February 27, 2012 | Graham

Bishop gives last rites to #kevenge

This has got to be the best comment on the leadership contest. Although if he goes one more time it might be more like Nightmare on Elm Street.

Amanda Bishop gives Julia some top notes while Phillip Scott plays up a storm for Kevin.

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February 23, 2012 | Graham

I guess this means Rudd has more than a third

The only reason that Julia Gillard could be calling a leadership ballot is because her challenger could force one. Which means that Kevin Rudd must have more than a third of the votes because that is what you need to force a spill.

That’s more votes than the Gillard people have been telling us he has. When you combine that with the bullying that has been going on, including claims that Rudd is inflating his numbers, then it tells you that the contest is actually quite close – certainly closer than the Gillard people have been letting on.

But will a Rudd victory lead on to electoral victory?

Probably not – for two reasons.

First Rudd has not changed and that means he is unattractive to the Howard battlers that he suckered into voting for him in 2007.

When you look at Rudd’s polling figures just before he was deposed he was travelling almost as well as he had been at the election. For Rudd that makes it inexplicable that he was dumped, but the averages always hide the true meaning of any sample.

When you look more closely at the polling his support had fallen significantly in Queensland and New South Wales. This was a blue-collar conservative effect, which was confirmed for federal Labor when they lost the Penrith state by-election with anecdotal evidence from booth workers that Rudd was one of the problems.

That’s why he was removed. He had barely won the 2007 election, having a margin of only 8 seats, and the movements in two of Australia’s largest states more than cancelled that out. What’s more his position was starting to run downhill at an accelerating rate.

Why is he unattractive to blue-collars conservatives? Probably because he looks fake. I’ve watched the YouTube video of him being angry and he can’t even do angry well.

Second, the damage from his win will lead to ongoing recriminations within Labor. He won’t be allowed to do his job anymore than he allowed Gillard to do hers.

Interesting that daughter Jessica and wife Therese have been tweeting their support of him and that erstwhile mates like Wayne Swan and Craig Emerson who both go back to the Goss days, have been putting the boot in. This is going to be one willing family fight.

But you’ve got to feel sorry for Anna Bligh. She needs the space to try to establish a message against Campbell Newman. At the moment she is losing, and to win she needs something to change. It’s difficult for that to happen when Rudd and federal Labor are hogging all the oxygen.

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February 20, 2012 | Graham

Education’s Gonski now.

The government has just released the Gonski review of education and while I have yet to read it and so am relying on news reports it appears to have made a number of obvious errors.

First is that contra the assertions made by the inquiry, there is little relationship between expenditure on education and outcomes. Some years ago I came across a table that neatly summarised this but can’t lay my hands on it now. However, here is some information from an article that On Line Opinion is about to publish tomorrow by retired maths lecturer John Ridd that makes the same point.

It has the following table comparing Australian TIMSS results in 2007 to other countries either selected for their cultural and ethnic comparability – USA and the UK – or because they topped their respective categories – Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Maths 4th grade Maths 8th grade Science 4th grade Science 8th grade
Hong Kong 607 Taiwan 598 Singapore 587 Singapore 567
US 529 US 508 US 539 US 520
UK 541 UK 513 UK 542 UK 542
Australia 516 Australia 496 Australia 527 Australia 515

The percentages of the GDP spent on education by each of these countries according to the CIA Fact Book is:

Hong Kong 4.5%; Taiwan N/A; Singapore 3%; USA 5.5%; UK 5.5% and Australia 4.5%. Note that the best performing spent the least, and were all Asian.

This confirms my anecdotal observation which is boosted by statistics showing a decline in Australian educational performance over the last 20 to 30 years.

That is that the much cheaper education that I received in the 60s and 70s was superior to what is being delivered now, even though my grade one class had 50 students in it and we wrote on slates .

We have been spending more money since, but only to go backwards.

Second, public education ought to be the province of the state governments, not the federal. The commonwealth should not be wading in with additional monies to prop up state schools. If it wants real reform it should encourage the states to set up a situation where they fund both state and private schools to some extent and allow them to keep some more of the GST so that they can afford to do that.

The extra $5 billion being demanded by the review will merely allow the states to vacate more of their responsibility in education and won’t actually improve the situation.

Third, the Howard Government’s SES system of funding was the most effective and transparent you are likely to get, apart from the fact that it allowed the Catholic school system to allocate resources internally outside of this framework. If it needed simplification, then it needed to bring Catholic schools under the same system as everyone else. Apart from that it worked well.

By relying on income tax returns to determine funding per student the Gonski review is setting up a very messy situation which will effectively fund tax minimisers at a better rate than the rest of us. The SES system, by relying on demographic statistics dodged the tax minimisation trap.

We need reform to education, but this isn’t it. The real problems lie in standards, the capabilities of teachers, the lack of ability of schools to innovate, low expectations of what students can achieve, and a culture that doesn’t rate intellectual performance very highly.

That’s why we are out-gunned by the Singaporeans, the Taiwanese and the citizens of Hong Kong. They’re smarter about education and spend what is required, not more.

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February 19, 2012 | Graham

A Rudd alumnus the YouTube source?

Could Rudd’s office be the source of the “Happy Vegemite Video”, but in a bid to damage Rudd?

I know, in the Byzantine world of Labor politics convoluted revenge is a common currency, but how could that possibly work?

Well watch the video again while you think about it and I’ll put a theory in place below.

When Rudd lost the Prime Ministership I was surprised to find that one of the groups cheering loudest was a large tribe of ex-Rudd staffers. I had this on good authority from a member of the Rudd alumni.

So how upset could an ex-Rudd staffer be? Possibly upset enough to get a copy of an out-take from an official government video that showed Rudd petulantly swearing and thumping the table and store it up for later.

It’s possible that whoever dropped this video had access to a whole library of recordings and went looking for something that put the “past and future PM” in a bad light, but much more likely that someone stockpiled it at the time.

That person was most likely present at the recording, making them either a bureaucrat, or a staffer.

Revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Three years after the event makes the release an act of cold-hearted bastardry against someone who the perpetrator viewed as a cold-hearted bastard.

Dropping it at a time that does maximum damage to Rudd, with an election on in his own state (where the Labor position is dire) being relegated to second spot, even on the Queensland news, and at a time that does maximum damage to Gillard, fits the profile of someone whose only dog in this fight is to hurt Rudd.

You hurt Rudd the most by using the video in the middle of the leadership contest in a way where both sides will have reason to blame the other. That way the internecine fight will consume Rudd eventually, whether he wins or loses. That the party destroys itself too doesn’t appear to worry the assailant.

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February 17, 2012 | Graham

Fighting personal disintegration and last century’s campaign

For some time now I’ve wondered how Anna Bligh has turned-up to work every day and looked so calm, cool and collected, like everyone’s favourite mum, for the media.

She knows, as the rest of the state knows, that on March 25, 2012, it will all be over. Running a campaign knowing that you have no hope is a heavy psychological burden. If she visualises her audience when she stares down the barrel of the camera she must see at best pity, and at worst hate and revulsion, in their eyes.

That could be one explanation of her bizarre prediction that Newman will go to jail and her refusal yesterday to withdraw when she had the chance.

The other explanation is that she went too far in the heat of the moment, which is what I initially thought.

But thinking harder the jail allegation has been implicit in some of the other things she’s been saying about Campbell Newman.

In her presser after announcing the election she said in response to a question:

Frankly I do not believe that Campbell Newman is up to the job. I don’t believe he is a fit person to lead Queensland and the contest is going to be a very fiercely contested one. It’ll be one where people go to the ballot knowing anything they need to know about what this Commission of Inquiry says.

The term “fit person” suggests moral turpitude, not merely incompetence, and suggests that she has been seeing Newman through a lens of moral disapproval for a while.

This would not be an unnatural reaction to the fact that she is about to be beaten in an election, but doesn’t believe that she deserves to be. In such a situation it is easy to project extreme fantasies of unworthiness on to your opponent.

It makes it easier to justify your loss to yourself – they won by foul means because they are a bad person – and it also makes it easier to summon up the will to do whatever it takes to stop them winning.

As well it plays into a very old election narrative of Labor in Queensland – that the Nationals and Liberals are corrupt. It won them an election in 1989 off the back of the Fitzgerald commission, despite the fact that the accusation against the Liberals was not only wrong, it was completely and demonstrably baseless.

Yet in 1989 they got the electorate to buy the charge that the Liberals were corrupt like the Nationals even though it had been the Liberals, not Labor, who had fought against National Party corruption, which was the reason they were on the cross bench and not in coalition.

You can see history replaying in her mind when she said yesterday:

I may well have been a little passionate yesterday – a little too passionate perhaps – but I’m driven by an anger when I see this sort of stuff; it is fishy…

I grew up in a Queensland that everybody in the country knew was crooked and when I see any whiff, any whiff, of a return to a crooked Queensland I do get angry.

Political parties tend to fight the last campaign in the current election.

Back in 1995 when I was a key state Liberal Party strategist and tactician it made it easier to fight and win the election campaign because we knew almost exactly what was coming. We’d seen the same campaign in 1989 and 1992.

If the Coalition had fought that election as they had the previous two, it would have been successful for Labor, so it wasn’t a foolish strategy, just wrong.

17 years later not only is it foolish, but one suspects it has become hard-wired into the Labor reflex, so that a premier under extreme pressure with her psyche starting to disintegrate, can’t help but repeat the mantra.



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February 16, 2012 | Graham

Newman’s get out of jail card

On most counts, since Queensland’s faux election campaign began Campbell Newman has yet to win a day, but yesterday was different courtesy of an own goal from the Queensland Premier when she claimed that he would be going to jail.

The reason Newman has yet to win a day is partly due to the fact that almost every other day the Courier Mail has a headline highlighting the activities of members of his wife’s family.

He’s been in public relations hell, which must seem a lot worse than being in jail at the moment, but the premier’s comments have given him a get out of jail card.

In an extraordinary scene in parliament Premier Anna Bligh compared Campbell Newman to her former cabinet colleague Gordon Nuttall currently in jail for official corruption and predicted that Newman would end up in jail as well.

This has got to be a smear too far.

Despite saying in July last year “I can give this guarantee: I won’t be at any stage insulting or criticising any member of Mr Newman’s family” the first stage of the campaign has been dominated by exactly that, even though there is no evidence that any of Mr Newman’s in-laws have committed any crimes or breached any laws.

The latest is that the FBI is apparently investigating a company associated with his brother-in-law Seb Monsour, although the investigation has not included actually talking to anyone in the company, which must make it low level at this stage.

It has all been smear and innuendo based on no more than the fact that they own property and businesses and have on occasion made money.

But Bligh’s position is far from strong.

First there is Gordon Nuttall. If in-law’s count as proof of Newman’s “corruption” then why shouldn’t former cabinet colleagues point to the Premier’s

Then there is Bligh’s husband, Greg Withers. Not only has he been appointed to high ranking public service positions such that the premier’s family income approaches half-a-million dollars a year between them, but he’s just had his contract renewed for another 5 years. That will mean a $1.1 million dollar payout in the event that Labor loses the next election, which the premier clearly expects that they will!

This is money that will all go to benefit the premier’s household budget.

She may say that these appointments were made at arms length, but how arms length couldn’t any appointment like this really be when the interviewee is the Premier’s spouse. You wouldn’t have to say anything for the interviewing panel to know what was expected.

Then there is Tony Morris QC’s careful documentation of the 19 jobs advertised earlier this year by Queensland Health for positions most probably destined to be retired or abolished by the next government. This is classic behaviour by a soon-to-be-defeated government where jobs are filled close to the election  to either leave Trojan horses for the incoming government or pay-off favourites who will be made redundant more swiftly than they were employed.

Scuttlebutt around town is that Queensland Health’s appointments are the tip of the ice berg.

When it comes to corruption the public believes that both sides are in on it. The biggest problem for Newman is probably not the allegations but the fact that every day he has to respond to an allegation is a day that he doesn’t get to talk about his agenda.

And when it comes to allegations of corruption a general rule is that they shouldn’t be too shrill.

You can get away with smearing as long as the allegations are factual. A flight of fancy without any concrete evidence to back it up does more damage to the premier than it does to Newman and confirms what everyone basically knows – she’s sure she’s lost the next election.

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February 14, 2012 | Graham

Julia, if you can’t run your own office, how can you run the country?

I would cut the Prime Minister more slack than that, but I’m sure the opposition won’t.

Julia Gillard is starting to look like a serial offender. Succeeding a PM who had a reputation as a micro-manager she appears to be leaning so hard the other way that perhaps the word “management” holds no meaning for her at all.

First a senior staffer precipitates a riot on Australia Day, now apparently her staff prepared a victory speech two weeks before she challenged Kevin Rudd, but she had no knowledge of it.

Oh wait, it’s not that she had no knowledge of it, just that she didn’t order it.

So perhaps it wasn’t so much that she didn’t order it not because she didn’t want it to be written but because she wanted its writing to be deniable.

Either way she is caught somewhere between the twin horns of what the opposition says about her government – that it is incompetent and dishonest – and between the horns is the worst place to be caught by the beast.

The affair also casts some doubt about the competence of many of her colleagues. The coup against Rudd apparently took many of them unawares – who can forget Darryl Melham’s memorable quote as the coup rolled out:

Complete garbage. ABC have lost all credibility – all credibility. This story is garbage and the ABC needs to get their act together and start reporting fact instead of fiction.

Yet according to the ABC Hillary Clinton realised 2 weeks in advance that a change was on foot. Hillary wasn’t the only person to have worked it out. I knew on June 11 that a coup was in process, as you can read from this blog post.

Note that one of the first shots was fired by Simon Crean, the man who took aim at Rudd again last week accusing him of not being a team player, and Crean is someone who is very close to Julia Gillard.

Perhaps Simon is running the PM’s office and the speech was prepared on the basis of “Simon says”? Pure speculation, but might be worth a question in question time.

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February 03, 2012 | Ronda Jambe

Under the Moruya Moon (13)

The last few months on the south coast of New South Wales have been peaceful, content, full of activity, and a few fresh challenges. It was good to be far away last year, and wonderful to be back in such a benign part of the world. No desperate boat people arriving from other continents, no obscene accidents of cruise or container ships, no radiation in the food to be concerned about. If Australia is thought by some to be a backwater, that’s fine by me. We are far, both physically and probabilistically, from the slaughter now taking place in Syria. And if this particular area is too far from either Sydney or Melbourne to attract swarms of people, that’s better yet. While it has been raining here the last few days, there is little risk of flooding just now, unlike up north. Does anyone doubt that the first cab off the rank for climate change impacts is flooding?

It’s good when visitors come, so see any changes since the last time. This is itself a delight, to share the experience with friends old and new. For added entertainment we have a new kitten, we call him Julian the Wiki puss. He has to be protected from the snakes and ticks, and we hope he keeps his distance from the kangaroos.

It’s not a revelation to me, more of a confirmation, to find the people and the place so comfortable. It probably has to do with a shared love of this environment. Is it normal for people to spontaneously comment in the big cities that it is wonderful to live there? They do here, with a big smile. Some keep horses, and you don’t need to be a millionaire to have enough land for that. Others are keen fisherfolk, out early on the beach digging for worms. Surfing is big, for old and young, mostly men. And gardening is not as hard as in Canberra, as the rain is sufficient and it is warm enough to grow a very wide range of fruit and veg. The scale of the area feels right, as it is small enough to get to know people, yet spread out and diverse enough that there are many different people with varied knowledge and skills.

Like an embedded reporter, I still feel like an outsider and observer. Joining a few community groups that are closest to my interests helps me to feel grounded here. One is the sustainable gardening group, where food and friendship develop together. There are useful workshops, and after learning how to braid garlic I threaded in some with Christmas ribbon for presents in Sydney. (Martha Stewart goes bush?) After an excursion to a berry farm I decided our parking area will be marked out with large blueberry bushes. There is a low chill variety that grows to about 2 m, can’t wait to get them in. What could be better than overdosing on fresh raspberries? When the ground is prepared, I’ll bring some down from Canberra. Just today my visiting friend and I shared a salad from the first veggie patch, something I didn’t have last year. While the prospect of developing real food and orchards here remains daunting, I have made my first bed and fully intend to sleep in it.


Men with Machines

I have fresh appreciation that gardening without either soil or water is an uphill battle. Then my dominant wrist gave me a clear message that I was doing too much lifting rocks, heavy housework, shifting furniture, digging and ping pong. Time to bring in the men with machines. There are digging and excavating machines, huge steam shovels, ladders, bob cats, slashers, and a cruel looking spiral attachment for making holes large or small. We have had a steady parade of dump trucks, bull dozers, electric drills, all manner of materials and skills to shape this bare spot into something lush and welcoming. But first the creative destruction to chop up the soil, sift out the biggest rocks, bring in the good dirt, and then mix it with trailer loads of horse manure from former tenants (now friends) who live in town. Visualising cement patios front and back is one thing, seeing them in place awaiting a tiler is a treat. This week the new driveway that will lead to the back entry has been started. I call it ‘hemorraging money’, but can’t think of anything better to do with some spare super.  It is now time to consider what plants to line the dirt track with, and where to put a kiwi-covered trellis. It would be nice to reach up and pluck a fat kiwifruit one day, and I intend to invite the humble choco vine somewhere too. I’ve had a few gardens in various houses, but this is the first time I’ve developed one from bare ground. I’m after colour, flavour, screening, and believe it will be worth the wait and the effort. My spouse is not so sure, and sees it as a trial. For me it is pleasure, and eventually there will be spaces with elements of arrival or surprise that will soften the harshness of the colourbond.

Dirt under the nails

Our current tenant is a skillful gardener, and I help out a bit with the weeding in return for a few beans or excess rocket plants. There is a possibility of using some of our open land cooperatively to work with others and develop and orchard down by the dam. Some friends have gone the whole hog and moved into an eco-village outside Adelaide, but I prefer to be part of the existing community and work to develop the food security and resilience that has to be a good thing. Whether or not climate change hits hard, peak oil has already passed. As oil prices rise, food that is locally and less chemically grown will become more important. Aside from all that, I love growing things, and learning with others how to do it.

The democratic muscle

Another passion of mine is governance, so I’ve sticky-beaked my way into a group seeking Council reform. Working with people is so much harder than working with plants, but I persevere in the hope that there may be something I can contribute. Perhaps just the insight that if you want good governance, you have to demonstrate that within your group. If you seek greater citizen participation, the group has to show they are open to the community. And so on…words are cheap, action is difficult. But running for Council, I have quickly realised, is a bridge too far for me. My head is still sore from years of banging it on the bureaucratic walls of Canberra. Besides, I want to travel some more, having missed out on that when young. But I am persevering with the idea of granite souvenirs as a fund raiser for the south heads bike path. This commitment was reinforced after meeting a woman whose son was killed by a car while walking that road at night.

We have also joined the SES, and are impressed with the commitment and training this organisation displays. It seems to be one wonderful thing that the NSW government funds, and a proud example of Australian social capital. If we make it through the probation and do a sufficient amount of training, we just might be useful to them even in our 60s. The amount of volunteering that goes on around here also seems quite high, or perhaps it is just more visible than in Canberra. In any case, there is plenty for everyone to take part in. We have found another group to play table tennis with, and I’m continuing to brush up on my Italian through the University of the 3rd age. I hope to find time for some craft and maybe develop one of my little green doll house rooms for fun. This vase is about 7 cm tall:


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