of Wrath. All of them I want to re-read; but all of them now I feel need to take a place at the back of the queue behind the 28 (and Middlesex and Co).


But at least there is one thing I can set right! One thing which will bring me peace and some hope that I may one day read all that sits on my shelves. I can vow to not buy another book until the 28 are no more. I can give those books already bought their due attention and not dilute their ranks with further purchases. Yes! That is the way! That is the manner in which I shall find the light at the end of the tunnel! I can do this, yes I can! Straight after this weekend when I will be going to the 6 monthly Lifeline Book-fair…

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Flick of the Week: “Real diamonds! They must be worth their weight in gold!”

This week’s Flick of the Week takes us with Billy Wilder from Witness for the Prosecution to the greatest comedy film of all-time – Some Like it Hot.

When it comes to discussing the greatest director in history, Billy Wilder has to be included in the conversation. In fact, in terms of breadth of scale, he pretty much has everyone else covered. Check out this list of films: Double Indemnity (film noir), The Lost Weekend (drama), Sunset Blvd (savage attack on Hollywood), Ace in the Hole (even more savage attack on the media), Stalag 17 (WWII flick), Sabrina and The Seven Year Itch (romantic comedy), Witness for the Prosecution (whodunnit), Some Like it Hot (comedy), The Apartment (comedy/drama). Every single one is a classic, and many provide cinema with some of its most iconic images and lines (of which he also wrote – he wrote or co-wrote all his films). He was nominated for an Oscar as a director, producer or writer 21 times, and he won six.

Of living directors, perhaps only Spielberg and Scorsese perhaps can hold a candle to him – and yet neither does comedy very well – and would you pay to see a Scorsese or Spielberg romantic comedy? Spielberg tried with Always in 1989 and has since left the genre very well alone. Scorsese has never gone there. And of course neither of those two giants write their own screenplays (though Scorsese occasionally gets a writing credit).

Some Like it Hot is easily my favourite comedy. The story set in the 1920s, of two out of work musicians Jerry and Joe (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who after witnessing the Valentine Day Massacre flee Chicago for Miami disguised as women in an all-female band – which includes singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) – is pure genius. Genius because it could have all been so terribly bad. Drag comedy more often than not ends up being “Sorority Boys”, but this works because of a number of reasons that ensured the pieces gelled perfectly.

First, the film is set in the past – so the costumes were able to be more prim and conservative than those of 1959. Second Wilder shot it in black and white (this was crucial) the lack of colours helps disguise the two lead men, and also ensures there is no sense of garish drag queenness about their appearance. Third, the writing is incredible – Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond screenplay is bursting with zingers and quips:
Sugar: I come from this musical family. My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a conductor.
Joe: Where did he conduct?
Sugar: On the Baltimore and Ohio.

But lastly, the most important aspect of the film is the cast. Lemmon, Curtis and Monroe give a master class in comedy acting. The stories about Monroe’s antics and anxieties while filming this are legendary. She was so nervous and out of it, that many of her scenes are shot in close up because they were done with her alone and just Wilder there to direct rather than acting with either Curtis or Lemmon. My favourite story is that she was having so much trouble in one scene which required her coming into a room and opening a drawer and asking “Where’s the bourbon” that Wilder decide to tape the line on the bottom of the drawer; and then on the next take she came into the room and opened the wrong drawer.

Marilyn_Monroe_in_Some_Like_it_Hot_trailer_cropped But here’s the thing – you wouldn’t know. She is beguiling, sexy, funny, sweet… heck she is Marilyn Monroe. Forget The Seven Year Itch and her dress getting blown up by the subway vent, if you want to see why Marilyn is still known 47 years after her death as “Marilyn” see this film – and especially watch her perform “I Wanna Be Loved By You” (below) and “Running Wild”. You’ll understand why JFK was prepared to risk his Presidency for her.

As great as she is (and I think she deserves the Oscar for Best Actress for the performance), she is nothing next to Lemmon and Curtis. The two pull out all the stops and bounce lines back and forth off of each other like they have been best friends for years. Neither of them are all that successful at convincing you they are female, but ironically it doesn’t matter (this is a comedy after all), but they are brilliant at conveying the difficulties men would have conducting such a ruse (especially when surrounded by so many attractive and single women). Lemmon as “Daphne” goes fully into the role of a female – and spends almost all of the film after donning the disguise as his female alter ego – he comes to appreciate the difficulties – but also the safety – of being a female at the time. For a guy who has been struggling to pay the bills and is now being chased by violent gangsters, it is little wonder that his character Jerry would feel comfort in his role as a woman being wooed by a millionaire.

And despite opening up this side of the role, Lemmon never forgets the comedic aspect or his comic timing, such as when he is giving some advice to Sugar: “Now, if I were a girl – and I am…”. It is a particular achievement that his character is able to accept a proposal of marriage to a man, and yet he never falls into the “mincing gay” stereotype – in fact his acceptance almost has a ring of logic to it. It is one of the great film performances of all time, and shamefully got beat for the Oscar by Charlton Heston in Ben Hur!

Curtis’s character Joe on the other hand quickly adopts another disguise in an attempt to seduce Sugar – he pretends to be a millionaire and puts on the Cary Grant impersonation to end all Cary Grant impersonations – in fact when people do a Cary Grant voice, they are more likely doing a Curtis-does-Grant voice. The oft quoted comment from him was that kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler, though since then he has retracted the statement, and it had more to do with the frustrations of working with her than the actual kissing. So fragile was Marilyn’s mood that Wilder had to use whichever take she was best in, meaning Curtis and Lemmon had to be good every take in case that was the one Marilyn nailed.

Since its release, the film has only grown in stature. The only Oscar it won was for Best Costume, as that was the Year Ben-Hur won everything. Were that year’s award revoted now, that situation would be reversed – it is almost inconceivable to think this would not win Best Picture now (and pretty much everything else). In 2000, the American Film Institute named it the All-time Best Comedy (coincidentally the other great male-disguised-as-female comedy Tootsie came second).

I agree with them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Song a Year: 1993, Aunty Raelene

When you are at uni, you need a band that is yours through hell or high water. If you were at uni in the early 90s it could be Nirvana (if you were a bit of a sheep), The Pixies (if you really wanted to pretend that you were cool), U2 (if you wanted to be middle of the road – like I guess I did), My Bloody Valentine (if you thought The Smiths were just too damn cheery) or perhaps Living Colour (if you wanted to be funky radical).

Now all these choices were good, and you had to make one; but to be really in the groove, to be a true uni student, you had to have a local band that you followed, went to see play at dingy little pubs and were prepared to argue with others that with just a bit of luck they could be the next Lemonheads or Happy Mondays.

For me that band was Aunty Raelene.

Aunty Raelene were a four piece band made up of three blokes and one chick (she played bass). Two of the blokes were brothers – Basil and Derek Shields. Basil played lead guitar and vocals, Derek played violin in a manner that bore much lineage to John Cale of the Velvet Underground. They all went to Adelaide Uni and were out on the edge, sticking it to the man, protesting about the things that mattered, and doing it all while dressed in frocks.

That was the gimmick – they all wore dresses bought from op-shops and they wore them workers boots. I once asked Basil why they wore them, thinking perhaps there was some deeper statement being made, he looked at me weirdly, and said “Why do you reckon? It’s a gimmick”. “Oh,” I said, feeling rather stupid, but also somewhat disappointed that there was no deeper context.

Aunty Raelene were an odd mix – their songs were all protest and anger, yet also full of humour. The songs were great to sing along to (not so good to dance to), and the band themselves were laid back and funny during the set. They had songs like the great “Lionel Long Rap” which was written in the context of the first Gulf War and contained the following lyrics:

“Well my name is Lionel Long
And I want to go to war
’Cause I’ve heard they’ve got a lot of oil
And I think that’s worth dying for.”

Or “Mozambique”:

“Down in Mozambique
They don’t eat Mars Bars
And there’s not much to do
If you don’t like burnt out cars”

(admittedly my memory is bit faded, so the lyrics there might be a bit skewiff)

and “World Bank”

“If you are poor
You need a loan
So get the World Bank on the phone
666 and triple 5
You’re lucky if you stay alive”AR 1992 01

Ok maybe they were a bit more self righteous than they needed to be – but bugger that, why not be more self righteous than you need to be, when you’re young and at uni? And they also had a cool T-shirt – a black one with an “A” and an “R” with the picture of a kangaroo between (or was it a dog? I didn’t know then, don’t know now) This pic –is the only photographic evidence I have of me wearing it – the T-Shirt, alas, has long since disintegrated.

I got to know Basil through his connection with my boarding college. For a year or so he was going out with a friend of mine who boarded there, and so for perhaps the only time in my life I was able to go back stage after a concert. Except given they only performed at pubs, back stage pretty much meant standing out the front of the pub after the gig trying to look cool, but not to look too cool or too desperate nor too desperately trying to look cool (I failed, I was easily the least cool person ever to hang out with a band after a gig).

The place I most saw them play was at The Crown and Anchor in Adelaide. My favourite gig was one which had me and my pretty straight laced friends mingling with the most wacked out weirdos going. One guy had dreadlocks, which wasn’t so weird; that he had a mouse crawling around in his hair however did perhaps cause one to look at him and then elbow your mates to say “check out that weirdo”. As this was the early 90s and their fans were all broke uni students and we were in the midst of a recession, they also used to do things like raffle off a meat pack – an odd thing given I’d wager more than a few of their hard-core fans were vegan (and given the smell in the place they certainly were taking a stand against deodorant).

In 1995, Aunty Raelene brought out their only album – they were pretty much splitting up and it was done more as a reminder of what they had done, than in the hope of really scoring it big (though they did send it off to Triple J accompanied with an over the top media release). The album was titled New Dork Nation in reference to George Bush Sr’s phrase about a New World Order. I don’t know if it ever got played on Triple J – no doubt the Adelaide Uni radio station gave it a few turns – and I am sad to say I never bought a copy – I think it cost $20 and I was too skint at the time to buy one. I dubbed it off a mate, and sad to say I have lost that tape. (And obviously it’s not on itunes.)

The wonder of things about the net is however that you can find the most unusual things. After they split up, Derek and Basil kept performing together, first as the Raelene Brothers, and after they moved to Alice Springs, The Super Raelene Brothers. They are still going strong, and in October are performing at “The Concert” in Alice Springs, supporting Jimmy Barnes and The Cat Empire.  They have a myspace page where you can download a few of their more recent songs – “Wombo Lombo” sounds great.

Unfortunately the only existing Aunty Raelene song is “World Bank” being sung in the mid-late 90s by the Raelene Brothers – and it’s embedding has been disabled for some reason, so I can’t post it here (but click on the link – it’s a good representation of the band’s music).

If I had their CD now, would I still listen to it? Probably not; though I have occasionally found myself humming some of their songs which have come into my head for no good reason. But does that mean they weren’t worth following back then? Hell no; they were great – they captured the moment, they captured my moment at uni. And at least for a small, brief moment of time felt like I was one of a select few who were in the know of the coolest band in the world… or at least the Arts faculty of Adelaide Uni part of it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On the QT – It was the Summer of 69 edition

A commenter yesterday asked me if I had the transcript of Julie Bishop’s “1969 Keating” question from yesterday’s Question Time. In lieu of the fact that today’s QT was mostly pointless – the Opposition moved a censure motion against Gillard that the ALP had been expecting all last week, and also due to the fact I was in a meeting for most of it, today’s edition will just have the Hansard transcript of the Julie/Julia exchange in full.

The only way the Hansard can be improved is though the photo on the front page of today’s SMH which accompanied Annabel Crabb’s excellent sketch on the proceedings:Blue steel ...  Julie Bishop delivers a withering look while Julia Gillard sees the funny side during question time yesterday.

Women in the Workplace

Ms JULIE BISHOP (3.22 pm)—My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Social Inclusion. I refer to the minister’s attack on the Liberal Party’s support for working women and her reference back to the Menzies era. I ask whether the minister is aware of the statement of former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, who said in this House of the then coalition government:
In the last couple of years the government—as in coalition—has boasted about the increasing number of women in the workforce. Rather than something to be proud of, I feel that this is something of which we should be ashamed.

Doesn’t this demonstrate, Minister, that even 39 years ago the coalition—

Honourable members interjecting—

[At this point the Government MPs are almost rolling in the aisles – does Bishop really believe what someone said 39 years ago is relevant today?]

The SPEAKER—Order! Those on my right will come to order. The House will come to order. The member for Wakefield will leave the chamber under
94(a) for one hour.

Ms Roxon interjecting—
Mr Pyne—You raised Menzies, you idiot.
Ms Roxon interjecting—

[Pyne actually called this out a few times, Hansard dignified it with only one entry – but he thought he was reaching new heights of Oscar Wildean type wit]

The SPEAKER—The Minister for Health and Ageing will cease interjecting. The member for Sturt will withdraw.
Mr Pyne—I withdraw, Mr Speaker.
Mr Sidebottom interjecting—
The SPEAKER—The member for Braddon is again not assisting.

Ms JULIE BISHOP—I was at the point where I quoted former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating when he said:
In the last couple of years the government has boasted about the increasing number of women in the workforce. Rather than something to be proud of, I feel that this is something of which we should be ashamed.
Doesn’t this demonstrate that even 39 years ago the coalition was way ahead of Labor’s thinking when it came to choice for women?

[Yes she does think it is relevant… oh dear… pity the question isn’t in order because it is asking about Coalition policy – which you can’t do – and Coalition policy from 1969, which probably stretches the bounds of pointlessness to an amount much more than they could conceivably bear]

Honourable members interjecting—

[the Honourable members were on the Government side yelling for it to be called in order!]

The SPEAKER—Order! The House will come to order. Before giving the call to the Deputy Prime Minister, and if the House would settle down, this question time is not one of the greatest moments for the House. If the House would just calm down, that was an example of a question where, if we were to strictly apply the standing orders, I would be in the position to rule it out. But I will allow it.

[Harry is being rather cruel here. A kinder speaker would have ruled it out of order… instead he throws Julie to the wolf pack]

Ms GILLARD—I genuinely thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question. This year I was exposed on television as not smarter than a fifth
grader, it is true, but the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is taking me back to when I was not even in fifth grade. And, no, I have to confess that when I was in Mitcham Primary School they were not playing maiden speeches, first speeches, in the House of Representatives. Actually, looking back on it, I am not sure that we had a TV in the classroom. I think we had a radio, but we did not have a TV, so long ago it is that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is referring to.

[Nice mention of her bit on Rove’s show – good chance of getting a snippet of it on the TV later. You would think Bishop realises she is about to be killed here…]

Ms Julie Bishop—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: if the Deputy Prime Minister wishes to disown Labor thinking she should say so. She has not answered the question.

[Oh no, she doesn’t]

The SPEAKER—The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has asked her question.

Ms GILLARD—I believe that statement was made in 1969. Apparently they have gone this strange because I used the word ‘Menzies’ when I was reading the letter from the principal. Can I say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that, whether or not they realise it over there, life has moved on. Mr Keating has moved on and has made public statements to that effect. The nation has moved on. Policy has moved on.

The only people who, for almost 40 years now have obviously been out circling in the wilderness, are not understanding that things have moved on are those people in front of me—the members of the Liberal Party. This question is reminiscent of the old sitcoms we used to see about fighters from World War II who did not realise that the war was over.

Ms Julie Bishop—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: as the minister has difficulty answering this question, I seek leave to table the Hansard where Mr Keating said that this was something of which we should be ashamed.

[Yes, ignoring the fact that Gillard has said Keating, the ALP and Gillard herself no longer agree with the views of 1969 on this issue, Bishop thinks Julia is dodging the question! And to top it off she asks to table in Hansard a speech already in Hansard… oh the political genius]

Leave not granted.
Ms GILLARD—We do have the Hansard, so the Deputy Leader of the Opposition does not need to table the extract from it. Can I say to the Deputy Leader if the Opposition that while she and the Liberal Party might be stuck thinking about 1969 we as a government are dealing with the challenges of the modern age.

The problem for the Liberal Party is that in this modern age, a modern age where people believe that women are equal and extend them the same opportunities, the Liberal Party is stuck in the past. Its website was stuck in the past until raised in question time. Of course you can change a website; what you cannot change is the dinosaur attitudes we are seeing displayed by the Liberal Party today. They are stuck in the past, unable to move into the future and unable to embrace the future. They are stuck in the past on the role of women, stuck in the past on the question of climate change and stuck in the past in the embrace of Work Choices. This has been an embarrassment for the Liberal Party.

I woke up this morning, read the newspaper and thought that it was pretty bad that the Liberal Party did not give a fair share of questions to women. Now I have come to question time and watched them gag women speaking. However, having seen this performance from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, maybe the deputy leader is better off without questions.

[And with that Question Time ended, and Julie Bishop, no doubt drawing on every ounce of self denial that has seen her rise to the position she holds today, thought she left the winner]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Federer loses the US Open. Ok, so he is human. Bugger

As I sort of predicated yesterday, Juan Martin Del Potro beat Roger Federer in the US Open final. Sigh… deep breaths… I can get through this…

Del Potro started slow, but played some excellent tennis in the 4th and 5th sets to take the win.

Federer played so-so. He only got in 50% of his first serves. Del Potro by contrast got in 65%. That pretty much is enough to be the difference between a win and a loss. That Federer was able to get to within 2 points of winning shows how good even his below par performance is.

But all credit to Del Porto, he was brutal in the 5th set and you can’t say the better player on the day didn’t win.

Here’s Federer’s take:

ROGER FEDERER: … I got off to a pretty good start, and had things under control as well in the second set. I think that one cost me the match eventually. But I had many chances before that to make the difference. So it was tough luck today, but I you thought Juan Martin played great. I thought he hung in there and gave himself chances, and in the end was the better man.

Q. How disappointing is this not to get No. 6?
ROGER FEDERER: Five was great, four was great, too. Six would have been a dream, too. Can't have them all. I've had an amazing summer and a great run. I'm not too disappointed just because I thought I played another wonderful tournament. Had chances today to win, but couldn't take them. It was unfortunate.

Q. How do you look back at the Grand Slam results of this year? You got two titles of Grand Slam, two finalists. How did you look back?
ROGER FEDERER: Unbelievable. Unbelievable run. Being in all major finals and winning two of those, I'm losing the other two in five sets. Sure, I would have loved to win those two as well. Being so close, I think was two points from the match today. That's the way it goes sometimes. But year has been amazing already and it's not over yet. Got married and had kids, don't know how much more I want.

Q. With all the good that's happened this year, will that eventually help ease the sting of this?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, this one I think is easy to get over just because I've had the most amazing summer. I tried everything, you know. Didn't work. I missed chances. He played well and in the end it was a tough fifth set. It's acceptable. But life goes on. No problem.

Q. You were fully in control early on, and then the match start to change. Was there a moment where you said, uh‑oh, I got to get more serious or things aren't going the way I need them to go?
ROGER FEDERER: Not really. I thought I had him under control for the first two sets. I should never have lost so many chances. It was just a pity. I think if I win the second set, I'm in a great position to come through. Unfortunately, I didn't win that and that was it.

One of the reasons the loss wasn’t too hard to take (ok, I lie, I was shattered) was that Del Potro is a nice guy. Here’s his post match comments:

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: I don't know, I just want to live this moment. Of course I will be in the history of this tournament. That's amazing for me. I have new opportunities in the other Grand Slams to win, because if I did here, if I beat Nadal, Federer and many good players, maybe I can do one more time. But of course, will be difficult, because I was so close to lose today.

Q. You double faulted twice to go down two sets to one. How did you get yourself back into that match? What were you telling yourself?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, I was so...
Q. Were you momentarily down?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Yeah, but that moment I start to think the final, playing with Roger, the best player of the history, nothing to lose. And be two sets to one down, but I think, okay, you never lose until the last point, so keep fighting. The crowd help me, and they saw my fight in every point.
So I think that's help me.

Q. You came this close to almost breaking the racquet after the third set. All of a sudden there seemed to be a new spark in you.
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, I was so nervous. But for respect to me and respect to everyone, I don't do that, because maybe when I feel nervous I saw Roger and he's a gentleman player, you know. We have to learn many things about him. Many times I do that today.

Q. In the first set, he handled pretty well. Was it nerves on your end that you got a little nervous playing the first set? In the second set, what adjustments did you make to your game?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Yes, the beginning of the match I was so nervous, I can't sleep last night. I don't take a breakfast today. That's part of the final, you know.  But Roger start very good. I start little down. I miss ‑‑ I was bad with my serve, and that's important weapon of my game. When I broke his serve for first time, I start to believe in my game. To change.

Q. Does this victory, is it even more special because you beat Roger in the final?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Yeah, of course. Beat Roger for first time here in my favorite Grand Slam, and two sets to one down, everything, I think it's the best final ever in my life, of course.  But if I beat Roger if three sets straight will be better. But it's impossible.

Q. Do you think the match you played against him in Paris helped you here?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Yeah, sometimes help me, but sometimes no, because I was 4‑5 serving and I did two double faults, same like Paris when I was 3‑All in the fifth set. I think that, but fortunately it was early. I have two more set to fight. Maybe that's help me.

Q. The fact that you in your first Grand Slam final beat Roger, who is in the prime of his brilliant tennis career and the way did you it, what did you learn about yourself today and throughout the course of this tournament?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Well, I think everything is to learn about this match. I have many things to improve to be better. Of course I would like to be in top 4, top 3, or top 1 in the future. But I have to play like today many, many weeks in the year. If I still working and still going in the same way, maybe in the future I can do.

A very gracious and humble response.

The tennis blog GoToTennis, came up with a great post for Federer fans struggling to cope with the loss. It argues the fans need to go through the 7 steps of despair. Here’s the last – acceptance:

I accept that Roger Federer holds the all-time record of 15 Major titles. I accept that Roger Federer is the Greatest Tennis Player of All Time. I accept that he’s had an unprecedented 2009 – reaching the finals of all 4 majors, completing the career slam at Roland Garros, regaining his beloved Wimbledon title and retaking the No. 1 ranking. Oh, and he got married and fathered twin girls, to boot. I accept that Federer’s beaten his main rivals – Murray, Djokovic and Nadal – more recently than they’ve beaten him.  I accept that Roger’s hair will always reign supreme. I accept that his practice t-shirts will always make me smile. I accept that he’s richer, more talented and better dressed than I am. I accept that he can’t win every match, even though I really, really want him to. I accept that he lost the US Open to a nice young Fed fan named Juan Martin del Potro (and not one of the infidels – you know who I’m talking about!) I accept that even Roger Federer can’t have it all.


And for those wondering, one of the infidels is Andy Murray.

On the QT: Nyah, Nyah, Nyah Edition

This morning in The Age there was a story about how rarely women Liberal MPs got to ask questions. It must have hit a nerve, because after Turnbull and Hockey had their goes, they let Susan Ley ask a question – and in doing so she became only the third female Liberal MP to have asked more than 2 questions this year.

Also this morning, Tony Abbott was hitting the airwaves and TV shows pointedly not ruling out boycotting Question Time. It was a typically juvenile threat by Abbott, especially as it was never going to be carried out, and would only serve to make the Libs look like sooks. Australians might not think much of the proceedings in parliament, but they have never taken kindly to people who when things don’t go their way take their bat and ball and go home.

So instead of a boycott the Liberals decided to interrupt Question Time by twice moving the the speaker no longer be heard. This requires a vote and stops everything for about 10 minutes. The first time they did it was while Tanya Plibersek was roasting the Liberals over a “Women’s Issues” page on its website that still referred to John Howard as PM and begins with a 1944 speech by Robert Menzies. The second occurred during an answer by Julia Gillard where she was avoiding answering the question from Susan Ley on the comments by the head of a Parents and Children's organisation by instead reading out a letter from the principal of another school. Either way you can bet your life that both the head of the P&C and the principal involved each have pretty obvious political leanings.

The whole thing was a complete farce as the Libs became rowdier and more childish – Pyne was screaming out “you idiots! you fools!”, Abbott was muttering under his breath at the speaker, and then getting huffy when the Speaker pulled him up on it, the ALP Member of Solomon was kicked out for not doing anything, but volunteering to go anyway. However, just when things couldn’t possibly get more pathetic, up stepped Julie Bishop to ask Julia Gillard a question.

Thinking she was being oh so frightfully clever, Bishop referred to the mention of Menzies in Plibersek’s earlier answer and asked Julia whether she agreed with a speech made in parliament by Paul Keating which criticised the Coalition Government for being proud of the fact that more women were being employed than ever before. Here’s the kicker. Keating’s speech was from 1969!

Yep, Julie Bishop thought Gillard would be embarrassed about something Keating said 40 years ago. The question was so inane, and so poorly constructed as well that the Speaker contemplated ruling it out of order (because it asked Gillard to comment on something said by someone else about the policy of the Liberal Party and not about Government policy), the Government benches however were screaming at him to rule it in order.

Bishop is easily the most pointless member of the Liberal Party front bench. This question was beyond embarrassing. However, worse still, as Julia slapped her answer into the car park for six, Bishop tried to table the speech – yes she tried to get put in Hansard as speech already in Hansard.


Oh, in other news the Government announced it was going to split Telstra into two parts (unless Telstra splits itself). It is a momentous decision. It didn’t even really get a question – the closest was Turnbull asking about the National Broadband Network.