January 26, 2012 | Nick

The boundaries of legitimate protest

As far as I can tell from the news reports, Julia Gillard wasn’t subjected to any actual violence today (unless you count being dragged to the car by her coppers), but we’ve never seen a Prime Minister being dragged by security like that before.  It is reasonable to infer that there was a serious risk that the crowd might turn violent.

One thing I find really disturbing is the rush by some to excuse the protesters’ intimidating conduct.  As can be seen on this thread on facebook, some feel the violence is justified because of the treatment of aborigines in the past.

They have been badly treated.  That is inarguable.  They lost a whole continent.  From time to time they were murdered or assaulted when they wouldn’t co-operate and, on occasion, just for the hell of it.  Whatever spin you put on the removal of children from aboriginal families, however well intentioned it may have been in a few cases, the trauma of such systematic removal caused long term scars.

All of that is true, but we aren’t at war.  We are, now, a nation.  A nation is a settlement amongst its citizens.  You don’t get to be part of a democratic nation and, at the same time, claim the right to violent reprisals against that nation for past wrongs.

The other disturbing factor is the sense of right in the protesters.  The protest was said to have been motivated by the remarks of Tony Abbott earlier in the day when he suggested the Tent Embassy outside Parliament House should be closed.  What were his incendiary words?  Well here is how SBS reported them:

Tensions boiled over on Thursday afternoon following comments Mr Abbott made in Sydney earlier in the day.

Mr Abbott said he understood why the tent embassy was set up “all those years ago”.

“I think a lot has changed for the better since then,” he told reporters.

“I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian.

“I think a lot has changed since then, and I think it probably is time to move on from that.”

So, hardly the stuff of rabble rousing, but according to the founder of the  Tent Embassy, Michael Anderson, they amounted to inciting racial riots.  Really?

The reaction to those words, which are obviously measured (whether or not they are correct) was to surround a building at which outstanding citizens were being honoured and intimidate those within.  The point is obvious: disagree with us and the threat of violence is there.

It is not enough to say that Abbott’s comments re-opened old wounds and that indigenous Australians were so badly treated in the past that they are entitled to act violently.  The logical extension of that argument is that they are entitled to continue to act violently until the score is evened up, at which point, it’s a free-for-all and we can punch the crap out of each other.

Update: It is encouraging to see that the behaviour of the mob has been roundly condemned by a number of aboriginal leaders

Posted by Nick at 7:26 pm | Comments (41) |

January 26, 2012 | Graham

Newman has bad Australia Day

The chances that Labor might hold Ashgrove at the next election just rose after Campbell Newman’s Australia Day performance in the electorate.

While he handled the predictable photo-op with incumbent Kate Jones appropriately, that seems to be where it stopped, at least on the basis of those segments run by the Channel 7 news this evening.

The mistakes were huge and will echo through the campaign.

Newman promised to pour money into the electorate saying words to the effect that there is a big advantage in having the premier as your member.

While I am sure that there are many electors making  just those calculations no-one likes to think that someone else thinks they can buy them, which is the message that Newman was pushing.

At the same time it says that other Queenslanders will be second class under a Newman administration and that while he might be talking-up fiscal responsibility he is prepared to spend whatever it takes.

This will play into perceptions that he is reckless, and has put Brisbane in a situation of untenable debt – a theme which appears in my qualitative research – and undermines his critique of the Labor administration as being financially irresponsible.

So in one fell move he has insulted electors, raised issues of propriety, undermined his own attack on the government and given Labor the television footage to package it all in a neat effective attack ad. Not bad for a few minutes work.

But it gets worse – he undermined his own CanDo brand.

He was asked whether he would doorknock this afternoon. It’s Australia Day, and a holiday, so he could have begged-off with some reasonable excuse, but his response was that it was “a bit warm this afternoon”.

Newman made his name as CanDo Campbell, the energiser bunny of Queensland politics. He contrasted himself to the grey, dour and lackadaisical incumbent Tim Quinn.

Residents would ring up with a pothole problem, Campbell would turn-up with his council team and some hot mix to fix it. When City Hall was contacted for comment they at least once said that Campbell wasn’t allowed to do this because it was in breach of health and safety laws. That summed it all up.

So did the footage this afternoon where Campbell looked a bit like a fat cat all done up in a suit and off home to have a beer with his cronies while his opponent was shown in frock and hat, sweat on brow, knocking on doors in her electorate. Another attack ad.

Newman may have been ambushed on the door knocking issue, and it’s always possible that Kate Jones finished her door knocking just after the cameras left, but he has no excuse for the last error. That was to suggest that Premier Anna Bligh should pay her own ticket for attending Cyclone Yasi commemorations.

It allowed Bligh to draw attention to Newman’s unorthodox position as an opposition leader without a seat – another negative in the qual.

On top of the other gaffes it also looked unreasonable. Newman needs to look like a future premier, not just another whinger.

I think most electors would regard the attendance of the premier at a public function as part of the office, even in an election campaign. That is one of the spoils of office.

The fact that Campbell has to pay for himself is just how the cookie crumbles. The complaint may tend to play into an argument that Newman is taking on airs and taking electors for granted, a necessary plank of the campaign that Labor needs to wage which will centre on making Newman, rather than Bligh, the issue.

If he wants to complain about anything he should keep complaining about the use of government advertising. There is fertile ground there as most people resent government advertising to start with, and there is wide support for the proposition that Bligh should have gone into caretaker mode immediately.

Not a good Australia Day for Newman.


Posted by Graham at 7:05 pm | Comments (1) |
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January 25, 2012 | Graham

So this is what desperation looks like

Anna Bligh has called the state election for March 24, one week before the council elections were due to be held. As a result the government (she) is going to reschedule the council elections until late April early May. This is not just a cynical political ploy, but it is desperate too as well as being a little bit (probably around half) smart.

The premier represents this as being about deferring the election until the inquiry into the Brisbane floods is released so that people will know “the truth”. What it is really about is trying to run the next election on the only issue that has favoured her in the last two years – her performance during the floods – and run it at a later date than otherwise possible using the floods inquiry as an excuse.

Conventional analysis said that she would call the election for late February, or early March, leaving four weeks for the local government elections. Her three years runs out on the 21st March, so the 24th is as close to three years as you can get without undershooting.

From a tactical point of view this had some problems. The greatest was that a short campaign coming off a virtual standing start after the summer holidays would favour the LNP.

This is because the government has more explaining to do after an almost unbroken reign of 23 years from Wayne Goss’s win in 1989 so needs time to do that.

The other is that it gave less time to Labor to raise doubts about Campbell Newman – something which they did very successfully at the end of last year such that our qualitative polling showed his net approval rating dropping from positive 33% (58% approve versus 25% disapprove) to 0% (41% each way) in six months.

As the party votes didn’t change much over the same period, Labor strategists may well believe that they need much more of the same.

So the Premier was always keen to find a reason to go later, but would have been hard-pressed to justify a date much more than 3 years after the last one without giving the impression that she was chicken.

Which is where the inquiry comes in handy. If she can get away with using it as the reason for deferring the election then it gives her grounds for saying that rather than being cowardly, she is keen to face up to her role during the floods.

Who knows, there could always be an added bonus that the inquiry might make some adverse findings about the Brisbane City Council which might be further used to dent Newman’s standing.

Although there are risks for the government here too with a report yesterday by The Australian that mistakes in managing the Wivenhoe Dam led to some of the flooding problems. This is analysed and amplified by international expert in this area Professor Roger Pielke Jr who comes to the conclusion:

Based on the new reporting from The Australian on the possible errors in flood management and the comprehensive analysis in van den Honert and McAneney (2011), it is clear that bad decision making played a major role in the disaster. The bad decisions were the result of mismanagement, a deeply flawed management architecture, or what seems to be increasingly likely — both.

Notwithstanding the risk of a bad finding from the Inquiry, Bligh’s finest hour in the last term was last year’s Brisbane floods, as judged by public opinion which largely rests on her cool and professional media conferences during the disaster.

There is a lot in her record she will be trying to run away from during the campaign and this is one of the few that favours her massively.

(Our polling also showed that  Newman did well in public approval from his floods performance too, so while it is good territory for the premier, it is not uncontested.)

So, she has good reason for wanting the floods issue to be current and fresh in the minds of electors as the election period starts.

Counter that, the LNP are sure to be using it as a way to draw electors’ attention to all the disasters during Bligh’s reign. “Why should we be waiting for an inquiry into management of the flood to be brought down? We already have enough information on which to judge the Bligh government. One event does not a government make.”


Posted by Graham at 10:14 am | Comments (1) |
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January 22, 2012 | Ronda Jambe

The unctuous business of peak oil

Governments hiding information that we taxpayers have paid to produce is nothing new.  It is practiced by both sides of politics, and was one of the issues that sometimes brought me to grief as a public affairs officer in Canberra. The other side of the coin, throwing publications at people who haven’t asked for them, was another all too frequent waste of money.

But the expose by Piers Akerman in the Daily Telegraph (January 20) on the disappearance of a report documenting the coming shortage of oil in Australia reveals that the government has gone beyond peccadillo and is operating in the realm of serious public disempowerment.


I will leave it to readers to query why the government report from 2009 is no longer publicly available, and to thank Akerman for this service to journalism. The paper shos how oil production will decline, with little time to prepare, with obvious implications for our economy and security.

For the sceptical, and thanks to our active and vigilent civil society, the report can be found on the Australian Institute of Energy website: http://aie.org.au/StaticContent/Images/Report_120106.pdf

Not good enough in a democracy.

Other government reports that are still publicly available soft pedal peak oil and the coming tipping point towards expensive liquid fuels. For example, an urban planning discussion paper last year only gently referred to the need to insulate our cities from óil shocks’, without acknowledging the tremendous impact this will have on urban jobs and viability, or the need to urgently improve public transport. I know, because I helped draft a submission for the peak oil group in Canberra on this.

Even more disturbing is the government’s Draft Energy White Paper. Because it is a long document, 325 pages, and I would rather pull weeds in the local community garden than read through that guff, I used my standard lazy approach:  search the pdf file for all instances of the term ‘peak oil’. There was only one mention on page 65, and that was in brackets with quotes around it, as if to emphasise that this is fringe dweller’s terminology.

I found this absence rather bizarre, so I skimmed through the exec summary. No mention that oil production anywhere has peaked, only a few polite phrases about Australia’s production capacity possibly being constrained in the future, and other oblique hints that they know full well what the score is, but prefer to head off in another direction that will bring in good revenue perhaps.

Then I looked at the list of energy publications in the Energy White Paper, Appendix F. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, who produced the 2009 report, is not listed, even under a previous name. Others departments and organisations are listed, where one might find the Truth. But for clarity, consistency, evidence based policy making and accountability, surely citizens need to know what the government knows but wants to keep quiet. There is no divine right of government.

It  is hard to understand such a blinkered and stubborn persistence to delay reality, as the rest of the world is awash not in oil, but in reports confirming that supplies will not be able to meet demand. The reference to peak oil on page 65 of the energy white paper said supplies aren’t expected to peak before 2035, whereas Fatih Birol, chief economist for the International Energy Agency, has been quoted saying crude oil production probably happened in 2006.

It is like paramedics chatting about what size bandaid to use while a patient is bleeding to death.

But there are other sources of information, and I recommend to you the upcoming Australian tour by Nicole Foss, energy and finance expert. She is not in denial of peak oil and has some plausible observations on what it might mean. It ain’t pretty, but avoiding action to deal with the inevitable, as our government seems to be doing, is not a good plan.

The Facebook page for her Australian tour can be found at

I would prefer to receive realistic information from the people I pay to plan for our country’s future, rather than read unctuous platitudes based on wishful thinking. Sometimes you just want to get the grease off your hands to rid yourself of the feeling of being played for a patsy.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 3:52 pm | Comments (4) |
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January 13, 2012 | Graham

Dark continent holds insight into Hendra virus

Researchers at Cambridge University, the Zoological Society of London and CSIRO have over-turned theories on Hendra virus in a study of an isolated colony of straw-coloured fruit bats on islands off the west coast of Africa and found that some African bats carry anti-viruses to the disease.

Previously it was thought that the virus only existed distributed over widespread colonies of bats, but this work in an isolated colony showed that the animals had co-existed with the disease for quite some time, although it has only spilled into human populations in the last 20 years.

For me another interesting insight from the paper was that while the Australian media reports the “deadly” Hendra virus as though it evolved in a nearby suburb of Brisbane, apparently a similar virus called Nipah virus is present in fruit bat populations in Asia and appears to have been known well before Hendra Virus.

In other not-so-good Hendra virus news apparently not only horses but cats can contract and spread the disease.

For a Queenslander this is not good news. There is a greater risk of catching Hendra virus than there is of being taken by a shark, and infection is almost always fatal. Bats are prolific in the trees of Brisbane with a colony near here on a well-traversed bike path at Coorparoo, and while horses could catch and transmit the disease, they are nowhere as widely-owned as moggies.

As my partner’s two girls are frequently about horses and just acquired a cat, and bats jump out of low lying branches when I come home, the disease seems a particularly ominous, if not significant, risk.

The Cambridge/CSIRO release reads:

Discovery in Africa gives insight for Australian Hendra virus outbreaks

Researchers find that African bats have antibodies that neutralise deadly virus

A new study on African bats provides a vital clue for unravelling the mysteries in Australia’s battle with the deadly Hendra virus.

The study focused on an isolated colony of straw-coloured fruit bats on islands off the west coast of central Africa. By capturing the bats and collecting blood samples, scientists discovered these animals have antibodies that can neutralise deadly viruses known in Australia and Asia.

The paper is published today, 12 January, in the journal PLoS ONE, and is a collaboration of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, the Zoological Society of London and the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory.

Hendra virus in Australia and Nipah virus in Asia are carried by fruit bats and sporadically “spill over” into people with tragic consequences. The findings of the new study are significant as they yield valuable insights for our understanding of how these viruses persist in bat populations.

Cambridge PhD student Alison Peel explains, “Hendra and Nipah viruses cause fatal infections in humans, but we currently understand very little about how the viruses are transmitted from bats to other animals or people. To understand what the risk factors for these ‘spill-overs’ are, it is crucial to understand how viruses are maintained in bat populations. The ability to study these viruses within an isolated bat colony has given us new insight into these processes.”

It was previously believed that these viruses were maintained in large interconnected populations of bats, so that if the virus dies out in one colony, it would be reintroduced when bats from different colonies interact. The new study indicates that a closely related virus is able to persist in a very small and isolated population of bats. This is the first time this has been documented in a natural wild population, casting doubt on current theories.

Peel added, “Although Hendra and Nipah viruses are relatively new to science, it appears that bats have lived and evolved with them over a very long time. We hope that by gaining a better understanding of this relationship, we may then be able to understand why it is only within the last 20 years that spill-over to humans has occurred.”

Posted by Graham at 8:00 am | Comments (2) |
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January 12, 2012 | Graham

Newman applies pressure to Bligh for timely election

Campbell Newman is stepping up pressure on Anna Bligh to call an election later this month by scheduling a very early campaign function for next  Tuesday.

It is a breakfast function where he is advertised to “be setting out his vision for 2012 in a year where Queenslanders will be asked to make a choice. A choice between a tired, 20 year Labor Government or a fresh, energised CanDo Team led by Campbell Newman.”

While most would expect the next Queensland election to be no later than three years after the previous one there are some reasons why Bligh might try to extend her term into June where the last possible legal date to hold an election would be the 16th.

These include the belief by Labor that the longer they can keep Campbell Newman in the limelight the more damage they can do to him. Our latest research certainly shows that the negative campaign of last year knocked a lot of the shine off Newman, although it left the LNP vote virtually unscathed.

Then there is the confusion that might be created over an extended period of time by the new Bob Katter Australian Party  with its appeal to a rural anti-big party, anti-coal seam gas constituency.

The ALP might also hope to lure the LNP into spending its war chest early leaving it depleted by the time of the election while they coast through using the resources of government to get their messages out.

But these are overborne by the negatives.

This is a government that has a reputation for trickiness and dishonesty starting with the breach of promises not to privatise government operations like Queensland Rail and to retain the fuel subsidy.

Any attempt to run more than three years beyond the date of the last election would be seen as more of the same, and yet another reason to punish them at the election.

As Queensland’s local governments have their compulsory elections on the 31st of March, and the government wouldn’t want to risk getting its campaign caught up in these, that means that the election needs to be called for some time in February – probably the 18th or the 25th.

If it is to be the 18th, then the election would need to be called no later than the 23rd of January, with the 30th January being the last date for the 25th.

By holding his function on the 17th Newman gets the jump on the Premier’s campaign whenever she announces it, branding himself as more ready to govern than her, and makes her look scared or tricky if she doesn’t announce it at all this month.

In fact the word around town is that Newman has hired the chicken suit and there is a Young Liberal ready to don it and stalk the premier’s media conferences.

Certainly once Newman has kicked off (the function is being held on Rugby Quay) you can expect the chorus on talk back radio and the online comments sections of the Courier Mail and the Brisbane Times to be putting the pressure on Bligh in a negative campaign that money couldn’t buy.

In which case Newman will probably be hoping that Bligh does hold off. The detriment to Labor outweighs any disadvantage he might suffer.

Posted by Graham at 6:02 am | Comments (3) |
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January 05, 2012 | Graham

Canonising a roadside shrine

I not infrequently drive down Moggill Road in the mornings, and since October or so last year I’ve been intrigued by this roadside shrine. It’s like many that have sprung up around Queensland on the sites of road accidents, but more substantial than any others that I have seen. Earlier this week I took a closer look.

Road side shrine to Richard Pollett, promising violinist who died in a bicycle accident on Brisbane's Moggill Road.

Is there any other major city in the world where this would have survived for over three months when a pair of bolt cutters could have scored you a newish road bike? To that you can now add a new Christmas tree, and the watering can next to it carrying the message “Please water”.

Councils hate these shrines but I like them. They are a reminder that roads are dangerous, and that the victims of road accidents are loved by someone, and when they die they leave a hole in someone else’s life. So drive carefully and watchfully – the next one could be for you.

They are also a reminder that people care, and that while graves have become unfashionable survivors still need a memorial to those they loved which is more than a patch of earth where some ashes are scattered or a Facebook page.

By memorialising this particular accident here on the blog, perhaps I am helping someone to deal with their grief over the loss of Richard Owen Pollett.

And I think that grief must be substantial.

The reason I pulled over for a close look on Tuesday is that while these roadside shrines are memorials that generally consist of a cross and some flowers, this one is a cenotaph – a relative of the monuments to fallen soldiers that often brood over intersections in the middle of country towns (or back up Moggill Road outside the Kenmore Shopping Village).

Richard Pollett must have been a special kind of guy – and Google confirms this. At 25 years of age he was a gifted violinist, in town to play the premier performance of Selenite, a concerto for piano and violin, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. The concert went ahead, but instead of Selenite, featured a new work dedicated to Pollett and composed by noted Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin.

You can listen to him perform on YouTube, and the violin certainly makes a kind of magic in his hands.

His parents have established the Richard Pollett Memorial Award with the Australian Youth Orchestra to honour his memory and to provide support and encouragement to young violinists.

Local Member Bruce Flegg is using his death as another leverage point to campaign for an upgrade to Moggill Road, perhaps the most durable monument to Pollett there could be.

The Pollett family and friends have set-up a memorial page which carries the information that the bicycle memorial was set-up by staff of Kenmore Cycles, and a link to a page where you can donate to the Richard Pollett Memorial Award.

Let’s hope that the staff of Kenmore Cycle can maintain this memorial for some time yet. While his playing may not have touched as many people as it should have, perhaps his death can touch more lives than it should need to on the sometimes fatal reaches of Moggill Road.

Posted by Graham at 7:45 am | Comments (1) |
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