Sunday, September 22, 2013

Stopping the boats (from being talked about)

"AN asylum boat has arrived at Christmas Island, the eighth since the election and the first since the Coalition stopped the practice of announcing boat arrivals as they occur.

There were an estimated 76 asylum seekers on that vessel, bringing the total number of asylum seekers to arrive post-election to 480 at that time. Today’s arrival of an estimated 30 people is expected to push the total past 500."

The Australian

It reminds me of the old Vietnam thing, 'declare victory and leave'.

In opposition Abbott & Co manufactured a daily attack on the government, accusing it of having lost control of our borders. There was a national emergency, they shrieked. Only their Operation Sovereign Borders would stop the boats.

The media meekly followed along, giving it daily coverage.

Now they're the government they've revealed their real strategy - pretend there are no boats arriving by saying nothing about them.

The gullible will fall for it of course and believe Abbott has delivered on his promise to 'stop the boats'.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Back in Dubai *

The trip back to Dubai took two days this time! Left home at 5pm on Sunday, arrived in Dubai mid-afternoon Tuesday.

The Emirates A380 eased back from the gate right on time, just after 9pm, then just sat there for ten minutes. The captain came on to say there was a technical problem, an engineer had been called to have a look at it and we were taxiing back to the gate.

Engineer arrived, captain told us it was an air-conditioning problem and they were working to fix it.

Then he told us they were talking to Dubai about the problem.

Around 11pm, dangerously close to curfew at SYD, the captain said spare parts would have to be flown in, so we were being disembarked, would be put up in a hotel if necessary and told our new arrangements asap.

Getting out again was quick and painless, the luggage arrived quickly, people were on hand to guide us back through the deserted and half-closed airport to the original check-in desks. Emirates staff were there to arrange a hotel if pasengers needed it. I assume they arranged taxis for people living in Sydney to go home to wait.

Next day, Monday, I discovered I was on the red-eye on Tuesday morning, which meant a 4am check-in. They'd put me in Rydges hotel, which is literally across the road from the international terminal so it was a 3.30am wake-up call.

Managed to doze a bit on the flight so it wasn't too bad, and arrived at 2pm.

At DXB the SmartGate had decided to play games with us again.

I swiped my card, the gate opened and I went in. The recorded voice was a good way behind me, because it told me to swipe my card and enter.

That's what the old E-Gate used to do, get all out of sequence and go haywire. The SmartGate obviously has the same glitch because it refused to recognise my fingerprint and told me to go out and start again.

Second time it was exactly the same result. Third time it told me only one person was allowed in the gate at any one time. As I was completely alone, and I've lost some weight, that was a surprising development.

Anyway, it told me that as there were three of me we should report to the officer on duty.

So, as happened so often with E-Gate, I had to go to the Immigration officer and hand over my passport and smartcard. No problem then of course, she just stamped me in and I was free to go.

But even with the glitches it's still a hell of a lot faster than going through the non-smart Immigration desks. Last time I did that it was over an hour of queueing - not what you need after a fourteen-plus hour flight I can tell you.

Dubai's not as hot and sticky as is normal in September, which is usually the most humid month. Temperature is around 37C to 40C and with relatively low humidity, that's comfortable for me.

A few days to get over the jetlag and tiredness and then, on Monday, we're off to Vienna again for a week. We enjoyed it so much last time we decided to fit in another visit before the cold weather arrives in central Europe.

* 'Back in Dubai' by Sal Davis was a local hit song back in about 1978. We played it at every gig we had with our mobile DuneBeat Disco and it always went down a storm. It's on YouTube now and you can hear it right here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You couldn't make it up.

The new prime minister himself has taken primary responsibility for women's issues.

The Guardian

New government entirely predictable

There seems to be some surprise at the early actions of Tony Abbott's new government. Astonishingly that must mean people didn't realise what an Abbott led government would be like.

A protege of John Winston Howard, aggressive, swaggering. Howard's attack dog and an avid follower of his policies and approach. A far right conservative with a mindset back in the fifties. What his government would be like was quite obvious.

Like Howard's government this one has already demonstrated that it'll be spiteful.

Their first move, before they'd even been sworn in, was to cancel Steve Brack's appointment as consul-general to New York. Their first move after beeing sworn in was to sack three department heads.

Spitefulness will be, as it was under Howard, a feature of Abbott-led governments.

Then there's the fact that our new cabinet is all male, with one exception. Questioned about it, Abbott said there would have been more if Sophie Mirabella had not lost her seat.

So even at best, there would have been two women in cabinet, a point the media didn't see fit to mention.

If, as we're expected to believe, there are no Coalition women MP's good enough for the job it says a huge amount about the attitude of the two parties.

In addition to the scrapping of the Climate Commission there will no longer be a science minister, that portfolio being spread around amongst ministers. It's still vague, Abbott only saying that it would be 'largely' under the Industry minister, but science is clearly being sent to the outer.

It's very early days but the pattern's been set with plenty more along the same lines to come.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Preference system must go

I'm more than delighted to see that something I've been complaining about for years has suddenly gone mainstream.

It's our utterly ridiculous voting system, with the preference system, as I've long said, decidedly shonky. It's the opposite of democratic, the opposite of fair, because our votes end up being given to candidates we didn't vote for. And because candidates being voted for by a few hundred people can end up being declared the winner.

Regardless of who you vote for, your vote will end up being given to someone else. 

It has to be the worst system in the world.

What seems to have brought it into the mainstream is the Senate seat given to Ricky Muir of the Australia Motoring Enthusiast Party.

That's in Victoria, where there were 34 'parties' contesting the six Senate seats.

The Coalition got just under a million votes, Labor about three quarters of a million, The Greens something over a quarter million and those parties took five seats.

The count for the final seat, which you can see here in detail,  then went off into never-never land.

It's mind-boggling. For example:

Count 36: Barry MICHAEL (Palmer United Party) excluded

  • 91,139 (3.75%) votes originally from Palmer United Party distributed to Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (Ricky MUIR) via preference 6.
  • 11,152 (0.46%) votes originally from Katter's Australian Party distributed to Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (Ricky MUIR) via preference 44.
  • 16,674 (0.69%) votes originally from DLP Democratic Labour distributed to Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (Ricky MUIR) via preference 39.
  • 12 (0.00%) votes (549 ballot papers at 0.0225 transfer value) originally from Socialist Equality Party (Ticket 3 of 3) distributed to Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (Ricky MUIR) via preference 22.
  • 10 (0.00%) votes (429 ballot papers at 0.0225 transfer value) originally from Group AJ distributed to Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (Ricky MUIR) via preference 41.
By the time they got to Count 38, 'Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (Ricky Muir)' was given the final seat.

Out of millions of voters, 12,292 voted for Ricky Muir. He got less votes than nine other minor parties, coming thirteenth. Yet he was given the seat.

We have similar results in other states too.

I agree with the ABC's respected election analyst Antony Green, who says in Sydney Morning Herald: "It would be a bit of a joke, except that these senators have just been handed six year terms in high paying and well staffed Senate seats with significant powers over how the country is governed".

But I disagree with him totally when he says: "A better response would be to deal with the real problem, above-the-line voting. Getting rid of this would put preferences back into the hands of voters where they belong".

The real problem is not above-the-line voting, that simply exacerbates the problem. No, the real problem is the system of references itself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bushfires starting early

I suppose it was inevitable after such a dry, warm winter and a record warm start to spring.

Today is 30C with very strong gusty north-westerly winds, so the fires have started and homes are under threat as I type.

The Castlereagh bushfire burning out of control near Nutt Road.

In Castlereagh, in the ABC photo above, the fire is headed towards a dozen homes. An emergency warning is in place and people, including a school, are being evacuated. Firefighters backed by aircraft are struggling to protect the properties, with the unpredictable gusty winds causing spot fires ahead of the main fire front.

An emergency warning is also in place in Windsor around Richmond Road, with the Rural Fire Service saying the blaze could impact properties. The RFS says residents should take shelter but in spite of community information that they should head to Penrith Whitewater Stadium, the RFS says they should not because there is fire in that area.

The fires are widespread and covering large areas too - a very high fire danger alert has been issued for the Illawarra, Sydney, the Central Ranges, the Hunter, the north west and the north coast. There are currently more than forty fires burning uncontained around the state..

There are currently seven other bushfires with Watch and Act status around Sydney, including the close-in suburb of Lane Cove, at Blacktown, the Hills District, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter. We have one nearby too, at Wyong here on the NSW Central Coast.

All are currently listed on the  RFS website as 'out of control'.

And we're only in early September.

Update: At 3pm two more of the fires have been upgraded to emergency warning, Winmalee in the Blue Mountains and Blacktown. There are unconfirmed reports of home losses in Castlereagh, where it's also said that outhouses and vehicles have been destroyed.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Lies exposed already

Even before the final seats are declared, the lies fed to the electorate to win power are already being exposed.

The new federal parliament won't be sitting until  'late October or early November' according to Tony Abbott.

Up to Saturday he insisted that we had a national emergency with our borders and a national emergency with the budget.

A lot of people fell for it too. I wonder how they feel now at their gullibility, now that one of his first announcements as PM-elect is to say that there's no hurry to resume parliament for a couple of months, meaning we can't be facing emergencies.

"My emphasis will be on being purposeful, methodical, calm and conscientious,and the last thing I want to do is rush the Parliament back for a photo opportunity before the substance of the work is there for it to do."

He's telling us he'll be calm and methodical. So if there were emergencies, why no calm methodical work prior to the election he knew he'd win to address those emergencies?

Because, of course, there never were any emergencies. It was a lie created to frighten the ignorant and ill-informed into giving him their votes.  


Predictably, the word 'mandate' is already being bandied about by the major parties and interest groups.

As all incoming governments do, the Coalition is already Senate-bashing. 'We have a mandate' to do what we want to do and the Senate must go along with it.

The Labor side is claiming a mandate from the people who voted for them, to oppose government policy. Business groups are claiming the incoming government has a mandate to change the rules in their favour.

What bullshit it all is.

If we wanted to give them a mandate we'd vote for the same party for both houses. That would give them control to do what they want to do unhindered. But that almost never happens.

Very, very rarely do we vote for the same party to win both houses. We don't give the lower house winner control of the Senate because we want a check on the worst excesses of whichever party rules the lower house.


Sunday, September 08, 2013

A few election thoughts

It went as predicted, with Labor losing the election, although not as badly as many had suggested they would.

Kevin Rudd hung onto his seat but only on preferences. He polled over 1,000 votes less than his Liberal opponent but preference deals changed it into a 4,000 vote lead. 

He, rightly, took responsibility for Labor's defeat and stepped down as leader. For the sake of his party he should follow Julia Gillard's example and retire from politics. With his record, while he's in parliament there will be doubts about his ability to keep out of leadership intrigue.

Elsewhere around the electorates, there was a mixture of surprises and predictable results.

Remember Jaymes Diaz, the Liberal candidate who expounded his party's policies but when questioned couldn't remember what they were? The interview went viral on YouTube and on international media.

The media here dubbed him The Scarlet Pimpernel throughout the campaign after that, because he disappeared totally from view as his minders kept him well away from the media and electors.

In spite of that, 30,000 people voted for him - fortunately it wasn't enough and we won't see his incompetence in parliament.

Another one I gave a mention to, Ray King, got a similar number of votes in his electorate, but again it wasn't enough to get him elected.

In my electorate there was a good example of how our shonky preference system is used. Our Mayor, Lawrie McKinna, stood as an independent, saying his preferences were crucial to both major parties, which is true in such a marginal seat. He put his preferences up in a bidding contest, offering them to 'whichever party promised most for the area'.

That was his stated reason for standing in the federal election. Nothing to do with the country and what might be best for it, just parochial local stuff.

So he gave them a list of what he wanted, which included the relocation of a government department, 'support' for a regional airport, university and performance arts centre.

The Libs won the bid when, according to McKinna, they offered $10 million for the arts centre - with conditions mind you.

He came third with about 9% of the votes so his preferences added a good number to the Libs candidate, although in reality with the big swing against Labor she didn't really need them to win. In a closer election though it would have made all the difference.

I'll be fascinated to see whether any of what he thinks he negotiated actually happens.

As for the new PM, I have serious doubts about his ability to change his nature into what's needed for the job. He's always been the aggressive destroyer, which served him well as John Howard's attack dog and as leader of the Opposition. But it's a far cry from the attributes a Prime Minister needs.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Giving the election away

Default position for our politicians is to avoid answering the question at all costs.

Pushing hard to top the table as the worst of all is Prime Minister Rudd. He must have lost thousands of votes for his party with his constant off-subject waffling.

He was at it again on the ABC's AM programme yesterday.

The first question he was asked was: "If the polls are right, you won't be Prime Minister this Saturday night. How much of the blame will you shoulder?"

Pretty straightforward I thought.

His answer: "As I said before, I think what your listeners want to hear this morning is what our policies are, and what the alternatives are, and at this stage of the campaign, we are left simply poking in the dark in terms of what Mr Abbott has in his hidden box of cuts - large scale cuts - to jobs, to hospitals, to schools. And the reason why he's keeping it under wraps is he doesn't want to frighten people into not voting for him.

And I think people are beginning to scratch their heads and wonder about this and if they're in doubt about it, they shouldn't vote for him".

The interviewer let that one go through to the keeper and moved on to the subject of the Coalition promising to scrap the carbon tax. Part of it was to ask whether Labor would block in the Senate the Coalition's (laughable) Direct Action policy on carbon emissions.

Naturally he waffled, so was asked the simple question: "Getting back to the point of the question. Would Labor block it?"

The answer to that should have been yes or no or we haven't decided yet.

Not to waffler Rudd though. He said: "Our position as far as our policies for this election, is absolutely clear. These are the positions we're taking into the 2013 election. People will vote for them one way or another. I'm in the business of this election in order to secure a win for the Government because I believe that's the best outcome for all Australians including on climate change.

Post election speculation is something I don't enter into."

There was a big surge to Labor when he resumed the leadership, but the more he's gone on like this the more supporters he's lost. Even in his parochial home state of Queensland.

I can't see him lasting long in the job post election - assuming he retains his seat, which is in serious doubt.

Asylum seeker bogeyman

It worked so well for John Howard, the racist stunt of creating division and hysteria about boat people, that the Libs under Tony Abbott have pushed it again to the max.

He even channelled his mentor a couple of weeks ago with his 'we will decide who comes here' speech. And the boys and girls in the band are dutifully following his lead.

Our local Liberal candidate has two slogans on posters I drove past today. 'Under the instruction to 'Vote Liberal' the reasons given are  'More jobs. Stronger borders'.

Stop the boats, you see.

And in a Sydney electorate we have the Liberal candidate blaming them for traffic jams on the M4 and queues in our hospitals!

Fiona Scott (she who was described by her leader as young, feisty, with a bit of sex appeal) told the ABC that "Asylum seekers are a hot topic here because our traffic is overcrowded".  Asked to explain by a bemused interviewer she said "Go sit in the emergency department of Nepean Hospital or go and sit on the M4 and people see 50,000 people come in by boat; that's more than twice the population of Glenmore Park where we just were".

The saddest part is that they don't need to resort to plumbing the depths like this, Labor - and Rudd in particular - has handed them the election on a plate.