Monday, February 28, 2011

On the QT: Best Performance in a Shouty Role

I must apologise, but today I am not feeling the best and so there won’t be a post tonight (err other than this).

Today there was lots of shouting from Abbott when he moved a censure motion against Gillard for lying. Yeah the irony detector has well and truly been broken in Canberra. The censure motion was preceded by Gillard pretty easily slapping back any attacks from the Libs. You would have to be the most craven conservative supporter to suggest she looks at all rattled. In fact, she looks to be loving it.

Joe Hockey in his censure motion speech complained about the price of smokes, which was a bit odd, but no where near so odd as Abbott comparing Gillard to Ben Chifley because Chifley introduced petrol rationing. (and that was after more Lady Macbeth analogies).

During QT, Julie Bishop gave Gillard a death stare that was so obvious it begged to be laughed at (seriously Julie, you did it on The Chaser: it is now a joke). The PM pierced Bishop by saying: “I suggest Australians rush to their kitchens and check their spoons aren't bent after that performance". Bishop is the MP who takes least kindly to being mocked, and given her big weapon seems to be this stare, it truly deserves laughter. 

The whole of QT was all a bit by the numbers. Gillard is in her element and won’t be troubled one little bit by anything any of the Libs ask her. Abbott’s censure motion speech seemed to be addressed to about 72 people. Hardly anyone outside of parliament would have understood or cared about most of his references. And those who did listen to it and heard him use Alan Jones “Ju-liar” term must now realise that the guy is merely a mouthpiece for the right wing elements of the media. Has Abbot ever advocated any policy that first hasn’t been advocated by Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt or Piers Ackerman? Perhaps his paid maternity leave scheme? Any others?

When you get to the point where the leader of the opposition is reduced to calling the PM “Ju-liar” you have to concede that a point has been reached where he is no longer worthy of taking at all seriously. A shocking performance. Grade 2 level. My seven year old daughter has a more mature wit.

At least it wasn’t as bad as the Oscars.

My God what a horrible show – and I fast forwarded most of it (heck virtually all of it). My picks? Well I got 15 out of 24, which is decidedly poor. But it could be worse; I could be Anne Hathaway’s agent, who has to convincingly tell her she was a fantastic host.

Colin Firth proved once again that the Brits give much better acceptance speeches than Americans. The only exception to this rule is when the winning American is George Clooney.

And that’s it for me tonight. Hope to back on deck with my usual post tomorrow.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Night Relaxer–It’s Oscar Time

On Monday our time, it’ll be time to get excited about what a bunch of mostly aging, mostly acting, and mostly conservative people think are the best films and performances of the last year.

Yep, it’s time for the Oscars, and yeah they don’t matter, they’re always wrong blah blah. Bull I says. They are important, if for no other reason than, as William Goldman says, when the winner of one dies, his or her obituary in the newspaper will begin: “Oscar winning director/screenwriter/actor Joe Blow died this morning…”

Are the awards good judges of quality? Well does the phrase “Oscar winner Sandra Bullock” answer that question? Of course they get it wrong – hell I’ve written a stack of posts on just how wrong, but the wrongness is part of the charm. The ceremony itself will be dire. I mean really, really dire. it’s hosted by Anne Hathaway and James Franco? They couldn't find one stand up comic to do the gig? Not one? (Obviously they couldn’t get Ricky Gervais)

Ah well, enough bitching.

At work for the past three years I have run an Oscar tipping comp, which means I can’t enter it (and thus am denied the chance to win prizes up to and including $25). So here are my picks. The last time I did this – back in 2009 – I got a whopping 12 out of 24, so don’t be plonking down too much hard earned on any of these tips:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The King's Speech (2010): Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Gareth UnwinKings_speech_ver3

The Social Network? Can I get a shout for “over-rated”? Apparently it was the Citizen Kane for our age, except Kane was about looking back over a man’s life; this film cuts out when the protagonist is all of what 24? I’m all for making films about current events, but this film is akin to making a film about the Beatles in 1963, and making the main story arc the removal of Pete Best from the group.

The King’s Speech was a great 2 hours. It appeals the the voter’s age and sentimentality. I’m locking it in (But I would have voted for Toy Story 3, if only as an award for the best trilogy in film history.)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Colin Firth for The King's Speech (2010)

If Firth doesn’t win this, there will be a people’s revolt comprised mostly of women who get all squiffy at the mere mention of Firth’s name. These women of course will own a very worn out DVD of Pride and Prejudice.

I thought Firth was excellent, and certainly deserves it. Jeff Bridges got the award last year, so won’t get it here for his excellent work in True Grit. Given this year he was also in Tron:Legacy I figure he’s lucky he wasn’t banned from the ceremony altogether. Black_Swan_poster

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Natalie Portman for Black Swan (2010)

If you haven’t got Portman in your picks, you lose.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale for The Fighter (2010)

Would love Geoffrey Rush to get up, but Bale is the short priced favourite. If I was going to pick an upset, I’d pick Rush, but I figure given Bale as Batman has been in a franchise that has made a hell of a lot of money, the Academy will reward him for being actorly.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit (2010)

Melissa Leo is the favourite, but I think the Oscar voters will treat Steinfeld like another Anna Paquin. She was brilliant in True Grit – more than matching it with Jeff Bridges. And her scene where she barters about her father’s estate is the type of scene that grabs the votes. Social_network_film_poster

Unfortunately Jacki Weaver will have to make do with her AFI Award for her great role in Animal Kingdom. Earlier on in the award season I had hope Animal Kingdom might have snared one or two other nominations – especially screenplay. But this is still a great achievement for a little Aussie flick.

Best Achievement in Directing

David Fincher for The Social Network (2010)

Personally I’d give it to Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan. But it’s down to Fincher or  Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech. I have a feeling the King film gets the big one, and Fincher gets the consolation prize.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The King's Speech (2010): David Seidler

Goes nicely with the Best Picture Award. If it doesn’t win this, I can’t see it getting up for the big gong.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Social Network (2010): Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin is a “name”, so he’ll get it. I don’t have any real qualms with it, other than in his Golden Globes speech he gave the biggest suck up to Mark Zuckerberg. Could you imagine Herrmann Mankiewicz giving a speech praising William Randolph Hearst?

220px-Toy_story3_poster3-1-Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Toy Story 3 (2010): Lee Unkrich

My daughter at the moment is loving How to Train a Dragon, but Toy Story 3 is one for the ages.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Outside the Law (2010): Rachid Bouchareb(Algeria)

Haven’t seen any of the nominated films but this one is set in WWII. The Academy usually likes those, so it’s my pick.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

True Grit (2010): Roger Deakins

He’s now been nominated eight times and he hasn’t won once. That kind of wait just begs some Oscar love.

Best Achievement in Editing

The Social Network (2010): Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall

Go the Aussie Kirk Baxter! Also the editing in this film made the film what it is. Fincher didn’t really do much: it was all Sorkin’s script and the editing that made it look brilliant and cutting edge.

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Alice in Wonderland (2010): Robert Stromberg, Karen O'Hara

Easily the most arty of the five nominees, so give it to Alice.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Alice in Wonderland (2010): Colleen Atwood

Alice was all costumes and art.

Best Achievement in Makeup

The Wolfman (2010): Rick Baker, Dave Elsey

The Wolfman because… err geez I don’t know, do I look like someone who knows what good make-up is??

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Social Network (2010): Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

The thing I liked best about The Social Network was the score, but I don’t think it was that great a year for music. Zimmer’s Inception score was pretty over the top Zimmer. The King’s Speech score is pleasant and fits the mood perfectly, so I’d be happy if that won as well.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Tangled (2010): Alan Menken, Glenn Slater("I See the Light")

Rahman and Newman have won recently, so I’ll go with the old Broadway pro, Alan Menken in Disney’s last fairy tale animated story.


Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Inception (2010): Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, Ed Novick

Inception and True Grit were the only two films to be nominated in both sound categories, so I’m splitting the awards between them. Is that logical? err well no. But I’m betting most of the actors who vote for these awards know about as much about how films actually get made as I do.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

True Grit (2010): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey

Cos, well who knows..

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Inception (2010): Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, Pete Bebb, Paul J. Franklin

The dreams were cool, even if the story was a tad anaemic when you thought about it.


Best Documentary, Features

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010): Banksy, Jaimie D'Cruz

Yeah the Academy is conservative, but they gave a best Doco award to Mick Moore, so I figure they’ll like a bit of controversy that doesn't really shake up the industry too much – so I give it to Banksy.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Strangers No More (2010): Karen Goodman, Kirk Simon

Like I have any idea. I did an eeniee-meanie, and came up with this one. The subject seems to be nice an uplifting, so let’s go for it.

Best Short Film, Animated

Day & Night (2010): Teddy Newton

Pixar gets it.

Best Short Film, Live Action

God of Love (2010): Luke Matheny

A film about a “lovestruck, lounge-singing darts champion”? I don’t care if it is any good; I want this to win!

And let’s go out with my favourite Oscar acceptance speech of all time (because of course I would have one!). I can’t embed it (the Academy doesn’t like embedding of its videos). It is by Billy Widler, accepting the Irving G Thalberg Award. It is an excellent speech (it starts at the 2.30 min mark – you can go back and listen to Jack Lemmon introduce him if you want).


Have a good weekend.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On the QT: Abbott sings the song of angry men; Gillard’s the Master of the House

Today was what you may call a fairly big day in Australian politics.

Yes, today was the day Julia Gillard announced she was going to visit America next month… oh wait, now there was something else… what was it…?

Yep the Government announced that as of next July there will be a price on carbon.

Now many in the media have pointed out we don’t know what that price will be, we don’t know what it will cover, and we don’t know how much will be spent in compensation (not surprising as this figure will be dependent on the price). So you might think, oh well so what, ho hum, get back to me when you’re doing something real. But this is pretty much the next election right here and now. Today was a ‘can’t ever go back from’ moment. If Gillard and Combet can’t get the deal done, that’s it, they’re gone – they will forever be remembered as the did-nothing Government (won’t be true, but on the biggest issue it will be – and they have decided that this is the biggest issue). Get the deal done, but fail to prosecute the case properly, then they may still be gone anyway.

So big bickies to play for.

You may think, oh we’ve been down this road before and Rudd came up short (one vote short). But we’re on a different street now. The language used by Gillard and the Greens in today’s press conference was all economics. No moral challenge – it was about the economy.

It is also a very smart strategy – no announcing the result and saying here it is cop it sweet or you’re a denier – instead a “framework” has been announced – which means within which much lobbying will be done (oh so very much lobbying), but which also establishes the framework as you’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. It puts Abbott on the sidelines shouting, while others – including all of business – are inside doing work.

The mining companies of course have come out and told Gillard not to cave into the Greens, to which I say, oh go cry me a river. Where the hell were you this time last year when Abbott was blocking the incredibly polluting company friendly CPRS?

The mining companies bet big on Abbott wining the election. He didn’t and now the ALP are in Government with the Greens holding the balance of power. Twelve months ago the mining companies had the chance to get a scheme that the Greens hated and with which they would have required them to change bugger all of way they do business. And yet they gave it zero support. Now the Greens are sitting at the table and the same companies say, “Please don’t hurt us”.

Abbott opposes the tax. (Well duh – I mean, why on earth would a Liberal Party leader support a free market option?)

Abbott in response decided to get out the hyperbole stick and give it a bit of a whack:

"I think there will be a people's revolt against this carbon tax and I don't think it will every happen because the Australian public will be so revolted by this breach of faith."

It seems Abbott has been watching Fox News in the US and fancies himself the head of a Tea Party movement.

Australians don’t revolt against anything. Think of the Whitlam dismissal. People maintained their rage for all of a couple days, then overwhelmingly voted for Fraser. Abbott may think his hollering and shaking will get people racing to the barricades, but the fact is the only type who would ever turn up in numbers to any such rally would not be the types he would want. Australia doesn’t have a tea party movement, and if Abbott or Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt want one, it’ll look very One Nationish.

Abbott may think himself Enjolres in Les Miserables, personally I think he is more Thenardier (though he certainly ain’t the Master of the House). 

But onto to the fun of Question Time (you know that place of a kindler, gentler polity)

Abbott of course asked about the carbon price – asking quite rightly about Gillard saying prior to the election that there would be no carbon price in a Government she leads, and yet now she is doing just that.

It is going to be the biggest thing she will have to overcome in the first instance – and it is really a symptom of just how bad that election campaign was run. There was no way in hell she should have said such a thing – not only because it was poor policy, but also because it is bad politics to ever say never. 

But hey, John Howard got past it with the GST – but he had to wear the “never ever” line for the rest of his career. My guess is he doesn’t give a damn – he got the GST in the end.

Gillard’s response was feisty but restrained:

Ms GILLARD—Let me explain this to the Leader of the Opposition, bluntly, without the Leader of the Opposition’s characteristic spins and slogans—the characteristic use of words that we associate with the Leader of the Opposition, where he seeks to destroy and wreck and spin and mislead. Let’s be really clear about what we need to achieve here. Climate change is real—I believe that. I believe that it is caused by human activity. We need to act on climate change and build a low-pollution economy for the future.

Notice the mention of “economy” – you’ll never here mention of carbon price without mention of the economy.image

We need to do that because other parts of the world are acting. It is not in our interest to be left behind. We are a confident people. We are a people who have achieved change before and we will achieve it again. In achieving that change, we will make sure that we act fairly and have a fair carbon price.

Nice use of the parochial “We are a confident people” – good leaders always try to make you feel like you’re part of a nation that can do anything (the bad ones though just say it and think that’s all they need do).

The carbon pricing mechanism that I have announced today, arising from the discussions of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, is a carbon price mechanism that would start on 1 July 2012. It is a scheme that would start with a fixed price for a fixed period, effectively like a tax. It would move to a cap and trade emissions trading scheme, following that fixed-price period of three to five years. The carbon price would exclude agriculture, though we would have our farmers able to participate in initiatives like our carbon farming initiative. We will design a carbon price that meets these requirements. In doing so, because we are a Labor government, we will make sure that we act fairly towards Australians and that they are treated fairly as they adjust to carbon pricing.

The compensation is the key – and it is going to be hard to sell because people will always think they’re getting ripped off. But it was a big thing to help with the selling of the GST, and it’s going to be a big thing here.

Now is the right time to act—the right time to modernise our economy into a low-pollution, clean energy economy of the future. What Australians expect from the people that they send to this place is that they will work together for positive change. I actually believe the vast majority of people in this parliament came to this place wanting to be associated with changes that are positive for Australia and will make a difference to our future prosperity and future opportunity. Unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition came to this place hoping to make his name on what he can wreck, stop and destroy. We will continue working through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to price carbon. It is the right thing to do by Australian prosperity, by Australian jobs and by a clean energy future. By doing the right thing on climate change, we will keep working to price climate change and treat Australians fairly.

All very nice and well said. But it was with Abbott’s supplementary that things fired up:

Mr ABBOTT—Mr Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the Prime Minister that one member of this House—just one—was elected promising a carbon tax. One hundred and forty-nine members of this House, including every coalition member and every Labor member, was elected ruling out a tax. I ask the Prime Minister: since when does one vote trump 149 votes, unless the real Prime Minister of this country is Senator Bob Brown?

Here we see the second part of Abbott’s attack – that the Government is run by the Greens. It’s bullshit, but it can be effective if done well. In reality the Greens are no more in charge that the Democrats were when they forced Howard to take food out of the GST.

The Prime Minister leapt up as though she was expecting this question (which I think she was, given it was pretty obvious)

Ms GILLARD—Well, heavens above! The member for Wentworth was elected ruling out a carbon price, was he? I do not think so. Have a look behind you. Did you have a look at Lateline last night? You probably should have. Let us have a look at the coalition and its promises to the Australian people. Prime Minister Howard—whom I disagreed with across many long years—came to this place wanting to change Australia and make improvements for the future of Australia. He wanted to be remembered for the things he had created, not the things he had destroyed—unlike the Leader of the Opposition. Prime Minister Howard went to an election promising emissions trading.

Then, of course, there are the members of the frontbench who engaged in negotiations with the government and endorsed carbon pricing every step of the way. The member for Groom was there talking about the importance of carbon pricing. The member for Wentworth, who led the discussions on carbon pricing, was reinforced by people on the coalition back bench, who go to their electorates and try to clothe themselves as people who care about climate change and want to act on carbon pricing. So let us not have any of this hypocrisy. Let us not have any of the hypocrisy that was just on display by the Leader of the Opposition.

This is the problem for Abbott – it wasn’t just the ALP who back in 2009 were aiming for a CPRS, so too were a large majority of his own party.  All of them except Turnbull have turned tail on this though, as we saw when she later rose to answer a question from Joe Hockey and Greg Hunt yelled out some abuse. He was warned, and Gillard in a understated and ever so cutting tone said: “There’s a man of conviction, Mister Speaker

It was a line that obviously hurt because Bronwyn Bishop and Julie Bishop both tried to use it against her, but sorry ladies, when it comes to wit, the prizes for coming second are rather absent.

Gillard ended:

…I say to the Leader of the Opposition: now is the time for him to put aside the brutal politics he has played with climate change—his weathervane politics of believing climate change is real one moment and not real the next and believing carbon should be priced one moment and not priced the next. Now is the time for the Leader of the Opposition to actually try to do something right for this country. Now is the time for the Leader of the Opposition to put away his slogans, put away his spin and put away his propensity for political destruction and actually work with the rest of the parliament to do the right thing by this country. It is time he looked inside himself and tried to see whether there are any convictions in there about the nation’s future—because I cannot identify one from his behaviour.

So not a lot of love in the chamber.

It didn’t take long for Abbott to move a censure motion against Gillard.  This was the opening of Abbott’s speech:

imageLet us be clear on the extent of the betrayal. Before the election the Prime Minister said: “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.”

Before the election the Prime Minister said: “I rule out a carbon tax—”on the front page of Australia’s major paper the day before the election. We even had the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister calling the claim that a carbon tax would be introduced post election an ‘absolutely hysterical allegation’. That hysterical allegation has turned out to be cold, hard fact. Cold, hard fact is the betrayal of this government.

But to get the real gist of it, you have to read it as though it is written in full CAPS.

Abbott, as Abbot always does, shouted his speech. The guy has no inside voice. He thinks conviction is equal to volume. He also thinks wit and volume are linked, though sadly this is not the case as he displayed when he embarked on some tortuous Shakespearean reference:

I am sure that this Prime Minister, in her heart of hearts, in those quiet moments of reflection in the still, small hours of the night when she considers what she has said and done, like some latter-day Lady Macbeth would consider the statement ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead’ and say ‘Out, foul spot!’ ‘Out, foul spot!’ But she said it and she will be judged by it.

Lady Macbeth I can get if he is referring to her doing away with Rudd, but somehow I don’t think she is losing any sleep over it. But to think the blood of Duncan in Macbeth is akin to her saying there will be no carbon tax is not exactly a winning analogy. (Especially when the actual quote is “out damned spot”.)

He ended with the core of his argument:

The only explanation for the Prime Minister’s backflip is that the real Prime Minister of this country is in fact Senator Bob Brown. This is a prime minister who now has almost no credibility left. She has never seen a tax she did not like. She has never seen a tax she would not hike. This is a prime minister who has let down the Australian people no more so than today.

It’ll be a point that Alan Jones and Bolt and others will give a big run. I think it can be easily countered (the Democrats-GST example is a good start) –but it does need to be countered.

And so Julia stood to respond:

Ms GILLARD (2.40 pm)—What we have seen on display from the Leader of the Opposition today is why Australians do not trust him to be Prime Minister—a performance of hysteria, a performance of the ultimately hollow man, the man who believes in nothing and does not want to do anything to benefit the nation in the future. People come to this parliament wanting to work hard, wanting to make a difference, wanting to ultimately leave this parliament saying to themselves, ‘I did that; I created that; I built that—that is only in Australia today because I was in the Australian parliament.’

Get used to Gillard as the “can do PM”.

The Leader of the Opposition is the only man I have ever met who came to this parliament saying, ‘I want to leave the parliament with people able to say about me, “I destroyed this, I stopped that, I ended something else.”’ What he wants to do is destroy the capacity of this nation to deal with climate change. What he wants to do is destroy the capacity of this nation to have the jobs of the future through the NBN. What he wants to do is destroy the capacity of this nation to have health reform. What he wants to do is destroy the capacity of this nation to properly manage the mining boom and to get a proper return on the mineral wealth in our ground. What he wants to do is destroy the ability of Australians to even move from one bank to another freely—he would rather have them charged unfair exit fees. What he wants to do is destroy all of these things because in his hollowness and in his bitterness he has no positive ideas for the future.

imageExpect to hear more of the “hollow” line. The ALP has no doubt found some traction with the view that Abbott only stands for saying no. Voters like their leaders to stand for something (even if they disagree with it). It was the fatal flaw of Rudd in the end – no one knew what he stood for. That however, doesn’t mean it is a no-risk strategy – people knew what Keating stood for, and in the end it was his undoing.

…On this side we know why there is all this hysteria today—because the Leader of the Opposition has clutched to his old slogans like a drowning man to a passing piece of wood. …

(As an aside, I would have said “like a drowning man to a snake”)

She then continued the theme of the carbon price as an economic policy:

…Then once you have determined to act you bring to the task your market based principles. How can we best do this? I believe we can best do it through a market based mechanism that will give us the biggest transformation in our economy for the lowest cost.

I believe we should do this fairly by looking after Australians who are impacted by the change. We will do that. I believe we should do this by making sure businesses have certainty. We will do that too. I believe we should do this understanding that we are a confident nation, that we have made big changes before, that we have made big changes even when there have been hysterical campaigns against them and those big changes have led to the prosperity that we have today. The proud record of reform of the Hawke and Keating governments was something that transformed our economy for the future. That is what carbon pricing is about. It is the reform that we need now.

This is the best way to sell this policy. People hear carbon price and they think costs and prices, they don’t actually think climate change, so that is where you have to win the argument – with the economics, not with the science.

Back last year during the election, in frustration I wrote a pretend draft of Gillard’s speech on climate change. In it, I had Gillard saying:

I say this to you knowing that what I am to tell you is the most obvious thing in the world, but which has for too long been avoided by all in Government: avoided out of fear. Ladies and gentlemen, I say to you that if we put a price on carbon the cost of electricity, the cost of energy, in short the daily cost of life will increase.

The prices of all things will rise. This is unavoidable.

Why do I tell you this? I tell you it because the Australian people are not fools and I will not treat you as such. It is supply and demand – the same economic laws which have brought the western world prosperity unparalleled throughout human history. By setting a price on carbon we will be finally allowing the market to work as it should – one that will use the profit motive to find more efficient ways of producing energy that involved carbon such as coal and to find more efficient way of producing energy from renewable resources.

Now I know all of you will be still hearing the sound in your ears of mentioning higher costs of living.

I say to you that you will not be left behind. I said before that we need a carbon-emissions patch; that we cannot go cold turkey. This applies to consumers as well as to producers. I guarantee to the Australian people that every single dollar of revenue raised through placing a price on carbon will be directed back to the Australian people to compensate the impacts of the increases in costs of living.

Now I never actually thought she would say such a thing! And yet here today she pretty much did say it (though said it better):

I also want to be very clear with Australians about what pricing carbon does. It has price impacts. It’s meant to. That’s the whole point. Consequently things that generate a whole lot of carbon pollution will be more expensive than things that generate less carbon pollution. That’s the whole point. To have those price effects to send a price-signal so people innovate, people adapt, people go to low pollution and clean energy alternatives.

Now as a Labor Government when we price carbon we will ensure that the carbon price is fair. That it is a fair system. Every cent raised from pricing carbon will go to assisting households, helping businesses manage the transition and funding climate change programs.

There will be those who will say the ALP didn’t go to the last election promising this. And yes, you’re right, but the thing is I, and many of those on the left side of the ledger, wanted them to go to the last election promising this, so to be honest, I don’t care.

The biggest fight of this political generation starts today. Both Abbott and Gillard love to fight, the problem for Abbott is that for the last 6 months Gillard seemed to have nothing to fight for. She now does. She looked confident at the press conference, and looked like she welcomed the fight in parliament.

On the day she became PM she said to Abbott, “Game on”. 

It sure is now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On the QT: I’m gonna turn this car around

Tonight I had a bit of a life and spent time with friends and thus I haven’t had time to write a full post on Question Time. But when I got home I had a quick squiz at the events of the day (you know, just to ensure I don’t really have a life). Here’s a summary:

The Libs, while perhaps thinking they’re on a a policy winner due to advice found from the Treasury, are now in the position of arguing in favour of mortgage exit fees. Yep, good luck with that come election time (especially when some banks are already moving to get rid of them).

Tony Burke in response to the issue of the Vic Government trucking in cattle to graze in National Parks pointed out to the House that cattle are not native animals. Apparently this is a shock to members of the National Party, whom I assume think qualification for being native is mention in a Banjo Patterson poem. No doubt they think Clancy of the Overflow will be down to help muster the cattle later on  in the season.

Chris Bowen continued his fine work on Abbott’s inaction regarding Senator Bernardi, pointing out Malcolm Fraser would’ve sacked Bernardi, John Hewson would’ve sacked him, and that even Robert Menzies would’ve probably sacked him. Abbott is pretty weak when it come to admitting error – it is usually couched in some religious framework regarding absolution. But let’s not pretend Bernardi had a slip of the tongue. If Abbott wants to let anything go by due to “going too far” then basically everything is fair game, so long as the day after you say, oh sorry I didn’t realise that was too much (but you know, nudge nudge, I still think it). Keep it up Bowen.

The speaker Harry Jenkins was in a a bit of a mood. Chris Pyne was giving him the shits right from the get go, and at the hour mark he finally lost, letting forth the kind of volume usually preserved for fathers about 7 hours into the family road trip of Adelaide to the Gold Coast.

Pyne didn’t get the hint, and like the annoying little brother who keeps putting his hand over his big sister’s side of the back seat, he induced the most rambling frustrated setting out of the standing orders by Jenkins that you could ever not wish for:

(15) Mr Danby, 3:10:15 PM, to Mr S. F. Smith (Minister for Defence), Point of order, Mr Pyne, 3:10:47 PM

Dr Southcott, 3:15:59 PM, sought leave to table a document.

Member ordered to withdraw

Speaker ordered Dr Southcott, under standing order 94, to leave the Chamber for one hour for defying the Chair, and he accordingly left the Chamber, 3:16 PM,

Point of order, Mr Pyne, 3:16:37 PM

Mr Pyne, 3:19:15 PM

Mr Danby, 3:19:55 PM asked question again to the Minister for Defence.

Yep, nearly 10 minutes to go from Danby asking a question to him asking it again. Edifying ain’t it.

And that was it really. I think, despite all the umbrage and points of order, neither side was all that interested. The events in Christchurch perhaps made all realise how silly Question Time can be, but instead of attempting to redress the situation, they all just got a bit sillier. Oh well.

There was however some good stuff spoken afterwards by Ed Husic on a matter of importance: “The urgent need for leadership to reaffirm our commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration policy for Australia’s future”.

His speech contained some nice lines that those who want us to stop foreign aid and Muslim migration should think about:

Let me take the House in broad terms through the value of our exports to the following countries during 2009-2010:

• Indonesia $4bn
• Malaysia $3bn
• United Arab Emirates $2bn
• Saudi Arabia $1.5bn
• Pakistan $600m
• Bangladesh $400m
• Turkey $300m
• Jordan $150m
• Iran $150m
• Lebanon $25m

Just out of those countries, during that time, we earned a shade over $12bn in export dollars. Nations with over 50% of people who consider themselves Muslim.

Don’t forget the other $18bn we earned from countries with sizeable Muslim populations in our region – India, the Phillippines and the Russian Federation.

If we were to regress to a discriminatory immigration policy we would effectively say to those countries – we’ll take your dollars, but not your people.


Do people believe those countries would not react?

Do we think that governments in some of those nations would be mute while their local citizens ask why their governments tolerate a policy of discrimination by our government?

Let’s not only be bleeding heart about it all – there are also bloody good economic reasons as well to being open and free with peoples of Muslim background.

His words came on the back of two very excellent speeches last night by Andrew Leigh and Judy Moylan in response to Scott Morrison’s motion to limit the number of asylum seekers taken in by Australia that arrive by boat.

Leigh pointed out the furphy that boat arrivals who are granted protection visa are taking places from others:

In his motion today the member for Cook continued his efforts to make political capital out of the Australian refugee program. Yet, like the coalition’s election costings, his efforts are riddled with errors. The motion conflates the refugee and special humanitarian components of the humanitarian program, which are effectively quarantined from each other in terms of the number of visas granted and the priority accorded to processing them.

The motion erroneously suggests that Australia has rejected women at risk because irregular maritime arrivals have crowded them out, a mistake repeated by the member for Cook in his media release last November. This is not the case. The number of places available for refugees overseas is not affected by the number of protection visas granted to onshore applicants, and that includes irregular maritime arrivals.

He ended with this excellent passage:

I was asked this morning by a journalist who I greatly respect, ‘Why are you bringing this up today?’ It is a good question so, in closing, let me try to answer why I do not think we should merely let the issue drop.

When Pauline Hanson brought her extremist ideology onto the floor of this parliament in the late 1990s, some people said ‘Just ignore it and it’ll go away.’ They meant well but, as the subsequent rise of One Nation showed, they were grievously mistaken. Sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand. Here is mine.

If there is someone attacking a religion, that matters to me—even if it is not my religion. If there is someone suggesting that asylum seekers are a threat to our way of life, that matters to me—even if I am not an asylum seeker. And if there is a father who wants to attend the funeral of his child, that matters to me—even if it is not my child.

The first Liberal Party member other than Morrison to speak on the motion was Judy Moylan – and she spoke against it. Well done I say. She also had very good things to say. I repeat them here in length:

The real deficiency, though, of the current system is that in 1996, by a deliberate decision of the government, the number of onshore protection visas and the number of visas available under the Special Humanitarian Program were linked, so there is now a shortfall of places for special humanitarian visas. However, this motion intimates that somehow onshore applicants are less entitled to and less worthy of permanent protection than offshore applicants. It seeks to allot 3,750 visas to onshore applicants, or 787 fewer visas than the number granted to onshore applicants in 2009-10. This presupposes that asylum seekers would again be held in indefinite detention, or that temporary protection visas would be reinstated.

This would create the situation which in the past prolonged the pain and prevented the resettlement of asylum seekers. Apart from the obvious human trauma this policy engendered, it was administratively demanding and costly. The logical solution would be to delink the two programs and to allocate specific numbers for each of those programs. The fact is that once an asylum seeker reaches our shores we have a legal, social and moral obligation to assess the claim and then provide asylum. This obligation must be separated from our voluntary commitment to offshore resettlement programs.

The contention that temporary protection visas and mandatory detention will in some way stop the boats is not supported by history. Mandatory detention was introduced as a deterrent by the Labor government in 1992, when a small number of people arrived by boat. Ten years later, there had been 5,000 boat arrivals. In the five years prior to temporary protection visas being introduced, there were 3,103 boat arrivals. In the five years following the introduction of temporary protection visas, there were over 11,000 arrivals.

If we are serious about stemming the flow of refugees, we must desist from punitive policies and join with our regional neighbours and the international community to prevent the tyranny, genocide and war which cause people to flee from their homelands. We must prepare to share the burden of those who come to the region seeking asylum. After all, few people would choose to leave their home and make such a perilous journey without good cause.

Good words, well said. I am sure many Liberal Party supporters were proud they were spoken by one on their side. They should be.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On the QT: The Aspirational Class

The two most prominent players in Question Time today were Bill Shorten who was seen and heard, and Scott Morrison who was not seen or heard, but of which much was spoken.

Wayne Swan is off overseas this week being Treasurer at some big event, meaning Shorten has a chance to sit at the grown-ups table. It is a role he obviously loves, but which he is yet to master. In fact given the glee with which the Opposition greet him each time he strides to the dispatch box, it is obvious he has yet to put any fear into the Liberal front bench.

The first question directed at him was a case in point. He was asked why a carbon price was a bad idea before the election but is now a good one. Instead of answering it in the usual manner (ie not really answering but taking the opportunity to talk about why a Carbon Tax is a great idea yada yada), he got out a big prop. Now some props are good – Gillard wielding her photos of Liberal MPs at the opening of BER projects is always good; ditto her use of the WorkChoices mousepads – but Shorten had what seemed to be a double spread from the Sunday Telegraph glued onto a piece of thin cardboard. It looked very Grade 6 social studiesish. image

The story he was highlighting was by Samantha Maiden on the Libs infighting. The key part was a cartoon covering most of the two pages. Unfortunately I don’t have a scan of it, but Shorten thought it all very witty and ran through the characters represented, and ended with him saying he wouldn’t state who the rodent was. This resulted in more than a few calls from the opposition (mostly to do with the view that Shorten was a rat in Rudd’s ranks) to which Shorten responded to them “You’d need a big bit of cheese in front of these front benchers”.

This retort did not leave the house in stitches. More it had people thinking, huh?  OK, they’re big rats, I get that, but what is the cheese – is Abbott the cheese? Does that mean he’s big? Does that… oh look, I’m probably overthinking this.

The main problem for Shorten in taking this tack is it all seemed a little bit pointless given Julia Gillard had already delivered the perfect line on the Lib’s infighting when she said:

“The Shadow Finance Minister hates the Shadow Treasurer they all think the Deputy Leader's useless and they all hate the Member for Wentworth”.

About as succinct a summation as you could ask really.

It of course resulted in Christopher Pyne moving a point of order, and then bizarrely Harry Jenkins relating to us his discovery that “slag and bag” might mean something naughty. Yeah, thanks Harry, keep up the work.

Shorten got another question, this time from Joe Hockey, who decided to show of some of his wit. Instead of referring to Shorten as the Assistant Treasurer, he called him the “aspiring Treasurer”. As slip of the tongues go, it was not the most innocent. Unfortunately Joe then tried to pretend it was a slip by saying to House, “Hey, lots of people aspire to be Treasurer”, which showed that when it comes to quips, Hockey should not indulge in ad-libs because as everyone knows Andrew Robb aspires to his job, it rather backfired on him.

Luckily for him it was Shorten who was answering the question, because he tried some of his own “Carry-on” style word play and purposefully mixed up Hockey title for some more yuk-yuks. He then said he apologised and said “As the Leader of the Opposition would know you can sometimes monetarily have blackouts”.

No I didn’t get it either. (Has Abbott had a blackout recently??)

Shorten had one more question – this time on health funding. During his answer Bronwyn Bishop moved her usual pointless of order, which allowed him to get in one nice dig, saying “I always love it when the leader of the opposition gets his spiritual mother up to help him out.

Look, I’m not against Shorten. I think the guy has talent. But in Question Time thus far he has mostly been like a batsman playing Twenty20 in a Test Match. He needs to build his innings, get some runs on the board and then go the short handle. In the first sitting week he gave a response on insurance, that showed him to be across the issues and making some decent policy. It wasn’t flashy, but it worked. He needs to do more of it.

The other main member of the day Scott Morrison? Well you would think after his boomer of a week last week where he seemed unable to open his mouth without appearing to be the pin-up boy for race baiting and insensitivity that the Libs might have given him a question just to show they weren’t scared of the Government's attacks. Instead they kept him well out of the way – showing to all that they are actually scared of them.

The line about the debate on asylum seekers always being good for the opposition is nice when things are going to script, but with Morrison seeming to be targeting grieving orphans, and Senator Bernardi playing the old I love Muslims I hate Islam line, it looks very much like the Libs have crossed the line from being proud to be Aussie and you know what we mean when we say Aussie (wink, wink – yeah white nudge nudge) to a bit of obvious racism – at least to the point where many Lib supporters would be thinking, ah look can you tone it down a bit?

But Morrison’s absence form the dispatch box did not result in his absence from discussion. Gillard was asked a Dorothy Dixer:

Ms PARKE (2.55 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister outline to the House the importance of national leadership and shared values in debates surrounding Australia’s migration program and multicultural society?

Now I love this question because I suspect the old safe, we’re scared to even mention this issue ALP would have let the Immigration Minister answer this. But no, this was Gillard wanting to make it all about her versus Abbott. It was a real line in the sand question. An I’m here, and look where you are question. Her answer invoked mentions of One Nation – due to the Libs basically cut and pasting the One Nation email suggestion to cut the funding to the Indonesian schools. It is this one act of policy on Abbott’s behalf which more than anything has given Gillard an opportunity to drill him with the One Nation tag.

It is because of that policy decision that we have the QLD head of One Nation on Q and A tonight (what a stupid decision by the ABC by the way). It is because of that policy that prime knuckle draggers like John Pasquerelli are given column inches in The Weekend Australian, where he can write such utter tripe as:

Chris Bowen dropped a bombshell a few days ago when he announced the restoration of the portfolio and full-on multiculturalism, including anti-racism strategies and other mechanisms that will require taxpayer dollars. Politicians and the media live mainly in safe, leafy suburbs, away from dangerous ethnic ghettoes that were once white working-class suburbs. Who cares for those who have been killed by ethnic criminals who are the direct product of multiculturalism?

Australians now face a new era of uncertainty, and who will defend them against those who are determined to destabilise more than 200 years of cultural history? Labor is in tatters, but would an Abbott government be any better given the multicultural apologists that abound in the Coalition?

It is because of the way the Libs have handled this debate that you can get Paul Sheehan in the SMH writing such garbage that apparently results in him getting paid (geez, I once used to think you had to have intelligence to get published in a newspaper – I seriously wasted my life studying, to become a paid, published writer I should have hit myself in the head with a mallet for 20 years so as to get to Sheehan’s level):

One language, one law, one culture. Everything else comes under the heading of individual freedom, which should be available in abundance, infinite in variety and not the business of the state.

Notice how his final sentence completely contradicts the first. He doesn’t want “the state” to mandate anything, but he does want there to be only one language, one law and one culture (so I guess the rule is, “the state decisions” = bad, “Paul Sheehan decisions” = good) What if my individuality has me feeling a part of a different culture to Sheehan?

One law? Oh nice straw man – show me any parliament in Australia that is thinking about introducing Sharia law? Well c’mon. One Muslim leader calling for it ain’t enough.

One language? So not allowed to be bilingual eh? I knew I wasted 5 years studying German at High School (actually I did, but for other reason – namely I was useless at it). Again, show me anywhere where there is any move to remove English as the primary language? Migrants since they first came here, just as they have in America, have come here eager to learn English. Sure they may have Greek newspapers and the like, but people like Sheehan have been complaining about migrants not speaking our language since those migrants first got off the boats back in the 19th Century. That’s a good 150 years of immigration from some pretty strong cultures such as Germany, Italy, Greece, Vietnam… any sign that English is dissipating? (You know apart from when we adopt stupidities from America like Sarah Palin saying “refudiate”).

And one culture, eh Paul? And any idea what would that “one culture” would be? Define it for me will you. Is it the “culture” of Australia in 1920? 1940? 1950? 1960? 1980? 2000? Or do you think the culture of Australia is the same as then? Tell me what is not part of your “culture”? Tell me what on earth anyone can do to keep a culture static – and why on earth would anyone want to do it?

The stupidity and – I’ll say it – out right bigotry towards anyone not like themselves that has fed itself into the national media and political debate needs to be slapped down. And it is bloody great that the person slapping it down is our Prime Minister. Over to you PM:image

Ms GILLARD—I thank the member for Fremantle for her very important question raising as it does an important issue that confronts this House and this nation as it sits this week. We have proudly created a multicultural society with record levels of postwar migration. Indeed, I stand here as one example of that migration. Overwhelmingly, across those years, that multiculturalism, that unity, that non-discriminatory immigration policy has had bipartisan support.

I am prepared to pay tribute to Prime Minister Menzies who supported postwar migration. I am prepared to pay tribute to Prime Minister Menzies for creating the Colombo Plan. I am prepared to pay tribute to Prime Minister Holt for ending the White Australia policy and to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser for admitting Vietnamese boat people to this country and for creating SBS as one expression of our diversity and unity—bipartisanship all of the way.

For those of us that represent growth communities in this country, and I do, I know that in those growth communities there is often pressure on people when they see inwards migration. People easily fear change; people easily fear difference. When they see increased pressure on public services sometimes that fear can turn to resentment. It is the job of national leadership to reassure in the face of that fear and to explain to people that there is ultimately nothing to be afraid of. Just as we have incorporated migrants in this country in the past we will incorporate migrants in this country in the future. As well as reassuring it is the job of national leadership to make sure that we plan services and communities properly so that fear does not turn to resentment.

There is another path and that is seeking to channel that fear and that resentment into political gain. We have seen that other path used in national politics. We saw it used by One Nation. I am so glad that this nation defeated that spectre of One Nation by coming together as political parties across the divide of this aisle and putting One Nation last on how-to-vote cards. I am really proud our nation did that. But I would have to say that spectre of those ugly politics, that grubby path is before us again. The principal task of this parliament this week is to banish that spectre again.

It will require the Leader of the Opposition to do some difficult things. It will require the Leader of the Opposition to replace his shadow minister for immigration.

It will require the Leader of the Opposition to replace his shadow parliamentary secretary but, in the interests of banishing that ugly spectre from national politics, that is what the Leader of the Opposition must do this week.

We have a clear path forward which we should be on together—bipartisanship about multiculturalism, bipartisanship about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and bipartisanship about a non-discriminatory immigration policy. Let’s hope that is how we end the week. I fear that is not how it started.

Sure Gillard is playing the man as much as the ball. But in her words there is a line she has drawn from which she cannot now step back. It has to influence all her policies on migration and asylum seekers.  Sure we will not see the end to mandatory detention, but what we must see from here is an end to the false rhetoric of the ALP feeling it needs to “talk tough” on the issue – because this stupid desire to look tough has led the debate so far to the right that Bernardi has been able to say things which are akin to those which back in 1996 got Pauline Hanson kicked out of the Liberal Party. (And which now, won;t even see him lose his job as shadow Parliamentary Secretary.)

There is long way to go before this debate gets back to some semblance of balance, but I think it is right that the ALP keeps up its campaign against both Morrison and Bernardi. To let up now would be to tacitly acknowledge that their views are OK, and that the ALP is too weak to stand up on issues that matter.


The Government today backed down on the issue of youth education funding. They didn’t back down on the issue of the Senate not being able to initiate money bills, but they did concede (though of course they didn’t say it) that they would have to change the way the funding is decided. The only reason for this is because the students affected are those students which you would find throughout both Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott’s electorates, so their votes were gone. image

The Libs tried in Question Time to make the Government backing down into a bit of a theme. I can see why the Libs are doing it – after all Gillard has just trashed Rudd’s health policy, so I can understand why they think they’re on to a winning theme.

The problem is there are back downs and there are back downs.  Dropping your ETS policy – that’s a back down that will hurt – because it meant the ALP was not doing what they said they would do. But “back downs” on health funding and education funding are not seen that way by most people, because it is not as if the Government is no longer funding health or education. Go out in to the street and ask people what Rudd’s health deal was about, and you’d be lucky to find 1 in 100 who understood it. I didn’t really understand it – there was something about case-mix funding and GST, but other than that? No real idea. People don’t really give a damn about health deals – they just want a deal to be done.

It is why the Essential Media Poll today when asked about the Health Deal had 67% of voters in favour of it – including 62% of LNP voters. And when asked whether Abbott should block it only 11% said he should. Only 20% of LNP voters say he should block it and 36% say he should support it!

People don’t mind back downs if it means a deal is done. In fact they often think it means you’ve got a better outcome – ala John Howard backing down on GST on food. There’s back downs and back downs, and Julia Gillard seems to be more of a John Howard type of back downer.


A quick bit on the Newspoll out tomorrow/today. After such a high profile “debate” on asylum seekers last week, it is pretty likely that people are starting to pay more attention to politics than they were in January and early Feb. Given the NSW election, I still think there’s a bit of noise out there, and still a bit of a “sick of them all” attitude (especially in NSW). But tomorrow’s Newspoll has it all back 50-50. As I say not much there – though the ALP is up 2%, but still pretty much in line with the Essential Poll. Nothing to lose sleep over for either side really. But the Preferred PM metric (a bit of a beauty poll that influences very littler except back bench nerves) has Gillard ahead 53-31. That is interesting, Abbott is suddenly once more a long way back.

On the very important issue of satisfaction rating (important because there does seem to be a strong link between a PM satisfaction rating and the Govt’s 2 party preferred support) has Gillard’s satisfaction on 50% (up 5 points) and her Dissatisfaction down 3 to 39% – for a net result of +11. Abbott meanwhile has a satisfaction rating of 38% (down 4) and a dissatisfaction rating of 49% (up5 points) for a net result of minus 11.

The polls are still meaningless at the moment in terms of what would happen if there were to be an election – no one is that engaged – but they are meaningful for Abbott’s leadership, and the tack he has been taking. The block and criticise all and take a hard-line on asylum seekers strategy seems to be losing its lustre. 

Would any Lib want the leadership right now? Doubtful, but I’ll keep with my prediction that either Abbott or Gillard will be gone by Christmas.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Lounger

Given I couldn’t think of anything for last night, here’s some pretty amazing clips that I’ve come across today.

The first, via @caldron_ baidu, is this incredible trailer for the video game Dead Island. The game is about killing zombies, which you’d think, oh ok, pretty standard stuff, ho hum. (I mean killing zombies has been a video game staple for a very long time); well if the trailer is anything to go by, the game is turning it all up a notch.

Trailers for big budget games are now standard – in fact many are better than those for films – because given it’s a game the focus is on the premise, not the “spoilers” that you come across so often in film trailers.

The trailers for Call of Duty: Black Ops were brilliant (I liked this one the best), but this one, and its reversal of time, is just stunning.

Now it ain’t for the kids – it is definitely R 18+ – but for those who think there’s no art in video games, have a look at this:

Now to watch it in chronological order go here (I did have it embedded, but the screen shot that was the default picture on the video was freaking me out!)

And now for something much lighter (much!), via Tom Burmester, the cast of the film Take Me Home Tonight appear in a video by Atomic Tom redoing the 1980s “classic” by The Human League “Don’t You Want Me”. The clip is full of 1980s movie references, have fun picking them:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Night Relaxer – Relax!

It was one of those days that was well…. “work”. One of those, “how many times will this document crash while I am working on it” days. One of those, “will spending 30 minutes in a check out line at Woolies tip me over the edge” days. Actually on this last point I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The girl at the check out, though a “learner” was trying so very hard and was so very sweet that in the end I didn’t mind telling her the nectarines weren’t peaches, and that yes that was in fact a green capsicum, and I rather oddly I left Woolies smiling.

For much of the day I have also been stressing about what the hell to write about tonight. I couldn’t think of anything. C’mon I said to myself while driving home, I need a Friday Night Relaxer topic! No, I lie, I didn’t say this, I was too busy singing along to the Meatloaf Bat out of Hell CD that I had rediscovered earlier in the week and have found surprisingly enjoyable. I don’t think I have listened to it for about 7 years and yet I knew every single work from the start of the disc till the end (and that “For Crying Out Loud” song, what a way to end an album!).

But I digress.

I arrived home to an empty house (my wife and daughter were out). I usually do the cooking each night, but when I am cooking just for myself I usually take the laziest option possible.  Thus I fixed myself a pizza I had bought from Baker’s Delight, topped with some shredded cheese I found in the fridge and capsicum (yep green).

While waiting for the pizza to cook I got on Twitter and discovered that next week Ian Nelson, the Queensland State Director of One Nation, is to be a guest on Q and A. So as you do I threw out a few Tweets in response to the question posed by the official QANDA Tweet account: “Why put One Nation's Ian Nelson on #qanda?”. (One example – “Why? You mean there was thought involved? Wow, I just thought you were drunk.”)

I then ate the pizza.

It did not taste good.

Back on Twitter the conversation had turned to female pop singers of the 1980s and the lyrics of Duran Duran. (Look no one said Twitter is always deep).

By this time my wife and daughters had returned home, and my wife let me know that she thought it best we throw out the bag of shredded cheese I had used because, well it might be ok to eat but she wouldn’t give it to the girls.

So yeah. My stomach heard that, and quickly went into a sort of defensive pre-churn tightening mode.

All the while I was still no closer to a topic for this blog post.

And then I realised that I was getting stressed out that it was past 8:30 and I had not written a post called “Friday Night Relaxer”. Relaxer. Relaxer. And like Homer Simpson thinking about “Dental Plan!  Lisa needs braces”, the phrase “relaxer” hit home and I realised I didn’t need to write anything.

Now if I were being paid to write these posts I would of course done what all writers do when in the pits of an idea freeze, and written about my thought process on how I tried to come up with an idea to write a blog, and in the end could not.

But, sorry this blog has standards, and I cannot stoop that low.

So I figure, relax, let it go, and have a good weekend. Next Friday an idea will come. And after all, I’ve had a good conversation on Twitter, got through Woolies still smiling, and only had the downer of a dodgy pizza.

And you know what Meatloaf says about two out of three….

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two halves of the asylum seeker debate

So we started the day with a cracker of a story by Lenore Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald:

THE opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate's growing concerns about "Muslim immigration", "Muslims in Australia" and the "inability" of Muslim migrants to integrate.

Mr Morrison's suggestion was made at a meeting in December at which shadow ministers were asked to bring three ideas for issues on which the Coalition should concentrate its political attack during this parliamentary term.image

That is a pretty blunt opening to a story. She uses quotes to described alleged statements made by Scott Morrison, and then gives us more of an account of the meeting:

The Herald has learnt several colleagues, including the deputy leader, Julie Bishop, and the former immigration minister Philip Ruddock, strongly disagreed with the suggestion, pointing out that the Coalition had long supported a non-discriminatory immigration policy and saying it was not an issue that should be pursued.

This sentence more than any other in the story makes me believe it, because who in their right mind would make up Phillip Ruddock being the voice of reason?

The fact is the Liberal shadow cabinet is leaking like a sieve, and Taylor is not a journalist known for just throwing out gossip. You can bet if she ran with it, she ran with it because at least two, and most likely three, people corroborated on it.

But let’s now go to Scott Morrison, who obviously will come out and call the story absolute lies and tell us that he never said any such thing:

"As all journalists know I don't comment on shadow cabinet here or anywhere else. All I can say is the gossip reported today does not reflect my views.”

Err, what? “Does not reflect”. What the hell is that? Can you get an any more blatant non-denial denial than that? Who cares about your views – did you say it? Did you throw it out there for discussion? Did you shoot the breeze and say, “Hey let’s run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes”?

Nope, no idea. His views may be that migration should be free of religious questions, but that doesn’t mean he could not have suggested the Liberal Party take the political course suggested in Taylor’s story.

But hey, no doubt Tony Abbott will leap to his defence with a strong denial of the truth of the story:

“I think that is a travesty of Scott's position, an absolute travesty of Scott's position and I just want to stress that as far as the Coalition is concerned we have always had, and we will always have, a non-discriminatory immigration policy”

Oh ok, a travesty of his position. Fine then, he doesn’t think migration should be done on the basis of religion, but Tony, did he make the suggestion in the shadow cabinet? Again, who knows, just another non-denial denial. This issue is pretty bloody hot, and if it were false, my supposition is that both Morrison and Abbott would have said “The story is false, that discussion did not take place, and at not time did Morrison/I ever make such suggestions”.

But no, and instead only two other Liberal MPs made comment on the issue. First Greg Hunt:

“Unfortunately I wasn't at the meeting, but I know Scott, and his style is deep compassion, he is deeply compassionate, he agonises around the issues of protecting people who are being lured to their deaths”

imageSo he wasn’t there, and even then he doesn’t actually say he knows that Morrison didn’t say such a thing, merely that he has known Morrison for ages etc etc. The other MP was Steve Ciobo:

“It's great for a headline but I doubt that was actually what was said,” he said. “You don't capitalise on fears.”

He doubts it, but again he doesn’t know because he wasn’t at the meeting either, hardly a great defence.

And how bad is it that Ciobo and Hunt, two apparently moderate Liberals are the ones who have to do the defending? They must love having to throw themselves in front of the firing line to protect someone like Morrison.

Now maybe Julie Bishop and Phillip Ruddock have been out denying the story today and I just missed it, but somehow I doubt it.

Tony Abbott also gave us this pearler in his assessment of Morrison:

“There's no one who is a more decent and a more compassionate and a more sensitive person in public life."

Err, wasn’t this the guy you said yesterday had gone too far in his statements on the burial of asylum seekers? I don’t know about you, but I think I could make a list of about 50 people in public life more compassionate and sensitive than Scott Morrison without too much thought being undertaken. “No one who is a more decent… person” Really Tony? No one. Geez, your hyperbole betrays you.

For me the interesting thing is that the ALP looks like they are not going to let this one go through to the keeper for fear of annoying Alan Jones and Steve Price. Julia Gillard in New Zealand, called for Abbott to either deny the story or to sack Morrison:

"This is a big question for Mr Abbott to answer today in an act of leadership, is he saying the modern Liberal Party now stands for discrimination on the basis of religion?" she said.

"Mr Morrison, from today's reports, appears to want to go down a very grubby path in the migration debate in this country.

"Is Mr Abbott going to follow him down that path, or stop it now and get Mr Morrison to go to the back bench?"

I think the ALP sense that the community is shifting its views on the issue and that finally the time has come for it to show some backbone.

The difficulty of such a stance is not to be underestimated though. Take this article in today’s The Oz, which points out that 75 per cent of asylum seekers who are initially refused a visa get one on appeal, and that 96 per cent of asylum seekers gain a visa. Note that this is not reported as a good thing. In fact it is mentioned in the editorial as a sign of failure!

The Australian reveals today that extremely high percentages (up to 96 per cent) of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan have been classified as refugees. We also have reported previously that even assessed on Nauru under the Pacific Solution, 70 per cent of asylum-seekers won the right to settle in Australia. This underscores that the dilemma cannot be resolved by assessments; rather, the aim of our policy should be to stop the boats. Now that the Pacific Solution has been unpicked, that won't be an easy task.

OK, let’s put this in context. The Oz’s figures are based on a mere 165 appeals. And of that 165, only 75 per cent were successful, so we’re talking around 124 people. My God, how did we find room for them all?

I expect the ALP will continue to hammer Morrison on this, and any time Morrison or Abbott try and bring up the issue of asylum seekers in Parliament expect this story to be shoved back down their throat. The ALP may finally be moving back to a party of true compassion on this issue, and for that we may thank one 9 year old boy…


The other side of this debate is that of Chris Bowen and the calls for more compassion. In the past 24 hours Bowen has been pretty busy. Firstly, last night he gave a speech at the Sydney Institute on “multiculturalism”.

On what?

Yeah, it’s that thing we all used to take for granted until the word was seemingly banned from public use sometime during the Howard Government. The ALP under Rudd continued its banishment, but now, it is back, and Bowen gave it a great welcome back speech:

The genius of Australian multiculturalism

Fantastic title, couldn’t improve on it. But how’s this for an thesis to be proud of:

My argument tonight is that multiculturalism has, without a doubt, strengthened Australian society.

How about this:

In my view, the diversity of the Australian population has been unquestionably of benefit to us. It brings us economic benefits and cultural benefits.

Yep, not just better food, but “economic benefits”. No more of this bullshit about migrants taking our jobs and destroying our standard of living.

And then this absolutely stirring and fist pumping stuff:

It seems to me, if you accept the benefits of a diverse population, you then have a choice: do you respect, embrace and welcome the cultures of those you have invited to make Australia home; or do you shun them?

Do you seek to invite full participation in Australian society of those who come here, or do you treat them as guest workers and hope they integrate – while all along suspecting they won't?

Multiculturalism is about inviting every individual member of society to be everything they can be, and supporting each new arrival in overcoming whatever obstacles they face as they adjust to a new country and society and allowing them to flourish as individuals. It is a matter of liberalism.

A truly robust liberal society is a multicultural society.

To me, multiculturalism is a bit like a marriage. It has its stresses and strains. It has its misunderstandings and miscommunications. We have to remind each other occasionally that we are better off with each other. It takes nurturing; it takes care.

It is in that spirit tonight that I quite proudly proclaim that Australian multiculturalism has worked. That not only has Australia benefited from the immigration of those who come from diverse backgrounds, but we have also benefited from the cultures they have brought and sustained in this, their new homeland.

We now live in a nation shaped by migration: one with broader horizons, open and tolerant. A nation that is more confident, more vibrant and more diverse. We recognise and celebrate different cultural heritages but insist that our future is common, is shared.

This is the genius of Australia's multiculturalism.

A speech like this is part of the reason why I, and I suspect many who voted for the ALP in 2007, was  glad to see Howard go – he who shunned the phrase multiculturalism. It may have taken nearly 3 1/2 years, but this ALP Government seem to be finding a soul and a backbone. And given the pathetic and shameful way it tried during the election to pander to supposed anti-immigration views of “western Sydney”, it is about bloody time.

Fight the fights worth fighting. imageAnd this one certainly is worth it.

Speeches however are not much good if deeds don’t support them, and thankfully Bowen wasn’t just busy making speeches.

The story of 9 year old orphan Seena has become a face of this whole debate. It is horrible that he has, and horrible that for some reason the public seems to need a human face before enough pressure is applied to make politicians act. As I wrote yesterday I had no problem with the Department making the checks to ensure that when Seena was released into the care of his relatives in Sydney all would be well. That to me is a pretty sensible (and actually appropriate) thing to do. My issue was the time it would take, and also why was there a need to fly Seena back to Christmas Island, when it was obvious to all he would be flown back to Sydney soon anyway.

This morning on AM Bowen explained it all thus:

CHRIS BOWEN: Very clearly he needs to be released into the community and he will be.
I've just got a few more checks to make to make sure that we have the appropriate care arrangements in place, the appropriate psychological support for him in place as we release him into the community and to make sure that the arrangements are all appropriate for his release. I envisage that happening very, very quickly.

SABRA LANE: Does it make sense to send him back and then bring him back to Sydney? You have discretionary powers. Isn't this a case where you could use them?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well in the use of my discretionary powers I need to make sure that all the appropriate arrangements have been put into place. I'm not quite yet satisfied that that's the case. But I am confident that that will be the case very shortly.

Actually he didn’t quite answer the bit about whether it make sense to send him back to Christmas Island, but there was an indication Bowen was onto this. But knowing bureaucracy as I know it, I thought it would dawdle somewhat. And then tonight Bowen went on 6pm with George Negus. I expect to hear a repeat of his interview on AM – the standard politician babble – when he came out and announced:

"He [Seena] and family who've been looking after him on Christmas Island can be released into the community, as I've been working on for several days," Mr Bowen said.

"Released to a home in Sydney, and that's the other thing - we had to find a house, accommodation to put him in not too far, hopefully, from his other relatives."

All those checks done in a day? Let me tell you that only happens when a mighty big rocket has been put under the Department from very high up. So high up that not only is the Minister letting it be known he wants it all sorted, but most likely he is speaking in a way that lets it be known the PM has also told him she wants it sorted as well. Sorted now.

I suspect there were some pretty frank instructions being given to senior offices of the Immigration Department, possibly along the lines of if you can’t get his done today we will be finding someone who can. image

Bowen then went on the 7:30 Report and announced thattwo other children on the island who are also survivors of the shipwreck have not received nearly as much media attention but he is equally concerned about them. He says their papers have also been fast-tracked and they will be released also”.

It is a great result, and one that inevitably and rightly brings the response of why did it take so long, and what about the other 1000 children in detention?

The website Chilout states that there are still 1040 children in “secure, locked detention facilities”. I agree that they should be instead kept in community detention, but I think we need some perspective. Those children for example who are in the Inverbrackie Detention Centre, and who are also attending local schools, are not exactly living in some hell hole. Remember only last November Abbott was deriding Inverbrackie as an “idyllic location”. I agree with him on this – it is a lovely area, and I think if you are going to have families in detention, a place like Inverbrackie is about as good as it gets. In fact I think should be the standard.

So yes, let’s continue the pressure on the Government to get the children out of detention, but I don’t think we need to condemn Bowen on a day in which he has backed up his words and acted well. 

Instead the call should be: Well done, but let’s see more of the same (and know we’re watching).