Archive | Clippings & Commentary

Goodbye to all that

Nick Feik nails it:

When you change the government, said Paul Keating, you change the country. Australians are preparing to change the country on a scale similar to 1996, when Keating was thrashed by Howard.

Australia has just experienced the hottest year in its recorded history, yet the nation will elect a man whose great mission as leader has been to reject the government’s effort to address climate change.

The Australian economy has seen steady economic growth through a global recession, has an unemployment rate the envy of the world, has rising wages, low interest rates, low inflation and low government debt. Yet voters will most likely vote out the government because of its apparent mishandling of the economy.

The Coalition has spent the past few years criticising government ‘debt and deficit,’ yet has put forward a policy program that makes almost no effort to address this (which is not to say that it won’t make radical changes when in government).

The Coalition claims to be the economically responsible party, but when it finally released its ‘costings’ these consisted of a mere 8-page list of one-line policy costs, with no explanations or details. The press conference where the Coalition was to lay out the full extent of its economic plan lasted 22 minutes and was the most shameful spectacle of the campaign.

Nevertheless, it is easy to understand why voters have deserted Labor. Australians elect leaders who can communicate a sense of stability, consistency and straightforward competence. Neither the Gillard nor Rudd government was able to project these things coherently, despite their substantial achievements.

It is clear, too, that Australians are voting to end the toxic politics of the past few years – even if the sense of chaos belonged as much to the efforts of the Opposition leader and the Murdoch press as it did to Labor.

Those voting for change will get it. The nature of that change may not be what they expect, but then again, it never is.

Buckle up, it’s going to be a rough ride.

An international laughing stock!

Here is the ABC’s clever election analyst Antony Green complaining about the number and kind of minor parties on the Senate ballot this election:

Much as we all love Antony, I find what he has to say here troublingly anti-democratic.

For a start, he doesn’t seem to have much regard for voters’ intelligence, as he says Pauline Hanson being all the way off to the right of the ballot will cost her votes from people who want to vote for her but can’t find her name. I’m not saying this isn’t true, but it does say something about a certain attitude towards politics.

Many in the political class think politics is a professional game and it’s much neater and tidier when it’s played Seriously. What that looks like is two parties who take turns pulling the levers of government every now and then depending on how successful they are in selling a ‘message’ to the public. ‘Ordinary’ people (the kind I understood democracies are supposed to empower) can’t be trusted to make proper decisions about these things because they don’t know anything, so it has to be put in a language they can understand. When minor parties, weirdos and whackjobs get on the ballot, it makes the whole process unpredictable and untidy and threatens to derail the proper way of things. (The proper way of things being the one everyone is so fed up with and which might have something to do with the amount of minor parties, weirdos and whackjobs who are running this time. Just a thought.)

How dare all those other people stand and direct their preferences in a way that Antony has decided is inconsistent with their real views! He’s always been similarly outspoken when the ALP and the Libs do preference deals that aren’t aligned with their ideologies! Oh? He hasn’t? Well fancy.

Let’s not forget that voters can actually vote below the line on the Senate ballot and allocate their preferences (gasp!) as they see fit. If you want to entrust your preferences to the party, you can save yourself some time and vote above the line. Maybe if you’ve decided to vote for a minor party, you might be more inclined to pay more attention to these things anyway. But it means having those silly big bits of paper and all that extra work for everyone. It must be that internationally embarrassing electoral system that lets people vote further down the ballot than just 1.

Maybe we should just do elections by sampling representative bits of the population (Western Sydney?) and allocating seats by extrapolating the totals. Elections are expensive after all and we pretty much know the kinds of things people think anyway. It would be a loss less work and much easier for the party people, the media and the analysts to deal with. Because that’s what counts, right?

Or more seriously, we could change the system to allow optional preferential voting, or preferences that can exhaust when you say so. That would mean we could vote for minor parties, weirdos and whackjobs without having to have our vote end up with a major party at all! Watch this space, I’m sure that change is coming real soon now.

Flying high

Ben Sandilands over at the Plane Talking blog has fun pointing out the bleeding obvious:

While we continue to get nonsense from the NSW government and the federal government and opposition in their evasions concerning the Sydney Airport crisis, a memo, in effect has arrived from Singapore.

The city state is doubling the size of its airport, to handle more than 100 million passengers a year in the coming decade, by which time Sydney will no doubt continue to flounder around protecting the interest of the current airport owners, and maybe wonder why it has declined toward much reduced relevance to the NSW and Australian economy.

While we piss about with this shameful (and largely pointless) election, the rest of the world is doing things, and even that may not be good enough.

It is apparent that even being as deeply embedded in Asia as Singapore is doesn’t guarantee or deliver full participation in the Asian Century. Singapore, and its airline, are in a massive struggle to keep what it has, and grow it to its potential.

Where is the recognition and committment these issues need among our political leaders? Nowhere, it seems, other than in voters disaffected with both parties in this poll in The Telegraph.

Sydney Airport took 36.9 million passengers to 31 December 2012. The infographic for Singapore Airport below shows it served over 51 million travellers.

That’s over twice Australia’s population.

Cities are good for you?

John Keane has a nice article/profile of Greens Senator Scott Ludlam (one of our brightest stars in parliament) and his thoughts on urban form:

A definite cut above most other politicians down under, Ludlam has city life and urban thinking hard-wired into his political genes. He’s highly knowledgeable on the subject. Politically wise for his young age (he’s 43) and now campaigning for re-election in Western Australia, he tells me during our recent breakfast in Sydney that cities are becoming political laboratories.

‘Much has been said and written about sustainable cities in recent times’, he says. ‘There’s a wild flowering of creative theory and practice going on.’ We’re now on the cusp of an urban tipping point. ‘The future is here’, he adds, borrowing words from William Gibson. ‘It’s just not widely distributed yet.’

The future, in this sense, begins with reminding ourselves what public space is for:

Sprawl, privatisation, soulless nowhere places, empty pockets, homelessness: such dark sides of the urban moon are downplayed in the much-discussed recent book by Leo Hollis, Cities are Good for You. Still the Senator broadly agrees with its brave attempt to reclaim the city from the gripes and grumbles of sceptics, naysayers and doomsday merchants. Here Ludlam shows a bottom of good sense. He’s a smart and lucid urbanist with a deft feel for the way city life can be empowering. Things done closer to home tend to be more meaningful, he tells me. Cities like Sydney and New York are vital crucibles of pluralism, cultivators of people’s acceptance of differences, their common sense of being in it together with others, their need for give-and-take civility. When they function well, they’re ‘diverse, organic, problem-solving’ places (he quotes the famous words of Jane Jacobs). Impressed by the southern Spanish city of Seville (‘a fine-grained, pedestrian-friendly, solar-powered city’), he’s particularly enamoured of Tokyo. It’s the centrepiece of a recent short film he shot and directed. ‘Tokyo’s fun, packed with energy that comes from deliberate compaction. Its public transport system resembles a ballet; it’s the best I’ve ever used. It’s a city with many pockets of deep memory, some of them living reminders of human triumph over firebombing, nuclear weapons and nuclear melt-downs.’

The experience of people rubbing shoulders with others in urban settings is important for another reason. The professor quotes Hannah Arendt on the vital importance of public space in citizens’ lives. He doesn’t flinch. ‘The public experience of face-to-face mixing and mingling of people reminds them of their diversity and commonality, as equals.’ Shared public space of course requires people to nurture their sense of history. City folk need to feel anchored, with their toes firmly on the ground. Heritage matters. Cities must be custodians of collective memory. ‘Given my particular roots, London does that for me as a city’, he tells me. ‘I know no other city where I can feel and appreciate the multiple deep layers of the past.’

It’s not that difficult. Just requires a change of mindset. After all, it’s hard to argue persuasively for whatever passes for the present one.

Making all their nowhere plans for nobody

As flagged earlier in the year, I promise to keep the election commentary to a minimum, but I thought this was a nice summary of where we’re at. It’s from the PoliticOz newsletter’s Campaign Day 1 edition:

As he announced the September 7 date, Kevin Rudd said: “This election will be about who the Australian people trust to best lead them through the difficult new economic challenges which now lie ahead.”

It echoed John Howard’s 2004 pitch, and seemed just as counterintuitive: Two days earlier, his government was explaining how it intended to deal with the $30 billion recently added to the budget deficit.

Launching the campaign slogan, A New Way, Rudd spoke about his “positive plans” and giving Australians “a real choice”.

Tony Abbott appeared under the banner Choose Real Change and pitched the “positive plans” of the Coalition.

Despite launching a campaign scant on costed policies, markedly lacking in positive plans, and headed by a leader who’s not widely trusted, Abbott thought the coming election should be about who’s “more fair dinkum”. He also announced yesterday that in the event of a hung parliament he won’t do deals to form a minority government.

Murdoch flagship the Daily Telegraph greeted the news of the election in the most brazen way imaginable. It flagged it is actively campaigning for the Coalition. News Ltd is likely to be Rudd’s most ferocious and effective opponent over the next 33 days.

If Australia ever wants to grow up and be taken seriously, it needs to get past squalid and embarrassing national displays like this.

Political virtue

Don Watson writes an ode to retiring independent MP Tony Windsor over at The Monthly:

A good bloke lost as collateral damage, people are saying. If that is all we can make of it, we will only deepen the folly. You could be the dead-set best bloke in history and be no loss at all. What matters is that you were a good politician: good enough to be the measure of what’s missing in modern politics.

I mean the qualities that the media no longer much values or, in its more extreme and youthful forms, even recognises, and which the major parties only sometimes reward. Not “the vision thing” – though I suspect you have one – but the dependable, intelligent, worldly, unbreakable, character thing, on which democratic politics and our faith in it depend. This is more than “good blokeism” – or “good sheilaism”. It is having good judgement, including the judgement of others’ character. It means hearing and representing the people, but neither aping them nor manipulating them; nor being only for them, whatever the broader interest; nor telling them only what they want to hear, or only the messages that your spin doctors reckon they must hear to the exclusion of both the demands of intellect and the refinements of civilised discourse.

Good character and good judgment. If politics is the way we resolve our differences and find some way to live with one another, what else can it come down than this? The focus-group-driven machine ‘politics’ we all know and loathe doesn’t deserve the name. Surely it’s about time we reclaimed its proper meaning.

Why would a religious scholar write a book about a religious figure?

From Buzzfeed:

Reza Aslan, a religious scholar with a Ph.D. in the sociology of religions from the University of California and author of the new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” went on’s online show Spirited Debate to promote his book only to be prodded about why a Muslim would write a historical book about Jesus.

This video is amazing. Most people, after asking a thoughtless baiting question and receiving an unfazed reply refuting the basis for asking it, would back off, or at least change tack. But this ‘journalist’ is not to be deterred. She just keeps going. And going. It’s awful but I couldn’t stop watching it.

Toxic promise

Over at The Guardian, David Marr has taken a similar line on asylum seekers to my off-the-cuff piece from the weekend:

The shame goes way back. But Kevin Rudd has taken Australia lower than it has ever gone before. He had the relentless encouragement of Tony Abbott. But then beating up on boat people has always been a bipartisan business.

From the time that first boat arrived – the Kein Giang with five Vietnamese men on board – in April 1976, both sides of politics have made the same promise to the nation: to stop the boats, every single boat. There are too many coming now. Too many people are dying on the way. But we are not going to get anywhere while that toxic promise stays on the table.

It has licensed brutality towards boat people for nearly 40 years. When all this began, there was a constituency in this country for dealing decently with asylum seekers who came by sea. But the White Australia policy was barely cold in its grave. The fearful demanded fresh reassurance. So the decision was taken on both sides of politics to play to fear.

Food for thought.