March 28, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

India: a BRIC short of a full load

It was confusing. The India I saw before my eyes had little in common with the India that I’ve been reading about or the India on Indian TV.  Even the faces were paler, and the ads showed westernised, middle class situations and settings.

Outside my tour bus, rubbish along the roads, nonexistent public facilities in many situations, flooding four star hotel bathrooms and unending subsistence villages were the norm.

Where was the India of call centres, Bollywood, the economic power creeping up on China’s impressive record?

But I am told there are many Indias, all of them real, all of them illusions.

A few reality checks as a result of first hand experience: the caste system is so entrenched that official documents require its identification, and the UK government is now amending their discrimination laws to include caste, as a result of migrants from the sub-continent bringing their sad attitudes with them. A family disowning a son for marrying into the untouchable caste is truly sad.

When one thinks of China, one does not think of colourful, ritualised worship and endless temples to some 300,000 deities.  Some 30% of India’s fresh food goes to waste due to inefficient roads and transport and storage. Put similar sets of statistics together and it is easy to conclude that India is unlikely to be a major world power anytime soon.

As the first of the BRIC nations I have visited, my views may be premature. Brazil, Russia and China await me.

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March 23, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

Bus tour Australia

A few years back playwright David Williamson wrote about Cruise Ship Australia. He found his fellow travellers somewhat pompous and demanding, preoccupied with their status and consumerism.

I think I’m pleased to report that on a recent bus tour of India my impressions of my compatriots were rather more positive. In what seemed like a statistically normal blend of geography, class and occupations, the general tone was mellow, relaxed, cooperative and open-minded. Many were experienced travellers. Aussies in general are enthusiastic and adaptive travellers. But perhaps in this case just a bit too accepting and somewhat, dare I say, sheeplike?

They knew India would be challenging, with long hours in a bus, looking out on desert, poverty and filth. At the end of each day, hot water might not await in the so-called good hotels. On the road toilets, clean or otherwise, were a luxury.

The payoff for the discomfort and disturbed bowels was the great food, the colourful dancing and music, and the wonderful palaces we visited and stayed in. More about incredible India another time. Glad I went, won’t be going back. Like the Pope, I kiss the tarmac every time I return to OZ.

There was little grumbling, even at the endless extraction process for tips, although we had already paid a significant amount up front to cover this. My friend and I were hold outs on this, but the others either didn’t notice or didn’t care. There was some consumerism, and some rip-offs, but this we all accepted as par for the course. My friend and I would have preferred more history and less shopping, but we knew what we were in for.

The two of us were not the only ones who noticed that one elderly and not very mobile member of the group was also extracting a a good deal of physical and psychological special attention, which several of the males and the tour guide obligingly provided. The requirement of a doctor’s letter stating capacity to climb and walk, and the advance notice of the amount of walking involved, did not seem to matter. Often the whole group was delayed, or special travel arrangements made.

At one point I suggested to one of the non-doting males that perhaps a palanquin could be arranged, so the men could provide tranport for this assumed royalty. He grumbled that he didn’t come on the trip to provide these services.

I doubt that any of the rest of us would presume to book a tour knowing they would be dependent on the good will of their fellows. But they made the best of the situation, preferring to go along rather than stir bad feelings. We all got by, but my feedback to the company will note that this was not an ideal situation. But if there is deception, either self or otherwise, what can be done? This particular person told of holding up a tour because of their mobility problems 15 years ago, so clearly this is their standard MO.

Maybe I am the hyper-critical too much thinking spoiler, and the others are salt of the earth good sports who accept it as their role to get ripped off by tours and stand by strangers, even an unreasonable one who made the choice to come along and take advantage of their fellow travellers.

Certainly India is a country where questions and change are not obvious. About Australia I’m not so sure. Baa!

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March 21, 2010 | Graham

SA Libs talk themselves out of win

Some campaigns have their iconic moments. In the 2004 federal campaign it was Mark Latham’s overly muscular handshake with John Howard. It summed up all the risk inherent in Latham.

For the South Australian election it was probably Liberal shadow treasurer Steven Griffiths’ claim that his own figures for savings on the Royal Adelaide Hospital were “spin” which would have reinvigorated doubts about the SA Libs.

The shame for the Liberals is if they had been running a different campaign it would probably not have mattered.

And to put it into perspective, the Liberals have achieved a swing of heroic proportions.

It looks like Isobel Redmond and her team have collected a swing of 7.3% – which is one of the largest swings in contemporary Australian elections – but it also looks like they have collected that swing mostly in the wrong seats.

The results suggest that this was a classic protest vote swing. In a protest vote you win votes not because people want you to win, but because they want to send your opponent a message.

Protest votes result in larger swings in safe seats – yours and your opponents. But the marginals tend to remain tight. In fact, some safe seats will change hands with large swings while marginals will stay put and swing against the trend (see Adelaide, Mawson  and Light).

Our polling suggested that elements of a protest vote were in place. Electors are over Mike Rann, and preferred Isobel Redmond, but there were lingering doubts about the Liberal Party. Greens preferences probably held the key and they were inclined towards a hung parliament rather than a Liberal win.

If the Liberal Party had pitched themselves as the  under-dogs, and even embraced the overwhelming likelihood that the best result for them would be a hung parliament, they might have won.

But they pitched themselves as certain to form the next government.

This meant that electors were scrutinising them more closelythan they would have as a potential government rather than a tool to bring Rann down a peg or two.

Then, at just the wrong time in the campaign a Liberal front-bencher suggests that a key Liberal promise is “spin”. Voters in a number of key seats probably changed their minds at that point and decided to stay put.

I suspect that the Liberals were also running the wrong marginal seats campaign. In 1996 in the Queensland election ALP members like Michael Lavarch held key marginal seats, but were tracking 10% above their party’s vote.

In the last weeks we targetted their electors with a message that said “We know that you like your local member and we can understand that he (they were all males) is a decent person. But when he goes to Canberra he supports these decisions that Paul Keating is making. The only way you can send Keating a message is to vote against this person who you like. Sorry.”

It worked and their votes came back in line with their party’s.

Were the SA Libs pushing a similar message out in Light, Mawson, Norwood and Newland?

There are lessons for the federal Liberals, and federal Labor, in this result.

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March 04, 2010 | Graham

Hospitals policy ensures administrative competence the issue next election

Many of the commentators have been speculating that health will be the issue of the next election. I don’t think so. The health policy doesn’t blow the pink batts affair off the agenda, it reinstates it at the centre. (more…)

Posted by Graham at 12:21 am | Comments (4) |
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March 02, 2010 | Graham

Physicists criticise Jones et al

It’s couched in neutral language, but the Institute of Physics, with an international membership of 36,000 physicists has expressed serious doubts about the objectivity, methods and outcomes of the published results and staff from the Hadley Centre for Climate Research Unit.


Posted by Graham at 5:31 pm | Comments (3) |

March 01, 2010 | Graham

Playing on the Prime Ministerial mind

If Kevin Rudd doesn’t sort himself out pretty quickly he won’t be Prime Minister come Christmas. Either Tony Abbott will have done for him, or Julia Gillard.

It’s the first rule of crisis management that you should admit your mistakes. But the second rule is not “admit to mistakes you haven’t made”. Kevin Rudd has gone so far with his mea culpae that journalists are interpreting them, somewhat accurately, though not entirely, as encompassing everything that his government has done. So Kerry O’Brien on tonight’s 7.30 Report asked Julie Gillard what she had to apologise for. You could have blunted a stone mason’s chisel on Julia’s face after this sally.

When Kevin Rudd became Labor leader he mused about “playing with John Howard’s mind”. Watching his performance over the last week or so I’m asking myself whether this was prediction or projection. Did he use this turn of phrase because he is well-acquainted with funk himself?

Since the global financial crisis the Rudd Government appears to have been consumed by panic. They didn’t need to spend $44 Billion to rescue Australia. The proof of that is that most of the $44 Billion didn’t get spent during the crisis. It is being spent now and over the next few years and pushing interest rates up as it crowds out productive investment.

Part of that panic was the home insulation program, which has now mestastised the panic through the government via the ham-fisted performance of Peter Garrett and his department, and subsequently Rudd’s equally porcine behaviour.

Rule number two in the crisis management handbook actually is “Only admit to those mistakes you have actually made”. Rule number three is “Be genuine”. Rule number four is “Make sure your organisation understands what you are doing and why and bring them with you.” Rule number five is “Ensure there is only one company spokesman”.

Rudd has broken all four. Tonight’s 7.30 report is the evidence.

Because Rudd admitted to mistakes he has not made, it allowed Kerry O’Brien to ask Gillard where she has failed and to comment on where her colleagues like Nicola Roxon the Health Minister, and others may have failed. O’Brien even cheekily referred to the PM as “Kevin ‘I’m sorry’ Rudd”. Gillard was understandably unimpressed, and as a result broke the corporate line (see rules 4 and 5). There was also plenty of footage of Rudd standing beside Gillard looking completely disengaged whilst she explained what he really meant. (Try this at around 4:25) That breaks rule number three.

Journalists don’t behave like this unless the beast is badly wounded. You can just hear the producers pleading with the PM’s office – “Look we can’t guarantee that Mr OBrienwon’ refer to him as “Kevin ‘I’m sorry’ Rudd” but can you persuade your boss to come on?” It’s not as though the ABC has even a significant share of the audience that Rudd needs to win the next election, so O’Brien is taking a calculated risk that Rudd is so weak that upsetting him doesn’t matter.

Rudd’s colleagues (I suspect he uses the term advisedly) will be watching this footage. Can he recover? Should they move now? What are the risks that Abbott will win the next election? They should not be quick to install Gillard to the office, despite what polls and her boosters might say.

Rudd and Gillard are a little like Hawke and Keating, but “off Broadway”. Rudd has tried to be the great conciliator and bring everyone together and deserves credit for that. Hawke was an elitist, but he managed to takeoff an average bloke pretty well. Rudd is an elitist who will never manage the trick, no matter how many people he calls “mate”. Gillard is the point person. And whereas Keating had a manic turn of phrase that could reverse the flow of public opinion Gillard delivers multiple stab wounds in a voice which suggests her father or her mother had Dalek DNA.

What a dilemma to have. And yet today’s Newspoll suggests that things may not be so bad afterall!

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