Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

A hundred thousand twitter messages might just help. Please show clemency, Your Excellency. The prisoners deserve it.

A hundred thousand twitter messages might just help. Please show clemency, Your Excellency. The prisoners deserve it.

 

Those in Australia and around the world who are deeply concerned that Indonesia should not shoot Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran because they are very obviously reformed and rehabilitated will be bouyed by the news in today’s media that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has actually managed to get through to President Widodo to discuss their case.

As the grim prepaprations for their executions by firing squad continue, Australians have been deeply shocked by the revelations that Widodo had not even considered the representations made to him on behalf of the pair before rejecting their plea for clemency.

You can read about the story of Abbott’s phone call here:

https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/26434903/jakarta-urged-to-respect-bali-nine-appeals/

Meanwhile the pressure on the two men themselves must be unimaginable. For a little while, Australia is experiencing the horrific “on-off” farce that the application of the death penalty everywhere so often becomes, as prisoners who have strong arguments against being executed watch their cases grind through the various courts.

We can only hope Australians continue to apply polite but firm pressure to Widodo to consider these mens’ cases with care, and with compassion. The Indonesia justice system will, in the future, allow clemency for death row cases where after 10 years in prison it can be demonstrated that the prisoners are rehabilitated. Yet this entirely sensible provision does not apply to Chan and Sukumaran! What a Kafkaesque nightmare they are trapped in.

At this stage, when time is obviously short, probably the fastest way to make one’s feelings known is to directly “tweet” the President. His Excellency’s Twitter account is @jokowi_do2

 

 

rape victim_b60e1Australians are already tossing up whether to avoid Bali as a holiday destination in light of the Indonesian government’s apparent intransigence over the upcoming execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran for trying to import heroin to Australia, despite their obvious rehabilitation during ten years in prison.

News that Indonesian President Widodo did not even consider the facts of the mens’ case before rejecting their appeal for clemency – including urgings from their prison governor that they not be executed as they are so useful in the prison – has created considerable anger in Australia, and lawyers for the pair – the so-called “Bali2″ – are seeking to use the unseemly rush to shoot them as cause for appeal in Bali today.

Now news emerges that Indonesian police identified but let go a man accused of brutally raping a teenage Perth woman in Bali on Christmas Day, allowing him to escape the island.

The man allegedly assaulted the 19-year-old in a sustained attack that began in a villa and continued during a traumatic 30-minute taxi ride after she tried to escape.

When the woman reported the assault the next morning, she was subjected to a “virginity test”, watched on by medical students in Bali’s Sanglah Hospital. As if whether or not she was a virgin determined whether or not she had been raped.

She has been in hospital twice since her return to Perth for an aggressive sexually transmitted disease – “a revolting, painful reminder” – and must wait four months on an HIV test.

Her parents have now appealed for help to find her attacker.

Hours after the alleged assault, the woman named the man she said had raped her as Henry Alafu, identified him and led Bali police to the Jimbaran villa where the incident took place.

But police did not arrest the 25-year-old and told the woman they wanted to follow him to Jakarta so he would lead them to a “bigger network of criminals”.

The man is now believed to be on Java with a fresh warrant out for his arrest. “As the days and weeks go by we lose hope that there will be any justice,” the woman’s mother said yesterday.

The teenager said she was still fragile. She felt violated twice after getting no choice but to have the invasive virginity test she was told was necessary to report a rape to police.

“The hospital report confirmed I had been raped and assaulted,” she said.

“The police issued a warrant for his arrest. I don’t understand why he hasn’t been arrested.

“This man raped, threatened and humiliated me. He laughed in my face at my fear and helplessness.

“I was terrified. I have had my fair share of nightmares since the incident. Sleep is still difficult.”

In the days after the assault, the family employed a Balinese law firm to help. It billed them $US13,500 ($17,300) for six days work, including $US400 for replying to an email from the mother.

Her mother, who was holidaying in Bali with the 19-year-old and her younger sister, said the whole family had been traumatised by the rape and aftermath.

Young women, in particular, might consider that there are safer and equally inexpensive places to holiday in Asia than the island which combines a great sense of fun – as well as serene beauty in its hinterland, and the kindness of most of its people – with a very poor record for holidaymaker safety.

abbott

According to the national Australian newspaper today, Australian PM Tony Abbot and his senior advisers seriously floated the idea that Australia attack IS in northern Iraq on our own with 3,500 troops.

In our opinion, that he could even think it, even in passing – even, if as charitably as we could put it, he was simply “floating options” – this lunatic suggestion proves him manifestly unsuited to high office. Blind Freddie could see that anything remotely resembling that action would be a suicide mission.

Personally we wouldn’t let him run a kindergarten, let alone a country.

How seriously Abbott considered the idea is hard to tell, but the story continues that this is not the first time Abbott has suggested committing troops to a boots on the ground deployment that the military planners had to hose down. He also apparently suggested that 1,000 Aussie men and women be sent to guard the site of the MH17 Malaysian airliner shot down over the Ukraine which killed 38 Aussies.

According to the Australian “leading military planners” had to point out to him that not speaking Russian or Ukrainian would have made their task just a tad tricky, and also that they would have had difficulty distinguishing between rebel and government troops.

The fact that they could have become embroiled in the conflict itself might have been a cautionary note, one supposes, although the story does not expand on that.

That somebody so ludicrously gung-ho could lead our Government and by implication our armed services is, surely, truly and deeply worrying. We can’t imagine your average service Joe or Josephine would be very happy at the news, nor their families and friends.

According to “insiders” quoted by the newspaper, Abbott sits for much of his day in Parliament House pondering national security, Islamic State, and reading Winston Churchill. A someone who is “weak on detail”, perhaps that’s an area he feels safe handling. Today’s revelations suggest his focus should be shifted elsewhere – fast.

The rest of the story by John Lyons, an Associate Editor of the paper, details in excruciatingly close focus the dysfunctionality of the current government, including ripping the coverings away from his much-disliked Chief of Staff Peta Credlin with a clarity we have not seen before, and how completely out of his depth Abbott seems to be.

And, of course, the near-inevitability of his replacement by the urbane and competent Malcolm Turnbull, which we have been predicting since before Abbott was even elected Prime Minister, for exactly the reasons that are now becoming so obviously clear.

But this latest revelation, we confess, has shocked even us, and we are old, wizened and cynical observers of the body politic indeed, Dear Reader.

What we wonder now is whether today’s revelations – carried, after all, in an outlet which is notable for its previous support of Abbott and the conservative side of politics generally – might be the final straw. Has a Murdoch-owned paper skewered yet another Prime Minister? We shall see.

You can read the “Exclusive” story in today’s paper. Online it requires you to subscribe – a detestable development in newspapers in our opinion – so we suggest you simply go and buy the paper.

As for when the axe should fall on the woeful Abbott, we can only urge the Liberal caucus to act. Enough is enough. We all know this is coming – get it done so the country can move forward.

It should be noted Abbott has subsequently denied the article. Does he really think anyone will believe him?

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/feb/21/tony-abbott-wanted-australian-ground-troops-in-iraq-reports

We have listened to his denial and are very doubtful.

As many commentators have noted, the Labor attack on Tony Abbott is carrying on with one hand tied behind its back. The restraint is easily explained. They don’t want Abbott going anywhere while his brand is so toxic. They know Tony Abbott is their best chance at springing an electoral suprise and winning the next election, and the last thing they want is to face the much more popular, amenable and centrist Malcolm Turnbull. Which is why, in Question Time yesterday, they bizarrely focused much of their attention on Turnbull, not Abbott. Attention which, it should be noted, Turnbull deflected with much more wit and aplomb than Abbott has been handling such matters recently.

Which is why the general public – who are heartily sick of Abbott – need to insist that the media and their politicians ask Abbot this question repeatedly until they get a decent answer, or until Abbott steps down or is pushed off his perch.

Almost three years ago, Tony Abbott, then-Opposition leader, rose in parliament to ask Julia Gillard a question that could and should come back to bite him in the coming days.

Ms Gillard had just faced down the first challenge from Kevin Rudd, who had days earlier resigned from his post as Foreign Minister and then announced he was running for the top job.

Gillard won the leadership ballot, 71-31. It was then Mr Abbott asked the fateful question.

“Given that one third of her parliamentary colleagues and a quarter of her cabinet colleagues have today expressed their lack of confidence in her, how can she claim to have a mandate to continue as Prime Minister?” he asked.

Well now Mr Abbott finds himself in a strikingly similar situation.

At #thespill the motion to unseat Abbott brought by West Australian Liberal MPs Luke Simpkins and Don Randall was defeated 61-39. So while the spill was averted, it still indicates almost 40 per cent of his colleagues had lost faith in the PM. A question repeatedly put to him last night by Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report, and repeatedly ignored by the embattled PM.

Liberal backbenchers say they have sent a powerful message to Tony Abbott that they want to be consulted and policies need to change. And Mr Abbott said in a brief statement in a video message after the vote that the matter had been resolved.

“We want to end the disunity and the uncertainty which destroyed two Labor governments and give you the good government that you deserve,” Mr Abbott said.

The question to be asked is simple: How can you possibly struggle on when your own party is utterly split over your leadership? We cannot rely on Bill Shorten and his cohorts to hammer home that question in the coming days and weeks, yet it is the question that demands an answer.

Meanwhile, Abbott’s essential nature (and his nervousness) is revealed yet again in two more glaring examples yesterday. The first was the panicky “Captain’s Pick” to throw open the submarine tender – on the day that he ruled out any more Captain’s Picks for a while. The leopard has not changed its spots at all, apparently. The second was his appallingly laughable assertion that “Good Government Starts Here”, which led, entirely predictably to the blogosphere, twittersphere, and main media asking the obvious question. “What have we had for the last 500 days then?’ The glee at such rampant idiocy was hardly restrained.

We have a message for the Prime Minister. This isn’t over by a long chalk, yet.

AbbottWell, yes and no.

In our long article yesterday afternoon we opined that Abbott would not be Prime Minister by this evening. Yet he survived the party room spill 61 votes to 39 (with one spoiled ballot, and one MP away, out of the Liberal total of 101 MPs). So “Yes”, in that sense, we were wrong.

However we were much more right than wrong in picking the terminal nature of Abbott’s leadership. The short story is, this deeply disliked man is now finished as PM.

As we said in our final para, no Prime Minister can effectively govern the country when 40% of his MPs actively want him replaced, and when even some of those who voted for him are reported as having done so out of a sense of loyalty to give Abbott “a few more months” to pull things round, but without any real confidence that he will.

As this article reveals, Abbott is apparently shell-shocked at the scale of the revolt against him. His speech to the party room after 39 of his colleagues effectively tried to sack him was apparently one of a man who has been shaken to the core.

What’s more, Abbott now has to endure two horrible moments in the next 24 hours.

First, he has agreed to front Leigh Sales on tonight’s 7.30 Report. It’s a foolish move, because Sales has had the measure of Abbott before, and predictably will again. Of all the TV journalists working she is unlikely to let him get away with trotting out a list of platitudes and non-specific promises about future changes which he can get away with more easily during a “door stop”. We confidently expect Sales to tear him to shreds over his very poor performance in recent weeks, and in the spill vote, and the fact that today’s media agenda is now that he is a “Dead Man Walking”.

On the other hand, the PM is between a rock and a hard place. The 7.30 Report is the country’s leading current affairs programme. To have avoided the appearance would have made him look weak and cowardly.

Second, he has to go into the Parliament to face the derision of the Labor Opposition and the Greens, although that Opposition may be somewhat muted by the bizarre calculation that they want Abbott to struggle on – even right up to the next election – rather than face Turnbull instead. Nevertheless, the atmospherics will be unpleasant in the extreme and cannot help Abbott to look like anything more than he is, which is mortally wounded.

Today’s opinion polls also bear out what we were talking about yesterday. Abbott’s “brand” is utterly toxic with the public. Ultimately, MPs in his party room will make a hard-headed judgement that their seat is at risk if Abbott stays, and likely to be retained if Turnbull takes over. It’s Hawke and Keating all over again, although we would be surprised if Turnbull were to retire to the backbench in the interim. He has carefully avoided challenging Abbott directly. To his eyes, the “two step” process is working just fine.

abbott angryAbbott’s instincts will be to stay on and fight. The man is aggressive and ambitious to the very tips of his bedsocks, and he took a long time to get to the top of the greasy pole.

He will grimly hold on, hoping against hope that he can turn things around, until he can present himself as a credible leader again.

In the meantime, he will make noises about being more collegiate, while continuing to just do whatever he feels like, in reality, just as with today’s announcement on the submarine tender, which even caught the leading South Australian Liberal Christopher Pyne unawares. Pyne is one of Abbott’s “lock-step” supporters – what does it say about Abbott’s leadership skills that he didn’t even ring Pyne – or get someone else to – to tip him the wink before the news broke?

In reality – and this won’t happen, although it should – having lost control of the best part of half of the party room, Abbott should now retire the Prime Ministership and hand it to the much more popular Turnbull. If he did, he would go down in history as a man who – with vision and dignity – genuinely put his own ambitions behind those of his party, and the country generally. If he did, he could still make a decent fist of a major Ministry, if he chose to. He is still a young man: this does not have to be the end of his public service.

If he does not, everyone understands that – barring a miraculous turn in fortunes – he will have to be dragged bloodied and screaming from the top job, suffering the death of a thousand leaks and endless behind the scene briefings and “less than enthusiastic” endorsements from those who would really rather see him gone. And in the meantime, the Liberal brand will continue to be tarnished, and his replacement will be given less and less time to turn things around.

Every fibre of Abbott’s being will urge him to fight on, but those closest to him, and his coterie of sycophantic acolytes in particular, should do the right thing and tap him on the shoulder and tell him to go now. They might recall Cromwell’s historic call to the Rump Parliament in 1653.

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

He is the lamest of lame ducks. And comedians and commentators will not hesitate to brand him as such. Have a look here at one brilliant skewering of his current situation from John Clarke and Brian Dawe.

Sadly, their performance in recent months suggests they will have nothing like either the guts or integrity to shirtfront Abbott and do so.

And so the game commences.

Tony-Abbott-Wink

There are a number of reasons Tony Abbott will no longer be Prime Minister after tomorrow, and some of them are linked.

Offending your deputy. Offending half your backbench. Offending great lumps of the Australian public.

But the main reason is really quite simple. He is very obviously, as far as any elector can tell, just not a very nice man.

Being considered a nice person is a much under-rated trait in politicians, as it is in the most walks of life in the body of the population.

Most of the really powerful and successful people we have met – and we have met more than our fair share over the years – have had a few things in common. They are usually personally charming, they exhibit humility, they have “the common touch” whatever their station in life, and they genuinely care about other people’s lives. Or at the very least, they seem to.

There are other characteristics, too. They tend to be ferociously hard workers, and they maintain a sense of perspective. Sometimes things will go wrong, sometimes they will go right, but there is never a reason to be nasty, or essentially unethical. Push the envelope, don’t rip it to shreds.

They have some advantages, of course. In the realms of the uber-powerful or the uber-wealthy, the rules that the rest of us find ourselves tied up in knots in don’t normally apply.

They don’t get caught drink driving, because they have drivers. They don’t end up in jail for tax fraud because they pay top dollar to stop that happening. And anyway, their affairs are so convoluted that the tax office doesn’t really want to look too closely, stretched for resources to prosecute cases as they always are.

They don’t seem as stressed as we do because they don’t queue for airline seats and the seats they buy are more comfortable. They don’t spend a day trying to negotiate a ticketing system to see a top show or sporting event, because their personal assistant gets them a seat in the Director’s Box, where they are always welcome because of their referred authority. Their holidays, such as they are, are smoother, more private, less noisy, less hassle, and more satisfactory. And if for some reason they aren’t, they throw money or influence at the problem.

But despite all this privilige, most truly successful people have an astounding ability to drop down to our level and chat amiably about our latest problem with an internet provider, how our local supermarket has stopped stocking our favourite fruit juice, or the problems we are having with our teenage progeny. It may be that they remember when they, too, were mere hoi polloi, or it may be that they recognise that while success is nice to have, it rests on the common consent of those around them.

There is a reason all those Godfathers in American hoodlum movies are seen kissing babies and helping little old ladies as they parade down the street in Little Italy. It’s good for business. And keen observers of human nature as all successful people are, they work at it until it comes naturally.

This is not to say they are all paragons. Clearly they are not.

Some drink too much, either in binges or habitually.

The most significant politician in 20th century history, Winston Churchill consumed at least a bottle of brandy a day. People in Melbourne still talk in hushed tones of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s capacity for the grog, even though he had the discipline to give it up when high office beckoned.

Some are sexually wayward. A bunch of Australian Prime Ministers have been enthusiastic adulterers, (the laws of libel dictate discretion here), and all the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, and Bill Clinton also come to mind without much effort. Francoise Hollande, for that matter.

Yes, powerful businesspeople run foul of the law with some regularity, especially in civil court. But rather than rant and rave at their misfortune, they merely view it as a sort of occupational hazard. A bit like the rest of us view parking tickets.

So they aren’t really like us, no matter where they started out. But in general, in our experience, it is the capacity to simply get on with people that marks the truly successful from the also rans.

Some time ago, we wrote a blog that talked about the demise of Kevin Rudd, which we titled “Kevin Rudd has his Lee Iaccoca moment”. In it, we explained that Rudd’s disonnection from the leadership of the Australian Labor Party rested entirely on his near-maniacal control freakery, which caused the distrust of those around him, (and it went back a decade), and an acid tongue which hurt people’s feelings. In simple terms, he failed the likeability test.

Yes, Rudd had the capacity to be chirpy and chipper and even make us laugh with his obvious erudition and quick wit, especially in public. Sadly, though, no one near him, or very few indeed, actually liked him. More than one political groupie muttered in our hearing that they thought he was unhinged. He was better liked in the public, mainly the first time round because he wasn’t John Howard, but he wasn’t really mourned when he left the leadership either the first or the second time, when, of course, he was only returned to the top job because he wasn’t Julia Gillard.

There were very few people rushing to lift his head away from the block when the axe started to fall in the initial leadership putsch that so reminds us of what’s happening in Canberra tomorrow. And he simply  couldn’t believe it. Him! Kev! The smiling Milky Bar kid, the good Christian, the clever little bugger who overcame adversity, and the man who beat John Howard. Who could chat to the Chinese Premier in Mandarin, no less.

He didn’t get it then, tears in his eyes at the enormity of the disaster, and probably still doesn’t now.

Political leaders need to understand something central to their careers. Not being someone – Beazely, Gillard, Rudd, Howard, Turnbull, anyone – isn’t a good enough reason to keep the top job. It might get you there, but then we want more. We want their capacity to be “not them” to turn into someone we can grow to support in their own right.

Was or is Rudd unhinged as the whisperers asserted? We suspect not. Personalities come in all shapes and sizes and types, and labelling someone barmy is just code for “not like most people”. It doesn’t really matter. But some character aspects were certainly publicly observable. Capricious when it came to policy announcements? Unshakeable certitude? Breathless cynicism? Two faced? Rudd was accused of all that by colleagues and more. Similarly, not for nothing is Abbot often referred to as “The Mad Monk”, and not just because he was a Roman Catholic seminarian at one point. People can be very harsh to those they personally dislike. Both to his face (reputedly) and to the media, Tony Abbott has had to endure a repeated theme from his colleagues in the last week.

“You’ve done this to yourself.” The phrase was no doubt delivered with some relish.

Exactly like Rudd, he has a terrible aptitude for making it up as he goes along, and his basic error has been his own over-weening self belief, expressed in an arrogant disregard for the real world outside his personal office bubble, and the Canberra bubble generally. We are not talking about mere self-confidence or a healthy regard for his own abilities. All leaders, in all spheres, need that. Abbott’s major problem has been the apparent impossibility of his genuinely (as opposed to begrudgingly) believing he could be wrong about … well, about anything, much, really. From the outside looking in, it feels like “collegiate” is a word that he only discovered last Monday.

And his righteous self-belief has been expressed with such vehemence that he has carved out a hard-edged role for himself that is so acutely defined that now he simply can’t escape it. He has created an image of himself that has become reality, inside him, and externally.

When Abbott was tearing down Julia Gillard, and just out-waiting the hapless Rudd when he returned as PM, people in general – the mug punters, you and me – even if they agreed with the need to get the Labor Governmet out before it made any more mis-steps, turned their head away from the spectacle in hand-over-the-mouth disgust at his tactics.

The people of Australia wanted the Labor Government gone so badly that their swallowed the reflux bile rising in their breasts and their concerns. But Abbott crucially mistook this mass real politik for “taking the country with him”. (Which is why his current desperate appeal is based around “the country elected me to lead our party and the Government”, which is a nonsense, of course. The country elected the Libs and the Nats because Labor needed to be flung out. They got Abbott as part of the package.)

With each prating, carping, negative act of savagery while Opposition Leader Abbott not only damaged Gillard but also his own long-term public persona. He should have seen a warning, for example, in the general head-nodding agreement – not just in Australia, but worldwide – when Gillard tore into him in the Parliament for what she characterised as his innate misogyny and sexism. People then, and now, felt sorry for Gillard, sensing that her competence might be in question, and certainly her political judgement and presentation, but also perceiving that there was a clear goal to damn her simply as a woman holding the top job.

The continual focus on her looks and dress sense in the rabid right media pack that Abbott did nothing to hose down, for example. Abbott standing and sneering in front of lunatics carrying “Ditch the Bitch” signs – such a specifically unpleasant anti-female expression – knowing full well that the TV cameras would film him grinning from ear to ear in front of them.

And then, the feeling grew, by implication, event by event, that Abbott just doesn’t like women generally, or at the very least holds views better suited to the 1950s.

Where were the women in his Cabinet? With one exception, nowhere.

His later insistence, as Prime Minister, that successful Foreign Minister Julie Bishop needed a Ministerial chaperone to the climate change conference in Peru was just one recent example of a continuing round of mis-steps in this area, and his refusal to accept her offer of help with his under-whelming National Press Club performance was just the latest, along with his clumsy and offensive co-opting of her support for his staying in the top job, only to be shot down a few hours later by a cool and clearly angered Bishop.

And during all this growing female angst, what was Abbott’s response to his enlarging personal “gender gap”? To announce a completely ill-thought through paid parental leave scheme as a “top of the head” sop to working women, that was derided as shooting from the hip and likely to be unaffordable the day it was announced, to gasps of despair from his own supporters.

Women from all walks of life noted that they didn’t need more money so they could stay home and bake cookies for a while, they needed childcare places so they could continue to pursue their career. Until last week, it appeared no-one could hear them.

And at a stroke, with “PPL”, Abbott skewered his own budget position with what looked like yet more Howardesque middle class welfare, and forced the Coalition into the position of “soaking the poor” to balance the books. It took Abbott 16 months to realise his mistake, and then his grudging retraction of the patently unworkable policy was mealy-mouthed. Tone deaf, as always.

Yet as he watches his colleagues say one thing to his face and then do another as they cast their private ballots, we would be very surprised if Abbott has any real understanding of what is happening to him. Well, we have a primer for him.

The very same people that don’t want unfettered flows of refugees into Australia also don’t want those refugees left floating about in the bowels of a navy vessel for weeks, or consigned to misery in tropical concentration camps, reduced to psychological illness, self harm, or worse. The first is an appeal to commonsense and good governance. The second is mean-minded and cruel. That our Government doesn’t seem to care about the latter upsets many more people than just those on the left.

Similarly, there may be no pressing mood for Australia to become a Republic. Australians are deeply small-c conservative most of the time, and if something’s working OK, such as our constitutional arrangements, we’re pretty much happy to leave it alone.

But we do like Australia for the Australians – we detest knee-bending to the Poms in general, and royalty in particular, with the exception, perhaps, just a little, in the case of the Queen herself, who is widely admired. The “in itself unimportant” decision to knight Prince Phillip – the decision to bring back knighthoods at all, in fact – made us feel like the whole country was a laughing stock.

That Abbott couldn’t have predicted this goes precisely to his inability to feel himself part of the herd, even momentarily or occasionally. His later embarrassed admission that his action had been a “distraction” during the disastrous Queensland election showed no sign that he really understood that he made us all feel faintly ridiculous, and as we hadn’t done anything wrong, well, that he could swallow all that, thank you very much.

It is often said that a politician can survive anything but ridicule. The ridicule that swamped Abbott in the days after the announcement revealed with stark, lightning-bright clarity one unmistakeable fact. And it is this.

We really don’t like him. This wasn’t a “Silly boy, oh well, all’s well that ends well” moment. This was a “You complete fuckwit” moment. His inability to truly take that on board in a convincing manner only made the whole sorry saga worse.

But his real problem – the one that will see him dumped – has been the gung ho manner in which he has chosen to address a “fiscal crisis” that the public simply doesn’t perceive. Backing his even more socially inept Treasurer at every turn, he foisted on the public a panicky, poorly presented and savagely deflationary budget (the only thing missing was the word austerity) that no one understands or wants, and then utterly failed to sell it.

Meandering between a self-satisfied “I know more than you do” smirk and a frowning, headmasterish “you need this” assertiveness, he managed in just a few short weeks – ably assisted by his tin-eared Treasurer – to offend just about every “ordinary voter” in sight.

As Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian yesterday, “The Abbott-Hockey fiscal consolidation is undermined by a popular revolt, Senate vandalism and election results that prove the public is unpersuaded of the case for reform.”

In this sentence, Kelly of course uses the word popular to mean “widespread” or generalised. But in fact, the core problem for Abbott is deeper than that. Not only is the broad mass of the public unconvinced of his policies, and therefore acting up, we are also communally delighting in watching Abbott being dragged bloodily from the throne. The revolution is popular. It is also popular.

In suburban households up and down the country, Madam Lafarge is click-clacking with her knitting circle in joyous expectation that Abbott’s head will soon tumble into the basket in front of them.

We. Just. Don’t. Like. Him. One too many (or perhaps a few thousand too many) ums and errs. One too many refusals to take responsibility. One too many unpleasant little jabs or full-blown haymakers. One too many unblinking cold stares.

Dear Reader, we have been on this planet 57 years, and since the age of 16 we have been actively involved in politics, current affairs or commentary to some degree or other, including even – once – facing the general public for endorsement ourselves.

Our fascination with ballot-box politics has seen us read, experience and learn voraciously everything that has passed our way from the minority governments of Harold Wilson, Ted Heath and the miners, Margaret Thatcher and the miners, Jim Callaghan’s winter of discontent, the breaking of union power in the UK, Thatcher and Reagan staring down Gorbacev, the Blair “Noo Labour”revolution, the failure of American policy in the mid-East from Reagan and Carter onwards, the near-perpetual antagonism of Howard and Peacock, the glittering landscape of micro-economic reform under Hawke, Keating and Kelty, the near-collapse of democratic Government in Italy, and now in Greece, the demise of fascism in Spain and Portugal and their current struggles to retain good governance, the economic miracle of Germany and its internally-mutually-supportive PR-based politics and worker-inclusive industry, the stumbling from economic powerhouse to economic stagnant pond in Japan, the growth and gradual opening of China (where we have done business, and a country we admire), the Asian tiger phenomenon, the descent of Central America into chaos and murderous civil conflict and it’s slow recovery, and, of course, the adventurism of Iraq and Afghanistan. All of it. We hoover it all up.

Which is why we feel it helpful to say that in all that time, and with all that political junkie obsessivenes, we have never – never – experienced such generalised dislike of a democratically-elected politician as we now experience in our daily life whenever Tony Abbott’s name is discussed. Irregardless of whether we are talking to ironed on Labor voters, Liberals, Nats or Greens, the man simply cannot buy a good word from anyone. He is no longer even seen as a necessary evil. The people have spoken, daily, for months and months, if not, in reality, for years.

We just don’t like him. We just don’t like him, a lot.

With his leadership lying in the hands of a group of people who would rather like to keep their jobs after the next election, that is why he is about to lose the Prime Ministership. Not because (as will be said afterwards) he attempted the hard yards of economic reform. But because he royally fucked it up.

As Grace Collar remarked yesterday (also in the Oz) “Trust and confidence have been lost. One decision has already been made. This government – in its present form – and the Australian people have parted ways. This decision is final. It cannot be undone, no matter what. No appeal can occur.”

People don’t like Tony Abbott. His own people don’t even like him. They may even hate him.

Malcom Turnbull, it will be noted by observant readers, is likeable.

And in politics, that, as they have been known to say, is that.

PS Even if Abbott somehow survives tomorrow – we dont think he will, but he might – he is doomed. The votes against him will reveal a very significant section of his party no longer believe in him. That is an impossible position for a Prime Minister to take to the people in 18 months or less. He has to win big – huge – to survive, and he’s not going to. Simple as that. You heard it here first.

abbott angry

There is a scenario that could see embattled Aussie Prime Minister Tony Abbott overturned as quickly as next week.

This weekend, the election in Queensland will be a disaster for the governing Liberals, or as they are in Queensland, the merged Liberal National Party. Such an outcome is hard to imagine, given their massive majority in Brisbane, but disaster it will be nevertheless, in this most reliably conservative of conservative Australian states.

Not happy, Tony. Not happy.

Not happy, Tony. Not happy.

We think it unlikely that the LNP will lose Government, although it is just possible. Labor needs to achieve a 12 per cent swing to gain 36 seats if it is to win a majority government and recent polls have put the party within striking distance. But we think the swing is likely to be nearer 8-10%, especially as we expect Newman to do marginally better than Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk in the leader’s debate in Brisbane at 1pm today.

In that case what will happen is their majority will be slashed and loads of their seats lost. And we expect their leader, Campbell Newman, to lose his seat, too. Already desperate right-wing constitutional nerds are taking to the airwaves to argue he can stay as leader even if he’s outside the Parliament, ignoring the obvious fact that his personal standing will have been effectively rubbished by such an outcome.

Given the scale of the debacle, the blame will inevitably be sheeted home to Abbott on analysis TV and all the major talk shows on radio, worsening the standing of a man who is now so noxiously unpopular that he was effectively banned from campaigning in Queensland during the election.

What will make the sting deep and enduring is that Palaszczuk’s campaign has focussed repeatedly on health and education – the very areas Abbott has been foolish enough to attack repeatedly at a Federal level. The contrast can hardly be more stark or more telling if the Queensland election plays out as we expect.

But amongst all this gloom, what is even worse is that Abbott is slated to talk to the influential National Press Club lunch on Monday immediately after all that sickening analysis.

abbott

“Eli eli, lama sabachthani?”

Never at his best when challenged publicly, there is no doubt that he will be embarrassedly umming and erring his way through a barrage of amused questions first of all keeping the “Why knight Prince Phillip?” hare running, (which he will seek, but fail, to deflect), but then, more importantly, questions seeking to pin the blame for the Victorian election, the Queensland election, and the Government’s low standing on him personally.

Speculation on his leadership will not be put to his ministers, as in the last few painful days, it will be put to him personally.

In response, he will seek to combattively state that, “Er, um, I will be taking our great party to the next election, I am focused on selling the Government’s successes”, and end up sounding, in other words, exactly like every other party leader has sounded just before they’re rolled. And reminding everyone that selling his Government’s “successes” is exactly – precisely – what he has failed to do.

There will be nowhere for him to hide from this grilling, (we could almost feel sorry for him if he had not brought this all down on his own head), and he will wilt under its blistering heat, looking ever more uncertain and strained as it wears on.

Journos in the audience will have been assisted by plentiful leaks and background briefings from anti-Abbott forces in his party room, manoeuvring to get their preferred replacement into a position where the crisis has become so awful as to prompt their immediate elevation to the top job.

If, by some miracle, Abbott performs strongly at the Press Club, the inevitable chippy-chippy-chop may be delayed a little, but we repeat our oft-stated opinion that his metaphorical decapitation is now inevitable. Indeed, as we stated before he won the last election, it always was going to be.

He just has the wrong skills to be PM – always did have – and he has not managed to curb those elements of his personality that make him so self-evidently unfitted for the role. The Liberal Party is infinitely more ruthless than its Labor opponents, even though that is not generally understood. They know any replacement – and it would take a miracle for them not to choose the country’s most popular politician in Malcolm Turnbull – will need time to settle the ship before the next election. They will not risk losing what should have been an unloseable election against the largely inoffensive but also un-inspirational policy-lite Bill Shorten.

Time marches on, but Abbott’s Prime Ministership will not. Like some awful, inevitable Shakesperian tragedy, he will pay the ultimate price for the hubris that saw him persuaded to stand against the infinitely smarter and more electorally appealing Turnbull in the first place.

And if Turnbull does take over, we don’t expect to see Hockey moved from the role of Treasurer, in which he has been an unmitigated disaster. One thing will save him. If he were moved, we think Julie Bishop will put her hand up for that role – a step too far for the mad-eyed Western Australian in our view – and she would fail in it just as Abbott has failed as PM. It’s one thing to blather on aggressively about how rotten Vlad Putin is for shooting Australians out of the sky. It’s quite another to steer the ship of state’s financial well-being. Nothing in her period of Opposition or in Government shows her up to such a task.

Turnbull will not risk her messing things up for him, so will be inclined to leave Hockey in place.

In which place, he will be told to smoke no cigars in public, to stop shooting from the lip about the poor driving less than the rest of us, and essentially to shut up and leave it all to Malcolm. You’ll hear a whole lot less about “structural deficit” under Turnbull and much vaguery about “good management”. The great irony of the Abbott experiment for him and his backers like Nick Minchin is that his failure will kill hard right economic solutions for a decade.

Australia will return quietly comfortably to “tax and spend”, and not even notice the difference. and all of Abbott and Hockey’s painful Thatcherite striving will be forgotten. Shakespearian indeed.

The one thing against Abbott being moved against next week, of course, is that Parliament is not sitting again till 9th February. Liberal MPs would have to be called back to gather specially for a party room spill. Such an outcome is rare, but not unknown. It could, though, just save his bacon. But not for long.

The Abbott government - looking very tired, very quickly.

The Abbott government – looking very tired, very quickly.

We are deeply disappointed that Head Boy Tony Abbott chose to make Sir Prince Phil the Greek an “Australian Knight” for his “contribution to charity in Australia”, made during the 60 years or so since he was plucked from minor European faux-royalty obscurity to enjoy a lifetime of shooting defenceless fauna and insulting people by marrying Her Maj.

Not, we hasten to add, because such an obviously ludicrous decision reduces still further Mr Abbott’s likelihood of holding onto the top job, which is already vanishingly unlikely in our view.

Rather, because if we’re going to hand out Imperial knighthoods – in itself a daft idea for a modern country on the other side of the planet, and supposedly no longer aping England in the 1950s – then there are so many other deserving candidates. We have limited ourselves to the obvious English candidates. Sort of.

Admiral Sir John-Luc Picard of Wagga Wagga? Make it so.

Admiral Sir John-Luc Picard of Wagga Wagga? Make it so. Engage!

Sir Captain John-Luc Picard

It is far too easily forgotten that if the Captain of the Enterprise had not leapt back in time at great risk to himself, Will Riker’s stay-pressed hairdo and Deanna Troi’s lop-sided top-heavy jumpsuit, then we would not be celebrating Australia Day at all. We would, in fact, not even be Australia. Rather we would be Colony 6 Adjunct 5 of Unimatrix 7 with Borg nannites for red blood cells and one of those weird eyes that shines out beams of green light for no apparent reason. Saving Earth from the Borg? That’s a hell of lot more impressive than teaching wayward teenagers to climb trees, or whatever it is that the Dook of Edinberg’s scheme actually does. PS Yes, we know John-Luc is French, but he’s a sort of Yorkshirefied version of French, and that’s OK.

Sir Phillip “Butterfingers” Tufnell

Phil-TufnellIn the not too distant past, England’s cricket team employed a decent slow bowler (and not half bad batsman, except when playing against Shane Warne) called Phil Tufnell, who has gone on to make himself popular as a TV and radio personality in the UK. His most dramatic career moments were when as a fielder for England in Australia he dropped more catches, racked up more misfields and generally made a doofus of himself so often that he endeared himself to Aussies countrywide. Retreating to the boundary after a bowling spell, Tufnell’s mood was scarcely lightened by an inspired sledge from somewhere among the braggarts, brawlers and boozers in the MCG crowd, although he can laugh about it now. “Oi, Tufnell! Lend us your brain, we’re building an idiot,” bellowed his latest admirer. We witnessed with our own eyes at the MCG a banner being unfurled that read “Hey Phil, chuck it to us, we’ll throw it back for you”, a commentary on his less than stellar long throws back to the wicket-keeper. And when he announced his retirement from Test cricket the Australian Tuffnell Academy of Fielding announced a national day of mourning. It seems only reasonable, if we’re handing out knighthoods for Poms, that this Phil rather than Phil Windsor belatedly gets his for keeping us more entertained than most of the rest of the cricketing world put together.

divaSir Makybe Diva

Makybe Diva is a British-bred, Australian-trained thoroughbred that became the first racehorse to win the famed Melbourne Cup on three occasions: 2003, 2004, and 2005. In 2005, she also won the Cox Plate. Makybe Diva is the highest stakes-earner in Australasian horse racing history, with winnings of more than A$14 million when she retired on 1 November 2005, and is one of only five horses to have won the Cup more than once in the long history of the event, which was first run in 1861, and the only mare among the list of multiple winners, and is one of only 14 female horses (11 mares and three fillies) to have won the Cup. Yes, of course, we know that this should really mean she should be Dame Makybe Diva, not Sir Makybe Diva, but we are stretching a point. We can’t think of anything more Australian than to make a horse a Knight, especially one that made plenty of punters a sizeable packet over the years, so there it is.

Sir Edward John “Eddie” Izzard of the Death Star

Eddie Izzard is an stand-up comedian, actor and writer. His comedy style takes the form of rambling, whimsical monologue and self-referential pantomime. He is also, in our opinion, responsible for the single funniest three minutes of stand up ever written,Eddie-Izzard to wit, “There must have been a canteen on the Death Star”, a bizarre envisioning of Darth Vader heading to the Death Star canteen for lunch between blowing up planets here and there on behalf of the Evil Empire.

It was brought brilliantly to life using Lego characters as seen in the following video, which has caused more joyous weeping around computer screens than just about anything else we can think of, and thus deserves a knighthood in and of itself. Interestingly, Izzard was actually born in Aden, so although he’s of English descent (and has also resided in Northern Ireland and Wales) he’s also sort of vaguely connected to the Middle East, making him spozzingly current and topical and wow. He also likes dressing up in women’s clothing, which would just be so annoying for our current cretinous Prime Minister that it makes him a perfect choice.

And last but not least:

skippySir Skippy

For a generation, Australians have been understood by the rest of the world as a fun-loving bunch of larrikins who can talk to kangaroos.

“What’s that, Skippy? Uncle Tony has fallen down a well? We need to go get Constable Bob to rescue him? What’s that, Skip? If we don’t get there soon he might die?

I’ve got bad news for you, Skip. Mum needs us home for tea. Here, have a knighthood instead.”

So what about you, Dear Reader?

Which English-ish person or animal should have received a knighthood before Prince Phillip?

Don’t hold back.

climate change effects

Last year was Australia’s third-hottest on record, the country’s well-respected Bureau of Meteorology says.

The BOM’s annual climate statement, released on Tuesday, said 2014 was the third-warmest year since reliable climate records began in Australia in 1910, with mean temperatures (taking into account both maximum and minimum temperatures) 0.91C above the long-term average.

A rise of two degrees will not be catastrophic, but polar bears will become extinct.

A rise of two degrees will not be catastrophic, but polar bears will become extinct. We’re halfway there now.

This is already halfway to the two-degree limit in global warming that Governments are supposedly seeking to achieve this century. Whilst change up to two degrees is expected to cause some problems, especially as regards species extinction, agriculturalists, public health, and fire danger, any warming above that level is expected to bring catastrophic climate change. And we’re already damn near 50% there.

BOM Climate Information Services assistant director Neil Plummer said 2014 was a year that included six significant warm spells or heat-waves with a notable reduction in colder weather.

The warmest year on record occurred the previous year, 2013, when the mean temperature was 1.2C above the long-term average.

“Particularly warm conditions occurred in spring 2014, which was Australia’s warmest spring on record,” Mr Plummer said. “El Nino-like effects were felt in drier and warmer conditions in much of eastern Australia during 2014.”

The World Meteorological Organisation is collating data but believes the world experienced its hottest or among its hottest years in 2014, Mr Plummer said.

The Climate Council’s Professor Will Steffen says climate change is a major factor in the near-record warmth recorded in 2014. He said 2013 and 2005 were the hottest and second-hottest years on record, and most notably 29 of the past 35 years were warmer than average.

“It is worrying that these sort of records are now being broken so regularly,” he said. “The impact of climate change on these trends is very clear. Climate change is making Australia hotter and more prone to bushfires.” (See our story on South Australia, yesterday.)

Meanwhile, Australia’s Government has scrapped the carbon trading scheme which was put in place to provide a market mechanism for reducing carbon dioxide emissions – a curious decision for a party committed to free market economics.

An astonishing and exhaustive list of anti-environment moves made by the Abbott Government appeared on precariousclimate.com back in September last year. If you were ever in any doubt that our Federal Government are a bunch climate troglodytes, check it out. It is a carefully compiled and damning document.

Whether it is cutting the money allocated to solar energy conversions to homes, (from one billion dollars to $2 million), repealing the “carbon tax”, abolishing climate change bodies, appointing climate change deniers to key Government positions both here and overseas, denying the link between climate change and bushfires, refusing to commit any climate finance for poor countries, (after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines and the Filipino delegation to a climate change conference called for urgent action), cutting research funding, slashing jobs in the Environment department, or hugely increasing assistance to fossil fuel industries, it is a sad, sad story.

 

Looks like the bulk of people in Africa will need to move to Canada. Hope they're ready.

Looks like the bulk of people in Africa will need to move to Canada. Hope they’re ready.

 

Of course, as this chart (representing a ‘best case’ scenario) on possible changes to agricultural productivity shows, the effects of climate change will fall hardest on the world’s poorest countries, where drought and starvation are already endemic. That will also be of little or not interest to the Abbott Government, which has just cut, in real terms, overseas aid, to address what is largely a mythical crisis in Government spending – the same Government, remember, that has ordered nearly 60 new fighter bombers with a maximum range of 200 miles. Massive projected changes to the main agricultural areas of Australia are very worrying. With the sole exception of south-eastern Australia, (where production will likely remain unchanged, although some cropping changes may be called for), the collapse in agricultural production is up to 25%. Given that the Liberal-National Party Coalition depends on rural seats for it’s existence, this will inevitably come back to bite them. When farmers realise that “green” policies are good for their business, look out.

Let us hope it really is #onetermtony before the country gets much hotter and our world changes beyond recognition.

Bushfire season has hit again, a combination of dry conditions, steady winds and plentiful fuel lying on the ground providing the perfect environment for devastating conflagrations. Worst hit have once again been the wooded, charming Adelaide Hills, scene of the deadly Ash Wednesday fires that are seared in the minds of all Aussies.

This remarkable photo shows the fire, currently running along a 238 km front, as dusk falls, the flames lighting up the early evening sky.

Terrible. Awe-inspiring. And all too real.

Terrible. Awe-inspiring. And all too real.

Fire is, of course, a natural part of our Eucalypt environment, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to bear, especially for the couple of dozen homeowners (so far) who have lost everything. The day of most danger will be tomorrow, Wednesday, when a cool change will bring strong winds to fan the flames before any quenching rains will help to put it out. The temperature in the south of the state is currently around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all residents in the Hills, and with the brave men and women from all over the country who are fighting the fires.

Photo: Getty

Aussies – who suffer the highest rate of skin cancer in the world – are acutely aware of the need to guard against skin cancer. We lead the world in both prevention and cure.

Aussies all know the sun-safety adage slip, slop, slap, seek and slide - excellent advice, Dear Reader –  and now new Australian research has now found another surprising way to protect your body from skin cancer.

In a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland have found that over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and aspirin can decrease your risk of developing squamous carcinoma – the most common for of skin cancer.

According to study authors, these particular drugs could work as preventative agents in high-risk people.

While studies have previously linked aspirin with a lower risk of colon cancer, this is the first time it has been connected to skin cancer prevention. After a meta-analysis of nine studies, researchers found that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) had an 18 per cent reduced risk. Non-aspirin NSAIDS had a 15 per cent reduced risk of squamous carcinoma.

We would like to think it may be another way to reduce your risk of developing these cancers,” study co-author Catherine Olsen said. “Of course, the best way is to reduce your sun exposure – that will always be the number one preventative action for skin cancers – but this might be a supplementary skin cancer control measure.”

Bad. Bad. Stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. (Only coz it's Christmas did we spare you pictures of people with half their nose removed.)

Bad. Bad. Stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. (Only coz it’s Christmas did we spare you pictures of people with half their nose removed.)

Skin cancer accounts for around 80 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia, and the rate of incidence is higher than anywhere else in the world.

If you’re over 40, Cancer Council Australia recommends doing a full skin check every three months – more if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Look out for changes in shape, colour and size of any moles or sunspots and if you’re concerned about any changes – see your GP or dermatologist.

We suspect this is just the beginning of yet more reveals about the health-promoting properties of buffered aspirin in particular. We munch our little red pill daily. Needless to say, take your doctor’s advice.

As for the Wellthisiswhatithink household, we have had more than our fair share of cancer-y things removed from our collective skin. We have this to share.

“Shade. It’s a wonderful thing.”

And not just because I was the Editor on the book. ;-)

soozeyHaving worked on it for a year, “I am the problem” by Soozey Johnstone is the simplest, most insightful and easiest-to-implement book on dysfunctional executive teams – how to make success happen more often and more easily, and rediscovering your organisational “mojo” – that I have ever had the pleasure to read.

One influential CEO called it “the best Australian book on business I ever read”. I am hopeful it will go on to be a worldwide best-seller.

As the blurb reads:

Is this you? Buy the book!

Is this you? Buy the book!

 

The book is designed to be a very practical “hands on” primer for anyone facing apparently intractable organisational obstacles, whether or not the organisation is recognising or facing up to those obstacles – yet.

As a Director or Manager, you can choose to act on any of the 9 obstacles: just one, or a few, or all of them. Acting on all of them would be a genuinely transformative move.

Or buy the book. Really.

Or buy the book. Really.

From personal experience I am can confirm that acting on any of the excellent advice in the book will make you happier, and your organisation much more functional and successful. Each chapter includes at the end a simple to follow “To Do” list to make implementing positive change easy and painless and there’s a wide “additional reading” section too.

Frankly, I think it will help people navigate everyday life better too, including with family and friends.

And at thirty bucks Australian, trust me, it’s an absolute steal. Incredible value.

So don’t procrastinate: buy it. Buy it for yourself, or buy it for the stressed executive in your life.

You can thank me later, and let us take this chance to wish you a Very Merry Christmas and a stress-less 2015.

#stooshpr #iamtheproblem #merrychristmas

As surely the whole world knows, yesterday and overnight a mentally-disturbed man with a long legal history bailed up 17 or so people in the Lindt cafe in Sydney, demanding to speak to Australia’s Prime Minister, and seeking wide publicity for his points of view.

We do not wish to talk about him.

We do wish to note the outpouring of grief and support from the Australian people for the families of those killed, and the victims themselves, for those terrified and injured, and for ourselves – for the whole nation – which has been deeply shocked by the scenes of the last 24 hours.

The flowers are gathering at the site of the seige. All day, Aussies have quietly turned up, written in books of remembrance, laid down flowers, and stood in silence. Many in tears, all in shock.

They have been joined by politicians and notables, police officers and emergency workers, but mainly it has been the ordinary Australians who have trekked to Martin Place to be part of the mourning.

And uniquely, and so typically Australian, a single woman’s gesture – “I’ll ride with you”- spoken quietly to a Muslim woman who was removing her hijab for fear of being abused, spat on or assaulted – all things that have happened recently – has “gone viral” and been repeated by millions of people worldwide, who wish the wider Muslim community to know that they are not blamed for the actions of lunatics or fanatics.

Muslims arriving to place flowers at the site have been especially welcomed with quiet smiles, a touch of approval on a shoulder, a gentle look.

Today is a very sad day to be an Australian. It is also a great day to be an Australian. As so often in this remarkable nation, it is the ordinary people who show the true mettle of the country, who reveal in the simplest of human ways the unique communal nature of this wide brown land.

muslim flowers

flowersflowers2

There will be other horrors. There will also, sadly, be some extremist idiots who inevitably break the seal of national tolerance.

But the true Australian spirit – the spirit of its people, not its luminaries – stood up and was counted today, under the most painful of circumstaces. I am so proud of my fellow citizens, and have never regretted for an instant asking to belong to this tolerant, good natured, welcoming and egalitarian nation, the very essence of which is “everybody comes from somewhere else.”

Our deepest sympathies go out to all caught up in this madness.

#illridewithyou, Australia.

HughesAustralia and much of the sporting world is reeling in deep shock and disbelief today at the death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes after he was struck by a cricket ball to the head in Sydney two days ago.

We do not intend here to eulogise Phillip – others will do a better job of that, and his exciting batting play in many arena is all the evidence we need of his brilliant skills. He was also, by all accounts, and by his many interviews with the media, a fun, charming and engaging young man.

No sport is entirely without risks. A couple of weeks back we wrote with deep shock of the death of two young female Australian jockeys in the space of a week.

Cricket seems uniquely likely to cause injury to its participants. German Kaiser Wilhelm once presciently remarked that the British Empire was incapable of being defeated because its officer corps were trained for battle by making them stand in the middle of a mown field while small cannon balls were thrown at them. Indeed it is remarkable more people are not hurt playing the game.

The advent of helmets with wrap-around face guards or grills for those facing fast bowling, not to mention those fielding near the bat, has been a helpful and effective move. That this ball hit Hughes behind the helmet on the back of his head when a millimetre or so either way would simply have left him nursing a sore head and feeling a bit foolish is a bitter, bitter pill. We confidently expect to never see such an event again in our lifetime.

Yes, we should review the design of those helmets, just as we should review the turns on racetracks to make sure most horses – all horses, as far as we can arrange – get around them without slipping up at speed. Just as we have reviewed the safety features of Formula 1 cars so that serious injuries or death are almost banished from the sport, where they used to be almost weekly events, just as the auhorities work to make road cycling safer, and so on. We didn’t ban ocean racing after the Fastnet or Sydeny-to-Hobart disasters, and the crews for those exciting events still queue round the block to take part. What we did do was implement better communications, better rescue provision, and better weather alerts.

Our reason for writing tonight is simply to say again, woefully, that we must face the stark fact that there is always only so much we can do.

Sport will never be without risk and we cannot make cricket’s helmets so all-encompassing that they make batting impossible, especially against fast bowling. What happened to Phillip was dreadful bad luck and extraordinarily unlikely. Sometimes we just have to bite down hard and accept that life throws us all some ugly balls, now and again.

Those of us who love nothing more than the settle back on our couches or take our seat in the stands and watch elite athletes of all kinds do what they do best should remember that, and express our thanks for their courage. None of them can ever be entirely sure they will survive their career. Equally certainly, none of them would be put off competing by that doleful knowledge.

Phillip Hughes was a country lad with a ready smile. He started out playing cricket at 12 years old against adults, who he cheerfully bashed all over the grounds of small-town New South Wales. Raised in Macksville – a relaxed fishing and oyster-farming town centre of a rich rural district on low-lying land around the Nambucca River – and finished in Sydney grade cricket at Western Suburbs, where he, like his friend and Aussie captain Michael Clarke and fellow future Test player Mitchell Starc, were coached by Neil D’Costa, Hughes’s precocious talent would lead him to the modern cricket star’s cosmopolitan life.

He turned out not only for NSW and Australia but also the English counties Hampshire, Middlesex and Worcestershire, the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, and for the Strikers and South Australia when he moved to Adelaide in 2012. He represented his country in all three formats and made new friends in each. Wherever he played, he was popular for his simple, light heart; there was no “side” to Phillip Hughes. He was just a bloody nice guy.

It would be nice if something could be done to memorialise his life and career by further supporting youth cricket, especially in country Australia. If the net result of the robbery of this young man’s promising life was with sad irony to unearth the next Philip Hughes then today’s loss might seem not quite so dreadfully, appalling, awfully hard to take.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Phillip’s family and friends, and the whole cricketing world.

Anzac dead in captured Turkish trenches in Gallipoli

I wrote this poem remembering attending so many Remembrance Day services with my mother, whose husband, the father who I never knew, died at 46, a cheerful but essentially broken man, after six years of service in the Royal Navy..

I am very proud of this poem, both as a poem, in and of itself, and as an authentic expression of my feelings and some things I consider important.

I am largely a pacifist in my outlook, but I have great respect for those who put their lives on the line defending values I hold dear, and opposing tyranny.

It references not only those solemn services attended at memorials with my mother, but the many times since I have seen elderly people stand and pay their respects to the dead of both World Wars, and other wars.

Anzac DayThere is a wave of emotion sweeping Australia at the moment when Anzac day rolls around, with record numbers of people attending Dawn Services both around the country and in places overseas such as Papua New Guinea and Galipolli.

Increasingly, those people have young faces. The great grandchildren, grandchildren and children of those who were wounded, broken, and died. Why the sudden upsurge of interest? Perhaps younger people today look back to a past when the issues were simpler and convictions stronger.

I am also sure that the 39 Australian service people killed in Afghanistan since hostilities broke out there have something to do with it. The Americans and others have lost more people, of course, but those 39 lives are a grievous loss to a country with a population as small as Australia’s, just as the disproportionate sacrifice of the World War I diggers left a scar across the country that took generations to heal: the faces and stories of those brave young people killed in Afghanistan in recent years sure focuses the mind.

I am also reminded, on this solemn day, of the most important thing ever said about conflict, which is, of course:

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.”

If you are interested to purchase my collection of poems called Read Me – 71 Poems and 1 Story - just head here.

(Article re-published for Anzac Day 2013 and Remembrance Day 2014.)

abbottdutton

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), and Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton (R) during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 5 November 2014.

 

As we have pointed out before, Australia has been slow and mealy-mouthed in sending aid/health workers to try and control the Ebola outbreak at source.

Yet even now some small move has been made, as PM Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, people around the world, and indeed at home, could be forgiven for being a little confused about Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis.

The government has been sending out somewhat mixed signals over what help it can offer, as is now pointed out for the world to read on the front page of the BBC website in the UK. Nice.

First, the Abbott government refused to send any official medical or military personnel to West Africa, a decision for which he was widely criticised on this blog, inside Australia, and overseas, at the same time as President Barack Obama was saying the US should be encouraging health workers to volunteer to go to the frontline.

Mr Abbott has now bowed to pressure and announced Australia will be contributing A$20m (£11m; $17m) to help fund a British Ebola response clinic being set up in Sierra Leone. However, the prime minister has been vague about who will be staffing it.

The Australian side of the operation has been contracted out to the private health provider Aspen Medical and Abbott suggested most of the staff would be recruited locally, but contradictorily health officials in Sierra Leone have said the principal thing they are lacking is qualified local doctors.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Aspen Medical, Glenn Keys, has said around 350 Australians have registered with the company to go and help.

What is clear is that the prime minister is sticking by his line that no government medical teams or military personnel will be dispatched.

Mr Abbott said the decision to contract in Aspen had been reached after Britain agreed to treat any Australians who become infected while in West Africa, something the Australian leader had said was his principal concern.

It’s now emerged though, that the European Union had already made a similar offer to treat Australian staff that Mr Abbott had rejected.

 

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

 

Yet the media in Australia have been perfectly silent in asking him “Why?”, and still are. Especially as the end result is Australia’s response has looked very tardy and been delayed by crucial weeks. Meanwhile the poor of West Africa continue to face death rates from Ebola of up to 90% of all those infected.

Add to that the strong criticism Australia has faced after it became the first developed country to ban the issuing of visas to anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Sierra Leonean government called the move “discriminatory” and “counter-productive” suggesting it created a climate of panic.

As the BBC say, anyone who’s visited Australia will know they take a tough line on bio-security. There are strict rules about bringing in food products due to fears of bringing in disease.

But given that only a handful of people have been tested for suspected Ebola in Australia and all have tested negative, the government here risks being accused of showing a lack of compassion in the eyes of many around the world.

What is more important is that if this outbreak is not stopped AT SOURCE, and somehow transmits itself into other poor areas of the world with bad sanitation and inadequate health services – the rest of Africa, India, Pakistan, Central and Southern America, great swathes of South East Asia, even China – then we would be looking at an Armageddon scenario. In the face of which, Abbott and Dutton looked nothing more nor less like rabbits stuck in the headlights. So much for “strong leadership”, eh?

obama in churchMeanwhile, the political and media beat up worldwide on the outbreak has continued, with near hysteria levels, in the USA in particular.

A couple of weeks back we predicted that there wouldn’t be another Ebola case in the USA in the next seven days. It’s now 14 and counting.

But has the fever of commentary died down? Hardly. And why is so annoyingly obvious. The Republicans knew that by making Obama look “weak” on Ebola, by terrifying the population, in simple terms, then they would hurt the Democrats. And so they did, as seen in their “wave” of wins in the mid-terms on Tuesday just gone.

In fact, as is widely acknowledged, Obama’s response has been a small miracle of intelligent healthcare policy.

That he has not received the credit for acting smartly, promptly and effectively – not just in the USA, but in West Africa – is truly sickening.

Thanks to Mix FM for gathering together people’s photos of the monstrous electrical storm that hit Melbourne in the wee small hours of Monday morning and to Colin for alerting us to them.

It was a real doozey, and the traffic and train chaos from power outages and flooding the next morning was astonishing. It is only a matter of time, of course, before some religious nut blames it all on God being angry over homosexuality, abortion, or the Australian cricket team. Actually, looking at the result against Pakistan, I think the cricket team were to blame.

The Wellthisiswhatithink household was certainly bleerily woken up, with candles lit in advance of the expected blackout which for some reason didn’t occur, unplugging computers from the wall etc. We’re only sorry we couldn’t take our own photos, but the new camera hasn’t arrived yet … of that, more soon!

 

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Abdullah ElmirA Sydney teenager who ran away to join jihadists in Syria is the pawn of terrorists who “groomed” him just like pedophiles groom their child victims, a terror expert says.

Abdullah Elmir has turned up in a propaganda video for the IS group, also known as ISIL, after disappearing from his Bankstown home in June, saying he was going fishing.

The video is the fourth in a series called “Message of the Mujahid” which features foreign fighters, with previous releases showing British, French and Moroccan jihadists.

Grand Mufti quick to condemn "Islamic" extremists

Grand Mufti quick to condemn “Islamic” extremists

The Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, urged Muslims to reject calls from abroad tocommit violence against Australia and said it was “utterly deplorable for violent extremists to use Islam as a cover for their crimes and atrocities”.

In a joint statement, the nation’s peak Muslim organisations expressed “profound concerns and sadness” over Abdullah’s appearance in the Islamic State video and said there was an “urgent need” to examine how and why the teenager felt the need to leave the country and fight with a terrorist organisation.

In the clip, the 17-year-old threatens Australia and any nation that would try to stand in the group’s way.

Professor Greg Barton from Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre says Elmir was recruited by wanted terrorist Mohammad Ali Baryalei, an Australian based in Syria.

He says terror recruiters lure targets by making friends through social media, like many sexual predators.

“It’s like sexual predation,” Professor Barton told the media.

“Somebody might strike up a friendship in an online chat forum and present themselves in a different fashion – to try to get them into their web. By the time they actually meet the people they’re speaking with, they may be in too deep to know better.”

He says the boy appears as a “pawn in the machine” in the chilling video.

“He thinks he’s the star … but the reality is, his new friends have got him a one-way ticket,” he said. “He’s not in charge of his own destiny at all, he’s being used.”

Prof Barton says young people are the easiest to radicalise.

“Teenagers, 20-somethings, particularly young men more than young women, are vulnerable to making rash judgments,” he said. “And they tend to be more rebellious toward (older) generations and sceptical of establishment figures.”

It is believed former Kings Cross bouncer Mr Baryalei, 33, recruited Elmir through western Sydney street preaching group Parramatta Street Dawah.

“He’s said to have recruited 30 plus young people – mostly in western Sydney through Street Dawah” Professor Barton said.

We agree with Professor Barton. What we are seeing is teenage braggadocio. No 17 year old understands the geo politics behind the likes of IS, they have no idea what the reality of death and injury is on the battlefield, they do not yet have an understanding of the terrible implications of the violence they may wreak on other families or what it really means to take another life, nor do they have the discretion to understand varying views of their own religion. What we are seeing here is the sophisticated internet version of the gathering of child soldiers by unprincipled militia in Africa and elsewhere.

abdullahThis young man will, one day, without any doubt, die a bloody death unknown, unmourned and unmarked in the conflict in Iraq. Those who recruited him as a footsoldier will not bat an eyelid at his passing.

Even if he does not, his life is effectively ruined, as he will no longer be welcome in his home country. The very best outlook he probaby has is to become a stateless refugee, in hiding.

It is all very sad, and a huge burden of guilt lies on the souls of those who recruit our innocents. The cases recently of two young Austrian women who travelled to join IS only to find themselves pimped out to fighters, impregnated, and now unable to leave after becoming utterly disillusioned, is yet more evidence that these people deserve our unflinching condemnation.

Meanwhile,  Abdullah’s family have said they are shocked and devastated. They believe he has been “brainwashed” and they want to know who paid for his air ticket and encouraged him to go. They have described him as academically bright and caring: and it is often so – those with intelligence, compassion and passion are the easiest to turn to the darkness.

We should all pray this young man somehow survives and is reuinted with those who can care for him. That, however, is vanishingly unlikely.

Ebola in Liberia

Watching the world go into collective meltdown over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is highly instructive for anyone who is interested in how the media works, how politics works, and how groupthink works.

The media are rubbing their collective hands with glee. Suddenly they have a new and potentially terrifying threat to wax lyrical about: ISIS terrorism is so last week, right?

Now a “deadly” virus that most people have never heard of, that’s escaped from the nasty, mucky, dark continent of Africa, and threatens us nice white people in our impeccably clean western societies, offers the media a chance for wall-to-wall coverage, most of it hysterical and uninformed.

Politicians now fall neatly into two camps. Those who give a shit about tackling the outbreak, and those who simply give a shit about blaming someone else, and always on the other side of the aisle.

And groupthink has merely descended into group terror. You can’t blame people for being scared, but the level of fear has reached ridiculously high proportions astonishingly quickly.

So here’s a few facts.

ebolavirusEbola can be and is deadly, (with morbidity rates as high as 70% in some of the countries currently under attack), but the vast majority of people infected (perhaps upwards of 90%) will survive IF they receive proper medical care, such as simple matters including rehydration.

This is actually higher than some other much more common severe illnesses.

The huge death numbers in West Africa are because the sanitation, medical and social systems there are completely inadequate to deal with the illness.

The strain of Ebola affecting Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia is not airborne. You HAVE to have an exchange of bodily fluids to catch it. The rapid transition rate in West Africa is because poor people are caring for sick relatives in their own homes, and avoiding contact with saliva, blood and bodily wastes (or surfaces contaminated with them) is extraordinarily difficult in those circumstances.

In reality, as you can see here, the spread rate of Ebola against other serious illnesses is very slow. This is partly, tragically, because in poor countries the sick don’t live long enough to pass the virus on to very many people. Ebola is actually a very inefficient virus. It kills its victims too quickly.

The solution to the Ebola crisis is very simple. By all means isolate the very few cases that will occur in advanced countries, and treat those people with all due care for the treating staff as well. The majority of infected people will recover, especially if they are treated early. Impose travel bans if you wish, though it would be much more sensible to implement heat screening of in-bound passengers, such as was used during the SARS crisis in China.

There is also evidence from previous outbreaks that educating the local community about how to handle patients and reduce infection-risk is an effective way to slow or end outbreaks. This is another area of activity that should be ramped up.

In the meantime, though, whatever else we do, we must DRAMATICALLY increase aid to West Africa. We should be FLOODING the area with capacity to deal with the crisis, AND to deal there with any aid workers from advanced countries who become infected, keeping them there instead of repatriating them to their home country. Although conditions in these countries are extremely difficult, it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of mankind to isolate and treat the virus there. What IS needed is willpower and decisive action and plenty of fast money.

If this was a war, an immediate and resolute response would be found.

Well, this is a war. A war to save potentially hundreds of thousands of poor victims worldwide. This is not a war to protect the West. It was and is and will be a war to protect countries in Africa (and possibly elsewhere) from being set back 25 years in their development, through the avoidable death of countless innocent people.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

In this regard, the failure of the Australian government to yet send staff to the area is staggeringly weak and vacillating.

Health Minister Peter Dutton waffles on about not knowing where to treat any staff who contract the virus.

Well, here’s a question to answer, Mr Dutton. If Ebola gets into the slums of the poorer countries of Asia (such as especially the Philippines and Thailand) or the favelas of South America, it will then GENUINELY be too late to stop a worldwide humanitarian disaster. What will you do then?

If you are genuinely concerned about the safety of our aid workers or troops, (and not simply trying to save money and hope someone else does the heavy lifting) then explain the situation simply and clearly, and ask for volunteers.

Action, this day. Nothing else is acceptable.

PS Don’t expect to see the commonsense in this article reported in mainstream media, so feel free to share it.

 

 

australian progressives

As a bit of an ironed-on old radical, I have long despaired of finding a political home in Australia to nestle in, to work for, or even to stand for. The Memsahib and I used to be very involved with the Australian Democrats, but they sadly degenerated into squabbling and ultimately irrelevance, which is a great sorrow. We have happy memories of being a speechwriter and campaign organiser for Janine Haines, the great work done by Sid Spindler and Janet Powell, (all now very sadly deceased) and the consistency, clarity and dignity of Lyn Allison.

Anyhow, I simply can’t join the Liberal Party, even though I have some time for identities on the left-wing of their party, which still includes some old “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” centrist types. Indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago a very senior minister in the Liberal Government in Victoria almost begged me to join. But I am afraid the party is now comprehensively captured at all levels by the hard men of the neo-con Thatcherite Friedmanite right, and we wouldn’t last five minutes in it before being comprehensively squashed or expelled.

The Australian Labor Party is so right wing it could virtually replace the Liberal Party and no one would really notice the difference, except, perhaps for the trade union barony replacing the influence currently wielded by the top end of town, and as anyone who has dined in top restaurants or clubs around the country can attest, away from the confected antagonism of the bear pit of Parliament or the Murdoch press, there is nothing a good Trade Union leader likes as much as a generous and compliant Captain of Industry, and nothing the Captain of Industry likes as much as a supine and properly tamed Union Leader. Plus the sight of Labor seeking to out-do the Coalition on creating ever-more brutish asylum seeker policy, and caving in utterly on environmental protection, makes one throw up in one’s mouth just a little. Or a lot.

The Greens have their moments, but the leadership is weak and faintly ridiculous, and they are far too oppositionally-populist for my liking. They seem obsessed with trying to take over the news cycle with what are often ever more silly statements, and as a result they have undoubtedly plateaued in support, and they also seem very uncertain as to how to broaden their support base from its current inner-urban trendry core plus a few “doctor’s wives” thrown in. I am not passionately opposed to them, but I am not encouraged to join them, either.

As for the Palmer United Party, that is one pup I am not buying. I actually quite like Jackie Lambie’s complete lack of guile – it’s moderately refreshing even when I don’t agree with her views – but Clive Palmer just doesn’t ring true to me, as anything other than a rather maniacal ego for hire with more money than sense. You just can’t make up policy on the run month after month with no clear identification of where you sit on the political scale – somewhere to the right, but where exactly? – and no clearly enunciated suite of policies for the future. Pure populism is all very well – and there is still considerable scope for Palmer to wreak havoc in the next Federal Election, hurting the Liberals and Nationals especially – but it is a waning asset, and I suspect PUP will die out before long, and they won’t be much missed, either.

I am not going to join the Nats, basically because I am not especially interested in country or regional development (I’m not agin it in any way, it’s just not where my interests lie, you understand) and I am not a socially-conservative-agrarian-socialist-protectionist with no real interests other than clinging to relevance in Government and the seats gifted them by their Liberal brethren. No tick there. And I have been impressed with the Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm elected by accident in NSW – he’s been excellent and uncompromising so far on personal liberty – but their laissez faire libertarian-right economic policies belong on the toilet walls of a lunatic asylum. So no tick there, either.

Which is a long way round of saying “A plague on all your houses” and announcing that I am so fed up with both established right and left in Australian politics that I have decided to join a new party as a founding member. That way I avoid just vegging out and leaving it to the idiots, and I get to help form the policies and direction of the new party.

Could turn into nothing. Most new parties do. And if it does fizzle and bust, well, no harm done. But I like the way it talks about working outside the electoral cycle to promote new thinking as well as being an electoral alternative. There are many ways to influence events, and not all of them involve winning overall power at the ballot box.

Or it could turn into something I distrust or dislike, at which time I will leave.

So it’s a punt, but really, Dear Reader, what have we got to lose?

Join me?

https://www.australianprogressives.org.au/

 

progressive values

 

I would welcome comment, positive or negative. And polite.

Stephen Yolland
Melbourne October 2014