Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

NOT meant to be served cold. Not, not, not.

NOT meant to be served cold. Not, not, not.

 

When one leaves the country of one’s birth to travel to somewhere else permanently – well, as far as one knows it’s a permanent move – it is inevitably a wrench, no matter how exciting the “new start” is. Nowadays, one considers oneself more Australian than British, but a deep affection for the land of my birth, with all its quirks and wonderments, persists and will never leave me.

Initially, of course, one misses friends and family enormously, no matter how one makes new links overseas. This is an experience known to millions worldwide, and when yours truly made the jump it was long before such things as Skype and so on. Even email was in its infancy. (Some would say ‘the good old days’.)

But distance can make the heart grow fonder, and welcoming one’s nearest and dearest to experience the new life one is creating is a joy. We will never forget going to the butcher’s with Mum and asking what she’d like for her first “Aussie BBQ”. She shyly indicated some lamb chops – one of her favourites – but was horrified when we simply told the butcher we’d take the whole tray. A lamb chop at a pound apiece was a luxury for her back in Blighty, but lamb isn’t something we’re short of Down Under. We also regularly piled her plate up with King Prawns, which are plentiful in warm Southern oceans, but an eye-widening world away from the tiny shrimps she enjoyed so much growing up in East Anglia and South Wales, coming in little pots sealed with melted butter.

Other friends have variously loved sweet and peppery pumpkin soup served in hollowed out pumpkins – a ridiculously kitchy 1970s thing to do, but a revelation to those visiting from a country where it’s called “Squash” and mainly served to pigs as fodder – and one memorable Christmas with friends disappeared into a comforting blur under the influence of vodka and homemade fruit punch cocktails that complemented the rock lobster.

But for all that entertaining overseas guests always offered a frisson of pleasure, everyday life proved less amenable in some important ways.

It was some time before one could get past asking incredulous barman to microwave our pint of English ale to bring it nearer room temperature rather than struggling with the ice-cold version served in Australia. (The precise time to do this in a 600w microwave is 47 seconds on full, by the way. Just in case you need to know. Then stir the beer with a straw or something to distribute the warmer beer at the outside of the glass to the middle, and wait 20 seconds before drinking – if you can.)

Everyone in Australia knows that Brits drink their beer warm. To see someone actually do it would frequently stop all discussion in the bar, and produce much sad shaking of heads.

Nowadays, of course, one has come to appreciate the frigid beauty of a lager-style beer on a forty degree day – or plenty of them – but like stout, (Guinness is also served everywhere at near-freezing), British ale is meant to be drunk at room temperature to release its gorgeous flavours. Now, at least, one can easily buy bottled ales that one can keep and serve at any temperature one likes, but it would be great to be able to have them served at the right temperature in a pub, especially during Melbourne’s frequently chilly winter. Still: one adjusts. But in the early years nothing emphasised one’s distance from “home” as a pint of Boddington’s served with pearls of condensation on it.

Globalisation, though, has its upsides. In the early years, friends were obliged to stuff their suitcases with packets of Paxo Sage and Onion stuffing and Colman’s Bread Sauce so a Sunday roast chook still tasted something like a roast chook should. One dear amigo, stopped at customs with at least 20 packets of Bread Sauce in his suitcase, had to patiently explain for some time that it wasn’t cocaine artfully packaged, and that if the packets were confiscated there’d be hell to pay from his irascible host.

Better than cocaine any day.

Better than cocaine any day.

Eventually, bemused, the customs guy waved him through, and the immortal phrase “Bloody Poms” was heard clearly in a stage whisper as he exited the green channel, head held high. Nowadays both items are freely available in Aussie supermarkets, where they walk off the shelves and into the grateful pantries of expatriates and their ever-patient families. The same is true of Heinz Salad Cream, which goes perfectly with both french fries and mashed potato, to the eternal horror of Aussies who were brought up with slightly healthier food habits. A bottle of HP Sauce peeking out from the shelves now restores a beatific grin when sausages are on the menu. And despite a wonderful range of home-grown biscuits on offer, still nothing complements a cup of tea quite like a McVities Digestive. As the immortal ad campaign once said, “a drink’s just too wet without one”.

Once upon a time one was thinking of a starting a business called pommygrub.com but neither international transport nor the internet were up to snuff in those days. Needless to say, time marches on.

We might have to order ourselves a pot of Marmite for Christmas. I mean, Vegemite is great, but there’s only ever been one Marmite. And some Bara Brith seems indicated for Christmas afternoon. As it says: “From a bakery in the heart of Pembrokeshire, Tan Y Castell Bara Brith is a delicious and traditional fruit loaf baked with fruit, tea and mixed spices.”

You can take the boy out of Wales …

Traditional Welsh recipe for Bara Brith

Bara Brith translates to ‘speckled bread’ and is an especially rich fruit loaf made with tea. Produced all over Wales, but especially in my “home country” of Pembrokeshire, the spiced fruit loaf is delicious when spread thickly with good Welsh butter.

bara-brith

Bara Brith ingredients

  • 450G/1lb self raising flour
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 175g/6oz Muscavado sugar
  • 1 medium size free-range egg
  • 1tbsp orange zest
  • 2tbsp orange juice
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 300ml/½pt cold tea
  • 450g/1lb mixed, dried fruit
  • Extra honey for glazing

How to make Bara Brith

Put the mixed dried fruit into a mixing bowl, pour over the tea, cover and leave to soak overnight. The next day mix together the sugar, egg, orange juice, zest and honey, add to the fruit. Sift in the flour and spice, and mix well. Pour the mixture into a buttered loaf tin, 1.2L/2pt. Bake in a preheated oven at gas3/160c/325f for about 1¾ hours. The loaf should be golden in colour and firm to the touch in the middle. Baste with honey whilst still warm. Allow to cool thoroughly before storing in a cake tin.

The recipe for Bara Brith can be altered slightly by adding a few flavours. When soaking the fruit, substitute ¼ of the fluid with a whisky liqueur. Replace the honey and fruit juice with 2 tablespoons of marmalade. Alternatively, replace two tablespoons of fruit with chopped stem ginger, and replace the juice and honey with lemon marmalade, and the orange zest with lemon.

You’re welcome.

In loving memory of Simon Titley, who would have understood.

Australian politics is … different.

Lambie

An outspoken Tasmanian senator has compared her conservative counterpart to an “angry prostitute” – before apologising to sex workers.

Independent Jacqui Lambie has a history of clashing with government senator Cory Bernadi.

Senator Bernardi was this week critical of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, who had a travel bill paid by a Chinese donor.

But Senator Lambie compared Bernardi’s outrage to a “prostitute lecturing us about the benefits of celibacy”.

“Before I receive unfair criticism from the sex workers, I apologise to them profusely for comparing them to Senator Bernardi – I know that is a really terrible low-down thing to do,” she told the Parliament.

“Prostitutes are far more honest, sincere, humane, compassionate and better bang-for-buck than Senator Bernardi will ever be able to deliver.”

‘Different universe’

Senator Bernardi, one of the ruling Liberal Party’s most vocal right-wingers, laughed off her colourful comments.

The thoroughly dislikeable Senator Bernardi, who some are calling "Australia's answer to Donald Trump." We think that's more likely to be Pauline Hanson, but there we go.

The thoroughly dislikeable Senator Bernardi, who some are calling “Australia’s answer to Donald Trump.” We think that’s more likely to be Pauline Hanson, but there ya go.

“God love her,” he said. “She operates in a different universe to the rest of us. But I’m pleased Senator Lambie has acknowledged that I’m not for sale.”

The conservative politician also said that Senator Dastyari’s position as manager of Opposition business in the parliament was “entirely untenable”. And Attorney-General George Brandis has called on Senator Dastyari to explain a string of payments by Chinese interests, suggesting he may have been “compromised”.

Senator Dastyari insists the payment was properly declared and has since donated the amount to charity.

Meanwhile, we are all left laughing gently and appreciatively at Senator Lambie’s straight talking. Or to put it another way, as Australians are wont to do, “That woman calls a spade a f****** shovel.”

This is not the first time Ms Lambie has attracted attention for her colourful comments. She once described on talkback radio her ideal man as well-off and “well hung”, attracting approbrium and applause in roughly equal measure.

As we have said before, we rather like Ms Lambie, without agreeing with barely a word she says or an opinion she holds. On the loathsome Cory Bernardi, however, she is spot on.

Testing times for the Government with its plan to hold a nationwide vote on “gay marriage” (or “marriage equality” as it is better termed).

With the Nick “Team” Xenophon votes in Parliament now definitely against the plan, Labor will be extremely unlikely to back the plan, even if there was ever any rarely chance of them doing so. They could, theoretically, still decide to abstain, allowing the Government to escape with a win on the floor of the Senate by default, but their current rhetoric would seem to make that unlikely, and they would be roundly criticised for allowing a measure to pass that they have stated categorically they believe should be scrapped.

Our view is that the Government will still “test” the Parliament with a vote – judging that a defeat in Parliament will be less damaging to their stocks than just giving up on on their manifesto pledge altogether.

The likely breakdown of votes can be seen below, courtesy of The Age’s neat Senate-working-out interactive map, assuming Family First vote in favour of the plebiscite as their last best chance to get the people to reject marriage equality, and we are basing Lambie’s likely vote on the basis of her earlier statements that Australians should have the right to vote in a referendum on gay marriage but she would ‘fight like hell’ against any changes.

 

 

Looking dicey for Turnbull gay marriage vote.

Looking dicey for Turnbull gay marriage vote.

 

Assuming the above scenario works out then it seems virtually impossible for the Government to avoid a free vote on the topic in Parliament as an alternative to the plebiscite, though when that might be is problematical. They could theoretically take a bill to reform the marriage act to the next election, so they can claim a mandate to make the necessary changes if they win again, but that would seem to drag out what has already been a marathon national debate way too far.

There is clearly a mood in the country for change, even though pockets of strong and principled resistance remain. But the case has now been argued endlessly and surely the reform side has won.

As one caller to talkback radio in Melbourne put it last week to the relevant government minister, “For heaven’s sake, just get it done!”

Yes, that was us.

All of which also frees up a staggering $160 million which was going to be wasted on a non-binding vote to be spent on something else, or at the least chucked back into the empty government pot to go towards reducing the deficit. That sweetens the pill for the Government somewhat: umpteen million taxpayers will be pleased.

girl runningA friend writes to Wellthiswhatithink with an encouraging and uplifting story of humanity shining through in a crisis.

Like most countries in the West, Australia has its own concerns about relations with our Muslim community, and concerns about the problems in the Middle East; this little story shows a kinder side of the problem.

“With the Olympics in full swing we recently took the kids to Doncaster Athletics track for practice – watching Usain Bolt had inspired them! – and there were a few people doing laps.

I noticed a little girl (no more than about eight or nine) running around the track on her own.

Suddenly I heard the most horrific screaming coming from the back straight of the track. I turned around and saw the little girl hysterical, screaming and crying and red all over her face then I realised that the poor little thing had lost concentration – the clever folk running the stadium place a metal barrier about four feet of the ground at two different points of the track allegedly to protect the first two lanes – and the kid had run face first into a metal pole.

I ran over to her (shocked that others were just standing there and watching) and her face was really swollen. She was shaking, screaming and had blood pouring out of her mouth, two teeth knocked, blood pouring out all over her face and clothes. The pain and distress must have been terrifying.

With a couple of kids of my own, I knew the most important thing was to calm her down. I told her she was going to be ok and placed my daughter’s shirt to her mouth to stem the bleeding and she basically started to faint as I carried her back towards the main entry looking for her family.

By this stage all my guys were with me and I sent them off to find the parents. By now I was frankly getting very concerned for the child’s safety. Suddenly an ashen faced woman and her equally pale young son came running towards me speaking a language I didn’t recognise. I tried to explain that we would take her to the Community Centre (which I noticed was open and had a small group inside) which was next to the track.

When we got to the Community Centre a group of young Muslim families were having afternoon tea (dressed in their traditional clothing) and they helped take the child from me, and one of the group (who might have been a Doctor, as he certainly seemed to know what he was doing) took charge and they started to help revive the child.

I asked the mother of the little girl what language they spoke and she said, in stumbling, broken English but loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘Hebrew’.

I didn’t say anything more and they continued to stem the blood from the girl and care for her.

The ‘Doctor’ didn’t look up from his work, but he had heard the mother. He just said, very quietly and intently, almost to himself but I knew he was talking to me, ‘We help everyone’  and they continued to do what they could. Nothing else was said and they washed the blood from the child’s face, and I was mightily relieved to see that she was now conscious again, and a lot calmer.

I advised the Mother to take the child straight to the Royal Children’s Hospital and she was so incredibly appreciative – she said thank you in her own way to all the people that helped and took the little girl off to the hospital.

I must say we were all shaken – and covered in blood, also – but it just goes to show that people really are people, whatever their social or racial background, and they will help others in need, and I felt genuinely touched by what I saw.”

We thank Simon so much for sending us this encouraging anecdote. Coming in the week that also saw that heart-rending photograph of the little Syrian boy sitting dazed and bloodied on a chair having been pulled from the rubble of an air strike, it struck us as well worth re-publishing.

If only – if only – we could all always see the human beings – the children – in our stories. Every one of them an individual. Frightened. Hurting. Deserving of our care.

Innocent.

And so, Dear Reader, in this “nothing is secret” era of social media, we have Instagram to thank for revealing how at least some Aussies voted yesterday. Somehow, whilst we can’t in all conscience condone it, it does reassert ones faith in our fellow electors.

People “spoil” their ballot papers all over the world. Only in Australia is it this funny, and this bang on the money!

Meanwhile, the real election is just too fucking disastrous to comment on today. We are working up to tomorrow.

ballotVoting in Australia’s Senate is notoriously confusing. Last time we saw all sorts of odd people elected on next to no initial support. So bizarre were the results last time that the Parliament even changed the voting system this time round.

But there are still a number of interesting opportunities for voting in the Senate this time, and some really horrid dangers too.

As we say, the voting system has changed. The simplest way to do your civic duty now is to vote for AT LEAST six groups ABOVE the line.

So … what to do with your precious vote?

Well, because the quota comes down to 7% in a double dissolution election (when we vote for ALL the Senate and ALL the House of Representatives at the same time) we can pretty much predict what’s going to happen.

The Greens are bound to win one Senate seat in Victoria, and Labor and the Coalition would normally split the others, but there is also a real chance one micro party will also manage to get a quota.

Micro parties have had a bad rap recently because of the “Preference Whisperer” at the last election getting all sorts of odd people elected. But they do bring focus onto important issues that often don’t get the attention they need, so frankly we would suggest you at least consider putting these micro parties in the order you like best and THEN next preference the Greens (to try and get a second Greens Senator elected, unless you happen to hate the Greens) and THEN Labor or the Liberal/National Coalition after that:

  • ARTS (a party set up to promote the Arts in Government)
  • DRUG LAW REFORM (favour decriminalising drugs)
  • MARRIAGE EQUALITY PARTY (self explanatory)
  • AUSTRALIAN PROGRESSIVES (generally good progressive policies)
  • RENEWABLE ENERGY PARTY (self explanatory)
  • SEX PARTY (against religion fiddling in politics and in favour of a relaxed attitude to sex, basically)
  • VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA PARTY (self explanatory)
  • NICK XENEPHON TEAM (a centrist independent grouping based around the South Australian Senator Nick Xenephon)

And THEN, as we say, put the GREENS and THEN add EITHER THE ALP or THE LIBERALS after the Greens. (Ending up on one  of the major groupings means your preferences can’t become “exhausted”. And information on all the above parties can be found on Wikipedia.)

And then we strongly suggest you STOP numbering boxes! So you number a maximum of 1-10 boxes above the line, stopping at your ultimate preference between Labor and the Coalition.

Why stop there? Because most of the rest of the options are truly appalling in our honest view. And we don’t want any of them elected accidentally. So we would simply recommend, don’t number past 10 above the line.

However we strongly urge you to completely reject our advice if you see fit. It’s a secret ballot, and it’s your vote, so do as you like :-) Just please make sure you Vote! People died for that right, remember.

Jo

 

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have often bemoaned the brutalisation of politics. The way “anti politics” has become the new norm. A politics which is little more than cynicism, mistrust, name-calling and sloganising. It is seen most clearly and more than ever in the mindless forwarding of memes that brook no discussion, because no discussion is possible.

Those with an agenda to drive will accuse this blog of descending into vitriol on occasion. We reject that accusation. Politics is a serious matter, and you cannot “do” politics without disputation. Indeed, disputation – the contest of ideas – is the very core of freedom. And if we have, and it can be demonstrated, then we will recant and apologise.

But there is a difference – a gulf – between healthy disputation and hatred. And hatred has become the new normal, and relatively recently, too.

Whether it is in America, France, Denmark, Norway, the UK or Australia. Whether it is a discussion of guns, of racism, gay rights, of female emancipation, the European Union, or, most obviously, immigration, refugees and specifically Islam. The attitude that “you are with me, 100%, or you are evil and worthy of whatever abuse I choose to throw your way” has taken deep root. With the ascension of Trumpism, most obviously, we see how the inchoate mass rage generated by mindless sloganeering translates into political power, and then political violence. Democracy is a fragile flower, and it is wilting.

This article discussing Jo Cox’s assassination – for that is what it was – says it better than we can. We strongly recommend you read it. Because hatred is never funny. Hatred is never smart. Hatred is never right. Hatred is never appropriate.

Sure, “politics is a contact sport.” It doesn’t have to be murder.

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/a-day-of-infamy/

In slightly better news, #ThankYourMP is trending in the UK. Many people simply saying thank you to their MP, whether or not they vote for them. Well done, whoever thought that up.

Everyone knows Australia’s legendary reputation for things that bite, sting, chew and generally act in an anti-social manner. Great White Sharks, innumerable venomous snakes, an entire nightmare full of horrid spiders, jellyfish, even an octopus that kills people paddling in rock pools.

 

Australia's redback spider

Redback spider bites are relatively common in Australia, with around 2,000 people bitten each year.

But this one takes the, er, biscuit.

An Aussie has taken himself to hospital after a venomous redback spider bit him on the penis. Yup, you read that right.

The tradesman was using a portable toilet on a Sydney building site on Wednesday morning when he was bitten.

A spokesperson for St George Hospital confirmed that a 21-year-old man was treated for a redback bite.

The redback spider, closely related to the black widow spider, is distinguished by a long red stripe on its abdomen. And its bite causes severe pain, sweating and nausea.

The BBC spoke to the owners of the property who confirmed that the man had been bitten on the penis, as described in various media reports.

He was later discharged from hospital in a stable condition.

Although there are recorded cases of deaths from redback bites, none have occurred since the development of anti-venom in 1956.

Still, no. No thanks. Nu-uh. Nope. No.

FailYesterday we reported on how Facebook sometimes very obviously fails to protect individuals or groups from hate speech on its pages, even when it claims to do so.

Meanwhile, we continue to oppose racists who pop up spouting their hateful filth on otherwise reasonable threads.

Today, we were talking with the racists about the many refugees who have made a fabulous contribution to Australian society, like Michael Gawenda, one of Australia’s leading journalists and editors from Poland, Tony Le Nguyen, the Vietnamese actor and social activist, and Matur Gak, a doctor from Sudan.

When these stories were offered as evidence for the irrationality of their fear of refugees, this was the response:

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.07.26 pm

 

We may be mad – obsessive, quixotic, take your pick. But we are not prepared to let people assert this sort of nonsense un-challenged.

So this was our reply:

I am not sure why you would assume 95% of refugees going to Europe are male. Where do you get your facts, from? NaziOpinionsAreUs?

The United Nations has registered over 4.2 million Syrian refugees, a step in seeking asylum from other countries, and has a demographic snapshot of about half of them. Of the 2.1 million registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon there’s a pretty even split in gender: about 50.5% are women and 49.7% are men. For men and women, the bulk of refugees (a little under a quarter each) are between the age of 18 and 59.

It is true that in 2015 there were a surge in young men, about 62% of all migrants that have traveled to Europe in this year were men. A little under a quarter, 22%, were children and 16% were women. This is caused by two factors: firstly previous refugee flows from Syria and Iraq were heavily biased towards women, the men traveled later. Secondly, young men in 2015 were fleeing round-up forced recruitment drives for the Syrian army, and most of these young men would have been shot or made to fight their own people had they not fled.

I know you are utterly ignorant of these facts. What I don’t understand, when they are freely available on the internet by a simple Google search, is why you persist in repeating vile rubbish. Do you think you’re funny? Are you just having what passes for you as fun? Well, you say or do what you like. Most of the rest of us want to get on with building a peaceful, productive and happy country. One that the ANZACs would be proud of.

(It is Australia’s national holiday next week, to remember the Australians and New Zealanders who have fallen fighting for their country. These types often make a big play of their support for the Day. Pointing out how their opinions are exactly the crap the ANZACs were fighting against is another vital piece of agit-prop. And one they never care to answer, in our experience.)

 

The day ANZAC was most obviously co-opted by violent racists - the Cronulla riots of 2005. As the New South Wales then Returned Servicemens' League President, Don Rowe, later explained: “We were absolutely disgusted. That is the last thing that Anzac is interpreted as being. The Anzac spirit is mateship, looking after one another . . . you certainly don’t go around waving flags and call yourself an Anzac and go around belting people up. That’s totally the opposite to what Anzac is.”

The day ANZAC was most obviously co-opted by violent racists – the Cronulla riots of 2005. As the New South Wales then Returned Servicemens’ League President, Don Rowe, later explained: “We were absolutely disgusted. That is the last thing that Anzac is interpreted as being. The Anzac spirit is mateship, looking after one another . . . you certainly don’t go around waving flags and call yourself an Anzac and go around belting people up. That’s totally the opposite to what Anzac is.”

 

Before you ask “Why bother arguing with racists?” we’ll give you the answer, because that’s easy. Racism must be opposed wherever it rears its flithy head because other people read racists’ poison and without a countervailing point of view they become convinced by it all too easily.

That’s how fascism happens.

And that’s what has happened in large parts of the American public, right now. It can happen anywhere. In any culture. Of any type.

Racism and fascism are Siamese twins, and they rise unchecked when logic, rationality and patient, evidence-based debate flies out of the window.

My father fought in a World War for six long years to protect a civilised society. We will not allow his sacrifice to be tossed away on the funeral pyre of populist bullshit, nor the efforts of millions or others.

 

The Pacific island of Nauru

The tiny, barren island nation of Nauru holds refugees while Australia processes their asylum claims.

An Iranian asylum seeker has been fined for trying to kill himself during an attempt to move him and his daughter from an Australian-funded detention centre on the island of Nauru.

Sam Nemati, sole guardian of the eight-year-old girl, admitted the charge and was ordered to pay A$200 ($155; £109).

Mr Nemati had been in the detention centre for two years.

Australia relocates all refugees trying to reach the country by boat to Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The process is extremely controversial despite being supported by both the Liberal-National Coalition Government and Opposition Labor party.

Nauru is a small Pacific island nation about 3,000 km (1,800 miles) north-east of Australia. It was previously administered by Australia but gained independence in 1968.

Deterring a ‘Method of protest’

Prosecutors had originally sought a two-month custodial sentence for Mr Nemati, arguing that such a sentence could be used as a deterrent, as reported in Australian media.

“We are concerned that this method of protest is being used and want to stamp out this practice,” prosecutors said.

The pair moved to Nibok Lodge in January, where Mr Nemati said his daughter would have more children to play with. But authorities said they were not authorised to live there, and moved to evict the pair on 21 January.

Mr Nemati became distressed when officers began removing his belongings, and attempted to take his own life. He was taken to hospital for medical treatment before being charged and subsequently detained for two weeks in February.

Old penal code

The law against attempted suicide in Nauru is based on the 1899 Queensland Criminal Code. But while Queensland has since repealed that particular law, attempted suicide remains illegal in Nauru.

Other existing offences under the code include witchcraft, sorcery and fortune-telling.

In early February, the High Court upheld Australia’s asylum policy as legal under the country’s constitution. The ruling paved the way for around 267 people, including 37 babies, to be deported to Nauru. Despite this, huge numbers of people have protested the establishment of “concentration camps” to hold asylum seekers, pointing out that it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia, and urged the government – as a minimum move – to bring asylum seekers to the Australian mainland.

(BBC and others)

Wellthisiswhatithink says: Just another example of the breathtaking brutality of this detention regime, which is a shame to Australia, inhumane and unsustainable. Although in general Australia has a generous refugee resettlement program by world standards, the country is extremely wealthy and can definitely afford to do more. This type of thing is ruining our international reputation.

 

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Image copyright AP The couple were in Australia while Mr Depp filmed the fifth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise

A date has now been set for Johnny Depp’s wife Amber Heard to face a court trial in Australia for allegedly smuggling her two dogs into the country.

The case, which has been amusingly dubbed the “War On Terrier”, will be heard on 18 April in Queensland.

The actress is facing two counts of knowingly importing a prohibited product in breach of the Quarantine Act. A court official has confirmed that Heard is required to appear at the hearing.

Heard came under fire for failing to declare Pistol and Boo, the couple’s Yorkshire terriers, to authorities on their arrival in Brisbane in April. Under strict Australian laws designed to keep disease at bay in the ecologically diverse but fragile country, dogs entering from the US must be declared and have to spend 10 days in quarantine.

The case sparked global attention after the terriers were threatened with death by Australia’s Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, unless they went “back to the United States”.

Mr Joyce – who is known for his blunt and populist style – said he did not care if Depp had been voted the “sexiest man alive”, he still had to adhere to quarantine rules.The animals, which had allegedly travelled by private jet to Queensland, where Depp was filming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, were quickly whisked out of the country as the story hit the headlines.

We don't imagine Ms Heard would have any difficulty fitting in at Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre at Wacol, Brisbane.

We don’t imagine Ms Heard would have any difficulty fitting in at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre at Wacol, Brisbane.

In July she was charged with two counts of illegally importing the dogs into Australia and one count of producing a false document. Penalties range from a hefty fine to more than 10 years in prison.

An earlier hearing set for September was adjourned.

After the incident in May, Heard vowed never to return to Australia, although reports earlier this month said she “respected Australia’s laws” and was looking forward to “attending the hearing of these matters”.

Twelve witnesses are listed to give evidence but it is not known whether Depp is one of them.

It would be easy to laugh at the nonsenical overtones of the matter, but that is to mask what is, for Australians, considered a very important issue. Struggling to this day with the deletrious effects of innumerable species of flora and fauna introduced by well-meaning but misguided predecessors, Australian society is near-fanatical about protecting its eco-system and thus its quarantine procedures.

Until the advent of better air filtration systems on modern jetliners, for example, arriving in Australia by plane was always accompanied by a cabin attendant walking through the plane from rear to front spraying the entire passenger complement with insecticide. Bins at Australian airports are regularly filled with tourist trinkets made of wood, skins or other bio-hazardous items.

If she’s guilty – and we would never assume or pre-judge such a matter before the courts – then in our opinion, Miss Heard would do well to “cop it sweet” as Aussies say, and cheerfully cough up whatever fine will (probably) be levied, accompanied by a fulsome apology. Any more whingeing and that other famed Aussie characteristic – cutting down the tall poppy – will rapidly be evidenced.

 

As we said back in July, "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 ..."

As we said back in July, “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 have long been a supporter on this blog of the urbane character (and political philosophy) of Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull.

We predicted, regularly, (some would say, ad nauseam), that Tony Abbott would not make it to the next election, and we were beating that drum longer and harder than most, and that the very talented Turnbull would replace him.

So why were we so sure?

The answer is easy. As Prime Minister, from Day 1, Abbott was hoist by his own petard.

The very same ability that made him able to connect with the people over the terminally unpopular Gillard and Rudd governments – the ability to coin simple, aggressive phrases that seemed to sum everything up – was exactly the wrong ability to bring to The Lodge.

It is easily forgotten that Abbott did not really win the last election. Labor lost it, through a hideous morassive mixture of internicene squabbling, incompetence, and failure. In reality, this was the most “drover’s dog” election since Hawke defeated Fraser.

Here are the psychological moments that killed Abbott’s leadership:

The flags

flagsSurrounding himself with the Australian flag as he constantly “stuck to message” on combatting the “death cult” of Daesh (ISIS) didn’t ring true with the Australian people, even as they simultaneously and constantly noted his “strength” on defence and security issues.

But Abbott was badly advised. The ridiculous tableaux-style presentations smacked of a gung-ho triumphalism that sat badly – deep down – with a people who have proportionately suffered more in war than most Western nations, and who understand that sending young Australians overseas to fight wars should never be a cause for celebration, even mutedly, and especially not in a manner that smacked of Americanism. He struck the wrong note, time and again, as social media went into overdrive wondering how many flags he could squeeze into every press conference. Would the photographers need to start using wide angle lenses?

In advertising we have a phrase to condemn clumsy communications. “Ooops, your strategy is showing.” While the flags were symbolic – and not in the way Abbott intended – the continual harping on about the threats to Australia eventually started to rebound on Abbott. That the PM’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin and her crew couldn’t see that happening was just one of many mis-steps the Abbott team made.

Slugging pensioners to visit their Doctor

patient doctorThere is no question that Australia’s admirably robust health system is low on cash. The problem will have to be addressed.

Attempting to plug the gaps by hitting the poorest and most vulnerable customers of the system – who were over-heavily represented in the supporters of the Government – was an idiocy of breathtaking proportions.

The Paid Parental Leave Scheme nobody asked for, or wanted

baby-money1Way to go Tony.

Announce an unfunded, wildly generous and extravagant scheme without any thought to how it could be implemented or even whether your own party agrees.

Then dump it when the very people it was supposed to help make it perfectly clear they think it’s madness, and anyway what they really want is more childcare places, not money in their pockets, because no matter how much money they’ve got they can’t find a child centre with room for little Johnny and Jane.

Big thinking, for sure.

Just big dumb thinking.

It makes you sick

budget cuts health spending doctor holding piggypankDespite promising – repeatedly – before being elected that he would not cut health spending, Abbott duly introduced a vast range of cuts to the health budget.

Each one upset someone.

There’s no easy way to trim expenditure on health spending. But usually the public want to see it balanced by reinvestment in more modern facilities, in more efficient care, in better health outcomes. This was the story Abbott abysmally failed to sell.

Oi! That’s my tele you’re messin’ with, bro.

logos abc sbsAbbott swore he wouldn’t inflict cuts on the ABC and SBS, both of which are national icons and hugely appreciated.

In the event, he cut $43.5 million from them. Needless to say the networks reported the pain, again and again.

It was not a big enough cut to make any major difference to the national plenty, but plenty big enough to hurt the corporations and enrage their loyal audiences. So why do it? Only Tony can answer that for you.

Children in detention

Abbott and his advisors were right that Australians, taken as a mass, were and are deeply concerned about refugee arrivals. Australians are a long way from anywhere, feel isolated in a sea of Asian countries, and from “the Yellow peril” onwards the population has had a dichotimal view of immigration.

kidsWhen you add to that emotional confusion the horrors of the live trade in people across the storm-plagued seas around Aussie shores, “Stop the Boats” was a popular policy.

What was not popular, though, was the government’s tight-lipped refusal to comment on “operational matters”, for which the arguments were weakly made, and which simply made them look simply shifty and secretive. Why should we not know what was being done in our name?

What was not popular was the refusal to let journalists into the detention centres on tropical northern island nations from which leaked continual stories of mental illness, suicide, clashes with the locals, murder, rape, and worst of all, the distress of children left to rot behind barbed wire.

Australians are a generous and compassionate people. They might want to stop the boats, they were much less comfortable with the inevitable out-workings of that policy.

“Shirt fronting” Vladimir Putin

putinOutrage over the shooting down of MH17 by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine was real and universal.

But as further evidence that Abbott could turn any gold into dross, his blokey threat to “shirt front” Russian president Putin just made him – and the country – look ridiculous.

When what was needed was austere, cold anger and statesmanlike comments, what we got was a one-time amateur boxer sounding like he was still holding court in the Students’ Union bar.

Captain’s Picks

It is hard to overstate the utter derision of the Australian people at Abbott’s repeated preference for thought bubbles, publicly announced, over carefully-plotted policy.

pphillipWhen he revived Imperial Knighthoods people snorted in disgust. They are – and were always – a rotten echo of a colonial era that Australia has long since rejected.

At a stroke, he made himself look ridiculous – and looking ridiculous is the most damaging thing any politician can do to him or herself.

When he then proceeded to announce that his first choice for a knighthood was Prince Phillip, the die was cast. It was weeks before the hoo-ha died down, sucking vital oxygen from the Government’s agenda.

We’ve upset the old. Now let’s upset the young. Oh, and their folks.

student-loansAbbott forced students to repay their debt earlier by lowering the wage they need to earn before payments kick in and increased student debt by increasing the interest on their fees.

It wasn’t just the youngsters who were pissed off.

Up and down the country their middle class parents – most of whom remembered the days of free tertiary education they enjoyed, and which they knew full well current Government Ministers had enjoyed as well – were depressed and irritated too.

All they saw was life becoming even more un-affordable for their offspring, which would inevitably increase the burden on them too. The dramatic unaffordability of the first home market didn’t help.

The “economic crisis” disconnect

Abbott came to power talking about the “structural deficit” in the Australian budget, as an excuse for a stingingly brutal first budget which was duly heroically mishandled by both himself and Joe Hockey.

BBQWhilst things hadn’t been exactly looking financially blooming for most Australians, in reality people were feeling reasonably well off.

To get people to go along with the budget, Abbott desperately needed to convince people that a Government taking in less money than it gives out – permanently – was an unsustainable proposition.

At the time, we advised him to focus on the credit card argument – to wit, you can’t live “on tick” forever, sooner or later the credit card payment falls due. Instead, demonstrating the tone deafness which characterised his hold on the highest office in the land, Abbott comprehensively failed to explain why such a dramatically recessionary budget was necessary. That failure to engage was the moment his fate was ultimately sealed, because so much else flowed from that glaring failure.

Abbott isn’t now out of power because of Turnbull’s shenanigins or, indeed, a “febrile” media or any other excuse. He’s out of power because he just wasn’t very good at his job.

Which will be the hardest thing of all, we are sure, for this intensely driven and self-critical man to accept.

We will now make our first prediction of this new era.

The Liberal/National Coalition will win the next Federal Election. You heard it here first.

Gull

One night about a year ago Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink turned the late night TV shopping channel on.

It was an accidental act, in truth, but we found ourselves taken by the subject matter: to wit, buying a new camera at what looked like an amazingly low price.

NikonIt turned out, of course, that it wasn’t an especially great price, and we could have walked round the corner and bought it at the same price and got some professional advice into the bargain.

But no matter. We had always wanted a nice camera, as opposed to taking snaps using the iPhone, not that the remarkable and ubiquitous little device didn’t actually take nice snaps, but this one seemed very swish and a nice colour, and the front pointy bit went in and out really far, so in we dove.

Anyhow, as a sign for how ludicrously busy all our lives have become, this weekend is almost the first chance we have had to play with the camera, at Smiths Beach on gorgeous Phillip Island, in Victoria, Australia.

Of course, as you will have discovered previously, Dear Reader, the new technological age sits somewhat heavily on our prematurely aging shoulders. Fresh from wrestling with things that go bing, we now found ourselves poking with uncertain, stubby little fingers at a camera for which a high-flying degree in advanced sub-atomic particle physics would be inadequate preparation.

There is not one, not two, but fully three ways to make the telephoto thingy whiz in and out. meaning, of course, that it does so when one least expects it to.

Press the wrong button, and the playback screen turns into a mass of statistics and charts telling you why you have just messed up the last shot taken. Trying to get back to just seeing the photo on its own again without the accompanying science takes fully half an hour of increasingly frantic thumbing through the “destructions” as Mrs W calls all manuals, which as with most things seems to be written in a sort of pig-din Japlish which defies easy translation.

The little diagrams of buttons on the camera would be very helpful if one didn’t need a magnifying glass to see which buttons they refer to, (dagnabbit, knew we left something out of the beach bag), as the whole booklet is clearly written for people with A1 20-20 vision aged 18, which as it emanates from the Land of the Rising Yen is somewhat curious as we never yet met a Nipponese who could see past the end of their nose without glasses as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, so quite who the manual is aimed at is something of a mystery.

Meanwhile the little twirly thing on the top offers you fully twenty “shooting modes”, and heaven forbid you should try and photograph a sunny Aussie beach in “Night Portrait” mode, as the seagulls flying by suddenly all look like Ring Wraiths or Dementors come to drive us back into the cottage.

Plumping for “Scenic” seems like a safe option, until you realise the sub-Menu offers you fully fifteen variations of scenic to choose from. Choosing between “Cloudy” and “Dusk” looks tricky to the untrained eye …

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Then, when one finishes the hour-long process of turning the damn thing on, one realises that there is actually more to taking a good photo than pointing and pressing. More digital photos (and before them, bazillions of miles of film) must have been taken of waves crashing on rocky seashores than almost any other subject matter you care to name. One very quickly realises that taking a good photo of a wave is clearly nigh-impossible. There is that wildly improbable nexus of the right camera, the right setting, the right moment, and that indefinable “eye” that true photographic geniuses have.

Which we, Dear Reader, do not.

Looking west at Smiths Beach

Luckily, the world is such an intensely beautiful place that it is impossible to entirely stuff up photographing it even with one’s new techno-rich clicky thing. We did, we think, nevertheless manage to make the photos quite big and a suitable format for desktop wallpapers. Feel free to nick any you like.

A Spring day on a beach in rural Victoria is probably the best balm for the soul imaginable. Even when your camera is just another way of reminding you that the world is hurtling ever onward to a place where you no longer really belong.

No, these photographs are not very good.

DSCN0218

Looking East

But the world is. The world rocks.

(Gettit? The world rocks. Oh, never mind …)

 

An intake of refugees from Syria would provide an economic boost to a host country like Australia, according to a leading economic commentator.

While a humanitarian crisis has been declared as millions of Syrians seek to leave their war-torn country, nations that agree to take in refugees are also likely to benefit economically. 

Speaking at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday, Helen Joyce, international editor of The Economist, said the Syria situation is the greatest migrant crisis since the Second World War. 

“At The Economist we are in favour of the free movement of labour, capital and people,” Joyce said.

“If you’re a Syrian refugee camping out in large numbers in other countries, then that [working] capital is locked up and cannot be used by other countries.”

Joyce said the Syrian refugees should be moved to a stable country and given the right to work, a development that will benefit the entire host country.

“The evidence suggests that immigrants pay in more [money to the state] than they take out, providing they are allowed to work,” Joyce said.

“Let them in and let them work so they can integrate to become an Australian, German or British citizen.”

Joyce also stressed that the Syrian refugees are “motivated people.”

“You don’t get on a boat to do an incredibly dangerous journey unless you are a motivated person,” Joyce said.

“I understand that it’s politically unpalatable to say this to people who believe that immigrants are taking the jobs, but the evidence we have says that immigrants are not stealing the jobs.

“Immigrants are coming in and increasing demand and helping the economy. Real leadership from a politician would mean making this argument,” Joyce added.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics have also stated that the idea of refugees taking Australian jobs is a myth, as humanitarian migrants have the highest rate of business ownership of all recent migrants, meaning they are creating more jobs for the Australian economy.

(Yahoo Finance)

The decision follows the Federal Court’s move to overturn approval of Indian mining giant Adani’s $16.5 billion Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland.

“This government will repeal section 487.2 of the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act which gives activists the standing to sabotage decisions,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament on Tuesday. The change was approved by federal cabinet on Monday night and went to the coalition party room on Tuesday.

Despite widespread community reaction, it is expected to be introduced to parliament this week.

It has been argued that the $20 billion investment in Carmichael could create 10,000 jobs, although estimates of jobs created in coal mines have previously been hugely over-estimated.

Summarising the Liberal-National Coalition’s position, Attorney-General George Brandis said the laws as they stood allowed “radical green activists to engage in vigilante litigation” to stop important job-creating projects.

“(It) provides a red carpet for radical activists who have a political but not a legal interest, in a development to use aggressive litigation tactics to disrupt and sabotage important projects,” he said. “The activists themselves have declared that that is their objective.”

Senator Brandis called on Labor to support the bill. In response, manager of opposition business Tony Burke urged the government to table legislation so Labor could scrutinise it. It will be interesting to watch and see if Labor just rolls over on this issue, again showing how close, in reality, the two major political parties in Australia really are.

Phil Laird from the Lock the Gate Alliance said the law change would also ensure farmers could not challenge coal mine approvals.

“The laws are there for a reason, to level the playing field between landholders and the community and the big mining companies,” he said in a statement.

Liverpool Plains farmer Andrew Pursehouse said the government had now approved three open-cut mines on some of the best food-producing land in the country. “Now they want to limit who can go to court to challenge it,” he said.

(AP and others)

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

This proposed change to the law sets an ugly precedent and tells us a lot about the mentality of the Government.

Why should environmental objections – or, indeed, any lawful legal objection to development – be limited to people in the immediate vicinity? For one thing, pollution is no respecter of artificially created legal boundaries. Water pollution can spread far from its original source, and once in the environment chemical pollutants can end up hundreds if not thousands of miles from the source. (Witness the radioactive material from Fukushima reaching the West Coast of the USA, for example.) Air pollution can spread over thousands of miles. And why would it only be the interests of those near the Great Barrier Reef, for example, if a development was proposed that threatened its existence or well-being? Or Kakadu?

More and more, the Abbott Government acts like a petulant child every time it finds itself opposed.

abbottAbbott himself – and Brandis, amongst others – adopts a discordant, hectoring tone that is superior at best and utterly dismissive of any opposition to their whims at worst.

This attitude is very unpopular with voters – rightly so – and is one of the main reasons the Government is so “on the nose”.

As it stands, it is clearly un-electable again.

That recognition is what’s feeding into renewed concerns about Abbott’s leadership, as swathes of anxious Liberal MPsDeputy opposition leader in the Senate senator George Brandis face losing their seats if opinion polls stay anything like they are now. We have always said that having been near-mortally wounded in the first challenge to his leadership it has always been a matter of time before another came along.

In our view, there is a strong argument that until “clean coal” technology actually eventuates – which it may never do – that the environmentally and socially-responsible thing for government’s worldwide to do is to slow-peddle on new coal developments. For one thing, they are likely to be only marginally profitable, hence the reluctance of many banks to get involved in financing them. This doesn’t deter coal companies from trying to establish new mines, of course. After all, they’re coal companies. It’s what they do. Turning around a company from its core purpose to do something else is so difficult that very few organisations ever even attempt it.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us need to fall into line.

Unsurprisingly, as it’s made from trees, Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. According to the United Nations Environment Program, coal emits around 1.7 times as much carbon per unit of energy when burned as does natural gas and 1.25 times as much as oil.According to the groundbreaking, peer-reviewed “Carbon Majors” study, tracing all historic greenhouse gas emissions back to specific companies and entities, the coal industries of the world own 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 1854-2010.

Renewable_EnergyInstead of fiddling with the law to remove legal protections put in place by their own Howard Government (how ironic) the Liberals and Nationals need to take a leadership role in moving away from coal as it’s default answer to energy, both here and overseas. As Greenpeace note: the world doesn’t need more coal, it needs an energy revolution. We have enough technically accessible renewable energy to meet current energy demands six times over. 

Our Energy [R]evolution blueprint shows how renewable energy, combined with greater energy efficiency, can cut global CO2 emissions by almost 50 percent, and deliver half the world’s energy needs by 2050.

The case against coal is very strong. This American argument lays it out in terms anyone can understand. Yes, moving away from coal requires investment, political will, bi-partisanship and imagination.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, no matter what coal industry lobbyists might say.

11828800_10153104817654227_401710176245645621_n

Fresh back from chucking umpteen bazillion dollars at Adelaide in a desperate attempt to shore up Coalition support in South Australia, where about four Coalition seats look very vulnerable to voter anger over the decline of the ship-building industry – Hey! Remember “We’ll build 12 subs in Adelaide” before the last election”? Guess that was a “non core promise. Also called “bullshit” – Tony Abbot was today in Geelong assertively announcing “Everything we do is focused on jobs and growth.”

“Everything we do”? A cheery message to a regional city that has seen it’s car manufacturing industry decimated and it’s ship-building in decline.

Sadly, this was also the day that saw the jobless rate “jump” – the ABC’s word, not mine – from 6% to 6.3%. Against expectations. And a major news item, unsurprisingly.

Could Abbott have chosen his chest-beating words more carefully? Assuredly.

Does he ever come into contact with the real world outside the Canberra bubble?

We wonder, frankly.

We’re with the kid at the front.

Gold medal winning Paralympian denied assistance because she wasn t disabled enough

Tracy Barrell is an Order of Australia recipient, a gold medal-winning Paralympian, and a strong campaigner for those living with disabilities.

A gold medal-winning Paralympian has been told by the Australian government she wasn’t ‘disabled enough’ to qualify for an assistance card. Tracy Barrell is an Order of Australia recipient, a gold medal-winning Paralympian, and a strong campaigner for those living with disabilities.

This is not disabled in today's Australia

This is not disabled in today’s Australia?

Ms Barrel was born with no legs and only one arm due to a medication her mother was given for morning sickness during her pregnancy. Despite her disabilities, in 1992, she won two gold medals for Australia at the Barcelona Paralympics in the Women’s 4×50 metre Freestyle, and the Women’s 50 metre Butterfly.

But when she recently went to apply for a companion card from the Australian government, she was rejected on the grounds she ‘didn’t have enough evidence’ and wasn’t classed as disabled enough.

A companion card allows people with disabilities to be accompanied to certain events and venues by a friend, family member or carer without them having to pay.

“I wasn’t able to receive one due to the ability that I was still able to use my prescribed aids – my skateboard, motorised scooter and modified car,” Ms Barrell told The Daily Mail.

The single mum-of-two used a combination of the above to live her life as independently as possible, but said she still faced hurdles every day. A friend has since organised a Change.Org petition to push for a review of the decision.

Ms Barrell’s two sons are her biggest help and she does not have a full-time carer. However she struggles to get out of the house and battles with situational depression.

The card would allow her to participate in more activities without the financial pressure of having to pay for someone to go with her, or help her out.

Champion.

Champion.

‘I do brave it and do these things myself, but it would be a hell of a lot easier if I had help,’ she said. Ms Barrell told The Daily Mail she felt she ticked all the boxes for the card eligibility and was ‘distraught’ when she found out she had been rejected.

“I cried all day,” she said.

She hoped her story would open up the conversation about the support disabled people receive in Australia, and help inform the public about everyday struggles people with disabilities face.

“It’s not even my battle anymore, it’s everybody else’s battle too and that’s what I really stand for.”

Wellthisiswhatithink update: We are pleased to report that following social media pressure a card has been awarded.

The key question is, of course, why it took a campaign to achieve this. Please share this story widely to ensure that other disabled people are not put through what Tracy went through.

(Yahoo, Daily Telegraph and others)

Really love this blog from Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink (aka Jenie Yolland) on the classes she runs in Melbourne, Australia teaching people to express themselves and learn a new skill by making their own art glass plates and platters.

Article on Jenie’s classes – click here and enjoy a good read!

If you’re heading to Melbourne soon, or you live here, I warmly recommend them. Cheap as chips, and she spreads such joy!

 

 

Jenie Yolland's workshop

Jenie Yolland’s workshop

 

Jenie Yolland workshop

Jenie Yolland’s workshop

 

Some lovely photos of students’ work throughout the article – and students enjoying themselves – enjoy!

#jenieyolland #glass

yolly

The author, Stephen Yolland

Or  USING THE SIX VITAL PRINCIPLES OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATION TO MOTIVATE YOUR STAFF

Either title works.

This is an article I first wrote some years ago. Coming across it by chance, not only does it still stack up well, (with a very little judicious editing) but sadly, I do not see the ideas in it being understood or implemented, at least not to any great degree.

Which is shame. Because this article is the distillation of some 35 years very successful experience in both management and communications – both internal and external – working with some of Australia’s leading organisations across a vast gamut of industry and public life.

If you are a senior executive, there is gold in this article. What you do when you’ve read it? Well, that’s entirely up to you.

Enough said, let’s go:

In any modern organisation, the power relationship of the executive and management team vis-a-vis the rest of the company has changed radically in recent years.

Many people will argue that that the primary responsibility of the boss or bosses is to shareholders, stakeholders and owners.

And that job is important, no doubt.

But if a happy and productive group of employees is the best possible way to ensure a viable and growing return on investment, then it follows that an executive’s first priority, logically, must be to create the environment that will deliver that type of workforce.

We all pay lip service to that principle. But “How?” is the question.

RE-THINKING THE BOSS’S ROLE

It is a cliche to point out that just as any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so any organisation is only as strong as the motivation and skills of its entire range of employees.

So in smart organisations today, executives are not appointed to “rule the roost”, but to guide and advise those around them and that means looking both up and down the corporate ladder.

Today, executives are making decisions and taking actions, in effect, as “ruling delegates” of the company’s entire staff – on their behalf, and in pursuit of greater harmony, efficiency and productivity.

“I’m warning you. If we tell them why we chose the coffee supplier we did there’ll be no damn end to it. It’ll be executive salary packages they want oversight of next, you mark my words.”

If one accepts that this is a healthy and effective model of modern corporate leadership, then it also follows that staff have an innate right – a need, in fact – to understand the activities of the executives that run their lives, and in detail if they so desire, or if it will help them perform their job role.

THE PRINCIPLE OF TRANSPARENCY

To achieve this, executives must thoroughly adopt a mindset that a matter is available to all to know, unless there are strong reasons of legality or personal confidence why that should not be so.

This reversal of the norm that applies in most organisations inevitably produces a markedly different result to the alternative mindset, which is, of course, that everything is innately confidential unless an argument is made that it should be public.

This extends to matters that appear that they should be confidential, but in reality need not be.

“I think they’re all gone. Quick, let’s take the chance to move the parking space allocation around a bit.”

Many matters are held tightly to the chest when in reality good things would result from them being made public at an early stage, and more thoroughly.

I once knew a 20+ year employee leave a company (and he was a good employee, too) because they moved his car park space without asking him politely if he minded. I kid you not.

It wasn’t the car park space that pissed him off, it was the secrecy with which it was handled.

Suddenly a thousand tiny resentments at a secretive management team boiled over, and off he went, taking his wit, wisdom and priceless knowledge with him.

Also: think clearly. You know that the free flow of ideas, suggestions, warnings and information is enhanced by a reduction in confidentiality.

That is why democracies, for all their faults, operate more efficiently than totalitarian states, and are inevitably more stable in the long term.

But the assumption that no-one else really has any right (or need) to know what “we” are doing is usually entrenched and often difficult to over-turn. It belongs to an older and more cynical age, when capital and labour were permanently locked in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and mutual blame, but many executives today still live in that paradigm.

Confidentiality – the knee-jerk, unthinking assumption of confidentiality – is a cancer.

It grows inside our organisations, eating away at our vitals, until we reach the oft-quoted situation that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. In the resulting confusion, people are often unwittingly working actively against each other, duplicating effort at best, and stymieing each other at worst.

In fact, confidentiality can become such a corporate habit, that the left hand sometimes doesn’t even know that the right hand exists.

Confidentiality is also a drug. It entices and bewitches those who have it within their grasp to conceal matters.

Why? That’s easy. To hold confidential information is to be of the inner circle. To be “in the know”.

And whether or not knowledge really is power (which it undoubtedly sometimes is) it is certainly a heady brew for many. And it produces workplaces that are excessively “political”  and internally competitive.

So: the solution to all this nonsense is simply to reverse the paradigm.

We should make people argue on a case-by-case basis that people should NOT know something, with the highest possible requirement for any such argument to be very convincing, rather than requiring people to prove that others should know before information is routinely made public.

“I don’t want you to feel threatened, but there’s a guy in the next building who I’ve been told has a really good idea.”

Just as one example of this style of thinking: why should any team meeting be routinely “closed” to “non-members” of the group who are having the meeting?

Why, indeed, should it not be actively advertised, with all those who feel they have useful input invited to attend?

Yes, yes, yes. One can instantly sense busy executives shuddering at the thought of endlessly extended meetings – as if we don’t all have enough of those already – enthusiastically infested by the eternal committee-sitters that are so easily identifiable in any organisation.

But restricting meetings to an elite few is not the solution to that problem.

Rather, the solution to THAT problem is to have meetings that have clear and concise agendas, chaired by people who are skilled at controlling wafflers and time wasters.

Or in other words, it’s better to have one waffling air-bag punctured in public than to have one staff member who actually has the answer to a problem excluded from contributing because no-one thought to ask them along to the meeting.

Here again, the democratic principle is a useful guide: Councils and Parliaments, for example, all have “Stranger’s Galleries”, and the most stringent conditions have to be met for those galleries to be cleared and for the body to go into secret session.

And needless to say, on those occasions when a cabal or clique is seeking to do the wrong thing, then corporate governance is enhanced when more people know what’s going on.

Which leads us neatly to:

THE PRINCIPLE OF PRO-ACTIVITY

In order to give meaning to the first principle, (instead of merely adopting it as a high-minded ideal that means very little in practice), there should be an assumption that a company’s bodies will make every effort to disseminate information pro-actively, straining every sinew to ensure that information reaches the further possible point of the corporate family in a timely and easily-understood manner.

“Goodness me yes, I’m pro-active. I sometimes even shout at them BEFORE they need it, just to keep the little blighters on their blessed toes.”

The leaders of organisations should critique their efforts in this regard, constantly testing to see whether such pro-activity is genuine, thoughtful, enthusiastic and effective.

Where this requires extra effort or expenditure, such burdens should be managed with equanimity, secure in the knowledge that what is being done is vital to the health and growth of the organisation, rather than a tiresome annoyance.

The goal should be to seek out the gifts of the widest possible audience as early as possible in any decision-making process, content that the best advice is frequently commonsense, and that commonsense frequently appears from the least-expected quarter, and frequently from outside the management team. (See: How to save eight million bucks by spending twenty.)

But of course, there is no point doing this unless organisations also adhere to:

THE PRINCIPLE OF SIMPLICITY

Information that is convoluted, partial, or badly explained is less useful that no information at all. It will cause misunderstanding and confusion, leading to mistrust and disputation.

As a logical consequence, every effort should be made to reduce unnecessary and tortuous prolixity, the purpose of such verbiage merely being, as far as one can ascertain, as much to obscure as it is to enlighten.

Simple enough for you?

Simple enough for you?

Or in other words, use fewer words.

And then communicate those words briskly and effectively. By embracing …

THE PRINCIPLE OF PROFESSIONALISM

If the foregoing principles are to succeed, then executives should seek out the best means possible to disseminate the information available, constantly critiquing performance in this area to check that other, more powerful mechanisms or technologies have not presented themselves as a better way to get things over to people.

And every communications item, whatever its medium, should be attractive and engaging, properly laid out and presented, or well performed, well-written, enticing, intriguing, and informative, and avoid unnecessary legalism, conventionalism, and conservatism.

“You want me to upload a video to our intranet website and send out an EDM to everyone at one minute to 9 so they start their day by watching it? And then copy the video to their partners on their home email with a polite explanatory note asking them to a company celebration? Yessir, Mr Hopgood, Sir.”

So here’s the homework. If you apply these standards to how your organisation works, how are you doing?

Bear in mind that any changes that organisations adopt will amount to a hill of beans, and a small hill at that, unless every decision taken is consciously subjected to the following checklist:

  • The matter we are discussing can anyone see any compelling reason why everyone shouldn’t know about this?
  • How can we best let the largest number of people know about it, and as quickly as possible at that?
  • What is the simplest, clearest way we can present the information?
  • What will be the most effective medium for transmission?
  • Do we know what we’re trying to achieve?
  • Have we made it easy and effective for people to respond?

If leaders are prepared to sign up to these principles as a guide, then work can begin promptly on the changes necessary to begin implementing them in a practical way.

As a first step, these principles could be “read into the minutes” of a Board, for example, and formally adopted as the principles by which the organisation’s peak bodies operate.

The next step would be to implement a communications program to have these principles understood by all management, and, in turn, by the staff as a whole, and to decide what impact the principles have on the way communication flow happens within the organisation.

But we have to be clear about one thing.

Effective communication is not a mechanical issue. It is a state of mind.

If anyone senior in an organisation has any serious reservations about adopting this style of management, and also has the power to “white ant” the process as soon as it gets underway, then there’s simply no point worrying about the “how to”.

Because it is clear that, like most things, achieving genuine progress in internal communications requires real visionary leadership.

So ask yourself: are you that leader?

Stephen Yolland is a businessman and business consultant working primarily in Melbourne, Australia, and also in the United States, Malaysia, China, and Britain. He lectures on matters of business interest and is a sought after public speaker on business, marketing and other topics. He has worked in a variety of senior roles in sales, marketing and advertising for 35 years, and is the founder of and major contributor to the Wellthisiswhatithink blog. He is also a popular commentator on political and civics issues, and is a published poet.

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There’s a lot of total nonsense talked about asylum seekers in Australia. Most of it whipped up equally by the deeply conservative Liberal Party and their weak-kneed Labor opposition.

Here’s a few things those who want to roll out the welcome mat to the world’s most desperate people need to know when cornered into an argument in the pub.

Fact 1: It’s not a crime to come to Australia by boat without a visa and ask for protection

But the Guardian found seven out of 10 people believe it is.

The truth is that it is not a crime to arrive here by boat without a valid visa and ask for protection. In the experience of  The Refugee Council of Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – in almost 100 years working with people affected by migration – those who do so often feel it is their only chance of finding a place where they’ll be safe from persecution.

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Nor is it illegal to flee persecution, to cross borders without documents or passports in order to seek asylum – people have been doing it for centuries. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are basic freedoms and protections that everyone’s entitled to.

Fact 2: There’s no “official queue” for people coming to Australia seeking a safe place to live

But six out of 10 people think there is.

The United Nations process of resettling refugees in other safe countries doesn’t operate like a queue. It’s not a matter of lining up, waiting for your number to come up like at the supermarket deli counter.

The resettlement system operates as a discretionary process, based on changing criteria. It’s more like a lottery than it is like a queue.

If this mythical global queue did actually exist, based on the number of refugees there are in the world, people joining the end might wait up to 170 years to get to the front. Which would be a bit pointless, really, wouldn’t it?

In many parts of the world – East Africa being a classic example – the asylum seeker process is total chaos, disrupted by lack of Government control, famine, terrorism and war.

Fact 3: We’re not being “flooded by people”. Only 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be given safe haven in any given year

The Guardian’s survey found six in 10 people don’t know that.

Only a small group of countries offer resettlement through the UN system. Need consistently far exceeds supply and in any given year about 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be granted safe haven in another country – in fact the UN says fewer than 1% of refugees will ever get a resettlement place.

Fact 4: There are almost 18 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world

According to the most recent statistics there are 16.7 million refugees and 1.2 million asylum seekers worldwide, most of whom are currently living in developing countries such as Pakistan and Iran who are among the least able to deal with the influx. Pakistan and Iran house at least 1 million refugees from the Afghan conflict alone.

The Guardian found close to one-third of Australians reckon there’s 80 million, more than four times as many as there actually are. And almost another quarter of people think there are 9 million, half the actual figure. How it is possible to have an intelligent debate in the face of such ignorance is another matter.

Of course, if some of these myths were dispelled we would have a more compassionate, understanding, welcoming and stronger Australia.

The advocacy groups know from decades of experience working with vulnerable migrants that the vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees flee to escape persecution, torture and death – dangers inflicted on them because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinions.

Some have seen their closest relatives and friends murdered, and their homes and villages burnt to the ground. They’ve suffered torture and their bodies, like their minds, are covered in scars that will never disappear. They are survivors. They come from all walks of life, rich and poor. They flee, simply, because they want to live.

This year for Refugee Week (14 to 20 June) some of the myths and misconceptions that ultimately serve no one are being challenged. Not that we expect Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten to respond any time soon.

But the next time you find yourself in the midst of this debate if you don’t recall anything else at least remember these four basic truths.

Thanks to the Guardian, The Refugee Council of Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the statistics and data referred to here.