Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On the QT: Spelling Bee Edition

At the Parliamentary doors this morning, Senator Steve Fielding was asked to explain why he wanted the Governor of the Reserve Bank to appear before a Senate Hearing on the stimulus package (you know the one which we had a hearing on last year, and was then discussed at Senate Estimates hearings in February and then again in May). He had been heard earlier saying that he wanted monetary and “physical” policy to work together. The journos were obviously wanting clarification on just what was “physical” policy.

He cleared it up by saying he meant “fiscal policy. He should have stopped there, except he then went into Dan Quayle territory:

“I'll make it quite clear: fiscal, F-I-S-K-A-L."

When a journalist repeated his misspelling, Fielding corrected himself and said:

"F-I-S-C-A-L. Yeah, fiscal." (He knew straight away he had been caught in a “bugger” moment, and he knew it would also get a lot of airplay).

Later in the day he came out and said he suffered from a “learning difficulty”, which meant he struggled with English. Suddenly, according to some media types, we were not allowed to laugh at his misspelling, and instead should be thinking he was brave to admit his problem.

Please. For a start, he was the one who decided to try and spell the word, so it’s not like he was being picked on; and second, learning “difficulty”? I had a difficulty learning maths, tech studies, and pretty much anything that involved chemicals and equations with electrons. It’s called having different strengths, and it’s why I don’t go about stating the chemical make up of sodium nitrate, explaining how a cosine is used in trigonometry, nor ever try to make anything from wood with a band saw. (I’m also pretty hopeless at spelling, despite having a PhD in English Lit, which is why I would never spell words out loud to the national press). Sure, maybe he has dyslexia, fair enough – that is a “disorder” (not a disability – would you describe someone with dyslexia as “disabled”?), but I haven’t seen anywhere him saying that is what is his “difficulty”. If it is dyslexia, then why not admit that? Wouldn’t it be good to show people that dyslexia is not an impediment to becoming a Senator? (as if anyone nowadays wouldn’t think that anyway).

Of interest as well is that in the media “difficulty” quickly became “disability” or “disorder”. My daughter has Down Syndrome – that’s a disability, being useless at English is not. (Is it too much to ask the media be correct on a story that originated due to someone spelling a word incorrectly – or is it the case that the spelling of words is more important than their meaning?)

Anyhoo, the fact is those from the left who attack Fielding don’t do it because he can’t spell, they do it because he got voted in on less than 2% of the vote, takes advice on climate change from people who think the link between cigarette smoking and cancer is overrated, and because he comes out with dopey statements such as that his voting against an increase on the tax on alcohol “broke the back of the alcohol hold on Australia”. 

But look, Fielding is a small potatoe (as Dan Quayle would say); the big events were happening in the House of Reps. Which is to say, nothing of any import was happening.

Here’s the shorter version of today’s Question Time:

Opposition: Lindsay Tanner, why won’t you wind back the stimulus?
Tanner: You’re kidding aren’t you?

Today the opposition seemed to target Tanner – ignoring Rudd completely. I’m not sure who the bright spark in the Liberal Party room is who thinks Tanner is the ALP’s weak link in Question Time, but I suggest they are displaying all the signs of a learning difficulty.

Turnbull, displaying that he has yet to learn how to ask a question in Parliament, quoted a speech by Tanner from 2007 in his question to Tanner, which meant Tanner could bring up everything else he had mentioned in that speech (which included attacks on the Howard Government advertising, Regional Rorts, etc, etc).

It was all a bit pointless and dull. The opposition alternating between nit picking the education stimulus and trying to attack Tanner because the stimulus is working too well.

The upshot is that this Friday Ken Henry and Glenn Stevens will rock up to the Senate and say absolutely nothing startling – interest rates are at rock bottom and will go up because they are at expansionist levels. The stimulus should remain, but there shouldn’t be any further cash handouts (which there aren’t any), and stimulus should now be targeted at mid to long term infrastructure projects (as it already is).

But I guess it’ll give Senators Abetz and Joyce another chance to battle wits with Ken Henry. Anyone wondering who will win? I thought not; on that subject no one has any difficulty.

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