Category: Rants

The Gillard-Abbott Challenge

Well, the challenge is on. After an anxious 17 day post-election wait, Australians finally know for sure who will be running the country for the next three years – or possibly less. The ALP, led by Julia Gillard, will form a minority government – while needing the support of either the opposition, or at least 4 of the 5 Independent and Greens MPs to pass legislation through the lower house. From July next year she’ll also have to gain the support of either the Coalition or the Greens to get legislation past the Senate as well.

Is this the election outcome the majority of Australians wanted? The jury is still out, but the answer in my opinion is no. Voters decisively removed the mandate they’d given to Kevin Rudd’s government in 2007 – which suggests they are unhappy with the ALP’s performance. However they didn’t give the Coalition a majority so a Tony Abbott led government was not an overwhelmingly popular choice either. They wanted change, but they weren’t quite sure what they wanted to change to. The proof will be in the pudding, really – if this government is successful, we can say the people made exactly the right decision; if it collapses before its time, there will be many voters and indeed some Independent MPs wondering whether they made the right choice. But only time will tell.

Without focussing on the reasons the ALP lost its majority, or the reasons the coalition didn’t gain one, I thought it appropriate to start moving forward (to borrow a phrase) and look at what this means for the future of our parliament.

While we’ve been waiting for a decision from the Independents on which party they’d support to govern the country, many political commentators have been loudly proclaiming the virtues of a minority government, citing examples where it has been successful in the past at state level. However there has been a notable lack of mention of the times it has failed – for example the last Federal minority government which was led by Menzies after the 1940 election, and fell apart in 1941 when 2 Independents switched sides. The Labor-Green accord in Tasmania from 1989, which lasted just over a year (though elections were not held until 2 years later) is another example where a fragile alliance couldn’t withstand the rigors of a full term of government. This event generated such animosity between the Tasmanian Greens and Labor Party that ill feelings still exist to this day. Having just come back from the UK I feel that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance there is relatively fragile; it’s also generated extreme division amongst both parties, with a real risk that they (particularly the Lib-Dems) will suffer electorally for it. This runs a very real risk of distracting executive government from doing the job they were elected to do in representing the people.

Ultimately, minority government is a major risk for both sides, but more so for the parties involved in the so-called rainbow coalition. As Rob Oakeshott said in his press conference yesterday – ‘It’ll be ugly – but it’ll be beautiful in it’s ugliness’ – I would suggest that there will definitely be ugliness, but the beauty, maybe, not so much. Let’s see how it goes.

What our elected representatives have facing them now is a great challenge in making this work. The prize, ultimately, is the respect of the Australian people and the opportunity to govern as a party in their own right.

Julia Gillard has been handed an opportunity to prove that all her talk about consensus building is not just hot air. Her first weeks in government didn’t do much to prove her ability to drive an agenda and influence policy – she caved to the miners and vastly weakened the mining tax (including reducing the headline rate, which was previously a non-negotiable item). She also chose to cop out on climate policy by offering a Kevin Rudd-ish ‘citizens assembly’ to debate the issue without any real commitment to genuine policy. In the new parliament she will have to negotiate and make deals with a broad range of ideologies, including the far left Greens (who Rudd notably chose not to negotiate with on the ETS) and Independents who range from centre-left to centrist to the far right. It could be like herding cats.

Gillard must avoid falling into two major traps. The first is to ensure that she doesn’t go all Rudd-like and start playing the ‘my way or the highway’ game. If this happens her government will be politically impotent and the people of Australia will deliver a ballot box castration at the first available opportunity. She must use the expertise available to her from the Independents to shape policy and deliver outcomes for the majority of Australians, not pandering to the country dwelling farmers, the latte sipping urbanites, the Western Sydney working class OR the beard stroking professor types. ALL these groups and more need to be considered when making policy decisions. Since the alliance, she has announced one notable change of direction – a committee to debate a proposed carbon tax or ETS – which will only be open to people who are committed to that aim. To me, that is not consensus building, or negotiating, it is a groupthink circle jerk of bloodymindedness. Australia is deeply divided on this issue and until Gillard is willing to acknowledge the very real concerns that Australians have about contentious issues like these, she runs the risk of falling into the same trap Rudd did.

The other risk which Gillard needs to be mindful of is taking government policy too far to the left. Gillard’s history would suggest that her personal politics lean towards a socialist agenda. Now that the ALP have a formal alliance with the left-wing Greens, who will hold the balance of power in the Senate next year, this is a temptation that must be avoided at all costs. I contend that a large majority of Australians are quite economically conservative. I’d also contend that a smaller majority of Australians are socially conservative too, despite the increasingly shrill voice of progressives in the community – many of us don’t particularly like change and many of the trendy issues of today only affect fringe groups. Let’s see a commitment to dealing with the bigger issues that affect the whole country before devoting time to these. Have a conscience vote on gay marriage, sure, and get it out of the way, but let’s not spend months focussing on issues that only affect 10% of the country. If it gets defeated, don’t complain, acknowledge that the country is not ready yet and move on to the stuff that matters to the majority – I’m talking proper health reform not cost shifting; less welfare for people who don’t need it, more spending on infrastructure (and I’m talking things we actually NEED, not duplicating existing school halls), and get us out of debt as the risk of a double dip recession isn’t going away.

If Gillard can meet these two challenges successfully, winning a majority at the next election, whether it comes early or not, should be assured.

On the opposition benches, Tony Abbott has a similar, yet different, set of challenges to face. Firstly, he needs to change his tactics slightly. He ran a very successful small target election campaign which focussed on the ALP’s failings as a government, preceded by a successful strategy of opposing much of Labor’s legislation. Now, in this ‘new paradigm’ parliament, he cannot expect to win votes by doing this. It is imperative that he works within the new parameters and attempts to be constructive, provide improvements to the government’s agenda, and oppose legislation tactically rather than ideologically. If the Australian people see him opposing everything for the sake of opposing, the next election will be a whitewash and Abbott’s leadership will be over.

The second, and perhaps more challenging thing for Abbott is that while being a part of this co-operative parliament, he must continue to present the coalition as an alternative government that is significantly different and significantly better than the ALP. It is an extremely fine line to walk, while appearing to support genuine reform and positive outcomes, to also know what policies to attack and when to oppose – and then how to justify that opposition to the Australian people in a way that lets everyone know he has the entire country’s best interests at heart, rather than political points scoring.

I believe Malcolm Turnbull was attempting to work in this cooperative fashion last year on the ETS; where he failed was in differentiating the Coalition from the government. Voters could not see the point in voting for an opposition which appeared to agree with the government on significant areas of such a contentious policy. He also showed a significant failure of judgement in knowing when to attack during the OzCar affair. Still, I’ve heard many commenters suggesting they may have voted Liberal if Turnbull was still leader – my response to that is that if Turnbull was still leader of the Liberal Party, an ETS would be in place and Kevin Rudd would still be Prime Minister in a majority Labor government, waffling about detailed programmatic specificity and baffling us with bullshit. Tony Abbott needs to learn from Turnbull’s mistakes and walk the tightrope between political pragmatism and ferocious opposition – it won’t be easy. But it will earn him a higher level of trust from the Australian people.

If Abbott can do all the above, he can position himself as an alternative Prime Minister and lead the Coalition to an election winning position – particularly if the rainbow coalition can’t govern effectively and doesn’t go the full term.

And a final challenge to all our politicians, particularly the two leaders, which they need to deliver on: don’t talk down to us. While the reasons for Kevin Rudd’s falling poll numbers (ultimately costing him the Prime Ministership) were legion – in the top handful would be that Australians tuned out. The reason they failed to tune out is that the ‘working families’ and ‘let me tell you’ and ‘can I just say’ mantras became like fingernails on a blackboard to many ordinary people on the street. What’s utterly mind boggling is that both Labor and Coalition speechwriters are still insisting on the same power phrases to try and get their message across – think ‘big new tax’ and ‘moving forward’. You know what, guys? Australians are not frigging stupid. If you genuinely believe what you’re doing is correct, then passion and charisma will shine through. Use your intellect more than your speechwriters, show us your vision and throw away the script. Australia needs you.

Road tolls and stuff

Tragic, just tragic. Another accident, and another 5 people killed in an horrific accident in Melbourne –

My heart goes out to the families of these kids, and indeed to all those people forced to attend the scene and deal with the aftermath of this accident. It still happens all too regularly, despite all the warnings from police and road safety groups.

No doubt we will shortly hear the impassioned pleas from some in the road safety lobby crying out for lower speed limits, more speed cameras, and perhaps even more controls on the types of cars P-platers are allowed to drive.

The problem is that these knee jerk reactions to road deaths have been going on for years, and it is arguable that the effect of these measures is negligible.

To take this accident specifically, it would seem there were 6 people in a vehicle designed for 5 (which means that at least one wasn’t wearing a seat belt). The driver was apparently travelling at 140km/hr – so clearly had disregarded whatever the speed limit was on that stretch of road. The driver was also clearly inexperienced and got himself into a situation that tragically, he was unable to recover from.

How would an accident like this be avoided? It’s difficult. Young people (particularly young males) are genetically wired to be thrillseekers. Pushing the boundaries and the adrenalin rush that goes along with it is in their blood. A smaller, slower car wouldn’t have saved them (indeed, it could’ve been even worse, if that’s possible, due to the smaller crumple zones and potentially less safety features in a smaller car). If the car wasn’t overloaded, chances are there would still have been fatalities. The only way to avoid an accident like this is for drivers to change their behaviour.

It seems clear to me from the millions of dollars that our state governments reap every year in speeding fine revenue that behaviour is not changing much.

Why do people still speed? The simple fact is, for the vast majority of speeding fines getting issued today, we’re just people making mistakes. We all do it – even the Deputy Police Commissioner of Victoria Police does it, as was controversially revealed this week. We have a bad day, we get distracted, we get annoyed with fellow drivers, and quite frankly, we sometimes watch where we’re going (quite rightly) instead of watching the speedo. And because of the enforcement strategy that most states appear to be using, most people’s speeding offences go unnoticed and uncorrected.

Our governments have become lazy, and instead of funding proper police on our roads, they’ve become addicted to the easy revenue of speed cameras. They’re a licence to print money – like poker machines, except they don’t have to return any money back to the punters. Motorists don’t receive a fine until weeks after the offence, by which time the horse has well and truly bolted.

In raising a dog (and raising kids, though I can’t speak from experience) the general idea is that when your subject does the wrong thing, a quick sharp correction is required immediately. If you try to punish someone for something they’ve done weeks ago you’re likely to upset them and not likely to cause any change in behaviour.

I have some suggestions, dear government, and while I am fairly cynical about the likelihood of anything changing, this is what I would do if I was (hypothetically) charged with fixing this problem:

1. The first thing we have to do is accept that there will never be a zero road toll. People will screw up, no matter what you do. Every death, however, is a tragedy. The media sensationalism that accompanies every holiday period simply drives more knee jerk reactions and less effective strategy. Provide the media with some proper context on our road toll, and rather than simply publishing numbers of deaths, publish numbers of deaths per vehicles on the road. That would be a more truthful way of judging the effectiveness of your road safety strategy. And while I think about it, let’s redefine what is actually a road accident. The toll currently counts such things as a recent accident where a man was unloading a machine from the back of his tilt tray (in the road) and it rolled over and killed him; or the girl who was killed while trying to jump out of a car while it was rolling backwards down her driveway. These are tragedies, sure, but are in no way reflective of our road safety strategy and should not influence policy.

2. A higher, more visible police presence. Our police are grossly underfunded and the government’s perception seems to be that cameras can do the same job. We need more police on our roads – targeting not only speeders but the blue rinse brigade that drive 40km/h under the limit, the morons that think indicators are optional, and the impatient folks who are quite happy to risk their lives (and the lives of their fellow road users) with silly overtaking manouvres around blind corners and generally crazy behaviour. I see this stuff on a daily basis and the fact is, speed cameras don’t fix this. These people get away with these habits for years and years, and are largely ignored by the ‘speed kills’ mentality of our current strategy.

Supplement the higher number of vehicles and police officers with cardboard cutouts and other visible means of slowing people down. Let people know that the chances of them being caught are high! People need visible reminders, not a nasty fine in the mail weeks later.

3. Better driver training. Our teenagers can get a licence by passing a simple test, with little training and little experience, while they’re still developing proper judgement and maturity. Even worse, they’re at an age where they need to push the boundaries of all things in order to progress to adulthood. It’s no wonder teenagers are so over represented in crash statistics.

Give them advanced driver training, on a track, where they can learn how quickly things get scary if they push the boundaries. Put them on a skid pan so they can understand that cars are lethal weapons in the wrong hands. And finally, give them some graphic insights into what happens when things go pear shaped. There’s nothing like a good old glimpse of the consequences to make people think twice before making a stupid decision.

Above all encourage people that if they want to drive fast, to take it to the race track. Most states have a dragway or a circuit (or both) and sadly, motorsport venues seem to be neglected by our governments due to the ‘hoon’ stigma that is permeating our culture. We need to encourage higher participation in motorsport and make people understand that there is nothing wrong with wanting to drive fast and hard, in the right place at the right time.

The only argument the government has against advanced driver training is that it might encourage youths to get cocky and show an inflated sense of their own ability. The fact is, that most youths have an inflated sense of their own driving ability already – wouldn’t you rather they learn their limits on a track, rather than public roads?

4. Mandatory retesting every 5 years. Annually for drivers once they reach the age of 60 or so. There are people in this country driving around who have not had their driving ability tested for 40 or 50 years. We see older drivers doing u-turns on dual carriageways and killing themselves, and the road safety lobby complain that the signage wasn’t sufficient. I’m not kidding, by the way – it has happened here in Tasmania. Get incompetent drivers off our roads.

There is more, so much more… but I gotta go.

Love their work. Don’t agree with their politics.

Isn’t it funny how we all think we’re right. Especially when it comes to our politics. And I think, if one sits to one particular side of the political spectrum, that one probably tends to associate with people and read online blogs of people and organisations that have a similar point of view. This tends to reinforce one’s values and sense of ‘rightness’. We’re all crusaders, man! Fighting for what’s right and proper!

For me personally I identify as conservative. I believe in an individual’s right to self determination, small government, capitalism, border protection, less welfare, less bleeding hearts, smacking children if necessary, stiff sentencing, equality for all races and no singling out ethnic or religious groups for special treatment. So in the past few days I’ve had a bit of a culture shock in realising that many of the people whose work I most admire appear to have political views vastly different from my own.

Probably the biggest surprise – Ben Elton. I’ve been admiring his work since The Young Ones in the 80s, have read all of his books and always thought of him as being a fairly pragmatic kind of bloke. In hindsight, looking at books like Stark I wonder why I didn’t pick up his leftist tendencies earlier. In any case I just read Meltdown and the message seemed to me that while he was taking the piss out of greedy traders (and fair enough too) that he also believed in a people’s right to make money and be rich so long as it’s all above board. Imagine my surprise when I read on his Wikipedia page (if that can be considered a credible source) that he is/was a Socialist and is a self confessed ‘Welfare State Labour Voter’.

Then there’s Graham Linehan, who is also fantastically hilarious writer. The IT Crowd and Black Books remain 2 of my all time favourite British comedies, so imagine my disappointment to seeing him retweet links to anti-Israeli propaganda stories. Sorry, but while it is tragic that Palestinians are dying, there are two sides to this argument. In my view they are both as bad as each other, and any article that attempts to garner sympathy for one side while ignoring the other’s misdeeds is to be ignored. And generally, as far as I can see most of the apologists for Palestine (indeed, apologists for any form of Islamic terrorism) appear to be from the left. I could perhaps have written it off as an aberration if it wasn’t closely followed by a retweet of this tweet (sorry, can’t seem to link to the actual retweet) about a right wing blogger who was ‘forced to relocate’ after splitting from the right due to violent threats. As if the right are the only ones who have nasty people in their midst.

There are plenty of others too from . People like Robert Llewellyn, John Birmingham, Will Anderson (ok, I’m not that much of a fan), Stephen Fry (him I’m not surprised), Tim Minchin, Alan Davies, heck there are heaps of others I haven’t thought of. All of these people have at some point in the time I’ve been observing their tweets or reading their blogs or whatever… have made some comment that’s made me think ‘Ohhh… he’s one of those bleeding heart lefties’.

In fact, I just googled ‘list of leftist celebrities’ and came up with this page – there are MANY people on this list whose work I enjoy or admire.

So I’m left with a few thoughts on the matter. And here is a disclaimer: I apologise if I have misrepresented the views of anyone on this list. If I have misinterpreted something, please comment or tweet me because this is one case where being proven wrong would be quite nice 🙂

Where are all the prominent conservatives in the celebrity ranks? Are there any? Someone please point me out a few to restore my faith in the movement. Exclude people who don’t make a living out of it, this means no Andrew Bolts, Rush Limbaughs, or leaders of the BNP.

If there are any, they mostly seem to be keeping their views to themselves. To be honest, I think this is probably good advice for ALL celebrities, lest they shatter the illusions of your fans.

Why are there so many leftists out there in the ranks of our public figures? I’ve been musing on it for a day or two and so far this is what I’ve come up with:

Firstly, it is again ‘cool’ to be a bleeding heart. If you’re in a position of authority (like say, Tony Abbott) and you express any kind of slightly right wing view, three hundred different minority groups and left leaning journalists jump out of the woodwork and fire poison pen letters at you from all directions. Additionally, I guess most of the above list are in the arts in some form. That probably makes it a better than even bet that they’ve been exposed to some kind of socialist indoctrination at a university somewhere along the way 🙂

Secondly, those celebrities who have done pretty well for themselves can afford to be lefties. Some of the people on this list (but not all) have enough money and enough distance from us common people that they don’t have to deal with the consequences of opening our borders to all and sundry (I thought Wilson Tuckey was vindicated today by the way). They won’t have to worry too much about the increased cost of living if an ETS is brought in, they can afford it (and it doesn’t seem to bother them that we’re supposed be handing billions of dollars over to the UN to be redistributed to ‘developing countries’, to be spent as they see fit, more than likely on bigger limos and more guns for the socialist dictators in those countries).

Thirdly, I guess many people in the public eye genuinely want to use their position for what they feel is the common good. That ‘common good’ usually happens to be an extreme green cause or help for refugees or fixing world poverty or some other issue which is associated with the left. I do wonder if some conservatives are scared to represent these causes for fear of being misrepresented as being of that political persuasion – some of them are genuinely worthy causes, but it is a bit of a minefield in so far as making sure that money is spent on what it’s supposed to be. So many charity groups these days are so overrun by bureaucracy that sucks up funds like a sponge; indeed I know of people who’ve chosen to head overseas themselves and bring money and gifts to orphanages themselves rather than entrust someone else to do it. Now that’s helping people folks, and the people in question didn’t make a big deal out of it either, I only found out because I asked.

To finish though, I am not such a one eyed extremist that I can’t like a person or their work if we have strongly differing opinions. None of the people above have exhibited the kind of smug self righteousness, nastiness or pettiness that so annoys me about many in leftist circles, as far as I can see. And I’ll continue to enjoy their work and be a fan despite our differing politics.

If anyone wants to enlighten me as to who the prominent conservative celebrities are (particularly British and Australian ones) then please do comment or tweet me. I did find a few lists like this and this but new information is always good, especially Australian oriented. The general consensus does seem to be that when it comes to people in the public eye, us right wingers are outnumbered. Likewise if you just want to agree, disagree or argue with me, civil debate is always welcome so feel free to tweet or comment 🙂

Rant time.

I haven’t blogged for a while. But I need to let off some steam.

When you’re driving, for fucks sake, the order is this: Indicate, THEN brake, THEN turn… do NOT fricking put your brakes and your indicator on at the same time… do not swerve into the turning lane at the last minute and THEN deign to put your bloody indicator on. Repeat after me… indicate (pause)… brake….. turn!!!!

If I am nice enough to update your phone to Windows Mobile 6, and your computer then pops up an error saying “you need to update to the latest version of Activesync” then for fucks sake, WHY CALL ME AND ASK WHAT TO DO??!!! Are there not dozens of perfectly acceptable search engines who will (upon typing in “Microsoft Activesync”) give you multiple download links and perhaps even explain how to install it? (As sad as it is that you need instructions to download, click “run” and then “ok” a few times)….

Oh and I apologise in advance if I have offended anyone. Especially if you are Aboriginal because apparently that entitles you to an extra special apology from the Prime Minister and everything. It’s a damn shame all the non-Aboriginal people who were impacted by the same policies you’re whinging about don’t get an apology. It’s also a damn shame some of you people don’t even have the decency to listen to the point of view of our esteemed opposition leader who might, just might, have some useful input to the situation as well. Despite the fact that you idiots don’t want to hear it, because it goes against your poor-diddums principles. It’s also a damn shame that you won’t move the fuck on and get on with your life, just like everyone else who’s had a bad experience has done. Reconciliation will never happen while you people continue to carp on about past injustices. We’re in the 21st century now – the more time you waste looking backwards is more time you could’ve been spending improving yourselves. White folks don’t have an excuse despite the fact that many of us come from broken homes and alcoholic parents and generally fucked up upbringings… we just have to get on with it. So please, just take a growthefuckup pill and make something of yourselves. If you don’t want to do that then bugger off and stop leeching off the taxpayer.

I may seem in a bad mood… I have no idea… but would someone please genetically engineer a puppy that doesn’t want to chew on every fucking thing in the house, piss on the carpet, and will leave me the fuck alone when I’m trying to work. The ones that are out there at the moment seem extremely defective.