Tim Haslett's Blog

Older, wiser, grumpier

Election 2016 (i): Hard questions, hard answers

With the 2016 election looming large, I have decided to pose questions for politicians in a series of blocks called “Hard questions, hard answers” (HQHA)

Given that politicians are not inclined to answer questions and when they do the answers are normally a combination of obfuscation, circumlocution and often just plain bullish, I have decided to provide the answers myself.

So, here is the first question. It’s is for Malcolm Turnbull.

HQ: Given your mantra of “jobs and growth”, could you please explain how retaining negative gearing is providing a stimulus for jobs and growth?

HA: Actually it doesn’t. It only provides a stimulus for people to speculate in rising property values. Unless people are investing in new homes, where there will be some stimulus to the economy.

HQ: You have said that it is designed to help average mums and dads “getting ahead”, yet the bulk of the deductions being made by the top 10% of income earners. Have you actually looked at the statistics?

HA: Yes I have. But I have decided to ignore the Australian Bureau of Statistics data. Sometimes you don’t need facts, you just need common sense.

HQ: Given that negative gearing costs $11 billion a year, wouldn’t it be worth introducing some restrictions to help reduce the budget deficit ?

HA:  If you look at Scott Morrison’s budget, you will understand that we are not interested in reducing the deficit, we are interested in being re-elected. You have to understand the bulk of people who used negative gearing are in Liberal held seats. Changing negative gearing will risk those seats. So it is not politically smart for us to change negative gearing arrangements. It’s all right for the Labor Party because they won’t lose seats as result of the policy.

HQ. You recently suggested that wealthy parents should buy their children homes to help them into the expensive housing market, have you done that your children and grandchildren?

HA: Look I’m not going to discuss my personal finances or the arrangements I have through my family trusts. Suffice to say that I’m protecting the financial interests of my family.


Brian Kosoff: Form and landscape

In a 2012 interview with ND  Magazine,  Brian Kosoff  said:

“Regarding landscape, I will often come across a scene that has all the right compositional elements but not the right light or atmosphere. In that case I take compass readings to determine ideally where I want the Sun to be, and then using astronomical software I will determine what date and time that year that it’s in the spot I want, and I’ll come back then. I will also take into consideration tides, moon position, foliage, weather, atmosphere, geography, agricultural cycles, etc.  I view the process of landscape photography in a more holistic perspective.

As an example for the image “Prescott Trees” I made three trips in a year from NY to Washington State just for that shot. The version I ended up using had fall foliage.


Prescott Trees

Kosoff works almost exclusively in black and white: “Black & White to me is the truest form of photography. I know that may sound contradictory given that B&W is inherently an interpretation of the scene, but B&W is all about light, tone, gradation and composition.  It’s doesn’t get much simpler than that.”

Black-and-white photography also allows the level of abstraction that colour photography does not. Kosoff has preoccupation with form, particularly contrasting form, in landscape. Prescott Trees has echoes of Ansel Adams sand dunes with its sharp edged lines contrasting with the softer  undulating shapes of the hills.

Kosoff is also adept at creating sharp contrasts in shape and form. In this photo, the trees  are situated between the open space of the field and the darker contours of the hills behind. The more defined shape of the trees and the gradations in tone constitute a contrast to the darker and softer shapes of the hills.

 Tuscan Field is photographically and thematically similar to Prescott Trees.  The tonal gradations in the slopes that dominate the foreground of the photograph are a sharp contrast with the line of dark trees silhouetted against the overcast sky. The way that Kosoff layers his pictures is similar in many ways to the technique that Edward Hopper uses in many of his paintings.


 Tuscan Field

The brilliantly composed Hay Bales is thematically and stylistically similar to both Prescott Trees and Tuscan Field. There are the two layers of the hills which give way to the the lower part of the sky scape where the five hay bales are silhouetted. The foreground is dark but subtly muted, particularly around the large hay bale. Overall, it is much stronger and in many ways a far more abstract composition than Prescott Trees and Tuscan Field.  The wavelike shape of the hills the foreground is punctuated by the solid shape of the bale while the silhouettes of the hay bales in the middle ground serve to emphasise and punctuate the shape of the second hill.

hay bales

Lone Pine Peak is a series of layers of contrasting tones and shapes. In the foreground is a fence made up of a series of white rectangles which serve to emphasise the uneven, layered rhythm of this painting.

lone pine peak

Lone Pine Peak

Behind the fence is a field in which a row of trees, similar to those in Prescott Trees. There are three layers behind trees.  The first is a line of black mountains that serves to emphasise the tonal gradations of the trees in the mid foreground. Behind that is range of mountains with sharper lines and contrasts and finally a slightly overcast sky.

In the same interview Kosoff says:”I admired Ansel Adams, but the more I shot landscape the less I was impressed with his photographs. Maybe this is because his work became so copied and was therefore less visually exciting to me. But his contributions to photography and the environment were enormous and no one will ever match that. I believe that photography is accepted as an art today because of Ansel Adams.”

Indeed, there are marked similarities between Lone Pine Peak and Ansel Adams’ Winter Sunrise Sierra Nevada. Although, as is common in many of Adams’s photos, you get the impression that a lot of work has gone on in the dark room to produce this particular print, something that is absent in Kosoff’s work


Ansel Adams: Winter Sunrise Sierra Nevada

Snowy Ridge is another brilliant composition. The structure is defined by the strong white line of the ridge which separates the snow from the dark winter sky.


Snowy Ridge

The feathery line of trees which runs along this dividing line creates a third dimension that runs across the photograph into the foreground. But it also serves to emphasise the strong compositional unity of this photograph.  The line of the ridge runs just below the tops of the trees in the foreground. The brilliance of this photograph rests in its wonderful balance of compositional simplicity and complexity. The photograph is held together by the subtle relationships between its elements: the contrasting foreground and background and the two lines of trees whose relationship to each other is tied together by line between the snow and the skyline.

At first sight, Silos lacks all the subtlety of Snowy Ridge. The foreground of the photograph is dominated by the lines of cut grass running across the plain emphasising the squat, contained solidity of the silos that dominates the centre of the photograph. Yet there is a poetic beauty in the contrast between their uneven orderliness and the clouds streaming across the background.




Peter Dutton wrong on all counts

The Age reports that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has blamed refugee advocates, rather than his government’s policies, for a spate of horrifying self-harm attempts at Nauru that included a young Somali woman who set herself alight on Monday.


Someone else’s fault. Dutton points the finger

“These behaviours have intensified in recent times and as we see, they have turned to extreme acts with terrible consequences,” Mr Dutton said. “Advocates who proclaim to represent and support the interests of refugees and asylum seekers must frankly hear a clear message … their activities and these behaviours must end.”

So let’s just check the logic of this. The people most active in speaking up for a group of people who have no voice in Australian politics by advocating that the detention of refugees is a national disgrace and should be ended. This is done in the hope of having them brought to Australia. In doing this these advocates are responsible for the death of one detainee and the terrible burning of another.

The very act of holding out hope to the these people has them commit suicide in one instance and attempt it, in another.

Michael Gordon, writes “Those willing to take their own lives in such horrible circumstances are not, as the Nauru government asserts, attempting “to influence the Australian government’s immigration policies”.  Nor are they responding to advocates who have given them “false hope”, as Dutton asserts. They have simply given up.”

Investors compete with 1st home buyers

Here is an interesting graph on the type of properties owner-occupiers and investors buy, based on national sales for past 12 months.


Assuming that 1st home buyers are buying in at the lower end of the market, then there is direct competition between them and investors. The irony is that the investors are buying the houses that 1st home buyers will have to rent.

Malcolm Turnbull wants housing affordability to be an election issue but at the same time decries Labor’s negative gearing policy because it will reduce house prices. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

The problem with housing affordability is that it is very difficult to make significant inroads into the problem. Increasing average wages while housing prices remain relatively steady is one way. But wage growth is an record lows so that doesn’t appear to be solution that will work in the short term.

When you add it up, it’s just Abbott-lite

There is growing disillusion with Malcolm Turnbull. Despite the rhetoric about an agile nation, innovation and technology, Turnbull has changed nothing since deposing Abbott. We can look forward to an election campaign based on fear of change: fear of changing negative gearing, fear of introducing a tax on carbon, fear of asylum seekers and, if Cory Bernardi gets the bit between his teeth, fear of same-sex marriage.


Spot the difference

Under a headline “Behold Malcolm Abbott”, Political editor, Michael Gordon, writes in The Age:


Political editor, Michael Gordon

On Friday the PM went further. “We can’t afford to let the empathy that we feel for the desperate circumstances that many people find themselves in to cloud our judgment,” he told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell. “Our national security has to come first.”

The only difference between what Turnbull is saying and what Abbott  would have said is that Turnbull  has the decency to recognise that some people may have  “empathy … for the desperate circumstances that many people find themselves”.

Earlier in the week, Turnbull had shown that he was “rock solid” on Abbott’s climate change policy too, signalling his readiness to run a carbon-tax scare campaign against the Labor policy big business had tacitly endorsed.

And this from the man who sought bi-partisan support for attacks on carbon.

The problem for Turnbull on both fronts, and on negative gearing and marriage equality, is that his position now sits so uncomfortably with his past statements and, more importantly, with the expectations of many who greeted his ascension with such unbridled enthusiasm and hope.

On negative gearing and child care Anne Summers writes: Have we seriously become the kind of country that is willing to pay for a $300 a week tax deduction to help a one-year-old baby own a property but we are not willing to stump up anything like that sort of money to allow kids to have high-quality childcare?


Anne Summers

At present we pay parents $7500 a year, which is $144.23 per week, to help out with childcare expenses.

Note the different amounts to offset family spending: $300 a week for property investment but only $144.23 a week for investment in a child’s early learning.




Farmer Turnbull’s barnyard animals: Mutton, the border protection Collie.

Farmer Turnbull had inherited a number of animals when he took over the farm. Coal-fired the flatulent draught horse, Floppy the negatively geared rabbit, Buttercup the diesel rebate cow, Mince the Poodle, Clarence, the Carbon Tax goose and Mojo the rabid budget mongrel. Priscilla the paid maternity leave show pony Had met an untimely end earlier and wound up as pet food and Mojo saw which way the wind was blowing and moved overseas.

Many people had hoped that Farmer Turnbull, classical scholar prone to pretentious quotations would clean out the Augean Stables stables but it was not to be.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” muttered Mince the Poodle but not loud enough to be heard.

With the departure of Mojo, some changes had to be made. Scottie, the Scottish terrier took over and Mutton the border collie was given responsibility for keeping the perimeter safe. His major qualification for this role was his ability to run and bark, at the same time and tirelessly.

Many of the neighbours complained about the noise he made but Farmer Turnbull was unmoved. The more time Mutton spent running round barking, the less time he had for visiting ex-farmer Abbott and involving himself and general bum sniffing.

Farmer Turnbull’s barnyard animals: Bronnie the cantankerous goose

One of the many animals that Farmer Turnbull inherited, rather unhappily, from Farmer Abbott when he took over the farm, was Bronnie the cantankerous goose. She had been around for as long as anybody could remember and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find anything useful for her to do after she had spent the morning preening her feathers.

Farmer Abbott had decided to make her Head Prefect, in charge of keeping order in the barnyard. This gave her license to give unruly barnyard members are good picking, something that she was extremely adept at doing. Unfortunately, over the years Bronnie had become rather more interested in shopping trips rather than making a contribution barnyard life. Some of her expeditions had raised eyebrows but there was a general feeling that if she was off shopping then she wasn’t around pecking everybody.

But her spending habits became more and more bizarre and when it was realised that she was spending a fortune on pate de foie gras, the goose was pretty well cooked. Trying not to demonstrate excessive alacrity, Farmer Turnbull moved to relegate Bronnie down the pecking order.

Every three years, there was a minor shakeup of barnyard membership and barnyard members were given the opportunity to vote people off the farm if necessary. It was rare for barnyard members to be given the shove but, despite strong support amongst the golden goose set, Bronnie was ignominiously given the DCM.*

* Don’t Come Monday

Farmer Abbott’s farm yard: the rise of Malcolm the telecommunications pigeon

Farmer Abbott decided to put Malcolm the pigeon in charge of telecommunications. It was a sensible thing to do. After all, he was a pigeon and had spent time as a racing pigeon and as a carrier pigeon.

You also have a great idea for a new telecommunication system: a combination of semaphore stations and carrier pigeons. The simple stations would waive their arms in the normal fashion and carrier pigeons would move between those who are out of line of sight.

It was hailed as a brilliant idea and cheap to boot. There were some dark mutterings about neighbouring farms installing the new electric telephone but they were generally shouted down. “Imagine how many pigeons will have work.” was the cry.

Many people could not understand why Farmer Abbott had appointed Malcolm. He was a notorious bum sniffer. Bum sniffing had a long tradition in the farmyard and was a national pastime.  It was the way that Farmer Abbott kept track of who supported him. But it was also a means to snuff out support for challenges to farm ownership. Over the years, animals had become adept at the game and being able to disguise their bum smell to hide their allegiances.

And so it was that when Malcolm was appointed a fresh round of covert bum sniffing began. Malcolm did not normally take part in the bum sniffing but left it to his friend and ally Mince  the poodle.  After months of denial and keeping his nose clean, Malcolm called a party bum sniffing meeting. Many of the farmyard animals had been keeping their backs to the wall but now was the night of reckoning.

In a decisive show of bottoms, Malcolm replaced Farm Abbott as head of the barnyard.

Ex-Farmer Abbott retired to a small cottage on the back blocks of the farm. He would move emerged occasionally, shouting at anyone who would listen. But the crowd is diminished and he resorted to is old hobby of smuggling budgies through a hole in the farm fence.


My dog Preferences and the annual bum-sniffing competition

I have a little dog called Preferences, a kelpie-labrador cross, which means he tends to lie around a lot. As a general rule, he doesn’t like being exercised. He only gets out about once a year to the bum-sniffing competitions. There are three of them: the national competition, the state competition and local competition. So he doesn’t get much exercise, but as I said, he’s a pretty lazy dog. When we go out to one of the annual competitions there are normally two main events in two paddocks: the upper paddock and the lower paddock.

We normally do the lower paddock first. It’s pretty simple, Preferences runs round sniffing bums and at the end of the morning the most popular dog wins. The upper paddock competition is rather more complicated making it a cross between a dogfight, a bunfight and Friday night in Clancy’s saloon. There are all sorts of dogs running round: mad dogs, bad dogs and dogs that are dangerous to know.

Preferences normally goes in, sniffs a couple of bums, decides it’s all too hard, lies down and refuses to move. I can’t say I blame him. Apart from all the normal suspects, there is a group of dogs called Preference Deals. They are very hard to pick as they tend to blend into the background and move around really quickly, ducking and diving everywhere. Every now and then, there is a big group sniff off.


Preference Deals at work

I saw one once, and I must admit that it certainly knew which were the important bums to sniff. The trouble with the dogs called Preference Deals is they usually move so fast that the other dogs don’t get a chance to sniff them. So you don’t know what their influence is until the results have been announced and you find that some real dogs of candidates have got up.

So from now on, I’m going to exercise my little dog Preferences and make sure he gets round to sniff all the bums in the upper paddock.

Eye in the Sky film review

 Eye in the Sky is a moral dilemma wrapped up in a political spy thriller.

The dilemma is whether the Americans and the British should fire a drone missile at a group of terrorists preparing for a suicide bomb mission. If they fire, there is a high probability of killing not only the terrorists, but also a young girl selling bread on the street. If they do not fire, there is a possibility of a much higher death toll if the bomb is ignited in the market or shopping centre.

 Alia (Aisha Takow).jpg

Aisha Takow plays Alia, a small girl selling bread outside the house where the terrorists are preparing their attack. Part of the debate centres on the possibility of her being killed by the missile.  Such is the ruthless logic of such operations that a 45% chance of her being killed is considered acceptable.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren)  watches the house she is targeting.


The technology is such that everyone can see how many loaves of bread Alia still has left to sell.  A small short-range  beetle drone can take photos inside the house  where the suicide bomber is being armed


The drama of the film is developed in two ways. The first centres on how the decision is made to fire the missile. The military and political implications of the decision are thrashed out by Lieutenant General Frank Benson  (Alan Rickman) and a group of politicians: Attorney General George Mathewson  (Richard McCabe), Brian Woodale  (Jeremy Northam ) and British Foreign Secretary James Willett (Iain Glen) who are sitting in an office in London watching the mission unfold with live footage from the drone.

Francis Chouler as Jack Cleary, Jeremy Northam as Brian Woodale and Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Frank Benson.jpg

At the end of the telephone, in the operation centre is military intelligence officer   Colonel Katherine Powell, (Helen Mirren) who has been tracking the terrorists for six years and now has them firmly in the sights of her drone-bourne Tomahawk missile.


She is desperately keen to launch the missile.

The tension in the film is also developed around the fate of Alia, whose bread stall is within the killing zone.  It is clear that the terrorists are preparing to leave the house and the opportunity to kill them will be lost if the missile is not fired quickly. What is not clear is how long it will be before Alia sells all her bread and moves out of danger.  Tension is heightened by the efforts of a Kenyan undercover agent, Jama Farah  (Barked Abdi), who was in the street outside the house, to buy the bread. 

Barkhad Abdi

As pressure builds to launch the missile, the politicians prevaricate and the decision bounces between Singapore, Beijing and Washington. In Beijing, the Foreign Secretary is playing table tennis with the Chinese national champion and really cannot be bothered making a decision. In Washington, the Americans have no qualms at all. The US citizen inside the house forfeited all rights when he joined the Al-Shabaab extremists.

The film also lays to rest the myth that drone warfare is impersonal. The pilot of the drone is USAF drone pilot 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts (Aaron Paul).


He can see Alia playing with her hoola-hoop in her backyard before she goes out to sell the bread. She is a very human face of the the collateral damage that the missile will inflict.

The film was particularly well made.

The storyline is tight and the acting is superb, although you suspect that neither Alan Rickman nor Helen Mirrem would have found their  rather one-dimensional roles particularly demanding.

Helen Mirren’s Colonel Katherine Powell is a driven and demanding intelligence officer. Her only redeeming and humanising feature is that her husband snores. Rickman’s Lieutenant General Frank Benson is world and war weary, particularly when it comes to dealing with politicians. His only redeeming and humanising feature is that he is concerned that he has bought the wrong doll for his granddaughter’s birthday. If he sees any irony between his concern to buy the right doll and the fate of a small Somalian girl, he does not show it.

He is given the final lines, but not the final scene in the film when he says, “Never accuse a soldier of not knowing the cost of war.” But it is the final scene that shows what that cost really is.


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