Sunday, October 31, 2010

Flick of the Week: That's not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it?

This week’s Flick of the Weeks takes us with Johnny Depp from his bit part as Learner in Platoon to his role of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.220px-Pirates_of_the_Caribbean_movie

A funny thing happened when Pirates of the Caribbean came out: everyone suddenly realised that Johnny Depp was the biggest star going around – a guy who could act, but also could carry a blockbuster.

Prior to POTC, Depp was pretty much most known in film as the go-to-guy for Tim Burton. He was the guy who had a chance at major teen-fandom with 21 Jump Street and turned it down. He was the guy who had been engaged to a string of Hollywood actresses – Sherilyn Fenn, Kate Moss, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder (the latter of course the reason for his “Winona forever” tattoo, that is now famously “Wino forever”. 

He was well known, but he was edgy, on the outer, more at home in a film that would make people think “huh?” than it would have them lining around the block to see.

Here’s his US box office prior to POTC:

Edward Scissorhands………………………$56,362,352
Benny and Joon……………………………….$23,261,580
What's Eating Gilbert Grape……………$10,032,765
Ed Wood…………………………………………….$5,887,457
Don Juan de Marco…………………………..$22,150,451
Arizona Dream………………………………….$112,547
Nick of Time……………………………………..$8,175,346
Dead Man…………………………………………..$1,037,847
Donnie Brasco…………………………………..$41,909,762
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas………$10,680,275
The Astronaut's Wife……………………….$10,672,566
Sleepy Hollow……………………………………$101,071,502
The Ninth Gate………………………………...$18,661,336
Before Night Falls……………………………..$4,242,892
The Man Who Cried………………………….$747,092
From Hell…………………………………………..$31,602,566

That is not a record that would have Hollywood suits salivating.

The standard rule in Hollywood is the Tom-Cruise rule – ie do one for money and then one for art – So you have him do Mission: Impossible then Jerry Maguire then Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia then Mission: Impossible II – everybody is happy and the star gets to feel like he is a real artist.

Depp seemed to forget about doing the one for the money. Yeah Nick of Time was an action film, but given it was done in real time, it was a bit of a gimmicky one. But other than that? Sleepy Hollow was the only one that got over $100m – the bare minimum to be classed a hit. And yet for Nick of Time and Donnie Brasco he was apparently paid $5 million.  Madness I hear you say. Well yes, but Donnie Brasco took $83 million in the rest of the world – you think they were all just going to see Al Pacino in his decline? 

Depp was a star who didn’t appear in movies that stars were meant to appear in, but it didn’t matter we – and Hollywood – knew he was a star. He just has it. There’s no other way to describe it, but he’s got it, and others, like say Matthew Modine do not.

And so along comes this mad idea to make a film based on a ride at Disneyland – and let’s be brutally honest, a pretty dull ride at that. 185px-Carolco

And what is more it is to be a pirate movie. The biggest grossing pirate movie prior to POTC? Cutthroat Island (starring Matthew Modine) which cost $98 million to make and brought in a stunning $10 million. How bad was its performance? Well it bankrupted Carolco Pictures, so I think we can put it down as a loss.

When word came that Disney were doing this film many were ready to scoff and gag – especially as it was going to cost $140 million to make.
But there were a few things that made you stop and think: Geoffrey Rush was in it, and Rush was not known for appearing in crap. Kiera Knightly was in it, and coming off her breakout role in Bend it Like Beckham you just knew Hollywood was desperate to get her in a hit. And Legolas himself, Orlando Bloom, was in it – so you had to figure there’d be a few teenage girls who would see it anyway, so it surely couldn’t bomb. The screenwriters were also intriguing – Ted Elliott and Terry Rosio had done Shrek, so you knew they could have fun with genres. 

But most of all Johnny Depp was in it.

He was a star, but he didn’t appear in Hollywood schlock, so you felt safe going to see this – it was as though Depp (and Rush) was letting you know this one was going to be done well – a blockbuster with intelligence perhaps – or at the very least some wit.

And it was.

The story about pirates who are cursed and who need to get the blood of the son of one of their crew and also the final piece of gold returned is all nice and everything, but you don’t really care too much, you just enjoy the ride. And that is the crucial element of pirate movies – they have to be fun. They can’t be deep or attempt to say things about our culture (as for example westerns can), they are just the purest adventure film. Captain Blood, Treasure Island, The King’s Pirate (a personal favourite of mine as a kid) are just good fun, and POTC has this in spades.

The fun is not so much the action (though the opening sword fight between Depp and Bloom is joyous to watch), it is through the zippy lines delivered with relish by Depp and Rush.

Depp so revolutionised how pirates are viewed that when Opera Australia did a revival of The Pirates of Penzance, Anthony Warlow essentially played the Pirate King as Jack Sparrow. 

Bloom is as good as he can be (you can take that anyway you want), Knightly is an excellent 21st century damsel in distress. But the film belongs to Rush and Depp. When they are on the screen you really don’t give a damn about anyone else – they are two actors appearing in a blockbuster but knowing just what tone to adopt. They are like two “serious novelists” who decide to write a potboiler pageturner and who end up showing everyone that lowbrow doesn't mean low quality.

Depp absolutely deserved his Best Actor nomination. He carried the film and made it a blockbuster in a manner perhaps only Russell Crowe in Gladiator has done in the last 20 years (we can now add Robert Downey Jr to that list for Iron Man, but that was helped by the actual fan base of the comic – unlike Depp’s and Crowe’s films) .

And bingo, Depp was suddenly the biggest star on the planet. Here’s his US box office since POTC:

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl……..$305,413,918
Once Upon a Time in Mexico………………………………………………..$56,359,780
Secret Window………………………………………………………………………..$48,022,900
Finding Neverland………………………………………………………………….$51,680,613
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory……………………………………….$206,459,076
The Libertine………………………………………………………………………….$4,835,065
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest…………………………$423,315,812
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End……………………………..$309,420,425 
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street……………..$52,898,073
Public Enemies……………………………………………………………………….$97,104,620
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus……………………………….$7,689,607
Alice in Wonderland…………………………………………………………….…$334,191,110

imageTalk about doing one for money and one for art. And yet even the ones he does for art – Finding Neverland, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sweeny Todd, Public Enemies do more money than did his films before POTC.
What’s up next for Depp? A thriller with Angelina Jolie (just about the female version of Depp) The Tourist (out in December – expect it to do very well), then a decidedly odd animated film called Rango (directed by Gore Verbinski how directed POTC), then a film based on a novel by Hunter S Thompson (The Rum Diary).

And to follow up that bit of weird, indie fun? Why strap yourselves in me hearties, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean 4 – the first of the series to not have Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightly (it does have Rush of course) .  

Wherever his career takes him from here, it is hard to see him faltering. Unlike Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise you expect him to be able to make the transition from star to older, supporting actor easily. Because he is a guy who made a career out of appearing in interesting films, he’ll be able to keep doing it for many years to come.
Pirates of the Caribbean–Trailer
Previous Flicks of the Week:
Platoon – Willem Dafoe
Inside Man – Clive Owen
Gosford Park – Robert Altman
The Player – Tim Robbins
Bull Durham – Kevin Costner
Field of Dreams – Ray Liotta
Goodfellas – Samuel L Jackson
Pulp Fiction – Frank Whaley
Swimming with Sharks – Kevin Spacey
Working Girl – Sigourney Weaver
Aliens – Bill Paxton
Apollo 13 – Ron Howard
American Graffiti – Richard Dreyfus 
The Graduate – Dustin Hoffmann
All the President’s Men – Jason Robards
Once Upon a Time in the West – Henry Fonda
Mister Roberts – Jack Lemmon
Some Like it Hot – Billy Wilder
Witness for the Prosecution – Marlene Dietrich
Touch of Evil – Orson Welles
The Third Man – Trevor Howard
Brief Encounter - David Lean
Lawrence of Arabia – Claude Reins
Casablanca – Humphrey Bogart
The Big Sleep – Howard Hawks
His Girl Friday – Cary Grant
Charade – John Williams
Schindler’s List – Liam Neeson
Love Actually – Emma Thompson
Sense and Sensibility – Ang Lee
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Michelle Yeoh
Tomorrow Never Dies – Pierce Brosnan
The Thomas Crown Affair – Renee Russo
In the Line of Fire – Clint Eastwood
Where Eagles Dare – Richard Burton
Zulu – Stanley Baker
The Guns of Navarone – Peter Yates
Breaking Away – Dennis Quaid
The Right Stuff – Ed Harris
The Rock – Sean Connery
The Longest Day – Richard Beymer
West Side Story – Ernest Lehmann
North By Northwest - The first one

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Night Relaxer: Obscure Favourites

The great thing about music is that because there is so much of it, unless you are an absolute maniac who works in Championship Vinyl you will never be able to know all of it.

Films are different. There’s only a finite amount of films that can get released in cinemas so even if it comes out and bombs, there’s a good chance you will have heard of it – and generally if they bomb (and I mean really bomb) it’s not because it couldn’t find an audience, it’s because it was no good. But music? even before iTunes there was a seemingly infinite number of albums released in such a range of genres that an overwhelming majority never see the warmth of the Top 1oo, but which has absolute zero reflection on their quality.

As such it means any good music listener can have an obscure favourite. A song that they like, but which most people have forgotten, never heard of, or just didn’t think much of it when it came out.

When I was younger my obscure favourite was Prefab Sprout’s “Cars and Girls”. It was a song that in 1988 got a bit of airplay, but didn’t chart. So by the early 90s I could mention it and my friends would give me a vague look of understanding, but also a query as to why I liked it. And that’s music: sure there are those who like films that are not all that good – heck I wrote a whole post on dumb-fun films but if I say – hey Sahara is on, let’s watch it. You might question my taste and/or sanity, but you won’t be asking “Sahara? Never heard of it”.

The key to a good “obscure favourite” is it can’t have charted – and if it did only very briefly, and only very minimally. One hit wonders cannot be obscure favourites. You get no points for saying, “Oh wow “Drops of Jupiter”, I love this song!”. But you could possibly pick say Jerry Harrison’s “Man With a Gun” – it only got to 17 on the charts, but pretty quickly disappeared. You can’t even download it on iTunes Australia (but you can from the US iTunes – geez I hate that about iTunes). But even still you’re on shaky ground, after all it was quite popular – a bit too popular to be obscure.

You also can’t pick an album track of a popular band – it doesn't matter whether or not Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, U2, R.E.M or The Clash released a song as a single or not – they’re out. There may be exception if the song is better known by its cover – such as Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Blinded by the Light”. You possibly could also pick an obscure cover – such as Magnet and Jemma Hayes version of “Lay, Lady Lay” but it was on the soundtrack for Mr and Mrs Smith, so that pretty much kills it’s obscure status. Ditto the version of Buddy Holly’s Everyday by Rogue Wave, because that has been in a couple films now, and don;’ even try with the version of “Radiohead’s “Creep” by Scala and Kolacny Brothers that was on the trailer for The Social Network (soundtracks are murder for obscure favourites)

You also can’t pick a song which was popular to a sub-set of the population – especially uni students. So that pretty well rules out anything by Tism. And try not to be too “ooh look at me, I know music” about it – so saying you love “Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is great, but it is a tiny bit wanky (there’s always that danger though with obscure favourites)

But you have to be careful not to go too obscure. You can’t for example pick “No New York” by 1980’s Japanese band Boowy, because unless you were an exchange student in Japan in the 1980s you’re unlikely to have come across it, so that’s kind of cheating. And besides it’;s 1980s Jpop so you’re unlikely to get anyone thinking, wow that is cool (and that is kind of the whole point of obscure favourites)

Similarly you can’t pick a band which put out a CD that was available in about three shops in Adelaide in 1995. Because while Aunty Raelene may have been a great uni band, unless you’re able to go back in time to Adelaide Uni Battle of the Bands circa 1991, you’re not going to be able to hear them belt out “World Bank” so it;s not much use having that as your pick.

I first heard my obscure favourite on Triple J (the home of obscure favourites) in a car one day in 1994. I didn’t catch the name of it, but it just clicked in the way that only songs can click. I didn’t hear it again for about three years but I could remember some of the lines, and the opening few bars. And then one day (I remember very clearly) I was driving back to my place in a mate’s car and we were flicking through the channel on the radio when once again Triple J were playing it. I stopped the flicking of channels told my mate “I love this song"!” and he listened all the while I know thinking, “umm yeah… it’s…great”.

And of course the DJ did not say the name of the song.

Fortunately by now the internet was around and so I was able to search for the lyrics (before Google so it was a bit trickier) and thus I discovered that my obscure favourite was “Screenwriter’s Blues” by Soul Coughing.

Soul Coughing’s music style is described on Wikipedia as “a willfully idiosyncratic mix of improvisational jazz grooves, oddball samples, hip-hop, electronics, and noisy experimentalism (described by Doughty as 'deep slacker jazz').”

So yeah, they have Top 50 written all over them.

“Screenwriter’s Blues “doesn’t have a video (a good tip that it is obscure enough) and tells a bizarre story about life in Hollywood/LA. I’ve only been to LA once – back in 2001 for a week. We stayed in a very dingy student hostel just off of Hollywood Bldv. I have to say walking around the fairly unglamorous part of Hollywood Blvd late at night felt like Screenwriter’s Blues was playing in my head. It perfectly captures the mood of late, late night seedy LA. It also has a great jazz rhythm.

It’s my obscure favourite.

Screenwriters blues

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On the QT: Hockey: More PJK than Hugo Chavez

“It really surprises me that some people in this party think we owe Westpac something, or the ANZ Bank, or the National. That really surprises me…  If you want to start talking about equity and fairness you better start talking about unemployment but you can’t do it with a sick economy. Banking is the artery of the economy and we’ve had hardening of the arteries for too long in this country.”

Joe Hockey this morning? Err no. Try Paul Keating at the ALP National Conference in 1984.

This week has been “kick the crap out of Joe” week. And normally I’d be in there first with a new pair of boots all shiny and ready to land their first blow. Last week in fact I went in studs up. But the problem is that Hockey has been saying some damn smart things this week. As I wrote on Monday, his speech to the Australian Industry Group on banking reform pretty much nailed it. Instead of getting anywhere near the respect it deserved it was ridiculed by much of the entire political spectrum. Actually that’s not quite true. For the most part everyone has been ignoring what he said in his speech and focussed on his very bad day last Thursday – as though him coming out too early with a few thought bubbles devalues the thoughts once they have been fully formed and expressed.

Sure last week he foolishly talked about punitive measures, and he has had to step back from those, but his nine point plan deserves a hell of a lot more examination that it has thus far been given.

Today’s editorial in the SMH nailed the issue perfectly:

COALITION clumsiness on policy has given Prime Minister Julia Gillard the excuse to attack the emergence of ''a strain of economic Hansonism''. If opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey and finance spokesman Andrew Robb were guilty of going too far with populist and ambiguous musings on the banks and the currency exchange rate, Ms Gillard is guilty of offering misleading caricatures of their positions. The changes in the financial sector since the global crisis call for a much more substantial and measured debate.

And it must be said the SMH’s Peter Martin  has been one of the journalists (with Crikey’s Bernard Keane) to most quickly work out that last week’s Hockey is not this week’s.

Rob Oakeshott displayed excellent sense when asked on AM this morning about Hockey's views (and he hadn’t even read his speech):

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you think that Joe Hockey's being populist as the Government has accused him? Or is he taking up an issue that a lot of people have concerns about?

ROB OAKESHOTT: A bit of both. You go back to some of the oldest play books in politics and kicking the banks is one of the easiest plays you can make.
At the same time in amongst that cheap and easy play book there are some real reforms that could be made that make a better and stronger banking system in this country.

Spot on – Hockey has gone the populist route, but that doesn’t mean it all should be dismissed.

If you needed further proof that Hockey must be doing something sensible, check out ANZ chief, Mike Smith’s comments:image

Quite clearly the views of the shadow treasurer have not been properly thought through; I mean the economic impact of what he is saying would be catastrophic. This whole idea of being... bank bashing, of having a go at an industry which is actually performing well, and which Australia should be very proud of. You know he seems to be almost on some sort of personal vendetta and I don't really get it.

It would appear he's been taking economics lessons from Hugo Chavez and I don't really see there's much future in Australia for this type of policy; it's crazy.

Call me an old, bleeding-heart lefty, but when the CEO of a Bank that has just recorded a $4.2b after tax profit, starts calling you a communist, you know you’re on the right track.

Hockey this week has been banging on about competition in the banking system, post the GFC. Here’s a view on this same issue, made last year:

"In a crisis, issues around competition are easily thrown aside as public officials look for the line of least resistance - that is to fold one institution into another. It is better more often to support the institution from the outside so that you maintain that competitive structure after the crisis."

Hockey? No, that man Keating again.

The ALP should be owning this issue. The sooner they steal the lead on this and leave Hockey out to dry the better. Because if they don’t, very quickly they’re going to find that others have woken up to the fact that Hockey is talking sense, and they’re looking like being on the side of the 4.2 billion dollar man.

Labor in Power


Today in parliament John Alexander gave his maiden speech. It wasn't the dumbest of the maiden speeches given in this parliament – that must surely go to yesterday’s by the new member for Dawson, George Christenson, who outlined a Christmas shopping list of infrastructure spending:

We need a solid commitment from the government to the important Mackay ring-road project.

Along with the road network issues in Mackay, there is a dire need for increased funding for a range of problem areas on the Bruce Highway.

Health is another key area where we are being let down badly by Labor.

Finally in terms of needs for Dawson, there is a noticeable lack of adequate community and social infrastructure for growing populations. Whether it be an upgrade for the Mackay Showgrounds, the sporting grounds of the Mackay and District Junior Soccer Club, the Whitsunday Moto Sports Club’s raceway or the Whitsunday Sports Park, there is a clear need for more social infrastructure.

But then when it came to the vexed question of how the Government would pay for all this he gave us this:

To me, the most hated of these taxes is income tax and there are only a few things more detestable than someone mooching directly off your income, even if it is the state and it is supposedly for the common good. I believe income tax should go.

Good luck doing the maths on that come budget time.

But back to Alexander. He gave a speech that sounded like he had given it a few times before – mostly at sportsman’s night. The first half was pretty well all old tennis war stories, that were somehow forced into a political philosophy lesson:

My education was very different to that of many of my colleagues. Year 11 was replaced with the world as my classroom, and Harry Hopman, the legendary Davis Cup captain, my teacher. Harry was more mentor than coach. He often talked of his friendship with our party’s founder, Sir Robert Menzies, whose daughter, Heather, is here today. We travelled to Europe in 1968, which was plagued with industrial unrest. The Italians had elevated strike action to an art form, which provided them with more time to be Italian, and they did it with such style. The French Open was nearly cancelled because of the strikes. The event proceeded, with an added benefit: as no-one was working, the crowds were great, and so was the tennis. Rosewall beat Laver in the final

Geez, how dare those workers strike for better conditions? Didn’t they know we wanted to play tennis?

Unfortunately he found no time in his speech to mention his great work as referee of Gladiators. When he got to politics, the best he could do was sprout Abbott’s “Pay back the debt”, “Stop the Boats” etc. Though he did ask “Where will we be in 50 Years?” which has me thinking he may be an old Uncanny X-Men fan from the 80s.

The best part of his speech was that it served to remind me that because of his election, we will all be spared his dire commentary at the Australian Open this year. I thank the good people of Bennelong for having performed this act of public service for us all.

Another maiden speech was given very soon after by Ed Husic, the member for Chifley, and the first Muslim MP. It was very impressive. Here’s a taste:image

I was born in a generation where capitalism and communism struggled across different planes for supremacy and we lived under a shadow of potential elimination. That contest has been closed but I argue that the question of how we organise ourselves to improve society continues to evolve. We are now driven by a new quest to establish a balance between the hunger for individual freedom and the need for us to act collectively. My overarching desire is to ensure our collective actions can help individuals and their communities reap their full potential.

My fundamental world view rests at its core on the notion of balance. I do not just tolerate alternate views; I remain open to them, I learn and grow from them and I value differences in our society and in our debates about the future of our society. We should celebrate our different skills and ideas, while realising that at some point we must combine our energies and effort for the sake of community and country.


And on to Question Time.

The day’s events of course were overshadowed by this morning’s votes, where Andrew Wilkie’s Private Member’s Bill was passed, followed soon after by a Liberal Party Private Members Bill on student allowances.

I;d have to check but I would seriously doubt if there has ever been an occasion where two Private Members Bills were passed on the same day.

The one Private Members Bill that didn't get passed was the Lib’s call for an inquiry in into the BER. Was it because Pyne stuffed up, or because he decided not to bother with a vote? Me thinks the first. Ah well, these things happen.

Albo in QT absolutely slapped Pyne about in response to a Dorothy Dixer on “new parliamentary practises”:image

Then we went to the second bill before the House, the Commission of Inquiry into the Building the Education Revolution Program Bill 2010. We have heard a lot of squawking from the member for Sturt about the BER bill and the need for a royal commission into the BER, but when it came to the crunch he could not even come into this parliament and call for a division on it.

You would not compare him with Rocky Balboa, but it is a bit like a heavyweight championship fight where you challenge your opponent; you go on about it day after day, week after week, month after month; and then you do not turn up when the fight is on.

The big issue for the Libs today was Electricity prices and a carbon tax. They were after a nice quote from Gillard admitting that a price on carbon would increase electricity prices. She of course is far too smart to given them such a grab, but she didn't back away from the actual impacts, and I have to say she is talking more sense on the issue than we ever heard from Rudd:

The reason that you put a price on carbon is to create incentives to engage in economic activity and, when engaging in that economic activity, to not produce the same level of carbon emissions—that is, you want to create an incentive structure so that people reduce emissions. Let me adopt the words of Marius Kloppers to explain this to the Leader of the Opposition, because I think he put it elegantly:

… carbon emissions need to have a cost impact in order to cause the consumer to change behaviour and favour low carbon alternatives.

Marius Kloppers, the head of BHP, goes on:

We also believe that such a global initiative will eventually come, and when it does Australia will need to have acted ahead of it to maintain its competitiveness.

On the question of electricity and carbon pricing and industry calling out for certainty, I would refer the Leader of the Opposition to the words of Richard McIndoe, Managing Director of TRUenergy, who said:

We all would like a price on carbon … If it’s not done in this government and if this uncertainty continues, not for two to three years, but four to five years, and nobody is building, then you will have power shortages and insufficient capacity.

Words that I would recommend the Leader of the Opposition think about

Abbott thought he was smart asking if a price on carbon was so vital and such a great reform, why did she pressure Rudd to dump the CPRS? The problem of course is that Abbott was the one who killed the CPRS. A decision he, and quite possibly some rent-seeking mining companies may come to regret if a decent price on carbon policy gets passed in this parliament.

Gillard in response to a question from that intellectual heavyweight Warren Truss perfectly skewered the Libs’ policy of direct action, which they would have you believe is costless:

GILLARD—I ask the member to accept one simple proposition which is, if we are to tackle climate change, if we are to meet the targets we have set ourselves on a bipartisan basis as a nation, if we are to transform our economy in the way we need to then, yes, there will be some costs and, yes, there is a question of how you work through costs—absolutely. What the member simply cannot do is come into this place and pretend that he stands for a policy that somehow has no costs. If he is of the view that his policy has no costs, he would have been quickly corrected by the incoming brief to the government which would have pointed out the considerable costs arising from his policy.

On the question of electricity pricing, about which I was asked, I refer the member—

This was not what the Libs wanted to hear about and so we got:

Mr PYNE (Sturt) (2.45 pm)—I move:
That the member be no longer heard.
Question put.

It was defeated (the Libs need to work out that the independents will not be voting with them on frivolous motions)

Julia ended her answer with a beautiful display:

Ms GILLARD—I conclude by saying that serious people understand that to address climate change, you have to price carbon. Serious people understand pricing carbon will change our economy. Serious people understand that not pricing carbon is causing uncertainty for the electricity generation sector and is going to, in the future, constrict supply. Serious people work through these issues in a serious way. People who do not care about the future of the nation play cheap politics and are anti reform.

Excellent work.

One final thing about Question Time. Can someone take Harry Jenkins aside and tell him to put a sock in it.  Too often he thinks the game is about him, he needs to put away the whistle and let them play.

In the answer above Harry came in with this:

The SPEAKER—Order! The Prime Minister should be very careful—she is entering into debate.

In Albanese response to the Dorothy Dixer on parliamentary procedures he said this:

The SPEAKER—Order! The Leader of the House should not overly argue or debate this question.

For crying out loud, it was a Dorothy Dixer! Just shut up and let Albo rip.

Too often Question Time is held up while Jenkins decides to regale the chamber with his views, before making a non-decision:

The SPEAKER—I have the point of order. The standing orders were changed to add that answers be directly relevant. She is correct, the House of Representatives Practice has indicated, as many people have indicated, that it will not only take a change of standing orders but a change of culture in the whole House to bring about the type of question time and proceedings in this place that many outside would like to see. I will be listening carefully to the Prime Minister’s response. I believe that so far she has been directly relevant, if not giving a direct answer, which the standing orders do not say that I have to ask for because I am not in a position to—and that is something that is also in the House of Representatives Practice. I will listen carefully to the Prime Minister’s response.

In other words, there is no point of order.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the QT: Speculation, gravitas and the honest truth

This morning on Sky News it was revealed that three weeks ago Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young had challenge Christine Milne for the Deputy Leadership position. This caused a brief, but rather humorous flurry on twitter under the title #greenspill.

The Australian ran a story under the (no longer there – but the url is) headline:

Challenge for Greens’ deputy leadership is revealed weeks after the event

Which I guess is a better headline than

Entire press gallery oblivious of news

Very quickly journalists were on Twitter demanding Bob Brown explain, or for Sarah Hanson-Young to “fess up”. Samantha Maiden tweeted:

imageWhen are Greens going to let the sunshine + act like a grown ups and just confirm what they know: that SHY challenged Milne

You can understand the press gallery’s annoyance – after all it took Brown all of an hour after the story was broken for him to give a press conference. (He really needs to work on his going to ground routine.)

Brown in his press conference confirmed that Hanson-Young had challenged and that he would have told the media three weeks ago in his post election press conference, except they didn’t ask him about it. This got them very snippy.

Little wonder. I can just imagine them all chatting to their editor:

So how come you guys didn’t know about this?

Well boss, get this – Bob Brown didn’t tell us.

What? The lying bastard, we’ll ruin him. What did he say when you asked him?

Err… well here’s the thing… err we didn’t ask him.

Oh…kay… …

First, let’s be honest, this “news” isn’t exactly a barbecue stopper – most people if you asked them who Hanson-Young was would ask if she’s related to Pauline, or did her dad hosted Young Talent Time. But this news does reveal a couple things. 

The first is that the press gallery appear to be completely without any decent Greens’ contacts. They didn’t need to know one of the 5 Senators and 1 MP – it was not exactly a state secret amongst the Greens’ members. For a party that is the third most powerful, you would think journalists might try and build up some relationships. (Here’s a tip – first don’t work for a news organisation whose editorial policy is that the Greens “should be destroyed at the ballot box.”). The only dopey reporting on Greens leadership challenges thus far has been limited to “speculation” that Lee Rhiannon will challenge Bob Brown for leadership went she comes in next July.

Yeah, that’s going to happen.

Most of the journalists today seemed shocked that a party would not reveal its internal goings on. They were shocked (shocked and appalled I tells ya!) that the Greens would adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, as though any other party is any different. The Libs and ALP only tell everything about leadership challenges because they know if they don’t some MP will text a journo the result (in fact they usually have done so a second after the vote is taken). How dare the Greens not take that approach!

At the moment there are only 6 Greens Senators and MPs; leaking and not getting caught is hard to do, and more to the point why would they do it? There is zero upside in the Greens leaking at the moment, and it also does not appear to be in the Greens culture.

The Greens might now be a grown up political party that has leadership spills and policy differences, but that doesn’t mean they have to play the media game the same way as the big two. After all were you to look at how the media has covered the internal goings on of the Liberal Party and ALP in just the last 12 months, why on earth would you want to go down that line?

Here’s the other thing. Not only did no journalist think to ask at the time about the deputy position (it was pretty easy, all they needed to do was ask “Was Senator Milne elected unopposed?”), none of them knew she was going to challenge. So for all the talk post fact that Hanson-Young is trying to destabilise the leadership or some such, she sure as hell didn’t go round it in a very active way. There was no backgrounding of journalists, no grumbling after the fact, nothing but some vague sense of rumblings apparently.

imageWhat this does reveals to us though is that someone did want this leaked now. Is it to put pressure on Milne or on Hanson-Young? Or was it just someone who expressed surprise to a journo that no one knew about the spill, and voila there was a story? (Sometimes story leaks are not of insidious intent).

I (like most others) have long believed the Greens test as a party will come when Brown steps down. Will the change-over be smooth?

The easy way is to view it through the ALP-LNP lens and think all leadership spills must involve carnage and dissent. Now, I don’t for one minute believe the Greens are all hold hands and peace-pipe smoking hippies, but that doesn't mean they are just the little ALP. There’s a reason you rub for the Greens and not for the ALP – one reason might be a disgust with the factions and all the internal fighting that accompanies the Labor Party. Hanson-Yong challenged, and yet as far as anyone can tell has done nothing to destabilise the party or Milne (or she has, but you would have to believe the media has just decided to not report it because they’re not interested in that sort of thing).

Will the Greens become like other parties, or will they continue to frustrate and befuddle journalists unused to politics being played by different rules? We watch and wait.


Bob Brown in his press conference however did at least stick to one script – namely coming out with a dopey economic policy. He came out against the Singapore Stock Exchange taking over the Australian Stock Exchange because of human rights:

The Singapore government put the phone down and hung Nguyen Van with no further compassion or consideration of Australia's opposition to the death penalty. Now the phone's ringing in the opposite direction to have the Singapore stock exchange - with a 15 per cent government interest, I might add - take over the Australian Stock Exchange in Sydney. We should tell them, 'nothing doing'.

It’s such statements that always hold me back from going fully over to the Greens’ side. Linking economics with the issue of the death penalty is going to count out a hell of a lot of countries – like say the United States. Such statements do nothing for their economic credibility – but there you go, they don’t play be the rules. Linking economics with human rights? Who does that anymore? Oh the Greens do.

At least they’re not like Joe Hockey who undid some of the very good work he did yesterday on banking regulations,by also coming out against the merger… or sort of. Here he was on AM (he really shouldn't go on AM, he is not at his best in the morning):

LYNDAL CURTIS: First of all, to the Stock Exchange. Do you have any qualms about the Australian Stock Exchange being taken over by its Singaporean counterpart?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, look, the Coalition has only preliminary information. We're… we've been offered, very generously, by the ASX, a full briefing, and we'll see that later in the week.image

But, this is a matter of Wayne Swan. And Wayne Swan needs to explain to the Australian people how it is in our national interest to have the Australian Stock Exchange purchased entirely by the Singapore Stock Exchange.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you think it's in the national interest? Do you think there are any national interest questions involved in a stock exchange being majority-owned?

JOE HOCKEY: Oh, well, there are. Of course there are, Lyndal. Look, I was the minister for financial services that gave the Stock Exchange the opportunity to become a listed company, and it was instrumental in assisting us to promote Australia as a regional financial centre, and that was in competition with Singapore.

So, in a sense, it is of great concern - unless it can be proven otherwise - that our major regional competitor is buying out our own stock exchange.

So it’s a great concern, but you know, he doesn't know what should be done but that said it’s a great concern… because err it is.

He then went back to his dopey line about Wayne Swan being ignored by the banks (now up to 31 one warnings). He explained what the government needed to have:

JOE HOCKEY: Well, Lyndal, on 31 occasions, now, Wayne Swan has warned the banks not to go beyond the Reserve Bank, and they ignore him. And they ignore him. Now, you need to have a government with gravitas. You need to have a Treasurer with gravitas.
This is a government that has no gravitas.

Ah, gravitas, so that’s it. No the banks don’t need more competition, they just need to be told what to do by someone with gravitas. It seems banks are very scared of gravitas. They must get very scared whenever Paul Kelly writes a column about them (that’s a joke for all you Insiders twitter followers)


And so  to Question Time. Well nothing much of any note happened other than someone must have given Harry Jenkins the evil eye, because he was in a right proper mood. He stomped on Julie Bishop – invoking the death stare, and he kicked out Scott Morrison (admittedly no one was all that disappointed about that).

On the Dorothy Dixer side, poor Andrew Leigh, easily the smartest economic brain in the parliament, was forced to parrot the following question:

Why is ongoing economic reform important, and what is the Government doing to boost national productivity?”

It would actually had been better if Leigh was able to answer his own question.

The Libs’ attack on the other hand were still on the dog-whistling-asylum-seeker boat. Julie Bishop asked Rudd a question about advice he had given Gillard on the East Timor processing centre – which seemed to anticipate the story on Channel Nine news that when he was PM, Rudd told Gillard that the East Timor processing centre “looks very much like the Pacific solution under another name”.  This is no big shock, and doesn't really matter because while it may “look like” the Pacific solution, it actually isn’t.

Gillard was also being asked to rule out any more defence establishments being used as detention centres. No PM worth his or her salt would ever be stupid enough to absolutely rule anything in or out, and she didn’t, saying the Government had no plans to establish any more.

The answer of the day was given by Peter Garrett in response to a pathetic dog-whistle question by Chris Pyne on the national curriculum.

Pyne, notionally one of the moderate liberal MPs (surely a category that needs to be put next to the Democrats in the history of Australian politics) asked about the draft curriculum having in it questions regarding the controversy of war memorials and also the meaning of Gallipoli. It seems according to the Liberal Party Australians didn’t fight WWI and WWII to defend freedom, but to defend unthinking nationalism.

Garrett dispatched Pyne’s long hop to the boundary, pointing out that the curriculum will actually help students learn about the Anzac tradition (as an aside if they have anything other than Gallipoli in the Primary School history curriculum they’ll be miles ahead of what I learned about the 20th century…)


The re-writing of history was also on display in a speech on the Afghanistan War tabled by Nick Minchin. Minchin was unable to give the speech himself for personal reasons, but in it he pointed out some interesting points about the Iraq War:image

The honest truth is that the US's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 when Afghanistan had not been resolved has clearly affected the campaign in Afghanistan in a very negative fashion.”

Rather than the US and the its allies focusing all their energies and resources on Afghanistan Iraq became, “a massive diversion”.

“Indeed I vividly recall as a member of the Howard cabinet being very disturbed in the period prior to this US invasion by the obvious and significant battle going on in the Bush administration between Colin Powell at state and Donald Rumsfeld at defence over the Iraq issue.

“I recall that my heart sank when Mr Howard informed us in the middle of a Cabinet meeting that the US had decided to invade Iraq”. But he says he knew that that decision having been made Australia had to support it.

“I regret that we were not able to be more successful in persuading the Bush administration to remain focused on Afghanistan rather than open up another front in Iraq.

The debacle that ensued in Iraq has made the vital campaign in Afghanistan more protracted and more difficult [which has] adversely affected public support for our engagement

Well that’s nice. It only took seven years and a John Howard autobiography for “the honest truth” to come out.

By that reckoning I guess the three weeks it took for the Greens is pretty good.


On a side note – just to let you know there won’t be an “On the QT” post tomorrow – I’m busy tomorrow night.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On the QT: The Region is Exhausted

Well it is not often that the star performer of the day is Joe Hockey and the one over-reaching is Malcolm Turnbull, but today was that day. Do not worry however, for the world is not upside down – Barnaby Joyce was there to restore order.

Turnbull in attempting to sell his NBN cost benefit productivity commission Private Members bill said:

"I have not met anyone in the telecommunications sector who has not said this project will be anything other than thoroughly reckless and imprudent."

Really? Not one? I guess that is why everyone in the telecommunications sector is jumping over themselves to bag the whole thing. Still at least he didn’t actually say what was in the headline of the story:

NBN a conspiracy against taxpayers, warns Turnbull

Now if he had said that, I’d be sending a nice tin-foil hat, Express Post, Point Piper way. The actual quote was:

He said many industry sectors that support the scheme did so because they had vested interests as suppliers or potential users.

"You run the risk of a conspiracy against the taxpayers, where everybody has an interest in something that is bad for the taxpayers and nobody says no,

So he wasn’t actually saying the NBN was a conspiracy – he wasn’t even warning that it was one. What he was saying that there was a risk it could become one. But hey, who needs accuracy in a headline?

Joe Hockey on the other hand, having had such a good time of it dealing with the media last week, this week gave a speech to the Australian Industry Group that allowed him to make his own headline:


Ok, not exactly a barn burner, but the speech was excellent. Unlike last week where he got confused and befuddled and vague on the issue of bank reform, here he had a message to sell and he sold it well.

He noted what is without doubt the number one reason why banks may increase the mortgage rate above the increase of the RBA’s cash rate – competition.

And more broadly, the ACCC [due to the Global Financial Crisis] waived through mergers of lenders it would never ordinarily permit, as it has acknowledged.

These actions have irreversibly changed our financial landscape. Once truly independent concerns, such as:

·        St George,
·        BankWest,
·        RAMS, and
·        Wizard, are now gone.

That iconic brand, Aussie Home Loans, is now one-third owned, and wholly funded by, Australia’s largest bank, CBA. And what was Australia’s biggest non-bank lender, Challenger, has divested its lending business to NAB. In short, the four major banks have largely become the Australian financial system. I should add in there the fact that major international players who have reduced their activities in Australia has also contributed to the reduction of competition.

That is a huge shakeup, and you don’t need a PhD in Economics to understand what impact it has had. Hockey then came up with nine areas for the Parliament to examine – the five that I thought most of interest (but they all deserve an examination) were:

1.      Let’s give the ACCC power to investigate collusive price signalling (that is, oligopolistic behaviour), which is exactly what Graeme Samuel has called for;

2.      Let’s encourage APRA to investigate whether the major banks are taking on unnecessary risks in the name of trying to maximise short-term returns that conflict with the preferences of those that backstop the system, namely taxpayers;

3.      Let’s formally mandate the RBA to publish regular—rather than irregular—reporting on bank net interest margins, returns on equity, and profitability so that we can all determine whether the major banks are extracting monopolistic profits; that is, whether taxpayers are effectively subsidising supernormal returns;

4.      Let’s investigate David Murray’s proposal for Aussie Post to make its 3,800 branches available as distribution channels for smaller lenders. To be clear, the Coalition does not endorse Australia Post assuming balance-sheet risk and getting into the banking business itself;

5.      Let’s ask the Treasury and the RBA to investigate ways to further improve the liquidity of the residential and commercial mortgage backed securities markets, which are an alternate source of funding for smaller lenders, including consideration of the Coalition proposal to extend the Government’s credit rating to AAA rated commercial paper in those markets to improve liquidity;

The others get a bit financially wonk-loving, sop have a look on his site if you want to find them. But these five are all pretty good, and worth considering.

  • Number 1 seems smart – if there is no collusive price signalling, then there should be no problem
  • Number 2 again is one that I am surprised the ALP would be against – do we really want our banks taking on unnecessary risks?
  • Number 3, for example, seems a no brainer – more data is always good.
  • Number 4 I think this is a smart function for Australia Post to undertake, and
  • Number 5 I’d be pretty sure Treasury are already doing – I’d doubt Treasury and the RBA are ever not investigating such things, but if not, it again seems sensible.

Maybe they are silly ideas, but if so they’re going to need a better reply than that given by Bill Shorten in Question Time today.  

In response to a Dorothy Dixer on the issue, Shorten went well over the top talking about overseas investors and confidence and interest rates etc. It was a shame. The ALP should be cracking open the champagne now that the Liberal Party have finally got on board serious reform of the financial system. They have in effect given the ALP a green light to try on a few things that will limit the profits of the big banks. The ALP through Swan and Shorten should not be rubbishing Hockey, they should be standing up at the Dispatch Box and saying, welcome to the party, glad you could finally make it.

Hockey has some good ideas here – Labor should be smart and quickly own them. Hockey wants a fight on this – he wants to be the friend of the little guy, the one who stood up to the banks, while the Labor Party defended the big end of town. Instead Labor should get into bed with Hockey, steal the covers, give him a nudge and before he knows it he’ll be on the floor.

Last week knocking down Hockey was easy – he did the hard work himself, all he needed was a push. But today his ideas warrant respect – and even better, they warrant stealing…

The opposition in Question Time, unfortunately did not follow up Hockey’s good work done in the morning (perhaps suggesting he does not have much sway in tactics’ committee?), instead they focused on asylum seekers (yes, I will now pause while you all get your jaws from back off the floor).

Abbott wanted Temporary Protection Visas brought back (of course he does). That they didn’t work and only served to encourage more families to come by boats never seem to concern Abbott or any of the Liberals.

The reason of course the Libs want to focus on this can be seen in the result of an Essential Media Poll today, When asked about asylum seekers here is the response:


Yep, even 49 per cent of Labor voters think the APL is “too soft”

And then on this latest policy of moving children out of detention centres (yes, children), here is the result:


What can you say, really? Fifty three per cent. are opposed. Twenty-nine per cent are strongly opposed to the policy. 

There’s a lot of anger out there, and do you think Tony Abbott is going to like that go unfuelled?

But Temporary Protection Visas and detention centres were not the big issue of the day. No not even Jamie Briggs being the staunch defender of the views of 500 odd people in Woodside who got blanket coverage in the media was the big issue.

Today’s big issue was the proposed East Timor processing centre, and just what constitutes “the region”.

This whole thing flowed from Julie Bishop’s line last week in Question Time, but more so from a response in Senate Estimates last week. At least the Libs are using Estimates to generate some questions, even if they are pretty well having to verbal the Departmental officials to get something.

Bishop asked Gillard:

I refer the Prime Minister to the statement by he secretary for the Department of Immigration [Mr Andrew Metcalfe] in Senate Estimates that it is the Government’s intention to draw asylum seekers into her proposed regional processing centre in East Timor from, and I quote, “beyond the region”. How many of the 18 million defined by the UN High Commissioner for refugees as a population of concern beyond the Asia –Pacific will be eligible to be transferred to the Prime Minister regional processing centre.

First off, it is good to see Bishop acknowledge there are over 18 million refugees out there – so yes, we really should worry about our 5,000. Here is the exchange Bishop refers to:

Senator CASH—Seeing that we know what we would like, has any consideration been given to the thousands of people in camps on the Thailand-Burma border and whether or not they would be transferred to the regional processing centre?

Mr Metcalfe—We have largely been thinking about people who come from beyond the region and who move through the region. We are not talking about the fact that there are, of course, thousands of displaced people in the Asia-Pacific region. This is very much around the people who have been seeking to come to Australia. It is about people moving in an irregular fashion from outside this part of the world—Afghanistan, the Middle East, Sri Lanka—and who are moving through this region primarily with the objective of seeking asylum in a developed Western country.

Metcalfe is acknowledging that as the Bali process involves countries including Afghanistan (in fact about 44 countries) they are currently considering how that would work. But here is the crucial thing that the Libs are ignoring, and which the ALP hasn't publicised enough:

Senator CASH—How do you understand a regional processing centre will differ from a centre on Christmas Island?

Mr Metcalfe—Firstly, it is not in Australia. Secondly, it would be a place where people could be sent, thus denying people the opportunity to come to Australia. Thirdly, it is a place where we would hope a range of resettlement countries would assist in meeting the needs of refugees, rather than people simply being resettled in Australia, which is what happens for people who make it to Australia or what happened to people who went to Nauru.

The Libs (as I guess is their right) are attempting to suggest East Timor will be a fast track to settlement in Australia. It will not.

There were six questions to Gillard on this issue (including the detention centre and TPV ones), and she did not really nail the opposition on this important point – East Timor is NOT just another Christmas Island. The ALP are fighting against the type of public opinion on this. They will need to not only hold their nerve – they will also need to explain again and again and (sigh ) again their policy.


And so now over to the Senate and the debate on Afghanistan. Barnaby Joyce stepped up to the plate, to give us his wisdom. Firstly he gave us his expertise of the area:

Just the other day in flying back from Europe I flew over Afghanistan. I went to a section of the plane where I could stare out of a window at the countryside that was beneath me. What a wild, rugged and diverse place Afghanistan is.

Yep – her flew over and stared out the window at the place. Seriously.

But the golden moment of Joyce’s speech was when he indulged in some historical analysis:

When people talk about protracted battles and say that Vietnam was a failure, I do not believe that; I think Vietnam was a success. We tied up the resources of the Communist insurgents in such a way over such a long period of time that it exhausted them of their energy and of their capacity to continue.

Yes, I guess in 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army rolled into Saigon, the US must have just decided they had exhausted the enemy’s resources enough. That Vietnamese Army was then so exhausted it went on to defeat the Khmer Rouge and then China. Good to see Joyce is hoping we have such a similar outcome.

Anyone worried that the Senate will decline in idiocy when Stephen Fielding leaves, need not be concerned.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Night Relaxer

It is probably a sad indictment of my life that I can relate most of my youth to Coca Cola adverts.

The first one I can remember was this from 1979. To a young seven year old, the sight of the people jumping around inside the huge ball looked like more fun than any person could possibly have. I can also recall my Mum pointing out that it would have been bloody hot inside that ball, and so it probably wasn't all that much fun.

Coke - 1979

The next advert to really resonate was the 1983 one with the giant hollow inflated Coke can. Who didn’t want to grab onto one of the handles and be whizzed over the top? My Mum at this juncture would point out that she hoped they weren't doing this shallow water, because if they were there would be a chance that one of them could hurt their neck if they hit the bottom and thus cause spinal injury.

Coke 1983

The Coke ad in 1987 was somewhat un-subtly influenced by The Big Chill – which was rather odd given The Big Chill was 5 year’s old by this stage. My Mum was completely ignorant of The Big Chill so she didn’t really have any comment on this advert, and probably didn’t understand why me and my best mate wanted to invite around some girls one night while there were out and make hot dogs and drink Coke.

Coke - 1987

When this advert came out in 1988 I was disgusted. Firstly I hated the Ganggajang song “Sounds of Then (This is Australia)” and so hated this advert (not like the good old days when they had a inflated Coke can – I suggested to my Mum, who by this stage was wondering what the hell I was on about), but also I was disgusted that a band would sell out so easily.

Coke - 1988

This advert in 1992 was trumpeted as being the first Australian Coke advert that got a run throughout the world. I liked it – yeah it was good, and I could see why the kids liked it… but really sky surfing? Really? Is anyone seriously going to do that? Though I did have to admit I was still waiting to get invited to a beach party where there was a giant inflated Coke can…

Coke - 1991

The last Coke advert that really resonates from my youth is one from my late Uni days. It was the one that marked the change from “The Real Thing” to “Always Coca-cola”. When I first saw it, I couldn’t believe that Coke had abandoned the “summer vibe”; had thrown away all those years of fun in the sun with friends drinking Coke. What a joke. And yet I found myself humming the damn jingle, and actually finding I liked the advert. I liked the artwork, and for some reason it just had a vibe that felt right, felt now, felt the 1990s. Now when I look back at them all it is actually my favourite – most likely because of the period it reminds me of, but also because for some reason that I don’t quite understand it is the one that makes me want to drink a Coke the most. 

Coke - 1993

What is interesting though, is obviously I was not the only one wishing for a return to the inflatable ball, becasue here is the most recent Coke advert. The influence from 1979 is pretty clear:

Coke - 2009

I couldn’t end without however showing the greatest soft drink advert of all time (no, not the Elle Macpherson Tab one), I’m talking the Mellow Yellow advert. More unintentional hilarity  is present here than any advert should rightly have. They certainly don’t make ‘em like they used to:

Mellow Yellow–Australia

The American version just lacks a certain something, can’t quite put my finger on it though…

Mellow Yellow - America

Have a good weekend.