Tony Abbott starts the year on the wrong foot. Episode two

One of the great ideas that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey came up with to help solve the “budget crisis” was to introduce a co-contribution of $7 when people visited the GP. There was immediate outrage and outcry. It was pretty clear that the Opposition, the Greens and a number of the independent senators were not going to support such a policy. And it duly failed to get through the Senate. It was a political godsend for Bill Shorten and the opponents of the Abbott government in the Senate most whom are shameless political opportunists.

There were no political downside for opposing the  unpopular measure and there was a predictable amount of political posturing about protecting the underdog. But then, in a stroke of unbelievable political stupidity, Tony Abbott decided to introduce a $20 co-payment when people visited their GP. His thinking must have gone something like this: “Okay, we couldn’t get the $7 co-payment through, so will just introduce a larger one. That should be more popular.” What on earth did he think the reaction to this was going to be. He had already waved the red rag at the bull, so then he got a rag that was three times bigger and brighter and waved that.  Brilliant!

Peta Credlin patches up Tony Abbott  after a self-inflicted head wound. She will soon run out of Band-Aids

Peta Credlin patches up Tony Abbott after a self-inflicted head wound. She will soon run out of Band-Aids

It was left to the new Minister of Health, Sussan Ley, to come back from leave and sink the idea the day after Tony Abbott had announced it.

 This is the Prime Minister giving the new Minister of Health little pat on the bum at the swearing-in ceremony at government house. You can see how pleased she is.

This is the Prime Minister giving the new Minister of Health little pat on the bum at the swearing-in ceremony at government house. You can see how pleased she is.

Tony Abbott really has two problems now. At the end of 2014, he said he was going to scrape the barnacles off the Government and reboot the government. There will now be a general perception that the government has started 2015  as a disorganised rabble, with the problem starting right at the top. where Abbott is doing a fair imitation of Barnacle Bill.

Barnacle Bill shapes up for another round with Popeye.

Barnacle Bill shapes up for another round with Popeye.

His other major problem is that he is frequently creating situations that allow an increasingly confident Senate to roll the government time and again on key issues.  The independent senators are clocking up considerable political mileage by opposing and defeating unpopular government measures. Someone is going to need to get Abbott under control.

His statement about his  cricketing prowess: ““I couldn’t bat, I couldn’t bowl, I couldn’t field, but I could sledge, and I think I held my place in the team on this basis.” was an act of unthinking  political stupidity. Did he not think what the commentariat would do with a statement like that? Clearly not. And he should have, after all he was once a journalist. The Federal Liberal government has a deep-seated problem. Tony Abbott appears to be on the way of being Australia’s equivalent of George Dubya Bush, the worst and possibly the dumbest, American president ever.

"I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it...I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn't yet...I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one." --after being asked to name the biggest mistake he had made, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2004

“I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it…I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn’t yet…I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.” –after being asked to name the biggest mistake he had made, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2004

If the polls are any indication, the government will lose office in 2016. Its only hope is to find some way of getting rid of Abbott and replacing him with either Turnbull or Bishop.

 Abbott,  Turnbull and Bishop: keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer

Abbott, Turnbull and Bishop: keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer

It’s not going to be pretty but it certainly going to be interesting.

Tony starts the year on the wrong foot. Episode 1

Tony Abbott has been warned that he risks undermining public confidence in the courts by attacking the decision of a senior Victorian magistrate to grant bail to an alleged terrorist sympathiser. Mr Abbott said in the radio interview that he accepted the doctrine of the separation of powers, “but you really want to see a bit of common sense on the bench”. Abbott added, “It does seem a very, very questionable bit of judicial judgment – injudicious judgment by the judiciary. That’s how it seems to me.”

Deputy Chief Magistrate Jelena Popovic whose bail decision has been criticised.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Jelena Popovic whose bail decision has been criticised.

The doctrine of the separation of powers in Australia divides the institutions of government into three branches: legislative, executive and judicial.  In Australia the executive is drawn from the legislature which makes the concept separation problematic but the separation of powers  clearly requires  that the “political branches” should not interfere with judicial activity,

In Australia, it is a very important principle because the judiciary is often required to make decisions about the actions of the government as has been seen in recent cases regarding political asylum seekers.

We are extremely fortunate in Australia that the judiciary is in no way beholden to the executive for the legislature. Perhaps this is the bit that Tony Abbott didn’t understand about the separation of powers.

Because it means that politicians, particularly the Prime Minister, should not conduct a running commentary on the decisions of the judiciary.

Which is exactly whatTony Abbott did.

First an observation: Abbott has done a law degree at the University of Sydney so he should know better. However he’s not a lawyer nor is he a magistrate. Jelena Popovic is both a lawyer and a magistrate. In fact,  she is the Deputy Chief Magistrate of Victoria, one of our most senior judicial officials.  So we all need to have confidence that she is doing her job properly.  No doubt when the case returns to court, she’ll make the reasons for this decision is clear.

Abbott’s commentary should be seen for what it is:  a direct assault on the independence of the judiciary. He should be, and probably will be universally condemned for what he said. He certainly won’t have won many friends in the legal fraternity.

Abbott’s problem is that this was just a  really dumb thing to say. In effect Abbott is saying “I don’t care what the law says, my judgements of  what constitutes common sense should take precedence over the law .” This is arrant and arrogant nonsense.

This incident also calls into question Abbott’s political judgement. He is given to making a running commentary on anything related to terrorism, thinking that it will show that he is tough on terrorism and strong on national security. But all that his commentary has done is to show that he does not understand the separation of powers and has little respect for the decisions of the judiciary. Obviously Peta Credlin was on leave (again).

Peta Credlin  will need to keep a firm grip on Abbott in 2015

Peta Credlin will need to keep a firm grip on Abbott in 2015

Je suis Charlie: Some numbers and some reflections

After the murderous attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, there have been massive demonstrations in France Huge Show of Solidarity in Paris Against Terrorism Estimates of the crowds go as high as 1.6m.

Je suis Charlie protesters in Paris

Je suis Charlie protesters in Paris

Weekly sales of the magazine normally run to 30,00.  So we can safely assume that the vast majority of protesters have not actually read the magazine. And you can bet that these guys aren’t regular subscribers:

World leaders joined protest

World leaders joined protest

Here we have two separate issues: the abhorrence of  terrorism and the defence of freedom of speech being conflated into one.

Charlie Hebdo has now become the touchstone for freedom of speech but this has become dangerously entwined with the idea that the press has the right to insult and denigrate minority groups with impunity.

It is also become dangerously intertwined with the idea that if you are a member of a minority group that is offended by statements made in the press, you have the right to respond with the most appalling levels of violence.

Neither of these is true but the events of recent days indicate that as the defence of freedom of speech in France becomes more strident, the levels of violence throughout the  world will certainly rise.

 Riots in Niger over Charlie  Hedbo: the beginning of the descent into mindless violence

Riots in Niger over Charlie Hedbo: the beginning of the descent into mindless violence

The Battle of the Five Armies: that’s all for now folks

When director Peter Jackson reached the final of his Hobbit trilogy, he was running desperately short of material. All that remained of the original book was the destruction of Lake Town, the death of Smaug and the titular Battle of the Five Armies. Not really enough for a film that would run for just under two and a half hours.

One of his underlying difficulties is that the original book is not all that good. It’s highly episodic and its narrative structure is only held together by the quest.  And if he was going to be faithful to the original, there was only ever one film in it.

By contrast, his first film of The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, which runs for just under  a marathon four hours has a more complex and coherent narrative structure and covers Bilbo’s 111th birthday, the flight to Bree and the attack on the Prancing Pony, the Nazgul attack on Weathertop, the flight to Rivendell, the forming of the Fellowship, the journey through the mines of Moria and Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog, the journey to Lothlorien and the temptation of Galadrial and the attack of the Uruk Hai and the breaking of the Fellowship as a plot structure.  It also has the developing menace of the evil of the Ring.

Jackson had left himself a bit of wriggle room by padding out his earlier Hobbit films: the romance between the dwarf Kili and the elf maiden Tauriel (a creation Jackson and  co-writer Fran Walsh), the rise of Sauron the Necromancer, drawn from Tolkein’s The Silmarillion, Jackson’s resurrection of the white goblin Azog originally killed at the Battle of Azanulbizar by Dain and who is teamed as a father-son combo with Bolg.)

Azog and Bolg: a couple of real charmers

Azog and Bolg: a couple of real  laugh–moment charmers

There is also the love interest between Gandalf and Galadriel, an extended role for the wizard Radagast the Brown and an early role for Christopher Lee as Saruman and hints of his later treachery.

Christopher Lee, now 93 plays Saruman with chilling menace

Christopher Lee, now 93 plays Saruman with chilling menace

So what we have now is a trilogy that can now only be regarded as “based on” The Hobbit. One imagines Tolkien turning in his grave. Certainly, his son Christopher is frothing at the mouth over what he sees as the crass commercialisation of his father’s work.

Christopher Tolkien: Son of JRR  and head of the trust that holds the film rights to the Silmarillion

Christopher Tolkien: Son of JRR and head of the trust that holds the film rights to The Silmarillion

Mind you, he did get £24 million in royalties for LoTR and the 500,000 sales of his father’s 12-volume History of Middle Earth, which he edited, were probably aided by the original films. In defence of what Jackson has done, the introduction of Sauron, Saruman and Galadriel has established plot connections to the later LoTR trilogy, making the six films more coherent. As the original books stood, the only link between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was the ring itself, its original bearer, Gollum and Bilbo but his part in LoTR  is unimportant.

Cate Blanchet reprises Galadriel

Cate Blanchet reprises Galadriel

As time goes by, there will probably be more people who have seen the films than have read the books and Jackson is effectively redefining Tolkien’s work for a new generation of fans/filmgoers. This must be frustrating for Christopher Tolkein and infuriating for the purists who read the originals in the 1960s. Personally, I find the films of LoTR far more   satisfying than the books now. And will probably recommend films to my grandchildren. However,  I think I will read them The Hobbitt.

In drawing on work from the much larger and broader The Silmarillion, Jackson is also endeavouring to establish links between his films and the larger body of Tolkein’s work. Is he preparing the ground for a franchise? If he is, his future films will need to be a step up from the work he has done with The Hobbit trilogy. And he’s probably going to have to wait for Tolkein’s son Christopher to die because Christopher is not going to sell the film rights. However, his kids may have a different view, given the $24 million royalties from LoTR.

So given Jackson’s decision to make three films out of a book that probably only justified one, What was the final verdict? The films are becoming a bit clunky mainly as result of the need to include extra material into narrative structure that was pretty clunky to begin with. The inclusion of white goblins Azog and Bolg is a good example of this.

With the need to introduce new material, the Azog/Thorin sub-plot was a reasonable inclusion. And Azog  is  a terrific character, a truly terrifying embodiment of evil. He also introduces a measure of dramatic tension particularly as Thorin thinks that he has killed Azog. We all know that he hasn’t and that a final showdown is coming. But why do we need both Azog and Bolg?

Given that Jackson needed to resurrect Azog, who was killed in Tolkein’s original work, why not just go with the son, Bolg who can be harbouring deep-seated resentment at Dain killing his father?  The two goblin characters could easily have been rolled into one with Thorin and Bolg being the children who are carrying the legacy of the parents’ deaths.  No psychological touch there. The only reason for having the two goblin characters is that it allows Jacksonto extend the  final showdown between Thorin and Azog with a parallel one between Legolas and Bolg.  But those scenes are verging on the tedious.

But the Legolas and Bolg fight seems to be entirely superfluous to requirements and only involves a lot of sword fighting and crumbling masonry: pure padding. Including Legolas in the film didn’t really work. Orlando Bloom looks as if he would much rather be somewhere else.

Jackson endeavours to introduce some tension into the Legolas –Tauriel – Kili love triangle but it never really develops. And then there’s another small quibble. Just before the battle of the five armies, Azog summonses up his Sandworms which erupt from the Earth. It’s straight out of Frank Herbert’s Dune series.

 A Sandworm from Frank Herbert's Dune Which gets a  bit part  in  The Battle of the Five Armies

A Sandworm from Frank Herbert’s Dune Which gets a bit part in The Battle of the Five Armies

What is the point of this?  In The Battle of the Five Armies, these creatures make a momentary, and completely gratuitous, appearance and then disappear. Why weren’t they edited out?  It’s just another of a series of pointless irritations for the film-goer. However, Jackson’s revisionism has paid off particularly well in the development of Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage.


Armitage plays Thorin as an aloof and driven man with a single purpose: to recover his kingdom and the riches that he has lost to the Dragon Smaug. He is also a tragically flawed figure who succumbs to Dragon sickness, a corrosive love of gold, in his search for the legendary Arkenstone.  He sacrifices friendship, honour and dignity in his search for the stone. His redemption comes with his death when he acknowledges to Bilbo that Bilbo’s hiding the Arkenstone from him was the act of a true friend. Expect Richard Armitage’s career to take off in the way that Virgo Mortensen’s did after his portrayal of Aragorn. Also expect Elf King Thranduil Lee Pace to emulate Orlando Bloom.


But the real star of the show is Martin Freeman’s hobbit.  This Bilbo is by far the best hobbit of the lot. Despite his struggles and tribulations, Frodo remains one-dimensional character as do the other hobbits from LoTR. Well, perhaps that’s not quite fair. They do remain three dimensional in that they never lose weight despite the terrible privations of the quest. At the end, they’re still four chubby little hobbits.

At the start of the trilogy, Freeman play is Bilbo as fussy, self preoccupied and self-satisfied. As the film progresses, he becomes increasingly world-weary and disillusioned with the follies of the dwarves and particularly, Thorin.  But by the end of the film, he has developed into a brave but extremely saddened man.

Bilbo remains saddened and baffled by Thorin

Bilbo remains saddened and baffled by Thorin

Will more of Tolkein’s work to come to the screen?  Not during Christopher Tolkein’s lifetime and possibly not directed by Peter Jackson. But come it will. The pressures of commercialisation and possibly the need to adapt Tolkien’s work to a different medium to keep it relevant will see The Silmarillion on the screen.

Emissions going up, not down. Direct Action too indirect.

The Government’s promise to reduce emissions by 5% by 2020 has just become that little bit more difficult to achieve. Not that many people thought that Direct Action was going to be an effective policy in reducing carbon emissions.

Power sector emissions rebound as renewable energy wilts

“If this rate of increase were to continue for a year …NEM electricity generation emissions would by themselves increase Australia’s total emissions by 1.4 per cent,” energy consultants Pitt & Sherry, authors of the latest Cedex report said.

The problem is that the removal of the carbon tax appears to have led to an increase in coal-fired power generation.

In addition, the move to reduce Renewable Energy Targets has led to a decline in confidence in the sector and a slowdown of capital investment.

All this in the face of recently released information that 2014 was Australias’s third hottest year and that the world was heading for its hottest year ever and that  14 of the Earth’s hottest 15 years have occurred in this century.


History will record that the tenure of the Abbot government was a three year period that Australia wasted in its effort to make a contribution to the global war against climate change

Mr Turner, Timothy Spall and the nuanced grunt.

Timothy Spall plays JMW Turner in Mr Turner. He is superb and on his own is worth the price of admission. Recognition for his performance  is already becoming evident. The 57-year-old actor  has been lauded for his turn in Mr Turner by America’s National Society of Film Critics, named Best Actor. An Academy award must surely follow.

JMW Turner:  Self-portrait and as portrayed by Timothy Spall

JMW Turner: Self-portrait and as portrayed by Timothy Spall

But you have to hope he’s not getting paid by the word. For the most part, all that Turner does in the film is grunt. They are particularly eloquent grunts to be sure. The one that Turner utters at seeing the work of Pre-Raphaelites displayed at the Royal Academy is particularly so.  Next to his own work,  Turner must have thought that of the Pre-Raphaelites to be mannered and effete. The film is dominated by Spall whose curmudgeon-like Turner often appears only barely able to tolerate the company of others.  He certainly doesn’t see fit to communicate with most of them. Spall plays a character with great sympathy  and provides a riveting portrayal of a genius forced to live in a mundane world but also able to capture its great beauty. It is difficult not to sympathise with him over his  broken relationship with his mistress Sarah Danby.  It is harder to sympathise with his exploitation of his housekeeper Hannah Danby, played by Dorothy Atkinson.

 Turner and his housekeeper Hannah Danby

Turner and his housekeeper Hannah Danby

There is a touching scene between Hannah and Turner where Turner returns from an overseas trip and they go through a list of the painting materials that Hannah has been purchasing and storing for his return. She’s done it perfectly (and one suspects, lovingly), everything is in place but all this goes unacknowledged by Turner The scene is typical of much of the film which is mainly a series of  brilliant vignettes ,mostly unconnected. There is an exquisitely painful scene where Turner and a number of his painting colleagues dine at the home of John Ruskin  played by Joshua McGuire.  Ruskin is played as a lisping narcissist and is irritating to such an extent that Turner makes one of his few multi-sentence utterances of the film. The  character and portrayal of Ruskin highlights a particular difficulty with the film, perhaps not so much a difficulty, as a lost opportunity. In the outstanding Amadeus, F. Murray Abraham plays Antonio Salieri, a classical composer, conductor and teacher and contemporary of Mozart.

Poor Salieri, and he could not understand why God had punished him by making him a contemporary of Mozart

Poor Salieri, and he could not understand why God had punished him by making him a contemporary of Mozart

In the film, which portrays Salieri as intensely jealous of Mozart’s abilities, Salieri provides a  voice-over commentary on Mozart’s music and the events at court. This device works brilliantly because, as a composer, Salieri recognises Mozart ‘s towering genius and provides a professional’s commentary on Mozart’s music. It’s a pity that director Mike Leigh did not find a way to use Ruskin in a similar way in Mr Turner.  After all, Ruskin was a major art critic of the time, had written books about Turner and defended him against his critics. He also catalogued Turner’s work after his death. Given his portrayal in the film, you are left with the feeling that he is dealt with rather badly. And he would have been a wonderful commentator on Turner’s work, perhaps none better. Because of this, the film lacks a prospective, particularly a contemporary prospective, on Turner’s work. We learning little of his success as a painter and, in particular, the way he was regarded by his contemporaries, particularly the Royal Academy, of which he was a member.

 Turner at the Royal Academy exhibition

Turner at the Royal Academy exhibition

There are a number of scenes that are shot in a Royal Academy exhibition and there is a particularly brilliant sequence where John Constable is putting finishing touches on his painting The  Opening of Waterloo Bridge scene from Whitehall Stairs.


It’s a fussy painting, not one of Constable’s best. But Mike Leigh has chosen it perfectly to capture the artist’s nervous mood. It is next to, but below, Turner’s painting the Boat and Red Buoy in a Choppy Sea which is “on the line” the most prestigious position for painting freehand in the Royal Academy. At this stage, Turner’s painting has not got the red for in the foreground.  After watching Constable’s efforts and in a  supremely contemptuous gesture, Turner steps up to his painting and slaps a blob of red paint in the foreground and walks off. Onlookers are puzzled and  wonder  out loud why he would spoil a masterpiece. Some time later, Turner returns and, in a single gesture, reshapes the red dab of as the buoy, transforming the whole painting. It’s a wonderful piece of showmanship and says much as about the rivalry between Constable and Turner as it does about Turner’s artistic skill and judgement.

Boat and Red Buoy in a Choppy Sea circa 1828-30 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

There are numerous scenes in the film that are beautifully shot and which are designed to be indicative of the types of landscapes and seascapes that Turner painted. One of the most noticeable is win Turner and his friends are out in a rowing boat and see the Fighting Temaraire.

Scene from the film of "Fighting Temeraire" Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken up"

Scene from the film of “Fighting Temeraire” Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken up”

It would have been wonderful for one of Turner’s companions in the rowboat to have been able to comment on how this scene turned into this painting.

 Turner's painting of The "Fighting Temeraire" Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken up"

Turner’s painting of The “Fighting Temeraire” Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken up”

Many of these scenes show Turner viewing and sketching.


But we never see his notebooks or his sketches. There is a wonderful shot of the train steaming through the English country side.


This is clearly the forerunner of Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, painted in 1844.


Perhaps Turner would have looked at us rather pityingly for asking for more explanations and the paintings provide.

Turner in front of The Harbor of Dieppe painted in 1826

Turner in front of The Harbor of Dieppe painted in 1826

What a wonderful opportunity to show the places that Turner went to, the sketches he took and then the final completed works.   What a wonderful opportunity to show the workings of the mind of a genius. But Mike Leigh has passed up this opportunity. Perhaps it was a bridge too far.

Court of Appeal weighs into sentencing debate

More offenders could receive community corrections orders instead of being sent to prison following a judgement by the state’s highest court.

The Court of Appeal last week encouraged sentencing judges and magistrates to consider whether the “under-utilised” orders are appropriate for offenders who appeared before them.

Director of Public Prosecutions John Champion, SC had applied for a guideline judgment From the Court of Appeal. The Court’s President, Justice Chris Maxwell, Justices Geoffrey Nettle, Marcia Neave, Robert Redlich and Robert Osborn unanimously made the comments in Victoria’s first guideline judgement.

They also said:

  • Community Corrections Orders offered courts the “best opportunity” to simultaneously promote the best interests of the community and the offender.
  • The orders could be modified to suit different offenders and “minimise the risk of re-offending by promoting the offender’s rehabilitation.” They had “the potential to transform sentencing in this state”.
  • Orders were “capable of being highly punitive” depending on their length and type.
  • Judges should assume that the orders’ conditions were “likely to be effective” for offenders, rather than concerned about the difficulties of ensuring they complied with them.

These comments are made in the light of a rise in custodial sentencing in Victoria and a rise in the prison population. Neither of which has had a marked impact on crime rate.

Now there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about what the Court of Appeal judges are saying. It’s that they’re saying it at all that’s important.  It is effectively a direct contradiction of the previous government’s law and order policy.

It is also to be hoped that on the advice of the Court of Appeal will be a stimulus to the new Labor government to legislate for a judicial system that is less expensive and more of effective than the previous “tough on crime” policy delivered.

The carbon tax appears to have been working

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has quietly published data, just two days before Christmas, showing the second year of operation of Australia’s carbon price was more successful at reducing emissions than the first.

Data shows that electricity (minus 4 per cent), agriculture (minus 2.6 per cent), industrial processes (minus 1.3 per cent) and transport sectors (minus 0.4 per cent) all experienced declines in emissions this year.

They were partially offset by a rise in fugitive emissions (5.1 per cent) and emissions from stationary energy (0.9 per cent).

Clearly fugitive emissions, whatever they may be, are a major problem. How do we catch them?

Whether the reductions that were achieved under the Carbon Tax would have been continued in future years is unknown.

Greg Hunt will now be responsible for demonstrating that the Federal government’s Action programme is going to be an improvement on what the carbon tax was able to achieve.

The War on Drugs: still no progress

Two articles in The Sunday Age reprise a familiar theme:

 Ice hits Melbourne’s heroin heartland

Director of needle exchange and primary health service Cohealth, Dianne Couch, said:”Putting people in a justice system, when they already have to deal with drug or alcohol problems is probably not going to give them the best chance of getting back on track.”

Ecstasy use continues at dance parties despite teen’s death

Australian Drug Foundation director John Rogerson said there was a desperate need to change the focus of the ecstasy debate.

“At the end of the day, with illicit drugs, we’re never going to arrest our way out of the problem,” he said.

There is mounting awareness that imprisonment is not the answer to the burgeoning drug problem. While The Sunday Age article focuses on the rise of the use of ice in the City of Yarra, it also indicates that there simply aren’t enough police to deal with the problem.

But this misses the point. Arresting people and putting them in jail is not the answer. For every drug dealer you jail, another one steps up to fill the gap.

It’s about the money.

It will not be politically popular to put ice and heroin on the PBS. Yet The Sunday Age reports that:

“The latest figures released by police show a spike in drug crimes (up 42.7 per cent), car theft (up 39 per cent) and property crimes (up 17 per cent) in Richmond, as domestic violence, alcohol-fuelled violence and traffic offences take priority.”

These crimes are committed to fund drug use. If the drugs were free and available on prescription, the crime rate would plunge.

We will have a problem of drug use in our community for the foreseeable future until we can eradicate the social conditions that create it. However, we can take immediate steps to control the crime that is associated with drug use. And this doesn’t involve using the police, it involves using the health system.

Tony Abbott: only good at sledging

Speaking at an afternoon tea for the teams at Kirribilli House in Sydney on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the assembled cricketers:

“I couldn’t bat, I couldn’t bowl, I couldn’t field, but I could sledge, and I think I held my place in the team on this basis.”

And doesn’t that sum up his political career.  His relentlessly sledging of the unpopular Gillard government won the Liberals government. But once in power, not being  able to bat or bowl has proved to be a huge disadvantage for the captain of Team Australia.

Tony Abbott and the two test captains. "All I could do was  sledge and now I'm Prime Minister."

Tony Abbott and the two test captains. “All I could do was sledge and now I’m Prime Minister.”

There was a thoughtful article in The Age by former diplomat Bruce Grant entitled  Leaders must choose the right mindset for 21st century Asia Pacific.

In this article, Grant draws comparison between Abbott, who he terms a warrior, and Obama, who he terms an intellectual. Abbott’s problem, according to Grant, is that he is always spoiling for a fight and his first response to national and international matters is invariably aggressive.

The main thrust of Grant’s article is a discussion of the way in which Obama has endeavoured to prepare America for  changes to global  role in the light of the rise of China.  In particular, Grant discusses the need for an “intellectual” approach to  International politics in the Asia-Pacific citing Henry Kissinger in his book On China.

Kissinger discusses confidence-building measures and shared development in a Pacific community similar to the Atlantic community between Europe and the US, as a way of avoiding conflict between China and the US. “It would enable other major countries such as Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, India and Australia to participate in the construction of a system perceived as joint rather than polarised between Chinese and American blocs.

Henry Kissinger: still good at 92

Henry Kissinger: still good at 92

And this is a long way from shirtfront diplomacy.