Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Could this man be the new Australian Idol?

There has been quite a degree of comment on the likelihood that the ALP’s biggest challenge in this election is to convince voters that Mark Latham would make a competent, level-headed leader.

An example of what I’m talking about from Paul Kelly:

“The main issue of this election is Mark Latham – and whether he can convince the nation to trust him as prime minister”

This stands to reason, and one would assume it would be true of all party leaders putting themselves forward as potential Prime Ministers. However, there has been much to suggest that observers, analysts, and the combatants themselves, see this issue as having greater importance in this campaign.

For me, the more interesting issue to come out of this kind of commentary is this: if Mark Latham’s character will be the deciding factor, then there must be an underlying assumption that voters are currently inclined towards a change of government.

They just want to be sure this choice will be ‘generally ok’ in the long run (there is, of course, the associated presumption that both parties are generally similar – see today’s this run down of election 2004 ‘facts and fiction’. Towards the end, there is this proposition:

There's [a] political cycle in two-party parliamentary democracies: one side gets a few terms if it's reasonably competent and presides over no disasters, and then it's the other's turn.Even a dud government after one term is harder to move than a very good one after three. And the Howard Government, which has never enjoyed much electoral currency, is ready for the chop after eight years.

Personally, its very tempting to take this as gospel and start getting my hopes up. However, as soon as someone comes across some kind of substantive evidence for this proposition being true in this particular election, I’d really like to see it. Its quite obviously believed to be a general trend in politics, but what about the current situation? Can we apply this proposition without limitation?

The idea has been suggested with sufficient frequency in news and news commentary (even brief mentions or suggestions of the idea will have contributed to this overall feeling) to make my initial reaction to this proposition: “yeah, there sure is a desire for change ‘out there’”.

Thinking about it though, I’ve not seen anything to suggest this sentiment exists anywhere else but in the columns of commentators and bloggers. It seems to me that it could be one of those ‘themes’ which political writers are happy to go along with, without questioning its’ legitimacy in the circumstances (I have to say, I sure felt a desire for change at the previous 2 elections, but I’m not going to even try and take that as evidence of anything in this context).

Is this proposition so well accepted amongst analysts and commentators that no one feels the need to draw a line back to some evidence or qualify it in any way? Is there some polling data which shows that voters rank it highly amongst factors likely to influence their vote? Or is it just an ‘electoral truth’? I’d be interested to know, as I’m sure as hell we’ll be reminded of the importance of Mark Latham’s ‘character’ again and again. And again and again and again.

On a side note: 50 points to whoever spots the first election advertisement (and no, those Federal Government initiative advertisements don’t count).

On an even sider note: If I can spuriously draw a link between voting patterns on Australian Idol, and Federal Election voting patterns, then I think its fair to say that Australians will not be basing their vote on talent or ability, and are more likely to vote for the guy with the better personality, or the guy who has been beaten up on by critics and who they feel sorry for.

This is why Marty (the judge's favourite, and this year's "Aussie Rock Bloke") got more votes than Ngaiire (despite a clear consensus that Ngaiire has the superior singing voice), and why Daniel (who presented a theatre-restaurant style performance, and was duly criticised) now appears in the Final 12.

On the basis of this (oh yes, I'm going to draw conclusions on this evidence), the Coalition should be wary of laying too heavily into Latham, as he may just pull a sympathy vote. Similarly the ALP should cease talking up Latham's abilities, and just bang on about how great a guy he is, and how "Aussie" and "rock" he is. He'll then be a cert for election victory and the RSL club tour, er, I mean, the Lodge.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Should have moved to Queanbeyan while I had the chance...

Now the real deal is upon us, I thought some initial thoughts might be appropriate. They'll be pretty raw, if you'll excuse my lack of polish.

Firstly, may I say I was stunned by these words:

"This election, ladies and gentlemen, will be about trust,"
- John Howard, 29 August 2004

Having zero knowledge of the art of campaign politics, I admit I am speaking from considerable ignorance on this issue. From the perspective of an observer however, I find it puzzling that anyone could be advised that, at a time in which the polled public view your credibility and trustworthiness as deficient, at best, the best way to frame your campaign is in terms of 'trust'.

But what do I know? Going from past experience, I wouldn't put it past John Howard to be able to convince voters on this one, just as he convinced voters 2 years and 10 months ago that the sky was about to fall in on account of some children treading water in our northern seas.

I hope to be able to write more comprehensively soon and perhaps set out some predictions for the flavour of the election campaign. I'd encourage all other psephite bloggers to do so too. Then, once the show is over, an evaluative review of those predictions would, I think, be a very interesting exercise.

Just one issue I would like to flag as a point of possible ongoing interest, is the 2004 Howard campaign's handling of the media. In her WebRant, er, I mean WebDiary, Margo Kingston wrote of the extraordinary and outrageous acts by John Howard during the Bush visit to restrict the public's and the media's access to Parliament. I would love to see a similar examination during and following this campaign. (Read the Kingston article).

With all the speculation regarding the possible date of the election, and the many complicated theories devoted to this topic, it's a strange feeling to now know for sure. Sometimes though, one must rely on the words of others to accurately reflect one's feelings:

"This is it
Oh This time I know it's the real thing
I can't explain what I'm feeling
I'm lost for words
I'm in a daze
Stunned and amazed
By your open ways"
- Danii Minogue 1993

Thanks Danii.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Why can't we all just get along?

I found this interesting piece from the Law Institute of Victoria. It’s a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee’s inquiry into the provision of the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004.

I can’t add anything to it. It sets out comprehensive and thorough arguments against the Bill. It’s the type of stuff I wish I could reproduce in a calm and rational manner when talking on the subject, rather than getting all anxious and muddled as I do.

I know this doesn’t relate specifically to the election, and thus may fall outside of the paramters of the blog, but as the submission states, the haste with which this Bill was passed suggests the upcoming election was a consideration, for the Government and the Opposition. I’m speculating, but it seems likely that the ALP, in giving the Bill support, were keen to avoid being ‘wedged’ on this issue. I have no doubt the Coalition wouldn’t have minded having this issue running hot during an election campaign.

Navigate your browser here to see some other people’s ideas on the likely impact of the ALP’s support for the Bill.

Its heartening to hear the comments of the Family Court in Re Kevin (referenced on page 4 of the submission):

There should be no escape… that definitions ought to be updated …particularly when our outdated definitions bring suffering to some of our fellow human beings.

To me, this seems perfectly reasonable, and when presented this way, I can’t see how this would fail to convince others of the need to liberalise, rather than restrict, the definition of marriage. But then again, I guess its hard to present a message on this issue without the emotion of a debate on ‘morals’ taking over.

At first I wasn't sure why I foundnd the most depressing aspect of the submission to be the section on the question of whether or not the Bill breaches international human rights law. But i gave it a good, hard thinking, and this is what I've come up with.

I’m sure most people would associate ‘international human rights law’ with ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’, without having a firm idea of the precise content of those laws. Furthermore, I imagine that if you asked the 'ordinary person on the street' whether they thought Australia should be bound by these concepts, without knowing whether or not Australia was a party to the relevant treaties, few would answer in the negative. After all, how many times a year do we hear political figures making reference to the greatness of the Australian ‘fair go’ and egalitarian society. These are very useful conceptual tools for the public speaker in Australia.

But then, I wonder how many people would register concern that our Government has just passed a new law which it knows is in breach of Australia’s obligations under international human rights law. That is, its not just the case that we haven’t been bothered to clean up old laws which breach our obligations, we’re passing new ones which we know will entrench positive discrimination.

Lets face it though, its not really very surprising is it, given this Government’s attitude to asylum seekers, refugees and Cheryl Kernot. So its not like I’m depressed about it because I never thought it would happen.

I know from previous experience that successive Australian Governments don’t think the ICCPR’s prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation applies to them (cf: Toonen's case, in which the UNHRC ruled that the prohibition against discrimination on the grounds of sex/gender contained in the Declaration on Human Rights can be read to include sexual orientation. This provided the constitutional grounds for the Australian Government of the time(ALP) to enact federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The issue was also raised in the second term of this Government. Needless to say, Australia is still without such laws - Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain and South Africa manage to have them, and their societies haven't fallen to bits).

Anyway, I think it is this which has really kicked me in the guts:

The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) suggests that the absence of any effective sanction against Australia for such a breach of international law does not constitute an excuse or justification for a deliberate breach, as proposed by the Bill. The essence of the rule of law is that the law is actively obeyed. An approach to the law, international or domestic, that ignores our obligations based on the premise that no sanctions apply is not one the LIV can possibly condone.
They’re going to get away with it, and they know it. They’re screwing me over and pretty much saying to me “there’s nothing you can do about it”. No wonder I feel so miserable.

Overall, I guess I’m really not surprised by how this all turned out. But this doesn’t stop me from feeling disenfranchised, despondent, marginalised and disenchanted (I obviously still feel well enough to shamelessly abuse my thesaurus).

I almost feel like I don’t care any more, but I know that I do, and I think my surface apathy on these issues may just be denial and perhaps a defence mechanism. The more I think about it, the more I realise how desperately I want things to be different.

Its not just the substantive and practical effect of this law which depresses me. I know the discursive power of laws and political agendas/statements.

I think they have a word for this combination of feelings: hopelessness.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Just a wee tidbit

I thought it might just be worth noting that according to the AEC, there is now no prospect of a double dissolution election:

A double dissolution cannot take place if the term of the House of
Representatives will expire within 6 months, ie after 11 August 2004.

Is it not the case that an election could be called as late as April 2005? Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Cleaning? It's great! Haven't tried it myself but...

Someone please remove this man from the education portfolio.

I have had to spend some time after I read this article calming down, with the aid of a glass of red, in order to to get this out intelligibly, such is my rage.

If you don't want to read the article here's the gist of it: Brendan Nelson believes that young Australians are obsessed with "a university education, and a mobile phone and a BMW and fashionable clothes" at the cost of ignoring noble, if low-paid, vocations such as, um, cleaning. He blames this obsession on Paul Keating. Apparently Keating is to blame for planting the idea of university for everyone in the brains of the general public.

I have a number of problems with this:

To group a university education with flash cars and flash clothes is rather strange. The former does not lead to the latter. Ask any Arts graduate. Or someone who has a PhD in physics and works as a lowly paid Librarian at a University. Or a PhD in history who answers phones. Or a PhD in philosophy who can earn better money as a nurse. A degree, or seven, doesn't always lead to big money, unless you do the degree in something worthwhile - like the colour-by-numbers Masters courses being run in Universities across the nation as we speak, in disciplines I would label 'vocational' rather than 'higher learning'. Higher education isn't, or shouldn't be, about how much money you earn when you get out, it's about learning stuff. Or maybe I'm just old-fashioned. Nelson seems to be telling people that a tertiary education is a lifestyle choice that you make to create the aura of money, to show off. Well, it will be soon if Nelson keeps hiking up the fees.

If Australians are obsessed with top-notch HSC marks this is only being reinforced by the Government's lush funding of private schools. Why do people send their kids to exclusive schools? Because of the natty uniforms? Because they get to sleep on verandahs? No, because the parents honestly believe that these schools can turn dumb, but rich, Johnny into a genius, thus he may achieve an excellent HSC mark so he can get into the best University...

Brendan Nelson has 3 kids. I bet they don't go to the local public school and I bet they would be given a good 'wake-up-to-yourself' speech if they chose a career as a plumber.

Ultimately Nelson is trying to put people who can't afford to go to uni in their place. Can't afford to go to uni? There's nothing wrong with cleaning you know! Hell, we even have cleaners here at Parliament House! They do a wonderful job and I don't know what we'd do without them. God forbid I would have to clean my own coffee cup! Well done chums.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

From the margins to the marginals

Ever since I've been able to vote John Howard has been elected Prime Minister of Australia. I recently figured out if John Howard wins the upcoming election I'm unlikely to see an ALP Government before I'm 30. Talk about a misspent youth.

I well remember the fateful Saturday in 1996 when John Howard came to power. It was the night of my University O'Ball. Earlier in the day I'd slipped my ballot into the box with a frisson of excitement and then trotted off for a night of music, beer, wrist tags and a sinking stomach. I heard the news when I was leaving the Ball. A drunk girl in a short skirt and high heels was unsteadily running up the stairs ahead of me. She had a bottle in one hand, and was calling out to her friend. "I just heard the funniest thing. Someone told me that John Howard is Prime Minister of Australia." And then she slipped and fell on her ass.

That memory really sums up my experience of voting. Disbelieving, useless, frustrating, and ultimately painful. And the truth is it won't get any better because I belong to a generation of voters that is fundamentally disenfranchised. We are completely outnumbered by Baby Boomers and Seniors. We're too busy trying to get a job or pay off our HECS debt to be able to afford a house - which means we're unlikely to live in the outer metropolitan mortgage belts that increasingly hold the balance of power in Federal (and some State) elections.

I've decided that there is only one thing for it. It's time to move to the marginal seats. I don't think it's a crazy idea. It's clear that my generation doesn't have the numbers. We're not going to change the outcome of elections spread across the country. We have to move to the electorates where our vote really counts.

For example, Solomon in the Northern Territory was won by 88 votes at the 2001 election. I think it's worth moving to Darwin to unseat Dave 'make mine a bailey's' Tollner.

On a two-party preferred basis, Don Randall won Canning by only 550 votes. That's right, the guy whose only lasting contribution to Parliamentary debate is to make a nasty remark about Cheryl Kernot and the morals of an alley cat on heat.

In South Australia, Trish Worth held her seat of Adelaide by only 343 seats in 2001, although admittedly a redistribution has increased her margin from 0.2% to 0.4%. But on the bright side, you can vote in Adelaide without leaving the inner city.

And why vote in the two Canberra seats where the election result is always the same, when 15 minutes drive from Parliament House is the key marginal of Eden-Monaro. The margin is just 1.7% of and it's been won that by the party that holds Government at every election since 1972. It might be the only way you'll ever make a difference.

This is a plan perfectly suited to young non-home owners. We can't afford a mortgage so we're mobile. For once in our lives we'll be over-serviced with pork-barrelling. We'll be asked what we really think by any number of pollsters, and most amazing of all, every three years the Federal parties will design policies to suit us. Why be marginalised when we can be marginal?

John Howard claims that only eight seats need to change hand and he's lost the next election. I think it's worth the temporary discomfort of moving house to make sure that we don't have to live with him for the next three years.

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