Posts Tagged ‘Julia Gillard’

"Who's the guy over your left shoulder?" "Can't remember, keep smiling ..."

“Who’s the guy over your left shoulder?” “Can’t remember, keep smiling …”

Good news for everyone who has missed Julia Gillard in public life – and there are some – she’s back.

The former Prime Minister has lain low since the 2013 leadership spill — but she appeared in public today to launch a former colleague’s book. Looking healthy and cheerful, (and on her pension, frankly, why the hell not?) Gillard launched former climate change and industry minister Greg Combet’s memoir, The Fights of My Life, at the NSW Trades Hall this morning.

In her address, Gillard issued a language warning to readers — joking that anyone who blushed from bad language needed to have a cold compress on hand.

Interestingly for us, Gillard also confirmed she urged Combet to run as leader when it became clear it was her time to go, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. She said: “I wanted to see the next part of his life being for the support of his colleagues to lead the Labor government into the 2013 election but it was not to be”.

Former Labor minister Combet recently told the ABC’s 7.30 that Ms Gillard had offered to stand aside for him if he wished to do battle with Mr Rudd. Instead he retired from politics at the 2013 election.

In our opinion, history will judge that this was a crucial loss of nerve. Combet is tough as nails, as seen by his principled and courageous leadership of the dockworkers in their battle with Patricks and the Howard Government, especially when battling the intransigence and bullying of Peter Reith. As the veteran of dozens of industrial negotiations, he had the sort of “real world” experience that a political junkie like Tony Abbott lacks, and although he would probably still have lost to Abbott on the principle of Buggin’s Turn (Labor was surely un-re-electable, wasn’t it?) he would have made a thoughtful, serious, incisive leader of the Opposition and #onetermtony would have very predictably been up for taking in two and a half years.

As it stands, we suspect our next Prime Minister will be Combet’s mate Bill Shorten, (although he did back Albanese in the leadership contest), so no harm done, from their perspective. But with his gnarly, bespectacled intensity and sheer intellectual clout we think Greg Combet might just have been the Prime Minister Australia never suspected he could be. We said so at the time. No-one agreed – in fact, we were were laughed out of court by everyone we advanced the theory to. Which is why we now find Ms Gillard’s and Mr Combet’s revelations interesting. Or to put it another way, nar nar nar, we told you so.

If this isn't the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime ...

If this isn’t the next Prime Minister of Australia, then God didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …

We’re historically pretty good at picking winners.

Despite a recent (but very temporary) bump in the poll standings for Tony Abbott over his brawny Putin-tweaking response to the downing of MH17, put your money (if you can find someone to take it) on Malcom Turnbull to replace him in a coup before Christmas, especially after the shambolic ALP in Victoria nevertheless manage to reasonably comfortably topple the incompetent but poorly-communicating Liberal-National Party Coalition in November.

In Victoria, Labor are current 3-1 “on” a victory, (hardly worth the risk, except one third of your stake for certain is better than none of it for getting it wrong, we guess) and the Coalition 2-1 against. If the Coalition suddenly lifts its game we reserve our rights to change that prediction, because if a week is a long time in politics then 122 days and 5 hours is a positive aeon, but we don’t see any real sign that is going to happen.

Considering the Napthine Government just delivered the highest spending infrastructure budget in Victoria’s history without borrowing a cent, one does actually feel rather sorry for them.

Of further interest to those who mainline psephology, (oh, look it up), we see that Labour in the UK are 5/6 to win the largest number of seats there, against Evens for the Tories. We think that’s too tight, and Labour are currently much better placed. We’d be interested, if you disagree, to know why. And in the US the Democrats are paying 1.60 to the dollar against 2.25 for the GOP. Unless Hillary is discovered doing something highly illegal between now and 2016, we reckon you should lump on, although the mid-terms later this year will be a further helpful guide, so maybe hold off for now.

Er … that’s it.

*Gabbled in a very fast high-pitched voice “All betting advice is purely speculative and should not be taken as true. Don’t rely on us. All care, no responsibility. No, nu-uh, tough shit, so sue us.”*

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

 

Bad news for Tony Abbott and the Coalition continues today with the publishing of another poll that shows just how dramatically the Liberal and National parties have slumped since 2013′s election.

The latest poll shows the Abbott government is now a full 10 points below its election-winning vote. This is way beyond mere “out of honeymoon” blues.

The Newspoll, published in The Australian on Tuesday, puts Labor ahead of the coalition 55-45 per cent in the two-party preferred vote, a further depressing drop of two points for the coalition since the previous poll two weeks ago.

Primary support for the coalition is also down two points to 35 per cent, from 37 per cent, while Labor is up one point to 37 per cent – two points ahead of the coalition. This result would have seemed impossible in the dark days when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were engaged in their death struggle. It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott goes down in history as the only man capable of breathing new life into the Labor corpse which seemed crucified, dead, buried, with multiple stakes through it’s heart and then cremated such a short while ago. That they are even competitive again so soon is startling.

It’s not all good news for Labor. Outflanked on the left, the Greens have also gained three points in the primary vote – up to 13 per cent.

Voter dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott has reached the highest level since he became prime minister, 62 per cent, and is his worst personal result since November 2012, The Australian reports. With his approval rating at 31 per cent, Mr Abbott’s net approval of minus 31 points is the worst for a prime minister since Julia Gillard scored minus 34 points just days before she was replaced by Kevin Rudd in June last year, when she was widely considered to be leading the Labor Party to certain disaster. It will not have escaped Liberal and National backbenchers that Abbott now appears to be doing the same.

 

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

 

Whether Abbott’s vast slump into extreme unpopularity will prove enough of a motive for the hard heads in the Liberal Party to replace him with the much more moderate Malcolm Turnbull remains to be seen. We have always been of the view, even before the last election, that Turnbull would be Prime Minister before Christmas 2014. Abbott is both simply too relentlessly self-satisfied and negative to play the role of Prime Minister, a job which requires the ability to reach across the aisle to independents and natural Labor supporters to build a centrists’ coalition.

Abbot is not a conservative. He is not a “one nation” Tory. He is a radical right winger – a born-again Thatcherite, his idol in his youth. As such, he was never going to sit well in power with the essentially small-C conservative Australian public. We are seeing the hubris of Nick Minchin and others on the hard right coming home to roost. They wanted their boy – they got him up by one vote – and now he is proving to be manifestly un-re-electable. A great opposition leader doth not a great prime minister necessarily make. They might have won less big had Turnbull remained at the helm (they might have won bigger, too), but they would have won more enduringly.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has also regained a 10-point lead as better Prime Minister that he took after the budget – on 44 per cent, with Mr Abbott on 34 per cent. We do not believe he is yet “popular” – he has neither the common working man’s touch of a Bob Hawke or the swaggering certainty of a Paul Keating. But he has hardly put a foot wrong yet, revealing that he has both a good “ear” and a smart brain. His meek persona also contrasts nicely with Abbott’s arrogance.

It is well-known that Shorten wishes to keep his powder somewhat dry, and not to “knee-jerk” to every mistake or missed step from the Coalition. Thus former federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan played Shorten’s stalking horse yesterday when said Liberal-National Party backbenchers were too gutless to speak out against the “savage cuts” in the budget, which he sees as reflected in the Newspoll. “If they had any decency, they’d be standing up in the party room and holding the LNP to the promises they made to the people of Australia at the last election but they’re not because they’re gutless,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “There’s no spine in the LNP backbench either at the state level or the federal level. They sit back and meekly accept the savage cuts … which are going to hurt the peace of mind and welfare of families right across Australia.” You can expect to hear a lot more of that as each and every Budget action wends its way trhough the legislative process.

To be fair, Swan was probably speaking from the heart, too. As a Labor backbencher during the early 1990s, Mr Swan led a revolt against the Keating government’s unpopular post-election budget that increased taxes.

Anyhow, the next few months will be interesting indeed. From being one of the most successful Opposition leaders the Liberals have produced in a long time, Abbott may well go down as their most unsuccessful Prime Minister. A recalcitrant Senate filled with newly hopeful Labor and Green representatives is now replaced with one with even greater complexity. At first blush, the new Senate looks like a more amenable one for Abbott. But appearances can be deceiving. Clive Palmer, for example, knows full well that supine agreement with the Government – any Government – would render his populist message irrelevant. There’s no point being “anti” the establishment and then joining it, as the Australian Democrats discovered over the GST, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Free Democrats in Germany can attest more recently.

We can therefore expect regular little eruptions of rebellion from Palmer and his mates, and watching his eye for publicity and gesture politics one can expect those rebellions to be on core issues, such as the politically smart agreement to scrap the unpopular carbon tax and return the dividend to ordinary voters as a reduction in household costs. And if they aren’t core issues, he will trumpet them as such, anyway. And every time he lays a glove on the Government, Abbott will not only look dumb, but weak. A terrible combination.

The essential problem that Abbott faces is that by manufacturing a financial crisis out of a structural deficit (which is not, after all, the same thing) he has critically reduced his room for manoeuvre. As a result, he is now stuck with slogging round the country telling everyone, basically, bad news, for at least the next 18 months.

He might even have pulled that off if his presentation, and that of his very lacklustre Treasurer Joe Hockey, had been less simultaneously preachily self-congratulatory and ham-fisted. But apart from his suddenly incoherent and uncertain delivery (has any senior politician anywhere in the world ever said “Er” so often?) he has also wedged himself by a serious of actions that were never going to get through the Senate, and which were guaranteed to appear mean and un-necessary.

The most obvious example is the GP co-payment, which looks and smacks like nothing more than soak the poor, and should never have been advanced in a month of Sundays. But once advanced, it was not “sold”, beyond a repeated mantra that this was somehow “for the good of the country”. Scores of worried little old ladies and the chronically ill duly queued up on talk-back radio stations of all political inclinations to tearfully ask what would become of them now they couldn’t afford to go to see their doctor. The message that the co-payment was theoretically designed to be capped at a maximum of $70 a year completely failed to cut through. Once again, the central Liberal Party message-meisters and their political puppets have been shown to be far less competent and aware than they are often painted.

Denis Napthine. If he's not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

Denis Napthine. If he’s not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

(A similar problem assails the Victorian Liberal and National Parties, where two years of good financial management and the resulting announcement of the biggest-ever infrastructure spending program in the State’s history – in any State’s history, actually – is being completely overwhelmed by the unpopularity of the Abbott Government. Liberal and National Party publicists seem at a loss to know how to punch their message through. (There’s a clue in this paragraph by the way, boys.) Meanwhile Denis Napthine despairs in his eyrie and Daniel Andrews hugs himself with glee, saying very little, cheerfully waiting to fall into office. But that’s another story.)

Those surrounding Abbott need to understand this: it’s one thing to drag down an unpopular Prime Minister in whom trust has been lost. It’s quite another to sell a swingeing austerity package that very few people think is needed in the first place.

They – and he – need to lift their game very fast, or yibbidah yibbidah, that’s all folks.

 

 

Abbott and his friends make their opinion of "temporary" tax increases very clear after the Queensland floods.

Abbott and his friends make their opinion of “temporary” tax increases very clear after the devastating Queensland floods. Now he proposes exactly the same idea.

We are on record as eschewing the general “bagging” of politicians per se, believing that some respect for our system of Government – some general belief that it is not entirely corrupted and merely the venue for amoral power-hungry sociopaths to do nothing but big note themselves and promote their career – is necessary for the well-being of the community and the country, but sometimes, even for a committed small-D democrat, it is very hard not to despair and simply scream incoherently “a plague on both your houses”.

It’s not just the nonsense they spout: it’s the nonsense they spout when they defend each other spouting nonsense.

If you give it, you have to take it. Abbott ruthlessly and effectively crucified Gillard. Is it his turn now?

If you give it, you have to take it. Abbott ruthlessly and effectively crucified Gillard. Is it his turn now?

In Australia, senior Liberal Christopher Pyne (or “Christopher Robin” as he is known in the Wellthisiswhatithink household, because of his repeatedly childish behaviour in Parliament and elsewhere) has denied that the introduction of a “deficit levy” – read, an extra tax to pay down debt – would be Tony Abbott’s “Julia Gillard moment”, (Julia Gillard being the immediate past Prime Minister, deposed by Abbott, who never got over being christened Juliar for bringing in a carbon tax when she had said pre-election that she wouldn’t), despite a majority of Australians saying the Abbott move would indeed be a broken promise.

Abbott promised repeatedly not to increase taxes. “You can’t tax your way to prosperity” was a mantra. So was “Tax cuts, without new taxes”.

Despite this, the Liberal-National coalition frontbencher played down the latest Galaxy poll, which showed a whopping 72 per cent believe the tax hike would indeed represent a blatant broken promise.

Australians know the government will have to make tough decisions to get the budget back on track, he said. “They know it won’t be easy and it is important that everyone shares in that burden of repairing the damage Labor did to the economy and to the budget,” Mr Pyne told ABC TV on Sunday.

The Australian Government can afford 58 of these, but needs a new tax to pay for the "budget crisis", and needs people to work till 70 till they get their pension, and is going to make wholesale cuts in the coming budget. When people work out that these are choices, and not inevitabilities, the backlash for Abbot could be horrible.

The Australian Government can apparently afford 58 of these, but now needs a new tax to pay for the “budget crisis”, plus it needs people to work till 70 to get their pension, and it is going to make wholesale cuts in the coming budget. When people work out that these are choices, and not inevitabilities, the backlash for Abbot could be horrible.

This is, however, in the face of the Government paying a massive $12.5 billion to buy new fighter jets, the serviceability and usability of which are the subject of on-going debate in defence circles as well as the country as a whole.

The contrast between “toys for the boys” and forecast swingeing cuts to welfare has brought the debate into sharp relief, not to mention damaged the Government’s standing.

It now trails the Labor Party that it just replaced by four percentage points. Two party-preferred support for the coalition has plunged 5.5 percentage points since the September election, with its vote now 48 per cent compared to Labor’s 52 per cent. Short honeymoon even by today’s low-attention ten-second soundbite standards of public discourse.

According to the poll, published by News Corp Australia, the Abbott government is facing a voter backlash over the possible new debt tax on those earning more than $80,000.

Certainly, the government has yet to confirm the deficit levy will be included in the May 13 budget but it seems that only a howl of outrage from the Australian middle class will prevent it.

But with huge – some would say laughable – bravado, the Prime Minister has said any levy would be temporary, and therefore wouldn’t break an election promise not to increase taxes.

So let’s just get that clear. If you only break a promise for a while, it’s not a broken promise, right? So what does it become? A bent promise? A slightly tarnished promise? Do we now have a whole new level of Government probity (or otherwise) to parse?

Mr Pyne went on to deny that a levy (read: a new tax) would be Mr Abbott’s “Julia Gillard moment” – a reference to the former prime minister’s broken promise on the carbon tax. “There is no easy way out from the debt and deficit disaster that Labor’s left us,” Mr Pyne said. “But what we do has to be fair to everyone, and it has to be right for the country. That’s the job of government.”

Newly-minted Opposition Leader Bill Shorten finally woke up from his slumber and weighed in. He said Labor would oppose a deficit levy, and urged the prime minister to drop the tax hike before next week’s budget.

“Increasing taxes on working class and middle class Australians is a terrible mistake, and people will not forgive Mr Abbott for breaking this very big promise,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.

Whilst we find it somewhat stomach-churning to hear it from one of the core team who allowed wasteful spending to again become a way of life for Australian Governments – and who lacked the guts to challenge Gillard for the top job in time to actually repair Labor’s fortunes – we think he’s right.

Having allowed his plans to leak and become discussed, Abbot is now between a rock and a hard place. If he backs down on the new tax because his advisors reckon he can ride it out (or, more likely, are so deep in their bubble they fundamentally misjudge the anger it will cause) then he will be seen to be weak in the fight against the very fiscal crisis that he has promoted as needing fixing.

If he levies the tax, he will be pilloried for breaking the most fundamental pre-election commitment he made.

And in other commitments made pre-election, Abbott also locked in several “No Cut” promises leaving him, hopefully in this correspondent’s opinion, with even less wriggle room. Just take a look at this:

 

Right: noted.

Right: noted.

 

Against a backdrop of Coalition MPs privately venting that the new tax move was “Crazy”, and “Electoral suicide”, even the uncontroversial (generally) Sydney Morning Herald asked yesterday “Could it become known as the “Abbott moment”, when a prime minister cursed his political fate and consigned his government to one term? A big call, to be sure, especially so far out from the next federal poll in 2016.”

We are under no illusion. We think Abbott is about to hand the Liberal Party leadership on a plate to the man who should have had it all along, Malcolm Turnbull, were it not for the “hard right” putsch that idiotically deposed him in Abbott’s favour by a single vote. Not immediately, not in the very short term, but before long. You heard it here first. Our tip would be just before Christmas 2014, as it was even before Abbott won the General Election.

To misquote George Bush Snr, “Read my lips: no way out.”

rudd sadA few people have asked us, following our slew of seat by seat predictions a couple of days ago, and the considered answer is “maybe”.

It is actually one of the great imponderables of the night.

The seat at over 8% ALP lead is outside our feeling for what the country will do as a whole (we’re thinking about a 6-7% swing – enough to deliver an Abbott landslide) and being Prime Minister should give Rudd some added kudos, but we also have a sneaking feeling people have really gone off Kevin ’13. Labor were on the nose going into the election. And they’ve gone backwards since it was called.

Why? Hard to be emphatic, but we do know this. People – especially those not “ironed on” to one side or the other – love voting to be on the winning side.

It’s been so obvious for so long that the Labor Party have lost this election that people are now busily abandoning the ship in their heads. Abbott has the “Big Mo” as the Americans call it, and Rudd now has a tag he has never really carried before. And that tag is “Loser”.

Shorn of any sense that he is a mystically successful electoral talisman for Labor who would have won easily in 2010 if he hadn’t been shafted by Gillard (a highly dubious assertion) there really doesn’t seem much reason to re-elect him personally. He’s only going to retire, anyhow.

Demographic changes contributed to John Howard losing his seat in the Ruddslide of ’07, it is true. But John Alexander’s subsequent re-taking of the seat shows that it was also very much about the people of Bennelong just being thoroughly sick of Little Johnny.

We’re guessing a little, and there is no poll data after August 22nd to back it up, but on balance we are prepared to stick the Wellthisiswhatithink neck out and say “Yes.”  Rudd will lose Griffith.

People will simply be glad to see the back of the Milky Bar Kid. We think. Maybe.

paul_keating

Somehow the wagging finger rarely irritated. The brain behind it was so impressive.

Ex Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating is a fascinating man.

Uncompromising, arrogant – and even aloof – certain of his own intellectual superiority, frequently hilariously funny, master of Despatch Box wit, he was responsible for some of the most major reforms in Australian political history, including opening the country to free trade, and ensuring all Australians have some sort of superannuation to fall back on in retirement.

When "intellectual" wasn't a dirty word. Whitlam and Keating share a joke.

When “intellectual” wasn’t a dirty word. Whitlam and Keating share a joke.

Not for nothing was one of his mentors former Labour hero Gough Whitlam.

They shared a love of fine things, were both uber-brainy dandys, and neither brooked much opposition.

They controlled their caucuses by diktat, but they were so patently the most impressive guys around that no one really minded all that much.

Keating once memorable christened John Howard "His Oiliness"

Keating once memorably christened Liberal Party leader John Howard “His Oiliness”

To remember how good Keating was, one really only has to admire the strong, internationally-engaged economic state of the nation that John Howard inherited from him.

And one only has to trawl some of his more famous quotations – usually insulting put-downs – that framed the debate for year after year.

It would be easy to dismiss them as mere vitriol, but they were much more than that. Keating had an ear for what ordinary “little” people thought, and the imagination to wrestle that into pithy quotes.

Try these:

On Opposition Leader and then Prime Minister John Howard:

  • “The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on”
  • “What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.”
  • “He’s wound up like a thousand day clock.”
  • (Of his 1986 leadership contest) “From this day onwards, Howard will wear his leadership like a crown of thorns, and in the parliament I’ll do everything to crucify him.”
  • “He is the greatest job and investment destroyer since the bubonic plague.”
  • “But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It’s like ‘Spot the eyebrows’.”
  • “I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot.”
  • “He has more hide than a team of elephants.”
  • “Come in sucker.”
Keating believed Peter Costello essentially "lacked ticker". He was right.

Keating believed Peter Costello essentially “lacked ticker”. He was right.

On Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello:

  • “The thing about poor old Costello is he is all tip and no iceberg.He can throw a punch across the parliament but the bloke he should be throwing a punch to is Howard, but of course he doesn’t have the ticker for it.”
  • “He has now been treasurer for 11 years. The old coconut (John Howard) is still there araldited to the seat.The Treasurer works on the smart quips but when it comes to staring down the prime minister in his office he always leaves disappointed.He never gets the sword out.”

Just because you were in the same party as Keating, that was never protection from his wrath.

Keating’s passions were French antique clocks, opera and piano concertos. The sports mad Labor cabinet didn’t stand a chance.

He could dish it to his own side, too.

Like this stoush with John Browne and Bob Hawke (who he memorably named “Old Jellyback” because of Keating’s perception of his preparedness to compromise on principle) when he was Treasurer:

  • “Now listen mate,” [to John Browne, Minister of Sport, who was proposing a 110 per cent tax deduction for contributions to a Sports Foundation] “you’re not getting 110 per cent. You can forget it.This is a fucking Boulevard Hotel special, this is.The trouble is we are dealing with a sports junkie here [gesturing towards Bob Hawke].I go out for a piss and they pull this one on me.Well that’s the last time I leave you two alone.From now on, I’m sticking to you two like shit to a blanket.”
Hewson famously lost "the unloseable election" to Keating with the schemozzle over their "Fightback" plan. The Liberal Party ever since is chary of releasing its polices for scrutiny, including in this election.

Hewson famously lost “the unloseable election” to Keating with the schemozzle over the “Fightback” plan. The Liberal Party has ever since been chary of releasing its polices for scrutiny, including in this election.

To then Leader of the Opposition John Hewson:

  • Hewson: [if you’re so sure of yourself] why don’t you call an election?Keating: Oh no, Hewson, don’t think you’re going to get out of it that easily mate. I’m going to do you slowly, son …” The relish with which Keating delivered the word “slowly” has passed into Australian political history …

And about him:

  • “Captain Zero”
  • “I did not insult the Honorable Member for Wentworth. I merely implied that he was like a lizard on a rock – not dead yet, but looking it.”
  • “[His performance] is like being flogged with a warm lettuce.”
WIlson "Iron Bar" Tuckey only had to poke his head above the parapet to set Keating off.

WIlson “Iron Bar” Tuckey only had to poke his head above the parapet to set Keating off.

Most memorably, Keating would fire up whenever confronted with the teasing of extreme right-wing MP Wilson Tuckey from the seat of O’Connor in WA.

Unparliamentary language? For sure. But rather wonderful nevertheless.

  • “You stupid foul-mouthed grub.”
  • “Shut up! Sit down and shut up, you pig!”
  • “You boxhead you wouldn’t know. You are flat out counting past ten.”
  • “You filthy, disgusting piece of criminal garbage!”

Anyhow, without demonstrating quite the same level of vituperative humour, Mr Keating has made a memorable intervention in the 2013 Federal Election to opine that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had steered the country through the “valley of economic death” in 2008-09 to be what no other country in the world has been.

“No recession, no great dip in employment,” Mr Keating said, launching the campaign of Labor minister Bill Shorten in his Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong on Friday, to rousing applause from party faithful.

“This is not like Europe. This is not like the United States. We’ve kept people in employment and given them real wages growth.”

Since 1991, real wages had increased 36 per cent and disposable incomes by 40 per cent, he said.

“This is the only country that has done this. It came from the policies of the Labor government. It didn’t come from the Tories. They know what they’re against. They never know what they’re for.”

Mr Keating credited Labor for creating equity in health, superannuation, education and now disability care.

“The others never do these things. They’re always mean. Mean little people,” he said.

“No imagination, no bigness and no heart. Just the natural cycle means every now and then they get another go.”

Mr Keating said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had to do more than offer slogans.

“Stop the boats, he says, we’ll get rid of the mining tax, and we’ll get rid of the carbon tax,” he said. “These slogans can never be an organising principle for the nation.”

Mr Keating accused the Liberals of walking away from accountability standards, saying they ignored former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello’s decision that treasury publish public accounts before an election.

“This is a very bad thing which is happening. Bad for the core integrity of the financial system, the way the country operates, bad for trust in the system.

“We’re facing a sort of flimflam opposition, one without standards.

“Even the previous conservative government accepted that standard but they’ve walked away from that.

“Cynical Joe Hockey says, ‘oh people are bored with numbers’. Really, Joe? They’re not bored with you are they?”

Except for his obligatory defence of Rudd, Gillard and, er, Rudd, Keating has nailed the Liberal’s essential intellectual vacuity, and he should be listened to. Sadly, the problem is that the alternative to Paul Keating is Kevin Rudd, and there is no cure for that.

Is there any doubt that Labor could win this election with Keating at the helm, instead of the Milky Bar Kid?

What as shame he seems to be thoroughly enjoying his retirement.

Nope. Same old crap.

Nope. Same old same old.

I have written at length in the past on the essential tragic flaw in the on-going circus that is Kevin Rudd, which is basically, in my view, that he has a much higher opinion of himself than other people do.

With good contacts inside the Labor Party, I think the kindest thing I have ever heard said about him is “megalomaniac”.

The general public finds it difficult to appreciate that he is genuinely detested by many people whose support he needs – detested as too clever by half, too full of himself, and utterly selfish, not to mention seemingly devoid of the little personal courtesies that make up so much of what is required in leading any organisation, and a political party in particular, stacked full, as they are, with people who desperately want to be loved.

So what is the ultimate outcome of yesterday’s ALP chaos? Well, there are a number.

Greater love hath no man than he give up his friends for his life. – Jeremy Thorpe

Firstly, it is hard to over-estimate the level of betrayal and distress felt by those who campaigned for, publicly supported, and organised a ballot for Rudd to stand for the leadership. They report being “gutted” by his backdown.

The point about Crean publicly calling for a ballot for a man who he so publicly repudiated just a year ago was to allow Rudd to get past his previous commitment not to challenge a sitting leader. Let there be no doubt about this; Crean’s sudden exocet-like intervention in Labor’s leadership crisis was carefully co-ordinated with key Rudd backers, and obviously with Rudd’s knowledge, and implicit in the move was the assumption that Crean’s switch from Gillard would bring four or five votes with him, making the difference between just losing and victory for Rudd, especially as a couple of locked-in Rudd votes were overseas. This thing was on a knife-edge.

When it transpired that those votes possibly wouldn’t follow Crean – despite his desperately courageous intervention which was made, in his eyes, to prevent a debacle in September for the party he loves – Rudd was left looking at a small loss to Gillard.

And at that moment, with history watching, Rudd “bottled it”.

Despite not quite having the numbers he could (and perhaps should, depending on your point of view) have wounded Gillard fatally, and another ballot (in as little as a week, or ten days) would have delivered the leadership to him by acclamation, especially once his people had time to organise more thoroughly. In a Labor Party where the ferment rivals that of a good barrel of real ale left too long to bubble, no leader with Gillard’s poll ratings could possibly hold on with a majority of just a handful in caucus. Despite her famed Welsh stubborn-ness, events would have overtaken her.

A current Twitter tend is #SimonCreaned. How are the mighty fallen.

A current Twitter tend is #SimonCreaned. How are the mighty fallen.

But Rudd chose, instead, (and instead, specifically, of facing the ego-bruising experience of being rejected by his caucus colleagues for a second time, albeit temporarily), to wrap himself in the fallacious argument that he wouldn’t stand again for leader unless backed by an overwhelming majority of the party room. That was never going to happen, of course, he knew it in advance. It was merely a feeble excuse for a crucial loss of nerve. With the smell of blood in the air and alarums various all around, Rudd exited the battlefield, leaving his allies to be slaughtered in his stead.

In refusing at the last hurdle, Rudd reveals himself to this writer, at least, as a rather prissy and self-absorbed egoist without the guts to pursue high office with adequate determination. As those around Caesar tried to plunge in their gladius’s, Rudd tip-toed away rather than get splashed with gore.

Fulminating on the sidelines, smirking quietly to himself as others thrash around, yes, he is up for that. But when a return to power genuinely beckoned, and with it the opportunity to at least ameliorate certain disaster for Labor at the next election, he fatally let down his supporters, many of whose careers are now publicly trashed and seriously damaged, perhaps terminally.

In this loss of nerve, one can see clearly the little boy Rudd, the “Well, if they won’t all play with me the way I want then I shall take my bat and ball and go home” Rudd. The hurt child that never quite grew up.

So the first outcome is this: Rudd supporters will not forgive him in a hurry, if ever. That obvious fact (and one can only imagine the recriminations afterwards) may be behind today’s prompt statement from Rudd that he will never stand for the leadership of the party again. Of course, no-one who has watched his behaviour over the years can give much credence to such an assurance. If the seals of office were waved under his nose again some nonsense about “the good of the party and the nation” would be cobbled together to allow him an intellectual excuse for running again. But in the meantime, brand Kevin is so tarnished as to be virtually un-burnishable. As Yoda would say, “Easy, it is, to give up the thing that no one wants to give you.”

So what the hell do we all do now?

More critically, the Australian people will be utterly dismayed. For reasons which are quite obvious – the fact that his original fall from power was seen by many as unnecessary and very poor form on behalf of the conspirators – and the fact that he clearly is clever and has a sense of purpose, curious though that sense may be – but most of all simply because he isn’t the fatally un-likeable Julia Gillard – Rudd retained the affection of many Labor supporters and non-aligned voters, and even some Liberals, especially those who dislike the rightward drift of their party. He straddles the centre ground of Australian politics in a manner which is always popular in this essentially small-c conservative nation.

Now he has betrayed not only his own supporters but all those in the country who are desperately distressed at the collapse of Labor as a viable vehicle for their aspirations and which is supposed to protect them from what looks like a highly ideologically-driven and – many suspect – brutally insensitive incoming Liberal-led Coalition.

Oh Lord, please help me keep my big mouth shut until September 15th. Amen.

If Howard was bad, they feel implicitly, then Abbott will be worse.

Despite his attempt to present a small target and to curb his wilder side, they perceive that he is Howard without the gravitas or the common touch, a nasty, gnashing, dyed-in-the-wool mis-truster of Government and the common people.

They see savage cuts coming, a return to workplace warfare, social conservatism, and all the baggage of class warfare resurrected again and aimed at those least able to defend themselves.

And above all, they know Gillard can’t beat him – after all, she’s failed to do so once already.

And against this prospect, Rudd chose to preserve his own sniffy dignity rather than chuck his hat into the ring after twelve months of making it perfectly clear to Blind Freddie he still believed in belonged in there.

Well, Kevin, Australians are not sophisticated political observers in the main – life is too wonderful, generally, to waste too much time pondering the goings on of the chattering political classes – but they can smell bullshit with dung-detectors that are as finely attuned as any in the democratic world. And they don’t like wimps.

The national character is, ferociously, to stand up for what you believe, even if you’re going to get a thumping. (One reason that Malcom Turnbull is so widely respected.)

Overnight, therefore, Rudd will have ruined his public standing, and again, probably, terminally. I expect to see that reflected in opinion polls within a day or so.

Goodbye, Labor, it was nice knowing you. At least sometimes.

The last and most obvious result from the non-ballot yesterday is that Labor has revealed it would much rather lose the next election, even catastrophically, and retreat to the Opposition benches than hold its collective nose and re-install Rudd. The ultimate conclusion to be drawn by observing the inwardly-focused bubble that is most of the ALP caucus is that they, too, lost courage at precisely the moment they needed to find some, and returned, instead, to their predilection for childish in-fighting and sophistry.

Such holier-than-though Kamikaze behaviour is more common on the left than it is on the right, which tends to be more focused on power and concomitantly less concerned with the close niceties of policy. (The recent furore over carbon trading that saw Turnbull axed was an aberration and more to do with factional infighting than anything else.)

Parties on the left often seem to emulate the suicidal tendencies of the People’s Front For Judea in the movie “Life of Brian”, where the ultimate goal is to dramatically eviscerate oneself as a noble gesture.

Some time back this mindset saw the demise of the Australian Democrats, and thus the inevitable rise of the much more “deep green” Greens, which has had a profound effect on the Australian body politic. Lord knows what the impact of this decision on the ALP itself may be in the long run, but some form of realignment on the left and centre is certain not beyond the bounds of possibility, especially give the ossified nature of the ALP organisation and its falling membership, and the lurch to the right of the Liberals in particular.

Actively mistrusted, even hated. I have never, in 35 years, heard it expressed so vehemently.

Let us call a spade a f****** shovel: in more than thirty five years of active involvement in left-centre politics, either as a participant or a writer, I have never experienced a mood in a country more toxic for the leadership of the Parliament than I now do with Gillard and Swan and their immediate coterie.

Ironically, it is not just the memory of the original Rudd knifing, unpopular as that was, nor is it the stumbling from embarrassing gaffe to gaffe that has characterised so much of this hamstrung Government, that has caused the complete loss of faith.

In fact, ” ordinary people” know the Government has tried to do some good things.

But there has been a comprehensive failure to sell those initiatives to the public.

And past all the spin doctors, the advisers, the apparatchiks and the offsiders, the ultimate responsibility lies with Gillard and Swan themselves, and especially with Gillard.

It is not enough to have advisers. One has to take their advice. Way back in the days of Gillard v Abbott Mk 1 we saw this uneasy arrangement with the apparent dumping of presentational advice that wasn’t working and the hilarious emergence of “real Julia”. Someone told her that was a good idea. Really.

To my eyes, Gillard has never really recovered from that moment onwards. Apparently untrusting of whatever advice is on offer (at least, by observing her behaviour), she has consistently refused to moderate her tedious, lecturing, uninspiring and downright boring delivery of everything she has to say, both inside and outside the Parliament.

Hers is a failure in many areas and at many levels: a failure to control her own party, a failure to see beyond her own intellectual priorities to respond to the desires of the country, instead choosing to do things she knows need doing, (and, yes, good on her), but then failing to understand that the country needs to be taken with her.

That’s why most of all hers is a failure to recognise that the Government’s primary weakness was and is her inability to articulate in an easy and engaging manner what she was trying to achieve.

having teeth pulled without anaesthetic.

For anything other than complete political junkies, this is the enterainment equivalent of having teeth pulled without anaesthetic.

I have watched pubs and living rooms erupt into bile every time she comes on the TV screen – “God I hate the way she talks”, “F***, she’s so boring!”, “What is she droning on about this time?”

And the trend has got steadily worse. When she finally allowed some genuine passion to show throw – over Abbott’s misogyny – she saw an immediate lift in her polling, and even murmurs of approval.

She became, momentarily, ” Prime Ministerial”.

But then she promptly returned to the tones of exactly what she is underneath whatever gloss her minders try and put on her, an overly self-confident lawyer trained to couch everything in terms stripped of any passion or colour, and delivered in a manner so downbeat one often wonders if someone should check her pulse.

Even Margaret Thatcher, unquestionably the most transformative post-war politician in any major Western democracy whatever one thought of her policies, took note of the image consultants, the voice trainers, and those who taught her the pace, tone, and mannerisms to deliver powerful public oratory. Gillard has never paused to do this, never lowered herself to that level, and she has led her party to the slaughterhouse as a result.

Ultimately, in failing to improve herself, Gillard has shown a fatal inability to lead.

Now, as the nominal head of a caucus stripped of key talents, a caucus half of whom now publicly believe she is the wrong person to do the job – all talk of “no opposition” and a decisive result is, of course, just so much cant – without a credible candidate to oppose her to take the party into the election, with a slavering Opposition dissolving into delight at the mess in front of them, with a public in disbelief at the antics of the last 48 hours, let us be in no doubt. Barring a miracle which no one expects, Labor is looking down the barrel of a massively awful election result.

How curious it must be, for those MPs sitting in seats with anything under about a 10% margin, to contemplate the near certainty of their defeat in September. How they will be scrambling for diplomatic postings, something nice at the UN of WHO, perhaps, a decent visiting Professorship at a reputable University, or a sinecure in some quasi-Government or policy job just beyond the clutches of the incoming Coalition.

Will they be focusing on their jobs as constituency MPs or Parliamentary officers between now and September? Will they hell. The rats aren’t just deserting a sinking ship, they’ve been off it and swimming to shore for some time. And everyone knows it.

The point.

For democracy to function, it requires at least two parties operating with vibrancy and determination, a genuine “contest of ideas”.

Even non-Labor people must look at the overall state of our body politic and wonder, sadly, “How the hell did it ever come to this?”

Because that is  the ultimate wash-up of the ballot-that-never-was. How the hell did our democracy ever become so dysfunctional and incompetent?

And that, Dear Reader, should concern everyone.

Good decision? Bad decision? What do you think?

Good decision? Bad decision? What do you think?

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a general election for 14 September.

Ms Gillard said that she would ask Governor-General Quentin Bryce to order parliament be dissolved on 12 August.

She said the announcement – fully (and historically – this has never been seen before) – eight months in advance – was “not to start the nation’s longest election campaign – but to help businesses and individuals plan their year.”

Ms Gillard leads a minority government – in itself an historical anomaly in Australia – that relies on independents to survive.

Speculation will be rife as to why Gillard has made this bold and unheard of move. Wellthisiswhatithink will bring you the best of the coverage – and our own thoughts – when we have had a chance to digest this most unexpected news.

 

Alan Jones of 2GB

“Who needs basic training as a journalist?” “Er, that’d be me, Sir.”

Controversial broadcaster (and thoroughly nasty man) Alan Jones has been ordered to undergo basic journalism training by Australia’s media watchdog.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) says Jones will have to undertake training on “factual accuracy and significant viewpoints” as part of measures agreed with his station 2GB.

The shock jock has been deserted by sponsors and advertisers after telling a Young Liberals conference that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father had “died of shame” because of his daughter’s “lies”.

But ACMA acted after finding that Jones breached commercial radio codes of practice in a statement he made about carbon dioxide emissions in March last year.

The ruling states that Jones said on air:

“Remembering all this when the percentage of man-made carbon dioxide Australia produces is 1 per cent of .001 per cent of carbon dioxide in the air. Nature produces nearly all of the carbon dioxide in the air. Human beings produce 0.001 per cent of the carbon dioxide in the air and Australians produce 1 per cent of that. That’s 1 per cent of .001 is .00001 per cent of the air. 1/100000th.”

ACMA ruled that an ordinary reasonable listener would have understood the material as a statement of fact, not opinion. (If only Americans had the same protection from the likes of Rush Limbaugh.)

It said 2GB has not provided evidence that it or Mr Jones had taken any steps to ensure the statement was accurate.

It said it had agreed a list of new measures with 2GB which Jones would have to stick to in the future.

A said the measures included:

  • Pre-broadcast fact-checking by the program’s executive producer of any material provided by non-media sources or third parties which may require additional confirmation and attribution.
  • Creation and retention (for at least six weeks) of records of the verification material sourced by the executive producer for the facts contained in the editorial piece.
  • Identification by the executive producer of controversial issues of public importance that are not covered by other 2GB current affairs programs. Communication of these exceptions to 2GB’s program director who will then be responsible to ensure that another current affairs program presents an alternative, significant viewpoint to that presented in the program hosted by Alan Jones so that 2GB can discharge its obligations under the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice.
  • Creation and retention of records by the program director for the above steps.

ACMA also said that: “Training will be conducted [including with Alan Jones] focussing on the ACMA’s findings concerning factual accuracy and significant viewpoints.”

It ordered him to complete the training by the end of November 2012.

Jones is yet to comment on the ACMA ruling.

You see, that’s Government, right there. That’s democratic control of the media. That is not censorship, domination, bullying or any other nonsense implying restriction of freedom of speech. That is the law demanding those with access to the airwaves can say whatever they like provided only that they tell the truth.

Amen.

(Yahoo and others)

Jim Wallace ACL

Look closely, children. Can you say B-I-G-O-T?
— noun
a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, esp on religion, politics, or race
[16th century, from Old French: name applied contemptuously to the Normans by the French, of obscure origin]


As a Christian, I am embarrassed by the likes of Jim Wallace.

As a Christian, I think he’s going to hell for the crap he says and for the damage he does Christianity with his intemperate nonsense. Yesterday, debating Greens leader Christine Milne, he again quoted out of date statistics to defend his bizarre views.

The excellent website Crikey.com has systematically demolished his views. I repeat their story here because I cannot do as good a job as they have, and I probably cannot control myself from the defamatory things I want to say about Jim Wallace. I will say this: in my opinion, the biggest problems gays face – and the largest cause of depression and suicide in their community – is the evil mouthed nonsense spewed against gay people by straight people.

Before his views take root in the Christian community, read this:

Get Fact: do gays have more health problems than smokers?

by Andrew Crook


Yesterday, Australian Christian Lobby boss Jim Wallace told an audience debating gay marriage at the University of Tasmania that taking up smoking was a comparatively better lifestyle choice than engaging in the salacious activity associated with same-sex marriage.

“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health — which it presents when it wants more money for health — are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years,” he said. Smoking, by contrast, led to a reduced life expectancy of between seven and 10 years.

This morning, Prime Minister Julia Gillard pulled out of next month’s ACL conference in Canberra, condemning Wallace’s comments as “heartless and wrong”. How wrong? In another instalment of Crikey’s Get Fact series, we put Wallace’s claims to the truth test.

There are a mountain of studies reporting poorer health outcomes among the gay community — gays are more likely to be smokers, to use and abuse drugs and to attempt suicide. In a follow-up ACL press release this morning, Wallace pointed to Canadian data sent to that country’s human rights commission showing troubling rates of alcohol use, depression, a lack of access to care, higher cancer risk and violence.

But what about life expectancy? Smokers may go to the grave a decade earlier but is a same-sex attracted person really likely to have their lives cut short simply because of their sexual preference?

Wallace’s claim about mortality  — which he previously trotted out in The Australian last year — is repeatedly used by American anti-gay groups to ratchet up political support for the sanctity of marriage. But the foundation for the statement is dubious and contested.

Much of the “data” supporting that claim relates to gay men in an urban HIV subset (as opposed to say, lesbians in a civil union), and is at least 20 years old.

Wallace’s life expectancy claims could stem from a 1997 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology which concluded that “in a major Canadian centre (Vancouver), life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is eight to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday.

“Under even the most liberal assumptions, gay and bisexual men in this urban centre are now experiencing a life expectancy similar to that experienced by all men in Canada in the year 1871,” the study said.

But the data in that study was collected between 1987 and 1992, well before advanced treatments for HIV were developed. In 2001, its authors published a follow-up study blasting “select groups in US and Finland” for exploiting the research to “suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others”. They wrote:

“If we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved. Deaths from HIV infection have declined dramatically in this population since 1996 …

“It is essential to note that the life expectancy of any population is a descriptive and not a prescriptive measure. Death is a product of the way a person lives and what physical and environmental hazards he or she faces every day. It cannot be attributed solely to their s-xual orientation or any other ethnic or social factor.”

A 2009 Danish study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that while death rates among same-sex married couples was a third higher than the general population from 1989 to 2004, after 1996 the mortality rate among gay men in same-sex marriages was similar to heterosexuals.

Another source favoured by gay marriage opponents is Cameron, Playfair and Wellum’s widely debunkedgay obituary” study published in 1994 in the Omega Journal of Death and Dying. It concluded gay men have an average lifespan of 43 years. The study involved researchers consulting the death notices — mostly AIDS-related — in the urban gay community press.

The problem was the study suffered from what statisticians call a “non response bias” — that is, the sample was corrupted by the non-inclusion of gay men who were still alive. According to statisticians from Columbia University, the average age of AIDS victims is about 40. But even before new treatments became widely available, only about 20% of gay men were likely to die of AIDS.

Cameron, the founder of recognised hate group Family Research Institute, followed that up with this pseudo 1998 study, “Does Homosexual Activity Shorten Life”. That was again based on dubious surveys of gay obituaries and other “random surveys” and found the “medium age of death” for homosexuals was less than 50 years. The evidence was “consistent with previous findings suggesting that homosexual activity may be associated with a lifespan shortened by 20 to 30 years”.

Even excusing its dodgy methodology, treatment advances have rendered the conclusions defunct. As Andrew Carr, director of the HIV, immunology and infectious diseases unit at St Vincent’s Hospital, told The Sydney Morning Herald in July: ”Once upon a time the average person who got HIV had a life expectancy of about 10 years. Now, if you get HIV and go on treatment your life is still probably shorter than if you had never had the virus, but maybe only five to 10 years less.”

Carr said that when groups prone to HIV are stripped out, notably injecting drug users, then the difference becomes even smaller. And in the US, the death rate from HIV was nine times higher in 1990 than two years ago.

One of the other studies cited by Wallace in the past — a 2003 Dutch study  — found on average gay relationships only last 18 months. Those findings, published in the journal AIDS, were based on a cohort of young Dutch gays aged 18-21 residing in the middle of Amsterdam.

In fact, other research, including a study in the US state of Vermont  — the first state to legalise same-sex civil unions — showed civil union households seemed to mirror that of the general population. Crucially, the data did not require “participants” or volunteers that skewed the result — it was a simple reading of the information collected by state bureaucrats.

In fact, it is likely that dubious media interventions like Wallace’s may in fact perpetuate many of the health problems he is himself referring to. A recent study from the University of Queensland, The Psychology of Same-Sex Marriage Opposition, showed that individuals exposed to media articles bagging same-sex marriage were more likely to report feeling negative and depressed and more likely to feel distressed, upset, guilty, scared, afraid, ashamed and nervous. They wer more likely to report loneliness, more likely to report they felt weak and powerless — and less likely to report feeling happy or positive.

A recent Psychologists for Marriage Equality submission to the Senate inquiry into the gay marriage bill cited a 2007 study showing the phenomenon of “minority stress” means “social prejudice, discrimination, and violence against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals play a significant role in the mental health outcomes” of these groups.

So, while the gay population does appear to experience a disproportionate prevalence of negative health effects brought on by others, the evidence that gays die earlier than straights is dubious at best. Accordingly, we rate Wallace’s claims as mostly rubbish.

British police officers stand guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London after Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino announced that he had granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (Sang Tan/Associated Press)


The Australian Government insist that any arrangements that its embassy in Washington is making for an extradition of Julian Assange from Sweden to the USA is merely standard procedure and they have not received any information from the US that they intend to do so. This surely strains the Government’s credibility. It is known, for example, that a sealed Grand Jury indictment of Assange exists.

Whatever the truth, does anyone really believe that Australia’s Labor Government is doing anything much to help Wikileaks founder Julian Assange? When one sees stories like this, it would be easy for an unbiased observer to assume that beyond mouthing meaningless platitudes it is already decided by “the powers that be” that this courageous journalist (Journalist of the Year in Australia in 2011) should be sent to the USA for trial in a military court which will either jail him for an inordinate length of time or execute him.

Whatever is really going on, with this newspaper report it is now imperitive that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Bob Carr come clean about whether they have been advised – ever, or whether any other Minister OR official has been advised – that the USA DOES wish to extradite him from Sweden, should he go there.

(Via AFP)

Australian diplomats do believe Washington is targeting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for possible prosecution, according to documents obtained by a leading Australian newspaper.

The Australian embassy in Washington is taking seriously the possibility that Assange will eventually be extradited to the United States on charges including espionage and conspiracy relating to a huge leak of classified information on the WikiLeaks website, according to The Age newspaper.

A raft of diplomatic cables, released under freedom of information laws and obtained by the newspaper, show Australia has been keeping tabs on Washington’s interest in Assange and has no objection to the potential extradition, the newspaper said.

Despite Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s insistence that the US is not pushing for Assange to be pursued over the leaks, the documents show he and Prime Minister Julia Gillard have been briefed on the issue, The Age reported.

The newspaper also said the cables showed that the Australian government requested early advice from the US on any decision to indict or seek Assange’s extradition.

Assange, an Australian national, has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London since June in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over sex assault claims.

He fears Stockholm will then turn him over to the US to face charges over his whistleblowing website.

On Thursday, after Ecuador granted Assange political asylum, Australia said there was little it could do for him, as Britain suggested it was considering a raid on the embassy in order to make an arrest.

Assange has repeatedly criticised Canberra’s handling of his case, but Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said while she was taking “an absolute interest” in his plight, there were limits to what she could do.

His mother Christine said Thursday that she was furious that British police may be sent in to seize her son, claiming they would be acting on behalf of Washington.

Our older people deserve better from us. Happy birthday, Mum.

Those who have followed this blog for a while know that I have a personal interest in Alzheimer’s Disease. Yesterday would have been my mother’s 96th birthday, perhaps, had Alzheimer’s not claimed her three years ago.

I have previously written about my mother’s struggle, and other people’s here. http://wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/what-do-you-do-when-the-person-youve-loved-for-a-lifetime-just-isnt-there-any-more/

I have also written about the week of my mother’s death in the short story that is at the back of my book, 71 Poems & One Story.

Get behind Ms Buttrose’s campaign, before it’s too late

So I was doubly interested today to turn on the TV and catch famous Australian journalist and editor Ita Buttrose speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra today. The indomitable Ms Buttrose is now President and Ambassador for Alzheimer’s Australia, the peak advocacy body for those working in the field in Australia, and for the dementia patients they care for.

Her organisation is pleading with the Government to increase funding for research into this hideous illness by $200 million in the next 18 months. An ambitious target, but one that knowing Ms Buttrose’s indefatigable energy (and contacts) could hopefully be seen as realistic.

And a boost in research is long overdue. This most persistent and widespread disease, which robs its victims of dignity, capacity, and eventually their life, receives far less in research funding than HIV, heart disease, cancer, and even mental illness – which itself is appallingly badly funded.

A worthwhile goal

Whilst it is easy to get swept up by the emotion of the topic, I was very struck by Ita’s point that if researchers could delay the onset of dementia by just five years then the number of people with the problem would be halved.

In Australia, that would mean savings to the healthcare and aged care sector of 67 billion dollars by 2040. If that, in itself, doesn’t make the argument for significantly increased spending incontrovertibly one that should be supported, then the world – not just the sufferers – has gone mad.

By 2030, if nothing changes, 500,000 Australians will have dementia. By 2050, that figure will reach one million. That’s the equivalent of a city three times the size of Canberra: a city full of people who were once proud, strong and independent, and who are now lost, frightened, sick, and – especially as the illness increases its grip – frequently despairing.

Ms Buttrose is, quite rightly, keen to emphasise the positives, to hold out hope for a cure or better treatment, and to advocate for the support and well-being of sufferers, who deserve dignity and optimism in their care.

But if we do not accede to her demands, our caring systems, (which are already, as I sadly know, stretched to breaking point), will simply collapse. Sometimes, the cheery insistence of those who must, per se, strike a positive note, needs to be balanced with a little stark truth as well.

Because if we do nothing?

If we fail in this task, then the effect on families and individuals of the lack of care will be too horrible to contemplate.

Aged care facilities will become increasingly like prisons, effectively incarcerating sufferers for their own protection through lack of staff and money to take care of them properly.

Aware of the issues surrounding residential care, families will increasingly keep their aged dementia sufferers with them – leading to increased neglect and even abuse as the healthy buckle under the strain of caring for their elderly relatives without necessary facilities, drugs, or training. The blunt truth is that this is already happening.

Single demented people without social support structures – already a common sight in our shops and on our streets – will wander the bye-ways of life, confused, angry and frightened – burdening passers-by and the police and ambulance services.

Elderly suicides will spike dramatically. So will murder-suicides.

What can you do?

If you support Ita Buttrose’s campaign, please take a moment to write about it yourself, or re-blog or tweet this article.

Please also write to Alzheimer’s Australia at nat.admin@alzheimers.org.au expressing your support, and also visit their website where you can discover a vast array of resources, and opportunities for you to help. And if you need immediate, direct advice, just call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

Please also write to your local MP, or email the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, urging our politicians to agree to an immediate substantial increase in research funding.

And if you are reading this overseas, please contact your local organisation, and politicians, to urge an increased effort in your country, too. And in America, specifically, you might like to join the fight for a fundraising stamp to be produced for Alzheimers research by clicking here.

This means you. Yes, you.

If for no other reason, make some active move in support of this campaign out of enlightened self interest. I am now 55. I really don’t want to get to 65 or 75 without some substantial progress having been made.

Like many, I have seen what Alzheimer’s does at first hand. No thank you, very much. If you doubt me, visit your local acute aged care facility and offer to volunteer for an afternoon. Then imagine you’re the patient, not the volunteer.

You won’t need any other motivation to get involved, believe me.

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Lee Iacocca

Lee Iacocca - Henry Ford simply didn't "like him" - that was enough.

Lido Anthony “Lee” Iacocca was famously head of both Ford and then Chrysler after he was fired by Henry Ford II – grandson of the founder of the company – despite being probably the most successful Ford executive of all time – with the simple words “I just don’t like you.”

At the time, the move shocked the automotive world and the world of commerce generally. It was widely seen as a foolish move by Ford. But I have a great deal of sympathy with the decision.

Life is just too short to spend time working with people you “just don’t like”.

At the heart of such antipathy always lays other factors – unspoken perhaps – such as incompatibility on personal, ethical or business values, lack of trust, lack of mutual respect, and so on. The stress that results from accommodating such deeply felt emotions is rarely, if ever, worth the effort, for either protagonist.

I have have left jobs, and resigned business rather than keep working on it, no matter how lucrative the position or contract, because of an essential loss of confidence in the key players. Not capriciously – I am no tantrum-throwing diva – but thoughtfully, having weighed my deeper feelings against all other factors. And I have never once regretted the decision.

In today’s caucus vote, Kevin Rudd finally discovered, crunchingly, what it is like when “people just don’t like you”.

Despite opinion polls showing he would be more likely to defeat the Liberals at the next election, and that he was hugely more popular with the general public than Prime Minister Gillard, he was not just defeated, he was roundly and thoroughly rejected. In the end, despite the Rudd camp’s spin, Gillard won the ballot 71 votes to 31.

In the news coverage of the last three days, cabinet minister after cabinet minister lined up to tell us, in excruciating and exhaustive detail, why Kevin Rudd was just one small step up from the anti-Christ. Either explicitly or by implication they branded him as dysfunctional, domineering, rude, non-consulting, mercurial, and borderline egomaniacal. As somebody has already tweeted to me, it’s a shame the Oscars don’t have a statuette for best soap opera, because The Public Murder of Kevin Rudd (Part Two) would have won hands down.

Rudd tears

Politicians love to be loved. It's a big mistake to forget that in a party-based system the love you need most is not the public's, but your colleagues'. The same is true in business. And families. If we can't keep the affection of those closest to us, then what everyone else thinks won't save us. Rudd is seen here after the leadership "coup" in 2010.

You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Perhaps.

It’s no doubt a hard lesson for Rudd to learn, because by all accounts he’s been avoiding learning it for his whole career. He was apparently widely disliked when he was an effective senior civil servant in Queensland. In a business not noted for shrinking violets, he was labelled as a pushy, self-aggrandising little oik long before the Labor caucus grudgingly turned to him as their best hope to overturn John Howard in ’07. They tolerated him, biting down on their bile. Then as soon as they thought things were going wrong they dumped him so fast, and so hard, that the public were shocked. But if the public had known how much they didn’t like him in the first place it would have come as no surprise at all.

Of course, admitting that would have been to admit that they had wrought a huge con on the Australian public at the election, so that wasn’t on.

As a result the public was left confused and resentful.

But Rudd should have been left in no doubt what he’d done wrong. Labor caucus members certainly knew. Instead, if we are to believe his public utterances, he chose to re-make reality in his head, (and so did his advisors), and interpret his overturning by Gillard as merely the result of factional brawling and the ambitions of so-called faceless men, and the perfidy of his deputy.

My old Mum would have said “there’s none so blind as those who will not see.”

(Incidentally, in retrospect, the 2007 election, which was then and is still now often widely referred to as a triumph for Rudd’s campaigning skills, would probably have been won by a drover’s dog with a Labor rosette – the punters were simply sick of Howard’s smug little face. But that’s a different discussion.)

This is the lesson. It’s not how smart you are. It’s how likeable you are.

Likeability

Likeability ... it's always there, shadowing us, and it determines our success.

The short story is that there comes a point at which you can’t keep alienating the people near you and then expect them to support you, no matter how competent you may be, (and no one denies that Rudd has talents), because when push comes to shove if we’re going to put our trust in someone it has to be someone, at gut level, that we like.

A Columbia University study by Melinda Tamkins shows that success in the workplace is guaranteed not by what or whom you know but by your popularity.

In her study, Tamkins found that, “popular workers were seen as trustworthy, motivated, serious, decisive and hardworking and were recommended for fast-track promotion and generous pay increases.

Their less-liked colleagues were perceived as arrogant, conniving and manipulative. Pay rises and promotions were ruled out regardless of their academic background or professional qualifications.” Ouch.

The Gallup organization has conducted a personality factor poll prior to every presidential election since 1960. Only one of three factors – issues, party affiliation, and likeability – has been a consistent prognosticator of the final election result.  Of course, the factor is likeability. (Note that Obama is effortlessly more likeable than any of the Republican candidates still standing, except perhaps Ron Paul, who is widely considered mildly nuts.)

Think none of this affects you because you’re not in business or politics? Nu-uh.

Doctors give more time to patients they like and less to those they don’t. According to a 1984 University of California study, there were significant differences in treatment, depending on the characteristics of the patient: the combination of likeable and competent was significant.  Patients perceived as likeable and competent would be encouraged significantly more often to telephone and to return more frequently for follow-up than would the patients who were either unlikable and competent or likeable and incompetent. The staff would educate the likeable patients significantly more often than they would the unlikable patients.”

In a survey of twenty-five hospital doctors initiated by Roy Meadow, a pediatrician at St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds, England, researchers studied what happens when both likeable and unlikable parents bring in children. Considering what you’ve already learned about likeability, it’s not surprising that children with likeable parents received better health care and were more likely to receive follow-up appointments.

I’m guessing the same can be said of schools.

Sooner or later, history shows us that the vast majority of disliked people come a cropper. Being liked is simply a pre-requisite for success, in all spheres of life. I am sure we can all think of contrary examples where fear, for example, was enough to keep the troops in check, but I am obviously speaking in broad brushtrokes here. In a future article, I will rehearse some of the components of likeability, because the good news is that they are skills that can be learned, not innate abilities.

We don’t just have to be grinning, amiable idiots all the time.

Readers will note that I isolate likeability as the key survival factor: I do not say “being agreed with”. We can disagree with people and still like them. In fact, the opposite is true: good governance, in business and politics, demands that we disagree with people when we genuinely perceive risk in their opinion or behaviour.

But the Labor caucus didn’t just disagree with Kevin Rudd – in fact, ironically, many of them may have agreed with his essential analysis, which is that Gillard cannot beat Tony Abbott – although in my view, the jury is still out on that, as I have lived long enough to know that if a week is a long time in politics then 18 months is a lifetime and a half. No, it was about much more than whether they agreed or disagreed with him.

These people, who take their opinions from having actually met the guy – worked with him, dined with him, drunk with him, walked with him, sat in cars with him – unfiltered through spin doctors and media appearances – actually loathed him so much that they would rather struggle on with the Government’s current level of performance than return to the smiling Milky Bar Kid, even if the cost was their own seat in Parliament.

Now that’s disliking someone.

A public suicide. Messy, sad, and ugly.

I never thought Kevin Rudd was ever going to beat Julia Gillard today – that was the genius of the Gillard camp in forcing his hand and bringing the spill on, by letting a rumour getting about that he was about to be sacked anyway – but it was almost as if, in the last few days, Rudd was intent on some sort of phyrric suicidal exit on his own terms.

He was determined to face down those who didn’t like him, by virtually ignoring them and appealing over their heads to the public. “Ring your local MP and tell him or her you want me back” he said (I paraphrase) instead of simply picking up the phone and calling the MPs concerned and having a good chat.

He was never going to get enough votes – he must have known that in advance, surely? – but he could have perhaps reserved his place in Labor history and even partially rehabilitated himself if he had gone down the road of “Mea culpa, I stuffed it up last time, how can I do it right for you this time?” and actually meant it.

Instead, by pressing the flesh in shopping malls and working the ever-hungry meeja for all it was worth, Rudd merely confirmed Labor MPs suspicions. He didn’t really think he’d made any mistakes at all, despite a few mealy-mouthed mumblings to that effect on TV. And he also he left an abiding impression: “this bloke doesn’t like me, need me, respect me, or want me. Righty ho, he can have that back, in spades. I’m voting for Gillard, even if that does mean I am a turkey voting for Christmas.”

As a serious political force in Australia, Rudd is now finished. There will be no Lazarus rising, not even Lazarus twitching. I expect to see him foisted on the international community in some major role – or at some serious policy wonk think tank – as soon as he can pull the levers of his impeccable overseas contacts, especially in America and China. The ALP will ease his way, glad to see the back of someone that they never really believed was one of their own. As Paul Keating once remarked, “He’s Labor, but not tribal Labor.” In the end, that’s what killed him: he just never really wanted to be one of the tribe, or was prepared to work at it, and they hated him for it.

Well, well. Moving on: Gillard will get a small bounce from her success today – in the last few days voters will have re-connected with her, grudgingly, with her guts, determination, refusal to get flustered, and inner steel.

All smiles - Gillard leaves the caucus meeting.

All smiles - Gillard leaves the caucus meeting. But what of tomorrow?

These are qualities we value in a Prime Minister, and Gillard, despite other failings, has them. But she now needs to learn Rudd’s lesson. She is widely disliked – mistrusted – and this time by the public. And they will be meeting in their very own caucus before too long. Many of Rudd’s criticisms of her will have rung true with people, even as they admire the way she stood up for herself. She has a tiny window of opportunity – which will start closing immediately – to radically re-make her government.

For example, she won’t – but she should – build on her new-found image of decisiveness by removing Wayne Swann as Treasurer, because although he is her ally and he is also technically competent he inspires no confidence whatsoever in the public in the second most important office in the land.

A dramatic, bold move would be to promote Swann’s mate Stephen Smith to Treasury – his quiet, serious demeanour goes over well and he has proven himself a highly effective Minister – and move Swann to Foreign Affairs, where he will still be in the inner circle, and can’t really do much damage, and where he already has good contacts to build on. Refresh, renew, revive. Show imagination. Show leadership.

Gillard

Can Gillard be saved from herself?

And most of all, she should employ new speechwriters, and professional speaking consultants, to utterly transform her dreadful, whining, monotonic delivery of both formal speeches and her performances in the Parliament.

It is always hard for pollies to hear this, (I speak from experience), but the public has long since gone past their gentle amusement at how staggeringly irritating her delivery is, to reach a point of genuine annoyance. Quite apart from any policy disagreements or trust issues, her flat, nasal tones, distractingly repetitive and unhelpful hand movements, lack of light and shade, and holier than thou seriousness make her genuinely disliked.

When the usual answer to the question “Would you have this person round for a beer and a sausage?” is derisive laughter, then you’re in real trouble. When you’re a politician, it’s terminal.

Frankly, I worry about the state of our public discourse in general. Because it’s not as though the other side are much better.

The widespread opinion amongst those I speak to – including Liberal supporters – is that Abbot is an unpleasant little blow-hard, transparently seizing any opportunity to personally denigrate the leaders of the Labor Party and to talk the country down. That this is a common mis-conception of the role of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is no excuse for the policy vacuum that the Coalition currently offers, and the apparent vacuum in the heads of most of its leaders. As I have said before, if Gillard does anything right at all in the next six months, expect to see Abbott replaced with Malcolm Turnbull, quick smart.

And the final wash up?

The ultimate question, I suppose, is this: in a country full of well-educated, intelligent, hard-working, charismatic people, why are we led by such donkeys? And when will we demand better of our leaders, rather than just grumble ineffectively about them? What is it that we are doing wrong, if, as I firmly believe, we get the politicians we deserve?

On May 17, 2007, when he was all of 83 years old, Iacocca published a book called Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, co-written with Catherine Whitney. An article with the same title, and same two co-authors, has recently been published. As we leave the circus of the last week behind us, there are wise words in it for all Australians to consider today. In the book, talking about the quality of Government in America at all levels, Iacocca wrote:

“Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.” Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!”
Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard

Rudd and Gillard - this one could run and run. And if they don't, you know what? The other side could join in, too. Geez it'd be nice if they gave a toss about us out here in the real world.

So the Foreign Minister of Australia resigns in a fit of pique over criticisms that he is not being loyal to the Prime Minister – surely the worst kept secret in politics – and it’s on for man and boy as they say over here.

Well, woman and boy, actually, the woman being Julia Gillard, so recently fêted as Australia’s first female Prime Minister but now mired in accusations of incompetence – and Kevin Rudd as the boy she replaced when he in his turn was widely considered incompetent, and I say “boy” because he really does look like nothing more nor less than the Milky Bar Kid, which is very cruel for a man of some standing and intellect, but really quite amusing all the same.

So, we have a spill at the Labor caucus next week, and now the meeja blather on ceaselessly about the “leadership crisis” in the Labor Party, boring the pants off everybody except the politicians themselves and a tiny minority of political junkies and apparatchiks.

But to my mind, we do not have a leadership crisis in Canberra. We have an un-leadership crisis.

And ironically, it is not restricted to the ALP.

Whoever wins the caucus vote next week will get an opinion poll bounce – you watch – plucky little Kevin because he is undeniably more popular with the electorate anyway, who feel he was treated shabbily when they got rid of him, (conveniently forgetting that he was got rid of because the public were bucketing him in opinion polls), or “real” Julia, for successfully rallying her troops and finally showing some grit and mettle of her own.

And when that happens, expect the hard heads in the Liberal Party to start taking a long and detailed look at the relative popularity of their leadership options – Messrs Abbott and Turnbull Esq – versus whoever is Labor leader.

Think the faceless men of the Labor Party are ruthless? I reckon the top end of town leave ‘em for dead. If there’s the tiniest inkling that the Mad Monk (aka current Liberal leader Tony Abbott, he of handlebar ears, ridiculous swimming costumes, and extreme right wing Roman Catholic-tinged views) could fall at the final hurdle then he’ll be replaced by telegenic moderate Turnbull faster than you can say “well, Abbott only won by one vote last time”.

Meanwhile the voters deal with ever rising cost of living pressures and look nervously over the horizon at the chaos in Europe and the USA and – quite rightly – mutter angrily that their political masters simply don’t live in the same anxious country as them.

Same country? They barely inhabit the same planet.

Keen students of Australian politics will recall that just prior to the Kevin07 election that saw him triumphantly elected as Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd was “outed” for having been taken along to a New York club frequented by scantily (ahem) clad ladies,  some four years previously, after a late night dining and drinking too much.

dancers

Sources close to Mr Rudd told wellthisiswhatithink that the delivery of "Stop Work Choices Now, Protect My Penalty Rates" t-shirts were just running a little late*. To the best of our knowledge, no one in this photograph is Kevin Rudd.

Some reports claimed Rudd was asked to leave by the management after inappropriate touching of the dancers … although Rudd strenuously denied that component of the story, whilst admitting he’d been there, which he regretted. Presumably that was after he’d seen how much they all spent on champagne.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/kevin-rudd-hits-a-strip-club/story-e6frewt0-1111114215510

And as this report reveals, other Aussie pollies took the opportunity to fall over themselves to confess that they, too, had seen naked young ladies cavorting around on a stage at one time or another. Usually when they were young, callow yoofs who should have known better. And as nipping into a lap dancing club when sloshed is, frankly, a virtually universal Australian experience, at some time or other, this was hardly a great shock to anyone.

http://www.news.com.au/top-stories/im-not-captain-perfect-rudd-says/story-e6frfkp9-1111114215400

Now, though, when we are reliably forecast to be within somewhere between 1-3 weeks of Rudd challenging the woman who deposed him as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to get the top job back again, he is again in the news for the “wrong” reasons. This time for dropping the “F Bomb” (and some other choice phrases) a few times during the recording of a message in Chinese.

The video – unbleeped – is here, and I think it’s truly hilarious. Go on, click it, you know you want to.

Of course, people have immediately leapt on to the internet and airwaves to accuse someone on Gillard’s side of leaking the out-takes to damage Rudd. But Prime Minister Julia Gillard denies her office leaked the video, which also shows a frustrated Mr Rudd slamming the table.

It was anonymously posted on YouTube over the weekend.

“There have been some assertions today that somehow this is connected with my office. That is completely untrue,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Darwin on Sunday.

“My office did not have access to the material people have seen on YouTube.”

Mr Rudd said the video was embarrassing, before he flew to Mexico for a meeting of foreign affairs ministers from the Group of 20 nations. His careful remarks included:

“Anyone who’s got a touch of suspicion about them would say that if this was done, somewhat embarrassingly, a couple of years ago and it suddenly emerges now, then obviously it’s a little bit on the unusual side,” he told Sky News.

But I wonder at the motives of whoever posted it, to be honest.

Those with long memories will recall that the almost universal reaction from the citizenry of Australia to news that Rudd had been to a strip club after chugging back a few too many tubes of the amber throat charmer** was “Bugger me, he’s not a desiccated calculating machine who talks in pointy head gobbledygook after all, he’s actually just an ordinary bloke like me. You know what? I’m even more inclined to vote for him now.”

And yes, he duly went up in the opinion polls, and on to win a huge victory against incumbent John Howard, who even lost his own seat in Parliament, the only sitting Prime Minister ever to do so.

So I suspect the embattled current PM or her staffers might have had nothing to do with the latest leak at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she is right now heading back to her hotel room in Darwin (where she has been commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombing of that city by the Japanese in 1942) to have a lie down with a nice cup of tea and an aspirin, cursing and swearing to herself and anyone who would care to listen, somewhere along the lines of “Fuck me drunk, the fucking Milky Bar Kid has gone and fucking done it to me again.”

Sadly for her, though, none of her advisers would be smart enough to release footage of her incoherent rage.

(*This is not true. I made it up. I know that’s hard to believe.)

(**I do not know for sure that Kevin Rudd was drinking Fosters. I just hope, that in his role as a dinky-di Aussie, that he was.)