Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Party’

viting historic

The Victorian State election is tomorrow (Saturday). It’s been so bloody dull this far most people will forget it’s on until they try to walk down the street and get accosted by wild-eyed fanatics handing out How to Vote cards.

Anyhow: non-Victorian readers who are not total election luvvies can turn off now.

For the rest of us, the only real interest in this election, given that it looks very likely than “Dan the Man” Andrews and his Labor Party will win, (although the very latest polls are showing a tightening), is what happens in the Upper House.

This house is like the Senate in Canberra – it’s elected in regions by proportional representation. Which means, of course, that it’s virtually impossible to know what will happen because preferences flow every which way, and we could well end up with an Upper House with all sorts of odd bods in it, making life tricky for any incoming government.

It also means that most voters don’t have a bloody clue how to actually vote formally in the upper house election. For all of you, here’s the facts courtesy of Anthony Green of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, edited judiciously by us.

What is your Upper House vote?

legislative council

The Victorian Legislative Council, or upper house, is like the Senate in Canberra. It is a ‘house of review’ with five members elected by proportional representation from each of eight regions.

Unlike the Senate in Canberra, the Legislative Council does not have staggered terms for its members. All 40 members of the Council face election every four years at the same time as the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, Victoria’s “House of Reps”.

Each of the eight regions consists of 11 of the state’s lower house electorates. When you turn up to vote you will be given the lower house ballot paper for your local electorate, (Melbourne, Richmond, Bulleen, etc) and the ballot paper for the corresponding Legislative Council or upper house region. Got that? Two ballot papers. On we go.

What do I see on my ballot paper?

Along with your small lower house ballot paper, (which you number “1” to however many candidates there are – you MUST number all the boxes) you will also be given a large upper house ballot paper. Your upper house ballot paper is divided across the middle by a thick horizontal black line.

Candidates and their parties are organised into columns running across the ballot paper. Each column has a single box above the line by which you can vote for a party, OR multiple boxes next to candidate names below the line by which you can indicate numbered preferences for their candidates.

Unless, of course, you’re in the North.

Sadly, the Northern Metropolitan Region ballot paper is even more complex. It has two rows of party voting boxes above the line, and two rows of party candidates below the line.

The first row of boxes above the line is for the first row of candidates below the line, and the second row of boxes above the line is for the second row of candidate boxes.

As Green remarks, it is truly horrible, but the alternative to doing this was the reduced font size and magnifying glasses issued at last year’s Senate election. Basically, good luck working out what the fuck is going on.

If you vote in Northern Metropolitan Region and get this ugly ballot paper, just double check with the Polling Officers that you have voted for the party you think you are voting for. A few extra moments checking avoids you voting for someone you didn’t mean to.

Don’t Confuse Party Names

Premier Denis Napthine leads the Liberal Party. His party appears on the ballot paper with the column heading ‘Liberal’ in the metropolitan area, and ‘Liberal/The Nationals’ in the country regions.

There is another party appearing on the ballot paper in all regions as the ‘Liberal Democrats’. Be warned that the Liberal Democrats ARE NOT the Liberal Party and have nothing to do with Premier Denis Napthine. So if you are intending to vote for Denis Napthine and the Liberal Party, don’t vote for the Liberal Democrats by mistake. Of course, if you like the Liberal Democrats best, vote for them first.

Daniel “Call me Dan” Andrews is the leader of the Australian Labor Party. They are not the same as the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). If you intend to vote for Daniel Andrews and the Labor Party, don’t give your first vote for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) ARE NOT the Australian Labor Party. Of course, if you want to vote DLP, go right ahead.

Remember, when you vote above the line for a party, THEY decide where your voting preferences go. So if you vote for any party above the line on the ballot paper, which is quick and easy, it is always possible your ballot paper will end up with another party through preference distribution.

And never start off by giving your first preference to the wrong party by accident.

How do I vote?

You have two options when you vote, voting either above the line or below the line.

You can place a single ‘1’ in one of the boxes above the line to simply vote for a party.

Or, you can vote for candidates from 1 to 5 below the line. You can then stop, or go on numbering below the line beyond five for as many candidates as you like right up to numbering the whole ballot paper.

Hang on, is this different from the Senate?

Yes it is, in a very important way. At last year’s Senate election, when you voted below the line you had to number every square. In Victoria you are only required to number from 1 to 5 below the line for a formal vote. All preferences beyond 5 are optional. Put one preference, five, ten, twenty, or the whole lot. Up to you.

What happens if I vote for a party above the line?

When you vote for a single party above the line, your ballot paper is distributed as if you have expressed a preference vote, and the preferences used will be those pre-decided by the party you vote for.

There have been some very weird and controversial preference deals struck by both Labor and the Liberals at this election, especially to the detriment of the Green Party. If you want to check the preference tickets of each party before deciding who to vote for, which we recommend, you can examine them at the VEC website.

Then again, if you believe and trust your chosen first preference party, you probably do not care much about who your chosen party directs preferences to.

Checking preference deals can be very complex. Trying to understand how a party’s preferences will be distributed requires understand the very complex counting system, and also making assumptions on what percentage of first preferences each party will poll.

So if you do care about your preferences, it is probably quicker and easier for you to vote below the line for candidates and keep writing in numbers until you don’t care any more, or you’re sure you definitely don’t want your preference to end up with the Monster Raving Loony Party*, rather than try to understand the very complex preference tickets.

*Despite what you may think we don’t have one of those in Victoria, although they do in the UK.

What happens if I give more than one preference above the line?

You can, but it won’t make any difference. Only your first preference ever counts above the line. Any 2, 3, 4 and so on preferences above the line would simply be completely ignored. Only your first preference ‘1’ counts, and your ballot paper is also deemed to have the preference tickets of your first choice party.

How do I vote below the line?

A vote below the line must have the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in some clear order to be a formal vote. If you wish you can go on to number 6, 7, 8, and so on for as many candidates as you like on the ballot paper.

You can vote for any candidates in any group below the line. Some parties are standing 5 candidates, which means you can vote 1 to 5 in that group, but you don’t have to. You can vote 1 for a Labor candidate, 2 for a Greens, 3 for a Liberal, 4 for a Sexual Freedom For Fish* candidate, and so on.

*Nope, we don’t have any of those either

If there’s a group or party that have fewer than five candidates that you want to vote for first, then you have to go on and number candidates in more than one column. You must number from at least 1 to 5, so if you were to just number 1,2 in a single column and stop, then your vote will be informal and won’t count.

Don’t mix and match between above and below the line. You can either vote a single ‘1’ above the line, or the numbers 1 to 5 below the line. Mixing up numbering between the two options will make your vote informal.

Then again, if you correctly number at least 1 to 5 below the line, and a single 1 above the line, your vote is formal both above and below the line, and the counting rule is to always apply a formal below the line vote before a formal above the line vote. Simples, huh?

Can I go on beyond 5 preferences below the line?

Yes, and the more preferences you give, the greater chance that your vote will stay live in the count for longer. If you vote below the line, ensure you vote at least 1 to 5, and then go on giving preferences for as many candidates as you know or like or care about.

What is the best way to number my ballot below the line?

It’s this simple: number candidates in the order you would like to see them elected. Give your ‘1’ vote to the candidate you would most like to see elected, 2 to your second preferred candidate, and so on.

If you try and get really tricky-clever with so-called strategic voting you might end up outsmarting yourself. Strategic voting is only possible if you are able to estimate the vote each party will achieve. Even pointy-head experts have difficulty determining this, so the best strategy for everyone is simply to number candidates in the order you would like to see them elected and if you don’t care after a while, stop.

Can my ballot paper “run out” of preferences?

Yes. If you just number 1 to 5, and all five of your preferences are for candidates who have already been elected or excluded (“knocked out of”) the count, then your ballot paper will ‘exhaust’ its preferences. An “exhausted” ballot paper is one that has no preferences for a candidate remaining in the count, so the ballot paper is put aside as out of preferences and plays no further part in the count. It cannot be further used to determine the election of another candidate.

For this reason, it is always best to keep numbering beyond five candidates. If you think all the other candidates are a waste of space and want to stop at 5, you can do that, of course. But if you have views on other candidates on the ballot paper, and you want your vote to have the maximum impact, it is best to keep numbering for as many numbers as you see fit.

Exhausted ballot papers mean that it is possible for the final candidates in the Council to be elected with less than a full quota of votes, which isn’t desirable.

How can I work out what to do in advance, so I’m not standing in the booth for half an hour?

When you vote, you must fill in the official ballot paper handed to you in the polling place. Only a duly authorised ballot paper can be admitted to the count.

But if you want to vote below the line, there are sites where you can prepare your list of candidates, print them out and take them along to vote. Then just copy your sequence of numbers across to the actual ballot paper.

You can try Cluey Voter.

There. Now that was all clear as mud, eh? Good luck.

The Upper House election is likely to be crucial this year as regards the future governance of the State. Make sure you know what you’re doing!

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.

Screen shot 2014-10-20 at 4.43.30 PM

 

Note to Real Estate Advertisers … remove Lorum Ipsum from your website and replace with actual captions before you let the site go live.

*sighs*

What do they teach the young people nowadays? Mutter mutter, grumble grumble.

Mind you, it’s easily done.

I well remember many years ago my company was preparing a website for the Liberal Party who were about to defend their Victorian Government in a general election. (Don’t shoot me, fellow leftie peeps, it was paying work and not all my partners were lefties.)

eff-kennettAnyhow this work mainly consisted of sticking up simple web pages with each Liberal candidate on, and then a short bio after them.

But in preparing the draft of the website for the notoriously mecurial Jeff Kennett and the Liberal Party luminaries, the junior flog who was doing the grunt work on the website hadn’t been provided with a list of names of the candidates, so he just typed “Some Liberal Wanker” as a placeholder under each photo. He was presumably a leftie, too. Or maybe just sceptical about politicians generally.

Anyhow, the account executive concerned bundled up the website draft without looking at it and emailed it to everyone for their approval. Like that.

When we realised the error, with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs, a few bottles of wine were opened and we bunkered down waiting for the phone call telling us we’d been sacked.

But apparently, when Jeff saw the mock up, he laughed like a drain and commented, “Well, most of them are!”

A politician with a sense of humour? Who knew?

Since those days Jeff has gone on to reinvent himself as a media personality, a passionate supporter of his beloved Hawthorn Football Club, and most of all as an effective and thoughtful advocate for the anti-Depression group Beyond Blue. And good on him, too. Having once been one of Australia’s most polarising personalities, he is now considered something of a local treasure, and the work he’s done on Depression has changed lives. Funny old world.

 

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

 

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.

 

 

Heaven

It is a matter of public record, Dear Reader, that I do not deal well with bereavement, or even, for that matter, with simple uncertainty.

Apparently I was alone with my dead father for a couple of hours after he collapsed with a heart attack when I was just two years old. I am told by people who should know that such experiences can leave traumatic psychological scars that therapy can help us understand, but not necessarily “cure”.

Such is life. In many other ways my time thus far has been rich and varied, and I am not going to rail against the less wonderful moments. Into each life a little rain will fall. It was ever thus, and my ledger has far more weight in the pluses column than the minuses, for which I give thanks.

But it is, nevertheless, the very nature of human existence that we are cursed as well as blessed by self-awareness. The remnant of my childhood sadness is that I seem acutely aware of the possibility of death, not just for me, but for those around me that I care about, and I am more anxious than I need to be as a result.

Yet such fear is surely not erroneous. Media Vita In Morte Sumus: in the midst of life we are in death, as the famous quotation that plays its part of the Latin funeral rite solemnly reminds us. Awareness of death is rational. It happens.

What matters for our peace of mind is how we deal with its ever-present imminence.

It was my birthday yesterday: nowadays, an event that feeds inexorably into my deepening contemplation that less of my life is ahead of me than is behind me, and that how I live and what I achieve with my life, and what I leave behind me as a legacy, is now a matter of some pressing concern.

Simon

Simon

I flicked open my emails expecting to enjoy the usual (and very welcome) crop of messages from the worldwide diaspora of friends and family who always so kindly send me a brief note on the day.

Instead, I saw a torrent of emails informing me that one of my oldest and dearest friends, Simon Titley, had been rushed to hospital having collapsed at a family lunch, that he has a massive and inoperable brain tumour, and not long to live. Worse, that he is currently suffering, with the dreadful combination of poor communication abilities and obvious fear at what is happening to him.

Simon was and for a while still is one of those individuals who enter our lives and fill it with things we wish we could say about ourselves.

He was hilariously funny. His humour ran the entire gamut of the things we call “funny”. As a consummately political animal his grasp of satire was complete and un-yieldingly courageous. He understood that to be effective satire must combine genuine wit with social insight, and time and again his wry, askance view of the universe infused his writing with piercingly accurate observations that changed the lives of others, in line with his fiercely held beliefs, all the while making them laugh uproariously.

“Words? He could almost make them talk”, as Roger McGough once memorably remarked about someone.

The same presence of mind infused his dialectical invective, so often seen in the pages of Liberator magazine, the radical street-sheet of which he was a collective owner and editor, which enlivened and informed the politics of the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Liberal tradition especially, for 40 years. Of this, more in a moment.

He was also a consummate master of silly, scatalogical humour, searching it out in the byways and alleys of human existence and gleefully circulating it to his friends. With roguish good nature he thoroughly enjoyed “bottom jokes”, well aware of how ludicrously sensitive the British are to anything remotely to do with bodily excrescence or functions. He reveled in the laughter and embarrassment he unearthed, knowing full well that every silly gag was just one more brick in the wall of sniffy fussiness removed. Indeed, I still have a small plastic toilet of sweets he mailed me from one of his peripatetic travels around the Continent he loved so much, chortling no doubt as he popped it in the envelope, now many years ago. It will remain unopened.

Simon and co-conspirators Mark Smulian and Peter Johnson man the Liberator stall at a Party Assembly - for a generation it was a hotbed of ideas, humour and occasional insurrection. Simon is on the left.

Simon and co-conspirators Mark Smulian and Peter Johnson man the Liberator stall at a Party Assembly – for a generation it was a hotbed of gossip, ideas, humour and occasional insurrection. Simon is on the left.

In his serious writings, in Liberator and many other outlets, he was nothing more nor less than the most cerebral yet coherent and intensely relevant commentator that the Liberal side of politics has produced in my lifetime. A PR professional of some reputation, he could have devoted his life to simply piling up gold, yet he could never drag himself away from the pressing need to inform the body politic long enough to end up a mere careerist.

His was, above all, the polemic of personal responsibility, and he was as hard on himself as anyone. Where he saw cant and obfuscation instead of candour he exposed it consistently and ruthlessly. He continually advanced new and exciting ideas on how to construct a society where all were participants, where opportunity was available to all, and where the deadening hand of conservatism was lifted off the levers of power when it was serving no remaining purpose. He fought for innovation both within the party he loved and without, but always, especially, within it, infused with the passion of the ironed-on supporter, the pick and stick determination that is born of the deepest convictions.  One only has to pop the words “Simon Titley Lib Dem” into your preferred search engine to gain an insight into the breadth and depth of his influence.

With Simon gone, as another of my closest friends remarked yesterday, we shall simply have to learn to think for ourselves. I genuinely fear we will struggle to reach both his levels of perspicacity and expository skill, and the world will be a poorer and less hopeful place as a result. That he leaves us at a time when his beloved party is in an unprecedented state of internal flux and focus on its future direction is a bitterly cruel irony.

Yesterday, as I say, was my birthday. I am somewhat sidelined at the moment, as my daughter has galloping glandular fever, and we are yet to ascertain whether my wife and I are also going down with the annoyingly infectious and ubiquitous Epstein-Barr virus, or whether we are immune. The next seat to mine at the office has an expectant very-soon-to-be-father in it, and I am not taking any risk of spreading the bug there, so discretion is the better part of valour and I am working at home this week.

Thus, as I wasn’t chained to my desk, my family prevailed upon me to take a short drive to the nearby Yarra Valley for a couple of hours to both celebrate my birthday and lift my spirits. Which is how we came to be sat in a newly-opened chocolate factory, enjoying the delights of their highly inventive production line, and gazing over the patchwork of green, lilac and grey fields and trees fortified by an excellent coffee, observing the whirling clouds of sulphur-crested cockatoos perfectly reflected in the glass-still dams and lakes.

blackAs I sat there, I reflected on the side of Simon that was always the most accessible and, ultimately, memorable. His was a life that was lived joyously and with celebratory appreciation of all things gastronomic. Just up the road, he and I had enjoyed a memorable lunch at the De Bortoli winery some fifteen years previously (I realised the passage of time with some shock) and with a quiet smile I recalled how he had marveled at both the inventiveness of their menu and the unique, luscious quality of their “sticky” dessert wine, the “Black Noble”.

Unique. Like their fan.

Unique. Like their fan.

A true connoisseur of not just wine but beer and food – especially his much-beloved Lincolnshire sausages, about whose pork and sage recipe he could wax lyrical, and for which he typically launched a campaign for EU recognition of their special and unique status – and as many will attest a massive fry-up organised by Simon after a night on the tiles was an experience never forgotten – the Black Noble was unlike anything he had experienced to date in his rich and full life.

When the botrytised Semillon grapes are being harvested for the famous De Bortoli legend “Noble One”, a discrete parcel of fruit at about 20-22 baume is selected to produce the dessert wine’s intense and ripe botrytis flavours. Very little fermentation occurs before fortification with a neutral grape spirit, which is added to inhibit any further fermentation. Black Noble is then clarified, a touch of brandy added for further complexity before being transferred into used Noble One barriques. The winery suggest enjoying its astounding toffee, raisins and mandarin-peel complexity with Christmas pudding or sticky date pudding, or poured over vanilla ice cream.  Never slaves to convention, we sat on the balcony and toasted each other over a sideplate laden with a fine local blue cheese, and just gazed over the vineyards. Afterwards, he pressed the winemaker at the cellar door for more and more detail, before buying as many bottles as he could fit in the trunk of my car. “How are you going to get all those back to England?” I asked, concerned. “Oh, we’ll find a way,” he smiled.

“We’ll find a way” seemed such a Simon-like thing to say that I didn’t give it any more thought. When he left, he took a bottle or two with him, and left the rest secreted in our spare room for later discovery.

To understand the measure of the man, know that he once drove the length of France to pick up the right ingredients for a Christmas lunch he was cooking for my family, and various friends. In a world where a hundred celebrity chefs had not yet made cooking roast potatoes in duck fat a commonplace thing, he insisted it was the only possible medium in which to burnish the unusual species in which he had especially invested because of their world-beating crispness when par-boiled then roasted. And not just any duck fat. This particular duck fat.

Witness, also, as he whisks my ailing mother away into Paris for the longest of long lunches so our little troupe can enjoy a trip to Euro-Disney, creating a lifetime of memories for a tiny daughter who remembers to this day the frozen waterfall of the Disney castle. It was minus 4 degrees. Simon knew that my mother attending would have, of necessity, have led to our visit being curtailed, so he stepped into the breach. Over breakfast: “There’s this little place I know off the Champs Elysee, Betty,” he grinned. “Fancy a trip?”

My mother loved Simon and not just because he shared her adoration of chilled chardonnay and langoustines. He was “an old style gentleman”, she said. Yes. Yes, he was, indeed.

In a kinder universe, Simon would have been some Georgian grandee, dispensing largesse to the peasants with the same enthusiasm with which he consumed it. Or an avuncular and reforming Minister of the Crown, leaving yet a deeper mark on the lives of many.

As it is, he was what he was, and we are bereft. Our friend and brother is on a journey we can’t take with him, and we are suddenly all – again – more alone than we ever realised we could be. And yes, the pain will dull, given time, to be sure, but it is currently very intense. And it will never quite go away: there will always be a space. A gap. A hole. That only Simon can fill, that only Simon could fill, indeed, because the space in our lives he created was huge and unexpected and unparalleled and bright and blinding and warm and funny and above all ineffably kind and meaningful.

And sometimes, without warning, we will sense that gap, and weep silently inside ourselves.

Despite professing faith, and meaning it, I am never quite entirely sure whether we are reunited with those we lose along the way. I hope so. I would like to meet my Dad.

And I would like to share another thick, luscious pint of real ale with Simon, or an anis in a little bar somewhere in some heavenly Brussels.

They do that in Heaven, right? Please tell me they do. I do hope so.

Further reading:

http://liberator-magazine.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/simon-titley-living-obituary.html

 

UPDATE

An operation to remove at least some of Simon’s brain tumour took place a few days after this blog was written offering him some respite, and the opportunity to say his goodbyes to those who loved him, and some time to come to terms with his predicament.

Simon Titley died peacefully on August 31st 2014, mourned by innumerable friends and his family, to all of whom we send our heartfelt condolences.

Repeat after me: You will like this.

Repeat after me: You … will … like … this.

 

Far from backing down over the howl of protest of the last few days at the floated “tax increase” ahead of the Budget, and in what is, in our opinion, an astonishing display of mule-headed tone-deaf bravado, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says voters will eventually thank him for trying to repair the budget bottom line, even if it includes breaking his very clear promise not to introduce new taxes.

But Mr Abbott says he knows people will be “disappointed” with some of his methods and is again refusing to rule out reports he will raise income taxes for those on higher wages.

Some Liberal MPs – closer, perhaps, than the PM to the Coalition’s overwhelmingly well-off blue-collar and middle-class backers, many of whom earn more than the mooted $80,000 threshold were the new income tax levy will kick in – are leading a backlash against the deficit levy with some even threatening to cross the floor in opposition to the move, if it is included in next Tuesday’s budget, as expected.

This, of course, would be something of a meaningless gesture, as it certainly will not be in large enough numbers to actually defeat the move. They would be better advised to try and “roll” the PM before it gets into the Budget bill. But given the locked-in support of the PM, the Finance Minister, and the Treasurer, this looks unlikely, too, meaning that the net sum effect will be “Libs split on new tax” headlines everywhere.

Abbott has obviously decided he can burn some of his political bank account and ride that out. We are not so sure. If the polls continue to turn relentlessly southward over the next few months we believe many of his backers, both in Parliament and in the wider party, will demonstrate long and accurate memories.

Potentially rebellious Liberal MPs say the new “levy” would breach the Coalition’s pre-election pledge not to introduce new taxes. They are, of course, absolutely right.

"Was that a core promise? Was it? Hmmm?"

“Was that a core promise? Was it? Hmmm?”

We cannot help but idly speculate who has been advising the Government on its post-election economic and political strategy, given that John Howard, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are all Sydney chums, and Howard and Abbott have historically been very close. In an eerie throwback to Howard tactics, the Prime Minister now says the Government’s “most fundamental commitment of all” was to “get Labor’s debt and deficit disaster under control” and that justifies changing tack from his pre-election commitments. This has strong echoes of John Howard’s much-derided “core and non-core promises”. We are surprised no-one in the mainstream media seems to have picked that up. Maybe today’s political pundits are just not old enough to remember.

For those who haven’t made a lifetime’s habit of watching Government, the Liberals have form. In 1996, the new Howard Government soon found that the previous Keating Labor Government had allegedly left them with an unexpected $7.6 billion “black hole” budget deficit. The new treasurer, Peter Costello, and Finance Minister, John Fahey worked at reducing Commonwealth expenditure. This involved reneging on a number of election commitments, which Howard defended as “non-core promises”. At the first Coalition government budget, the public service was “down-sized”, the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) was privatised, and cuts were made to all departments including with the exception of defence. (Readers will note that this budget, too, will be brought down against the backdrop of a massive $12.5 billion increase in defence spending on the new fighters from America.) Back in 1996, $8 billion in spending cuts were made over the government’s first two budgets.

But in the ultimate example of hubris this time round, Abbott says voters will eventually “thank” the Government if it meets its top promises. Is he right?

“I’m not going to deny for a second that there will be people who are disappointed,” Mr Abbott told Channel 9 this morning. “No-one likes difficult decisions, Governments don’t like taking difficult decisions, voters don’t like the consequences of difficult decisions.But you’ve just got to make hard decisions at times like this, and I think in the long run the voters will thank us for doing what is absolutely necessary if Labor’s debt and deficit disaster is to be tackled. I’m not going to comment on the detail of the budget, but I want to assure the people of Australia that this is a Government which is going to bring down a budget which is fair.”

In a week, and in following weeks, we’ll know if the country agrees with him. Our advice? Don’t hold your breath, Tony.

Those who ignore history are fated to repeat it. One option for tax reform (by which everyone of course always means “collecting more taxes, as painlessly as possible”) which is most definitely on the table in Australia is an increase in the rate of GST, or broadening the items it applies to, such as food.

Whilst we doubt we’ll see it in this Parliament, it is being constantly promoted by the business lobby, and could form a centrepiece of a “Give us the tools* to do the job” campaign by the Coalition at the next election. *Read: more money please.

Along with swingeing cuts, perhaps the most controversial of all of Howard’s economic reforms was pushing through a GST n the first place. In an early election dubbed a “referendum” on the move, on 3 October 1998, the Howard Government won a second term but with its March 1996 majority of 45 seats slashed to 12. Current Liberal MPs on smaller margins will be looking at that statistic with some alarm. The current Coalition majority is 30.

Back in 1998, exit polls had even predicted a government loss. Some smart marginal seat campaigning by the Liberals, and a phenomenon of Labor piling up votes in seats it was never going to lose, prevented that.

In the final wash up, a 4.6 percent swing away from the Government translated into a two-party preferred vote of 49.02 per cent for the Government to Kim Beazely’s Labor’s 50.98 per cent. (Leading to him being promptly installed as the most unlucky Labor leader ever.)

It’s worth remembering that one feature of an unpopular conservative government is that it tends to see a drift of inchoate disenfranchised protest voters to fringe parties on its own right. For more than a year in 1988, for example, the Libs had been leaking support to the far right, much as the Conservative Party in the UK are now to the UKIP, the result of which will be very decent levels of success for the appalling far right party at the upcoming council and European elections.

But despite One Nation winning almost 1 million votes and its 8.4 percent first preference vote being larger than the National Party’s, Pauline Hanson did not win her run for the House of Representatives seat of Blair. Howard was widely seen as having “seen off” One Nation.

Perhaps more accurately, given the inevitable drift back to him of their preferences, he had gambled and won that he could see them off “just enough” to retain power without being embarrassingly outflanked on the right.

But the runes don’t look as promising for today’s Coalition. In 2015 or 2015, Abbott will almost certainly face a much more cashed up and powerful populist force to his right in the Palmer United Party, and a force that appears definitely to eschew high-taxing Government. They will provide a much more natural (and less offensive) home for disaffected protest-minded “a plague on both your houses, but ‘specially yours, Tony” voters than One Nation ever did, or would have.

Here’s the thing: it is a long-term feature of Australian politics that Governments govern from the centre, and stray to their right or left at their peril. A combination of huge cuts and tax increases – especially as weapons against a “budget crisis” that few people either sense or understand – will mark Abbott’s cabinet as having shifted hard to the right.

That has its own dangers, but the murky future is made darker still when one factors in that when the next election comes, the Liberal National Coalition will not face a Labor Party weakened by continual bickering and top-level incompetence at the next election. Instead, they will face a photogenic and mild-mannered centrist leader with a good ear for popular soundbites who is very wisely keeping his powder dry at the moment – albeit a bit too dry, in our opinion. His “front and centre” deputies, Plibersek and Albanese, are generally very popular as well.

The current Government would well advised to remember that in the 21st century there are more “independents” than ever, and many fewer people consider themselves “ironed on” supporters of one party or another. As a result, we loan power to parties, not give it, and nowadays we have short memories and even shorter loyalties.

Howard successfully entrenched his position through endless handouts of welfare and tax cuts to the middle class, who quickly worked out that “they’d never had it so good”.

At its simplest, Abbot risks losing power and being condemned by history as a one-hit wonder if he attempts to skewer exactly the people he needs to keep him in the Lodge.

Those who care about such things should perhaps whisper in his ear: “Maybe we could do with a few less F-35s, Tony?”

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.”

Five Christians were arrested after their group held a prayer vigil in reaction to what they described as Australia’s “cruel treatment” of asylum seekers on March 21.

Christians released

Commonsense prevails. They look like dangerous violent radicals, don’t they?

A spokeswoman for the group has said the charges were dismissed after they pled guilty to trespass in Sutherland Local Court this afternoon.

She said the magistrate noted that the protest was peaceful. “This was the other end of the scale to the Cronulla Riots,” she said.

Earlwood resident Justin Whelan, 38, was one of those who faced court over the protest he described as an appeal to Mr Morrison to “rediscover the ideals of his maiden speech”.

“I have witnessed first-hand the conflict and suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine I feel compelled to take action to draw attention to the plight of asylum seekers,” he said.

He was joined in court by Blue Mountains resident Donna Mulhearn, 45, Zetland resident Jaxon Jennings, 21, and Woolloomooloo resident Jody Lightfoot, 28. The fifth member of the group, 33-year-old Midland resident Jarrod McKenna, did not appear in court.

The group was supported by approximately two dozen protesters who gathered outside the court to hold another “asylum seeker prayer vigil”.

Protest spokesman Matt Anslow said the vigil participants had come from different Christian denominations, including Catholic and Uniting Church, as well as non-Christians.

Mr Anslow said his group had not had any contact with Mr Morrison since the March 21 protest.

“We recognise that we’ve been a party to allowing our government to continue these policies,” he said. “Today is less about an outcome, it’s about support”.

He had told the media that the March protest was not intended to target Mr Morrison in a negative way.

If ever a man needed praying for, it's this guy.

If ever a man needed praying for, it’s this guy.

“We were praying also for Mr Morrison, not in a way that was condemning or judgemental,” he said. “We were actually praying that Mr Morrison might have a change of heart. In his maiden speech for Federal Parliament, Mr Morrison gave a really amazing outline of his vision that included justice and compassion for vulnerable people. For us, we were hoping Mr Morrison might have a change of heart and join us.”

Wellthisiswhatithink has another and less gentle point to raise. What on earth were police officers doing wasting their taxpayer-funded time arresting these people in the first place? And once arrested, why on earth were they taken to court and not simply released? Who took that ludicrous decision?

I am reasonably sure the Christians who “invaded” Morrison’s precious little office would have left quietly if asked to do so, or would have allowed themselves to be moved outside, even if resisting passively. That should have been an end to the matter.

In a free country, people are free to say what they like, where they like, even if that causes minor inconvenience. What an utter nonsense this all was. Will the police in charge at this and other protests be counseled to show a little more restraint, and commonsense? Like hell they will. Will the prosecutorial authorities get dragged over the coals for wasted time, money and effort. No, they won’t.

Ridiculous.

Minh Duong case: Vietnamese man awaiting medical treatment after neo-Nazi bashing is banned from Australia (ABC)If this is not a case for Ministerial discretion, then nothing is.
Minister Morrison, over to you.
Attacked by Neo Nazis while a guest in our country, but not allowed to stay for treatment.

Attacked by Neo Nazis while a guest in our country, but not allowed to stay for treatment.

A Vietnamese man awaiting medical treatment after being bashed by Melbourne neo-Nazis is in limbo after being banned from Australia for three years.

In 2012, Minh Duong was punched and kicked by two Neo-Nazi sy7mpathisers 70 times, stabbed, and had a brick smashed over his head with such force that the brick broke in two.

His front teeth were smashed out in the racial attack and he is still awaiting $25,000 worth of dental treatment.

Last week Mr Duong was forced to leave the country after immigration officials at Tullamarine airport flagged that his student visa had expired in March last year.

He disputes that, claiming to have written confirmation from the Immigration Department that his visa did not expire until March 2014.

But despite his claims, Mr Duong was forced to leave the country as an “unlawful non-citizen” and is now residing in Ho Chi Minh.

He has also been told by the Immigration Department that he is not allowed to return for three years.

A petition with 67,000 signatures demanding that Mr Duong be allowed back into Australia to receive medical treatment and graduate from university was delivered to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday. But in a statement to the ABC’s 7.30 report, Mr Morrison’s office maintained that Mr Duong departed Australia as an unlawful non-citizen since his last student visa had expired.

The statement said Mr Duong would be supported by the Australian embassy in Vietnam.

The Immigration Department also said that it was investigating the apparent contradiction between its records and Mr Duong’s and that it takes instances of fraud seriously.

Community rallies around victim of horrific bashing

Adrian de Luca, a Melbourne musician fighting Mr Duong’s cause, says Australia has a responsibility to the Vietnamese man.

“We have to take care of this young man,” he said.

“He’s an international guest – he’s not a refugee, he’s not come here illegally, he’s not an illegal immigrant.

“Our citizens damaged him [and] our citizens should fix him.”

Detective Acting Sergeant Kevin Burke, who investigated the bashing, wrote a letter to the Immigration Department outlining Mr Duong’s injuries and asking the department to take the crime into account when making a decision.

“It’s certainly one of the most shocking and serious assaults that I’ve attended in my time as a detective and certainly my time in the police force,” he said.

Australia: rapidly gathering the reputation of being the least charitable, most unpleasant “civilised” country in the world.

Why not write and tell him what you think?

Why not write and tell him what you think?

You might care to tell Scott Morrison what you think of his conduct of the Immigration Portfolio.

If so, here’s how. No matter how angry you may feel, it is worth considering that polite comments or enquiries are more likely to elicit a response, although with this Minister, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Scott Morrison MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
PO Box 6022
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone: 02 6277 7860
Fax: 02 6273 4144
Email: minister@immi.gov.au

Also read: When silence isn’t golden.
                          For shame, Australia, for shame.

UPDATED Jeremy Thorpe, long a sufferer with Parkinson’s Disease, died overnight in the UK. He was 85.

I am warmly indebted to my old friend and political compadre Simon Titley for reminding me that it was thirty four years tomorrow that the leader of the then Liberal Party in the UK, (now the Lib Dems), Jeremy Thorpe, was acquitted of the attempted murder of his alleged homosexual lover, Norman Scott, in a sensational trial that effectively ended his career and transfixed the nation for weeks.

20130622-223524.jpgAs a politician Jeremy Thorpe was a one-off. Not many political leaders of the day would have consorted with Jimi Hendrix. He also acquired the risible nickname “Bomber” Thorpe, for arguing the the British should meet the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence by bombing the white farmers who led it.

Despite often being lampooned, he proved a successful leader with a knack of winning key by-elections, and in 1974 achieved a credible 19% of the popular vote for the Liberals and came within a whisker of joining a coalition Government with Ted Heath’s Tories, but judged that the resulting minority Government could not survive a confidence motion in the house, nor would it be popular with his party, and he declined.

Persistent rumours about Thorpe’s sexuality dogged his political career. Norman Scott, a former male model, met Thorpe in 1961 while working as a stable lad. He later claimed that he and Thorpe had had a homosexual relationship between 1961 and 1963, when homosexual acts were illegal in Britain.

Scott’s airing of these claims led to an inquiry within the Liberal Party in 1971, which exonerated Thorpe. Scott, however, continued to make the allegations. These allegations were published in great detail in a book called Rinkagate—The Rise and Fall of Jeremy Thorpe by Simon Freeman and Barrie Penrose (Bloomsbury 1996).

In October 1975, Andrew ‘Gino’ Newton, a former airline pilot, collected Norman Scott from where he was living in Combe Martin, North Devon, and drove him to Exmoor; Newton drove Scott onto Porlock Hill, where they stopped and got out of the car.

Newton then shot Scott’s dog Rinka, a Great Dane, (the scandal was also called “Rinkagate” in the public consciousness) before turning the gun on Scott.

When the case came before Exeter Crown court, in March 1976, Scott said that the gun jammed and that Newton then drove off, leaving him alone beside the dead dog.

But Newton always maintained that his intention was only to frighten Scott, who, he alleged, possessed incriminating photographs of Newton. In any event, Newton was convicted for the illegal possession of a firearm and an intent to endanger life.

Norman Scott in 1976

Norman Scott in 1976

During his court appearance, Scott repeated his claims of a relationship with Thorpe, and alleged that Thorpe had threatened to kill him if he spoke about their affair. Scott also sold letters to the press which he claimed to be love letters from Thorpe.

One of these included the memorable line “Bunnies can and will go to France”, which supposedly showed Thorpe using his ‘pet-name’ for Scott in connection with a promise to find Scott a well-paid job in France.

Contemporaneously, the phrase “Bunnies can and will got to France” was used to sniggeringly imply that something illegal, or at least immoral, could always be arranged for someone.

The scandal forced Thorpe to resign as Liberal Party leader on 9 May 1976.

He was replaced temporarily by his predecessor Jo Grimond and then permanently by David Steel.

Andrew Newton was released from prison in April 1977, and then revived the scandal by claiming that he had, in fact, been hired to kill Norman Scott.

On 4 August 1978, Thorpe was accused along with David Holmes (deputy Treasurer of the Liberal Party), George Deakin (a night club owner) and businessman John Le Mesurier (neither the actor nor the athletics coach) of conspiracy to murder. Thorpe was also separately accused of inciting Holmes to murder Scott.

The trial was scheduled to take place a week before the general election of 1979, but Thorpe obtained a fortnight’s delay to fight the election. However, Thorpe was narrowly defeated.

Thorpe and the three other accused were put on trial at Number One Court at the Old Bailey on 8 May 1979, a week after Thorpe had lost his seat.

Thorpe was charged with attempted murder and, along with the other three defendants, conspiracy to murder.

One of the chief prosecution witnesses was former Liberal MP and failed businessman Peter Bessell, who claimed to have been present while the murder plot was discussed within the Liberal Party. According to Bessell, poison had been rejected as a method of killing Scott because “it would raise too many questions if he fell dead off a barstool”. One alleged plan had been to shoot Scott in Cornwall and dispose of the body down a disused tin mine shaft.

Bessell agreed to appear as a witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

His credibility was damaged, however, because he had sold his story to The Sunday Telegraph for a fee that would double from £25,000 to £50,000 if the prosecution was successful.

Thorpe did not testify in the case, but his counsel, led by George Carman QC, argued that, although he and Scott had been friends, there had been no sexual relationship. Carman claimed that Scott had sought to blackmail Thorpe and that, although Thorpe and his friends had discussed “frightening” Scott into silence, they had never conspired to kill him.

It is a matter of record that Thorpe, who is still alive, was acquitted, but Judge Mr Justice Cantley’s summing-up was widely criticised for showing a nakedly pro-establishment bias, and it made headlines when he described Scott as “a crook, an accomplished liar … a fraud”.

In spite of the judge’s direction, the jury was at first split 6–6, but, after 15 hours of deliberation, it finally reached a verdict of Not Guilty. The four defendants were all acquitted on 22 June 1979.

This left merely the leading satirist Peter Cook to memorably provide a spoof of Cantley’s summing up, which thankfully is preserved by YouTube amongst others, as it is perhaps the finest ever modern example of skewering, savage wit being used to make an important social or political point. If you think Stephen Colbert or John Stewart are good – and they are, really really good – then give yourself the time to watch Cook’s bravura performance. Click the screen below.

Not only is it gut-churningly laugh-out-loud funny, but it remains one of the most culturally significant uses of satire in the second half of the 20th century, and is an example, should an example be needed, of the vital role that free-speaking and free-thinking comedians play in pressing our culture and democracy.

If you have any difficulty playing the spot, (as YouTube is acting up a touch for me) then just click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xi-agPf95M or paste it into your browser.

Oh, and pillow biter? During the trail Scott mentioned, indicating his reluctant participation in receptive homosexual sex, “I just bit the pillow, I tried not to scream because I was frightened of waking Mrs Thorpe.” Pillow biter immediately became, and has remained, a pejorative term for a homosexual man.

The rest, as they say, is history. So now you know …

Michael Moore

Rowdy, unashamed, unabashed, curmudgeonly, grumpy, trouble-making, not to mention resolutely overweight and ugly. My type of guy in other words.

 

It has long been my opinion, born of both commonsense and practical experience, that elections are actually won away from the flashing lights and razzamattaz of national media coverage and TV ads by legions of worker bees toiling away patiently on doorsteps, on the telephone, in cars giving lifts to voters, and with their neighbours and friends.

I arrive at this opinion from many years slogging round the streets for the Liberal Party in the UK – then a tiny outpost of insanity or sanity depending on your point of view – where we had no money but endless enthusiasm, no press support but brilliant organisation, and a ruthless obsession with getting our vote out.

Simon Hughes

My good friend Simon Hughes, first elected to Parliament in the Bermondsey by-election of 24 February 1983. Hughes won the seat with 57.7% of the vote.

That obsession was, more than anything else, the genesis of so many of those “unexpected” Liberal or Liberal-SDP victories in by-elections that no one saw coming – except, of course, those of us in the eye of the hurricane, who knew full well that our “ground game”  was infinitely superior and we were going to win. Seasoned campaigners like Trevor “Jones the Vote” from Liverpool and Peter Chegwyn – from seemingly everywhere – and many other unsung luminaries – rigidly marshalled their ranks of duffle-coated apparatchiks to deliver “shock” victory after shock victory, built on the back of superbly targeted local issues. In seats as diverse as Sutton and Cheam, Liverpool Edge Hill, Ripon, Isle of Ely, Croydon NE, Glasgow Hillhead, Bermondsey and Crosby these victories galvanised public opinion and kept a small party alive.

Years later in Australia, dismayed by the antiquated centralised campaigning I saw around me, I wrote a pamphlet on “Community Politics”  which in one form or another was enthusiastically taken up by the then Australian Democrats, and then later to a lesser extent by the Labor Party and the Greens, and even a few forward-thinking Conservative politicians as well.

Anyhow, opening my in-box this morning, I found an email from documentary film-maker Michael Moore.

He points unerringly to the manner in which President Obama will definitely gain re-election. As that, I firmly believe, will be good for America and for the world, I commend his remarks too you.

Now is the time for action, not words.

“I have a personal favor I’d like to ask each of you. We all know the election next Tuesday is going to be very close. But I’ve got an idea that could help put President Obama over the top.
I want you – yes, YOU, the person reading this right now – to get ONE of your fellow Americans who would not otherwise vote to show up at the polls and support Obama.
Here’s the math: there are upwards of five million of you seeing this, via email, on my website, on the Huffington Post and all over the internet. There are 1.2 million following me on Twitter. I’ve got almost 700,000 Facebook friends.
I want just one million of you to convince just ONE person each – one person who’s planning NOT to vote – to go to the polls and vote for Barack Obama. That’s it. And those million extra votes could make all the difference in what will be a very tight election – and it will save us from a tragic return to the Bush years.
Do you realize that there are 90 million people who are planning to NOT vote next Tuesday? That’s according to a poll conducted by USA Today. 90,000,000!! It’s a shocking number, isn’t it? In the old days we’d just label these people as apathetic or stupid. Not anymore. They don’t need our admonition – they need our empathy.
The non-voter today knows exactly what’s going on, and he or she wants no part of it. They are discouraged, disillusioned, and have almost lost hope that things will change. Many are jobless or working for peanuts. They’re angry, and we should tell them they have every right to be.
But here’s something else about them: despite everything, they haven’t utterly given up on politics. When USA Today asked the non-voters who they’d choose if they HAD to vote for someone in this election, 18% said they would vote for Romney – and 43% said they’d vote for Obama! That means there are nearly 40 million people who prefer Obama – AND THEY ARE NOT GOING TO VOTE.
The other question they were asked was, what would it take to get you to vote? 85% of the pro-Obama non-voters said they would go vote IF they thought the election was going to be really close and that their vote would actually make the difference.
This is, for all its frustrating logic, incredibly good news. So our job for the next six days is clear: We – you and me – have to bring a little over 1% of the 90 million non-voters to the polls. If we do we’ll send Romney packing back to New Hampshire/Massachusetts/California or wherever he’s going to build car elevators next.
The time to convince undecideds to vote for Obama is over. All it’s about now is whose supporters simply show up. The side that does the best job of literally dragging people out of their homes between 6:00 AM and 8:00 PM on Tuesday, November 6th is the side that wins.
Each of us knows Obama-supporting non-voters. They’re your cousin, your coworker, your friend from the choir at church. Identify just one of them (best of all if they’re in a swing state) and pledge to get them to the polls. You can try to convince them with all the good arguments as to why they should vote for the O (click here), but I think the best way to do this is to ask them personally, just this once, to do this for you. Not for the country. For you.
Then, once they’ve committed to vote, make a commitment to them: that you are not going to be silent after Tuesday, that you are going to keep fighting like hell (including, when need be, fighting Obama) every single day after the election for them, for you and for all of us.
So, that is your mission – YOURS, the person reading this right this second. Bring just one non-voter to the polls. Easy! Do it and be known as part of the group that defeated Mitt “Bush #3″ Romney and gave Barack Obama another term – and another chance to do what we sent him there to do. “

Er … Wot he said.

About two hours into the count, and early booth results imply a swing away from Labor to the Greens, but its patchy: it looks like it’s probably enough for the “third party” to take the seat, but it also definitely looks like it will be close.

This confirms my prediction of a very narrow Greens victory, on preferences. However, preference flows will be crucial, and they are fiendishly difficult to predict with a field of 16 candidates, and at least two of the minority candidates being well known. Of the popular independents, one is a Liberal member and preferencing Labor, and one, the Sex Party candidate, is also preferencing Labor. So the ALP could squeak in, too, with the help of a curious collection of friends. (Update, as at Sunday morning, it appears that this is the most likely result.)

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull, New South Wale...

Malcolm Turnbull, New South Wales Liberal politician.

But in my opinion, whatever the final result is it will show no great enthusiasm for either the Greens or Labor. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see “Others” polling 20-25% of the first preference votes, and possibly even more.

Which leads me to conclude, once again, that there is plenty of room in Australian politics for a new party that is neither as mired in factionalism, corruption and lack of respect as Labor, as fanatically right wing and rat-baggery as the Liberal-National Coalition, nor as niche marketed as the Greens.

If Australia had a centrist, reformist, business-friendly, social-justice aware party which essentially believed in a mixed economy and high standards of public accountability, in my opinion it would be swept to power by a grateful public and with massive financial backing – and BOTH old parties would be swept aside.

What it needs is a leader.

Step forward, Malcolm Turnbull.

History awaits.

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.