A wake-up call from political Lala land

You have to hand it to Clive Palmer, he’s like a rat up a drainpipe when it comes to jumping on the bandwagon of a popular issue:

Police officers who endanger Australians’ lives by tipping off their counterparts in countries where the death penalty is used would face up to 15 years’ jail under legislation to be introduced into Parliament by Clive Palmer.

 Clive Palmer: another day, another headline

Clive Palmer: another day, another headline

This looks attractive at a superficial level. There is justifiable outrage at the revelation that the AFP may have contributed evidence that led to the conviction of the Bali 9.  And Clive has got his name up in lights tapping into this outrage.

But the issue is a slightly more complex one.

If Australia has a prohibition on providing information to countries about crimes for which that country has the death penalty, then members of the AFP are likely not to provide it. However, they will provide information for other (presumably lesser) crimes that do not carry the the death penalty.

Is this a “get out of jail free” card for drug traffickers?  Well, it certainly looks like it.

The other difficulty is that police forces regularly exchange information with international colleagues. This helps local authorities deal with international crime rings, some of which are becoming particularly influential in Australia.

If we decide to limit the flow of information to the Indonesian authorities (And other countries that carry the death penalty), then it is likely that they will return the compliment.

If the principle is widely applied then the number of countries with whom Australia co-operates will be slightly smaller.

It’s a bit like withdrawing the Australian ambassador to Indonesia. Good for public consumption at home, not much use in a practical sense.

And as an afterthought and in the light of all the protestations from the Abbott Government there is this:

In 2010, Labor’s then minister for home affairs, Brendan O’Connor, included Australia’s opposition to the death penalty in his official ministerial direction to the AFP. 

The 2010 ministerial direction said the minister expected the AFP to “take account of the government’s long-standing opposition to the application of the death penalty, in performing its international liaison functions”.

In May 2014, Justice Minister Michael Keenan issued a new ministerial direction that removed the instruction. The 2014 ministerial direction includes no reference to the death penalty.

Tony Abbott’s rhetoric on the Bali executions

Tony Abbott’s rhetoric is informative.  Here is a quotation from the SMH:

“I absolutely understand people’s anger,” Mr Abbott said. “On the other hand, we do not want to make a difficult situation worse and the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is important, remains important, will always be important, will become more important as time goes by. So I would say to people yes, you are absolutely entitled to be angry but we’ve got to be very careful to ensure that we do not allow our anger to make a bad situation worse.

The extract contains a linguistic trick that Abbott uses often.

“I absolutely understand people’s anger,” which is then repeated in a slightly different form  “So I would say to people yes, you are absolutely entitled to be angry (but…)”

First there is an attempt to show empathy with people (I’m not certain that splitting an infinitive is the best way of doing this, but then I’m a pedant)   “I absolutely understand”.

Then he repeats himself, a technique he uses a lot and adds an extra layer of empathy  “So I would say to people yes”. He frequently uses the empathetic touch as a lead-in to explaining why he is not going to show any empathy whatsoever.

In between these two attempts at Abbott-esque empathy comes the kicker “Indonesia is important, remains important, will always be important, will become more important as time goes by.”

A simple word count: 19 words empathy, 59 words of why we shouldn’t be empathetic. That’s a 1 to 3 ratio of empathy to realpolitik.

 Tony Abbott weighs his options on the Bali executions

Tony Abbott weighs his options on the Bali executions

Tony Abbott is between a rock and a hard place on this issue.  Indonesia is a sovereign state and has the right to decide what penalties it hands out to people convicted in its criminal courts. It has opted for the death penalty for a number of crimes including drug-trafficking and there is very little that Australia can do to change the situation, either in specific cases or in general.

Indonesia is not alone in its use of the death penalty. Thirty-two countries have the death penalty for drug smuggling, according to Harm Reduction International (HRI), a drug-focused NGO. All but four (America, Cuba, Sudan and South Sudan) are in Asia or the Middle East.

China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, United States, Yemen, Pakistan and North Korea have executed the most prisoners for drug offences. When you look at the list, Australia is diplomatically cosy with a number of these countries.

For all the outrage executions have engendered the world over, decapitations are routine in Saudi Arabia, America’s closest Arab ally, for crimes including political dissent—and the international press hardly seems to notice. In fact, since January, 59 people have had their heads lopped off in the kingdom, 

And the Australian Government is not going to start making waves with one of its allies in the “war against terror” in the Middle East. But you wonder if the soldiers serving overseas look at what’s going on in Saudi Arabia and wonder what they’re actually doing  over there.

Naturally enough, people feel very strongly when their own nationals are executed overseas for a crime that does not carry the death penalty at home.  Especially when they are executed in a country that the Prime Minister has been endeavouring to construct a “strong relationship” with.

Clearly the strong relationship doesn’t include the Indonesian, President Joko Widodo, intervening in his country’s legal processes.


Jokowi “Expect me to do what?”

And in fairness, we wouldn’t expect Tony Abbott to intervene in Australia’s legal processes and overturn due process at the behest of an overseas power.

So the hard facts of the matter are that while Australians are appalled at the use of capital punishment, the government has very little power to influence judicial decisions in countries that use the death penalty. And, it would appear in the case of Indonesia, that what Tony Abbott may see as a “strong relationship”, doesn’t add up to much in this case.

And we do need to keep in mind, as no doubt the Indonesians do, is that we have a bad track record on Indonesian sovereignty. In January 2014, Australian warships’s “strayed” into Indonesian territorial waters.

And then there was the time  (2013) when that the Australian Signals Directorate attempted to monitor the mobile phone calls of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife Kristiani Herawati, and senior officials.

Yet, in the light of the way that the Indonesian government has treated the Australian government over this particular issue, it’s likely the most Australians would wonder why we try so hard with the Indonesians.

A message from economic Lala land

 the Economics Editor for the The Age commented on a report

Means-testing the family home could boost pension incomes

Matthew Taylor from the Centre for Independent Studies and one of the authors of the report to be released on Monday said

“It could be popular if it’s explained carefully,” said . “Pensioners would have to overcome their emotional attachment to their homes. They would need to see that they are not just places to live, but untapped assets.”

The idea is to use reverse mortgages to encourage retirees to  borrow against their homes  to cut their access to the pension.  I’d like to see the explanation that would convince pensioners to do this.

The centre believes the changes would force 70 per cent of full pensioners on to the part-pension and between 24 per cent (singles) and 32 per cent (couples) off the part-pension altogether.  And I’m sure that they believe that this would not cause incredible hardship for the oldest of our citizens.

Of course not, they just have to sell the home they’ve lived in the last 50 years.

His idea that pensioners living in houses with a high capital value should be either forced to sell them or re-mortgage to reduce their access to the pension must be coming from someone who has never met such a pensioner.

There are lots of them in my street. They are predominantly Greek migrants, in their late 80s and living in the house they bought when they came to Richmond and where they raised their families.

Most of them live in single or double fronted workers’  cottages which they purchased when Richmond wasn’t trendy or expensive.  Many of their houses would be worth around  or upwards of $1 million on the market today, more if it has been renovated.

These are not rich people,  they drive old 1970s models Holdens and many of them are on the pension.  They worked hard all their lives often jobs were not particularly well paid but they were diligent savers and encouraged the children to be the same.

Many of them are very pleased that they will be able to leave the children someof money when they die and when the family home is sold.

They have a thing about family and family ties.  Many of them came from villages in Greece where the family home had been passed from one generation to another for many years. It’s a tradition.

But Matthew Taylor who is a Research Fellow in the Economics Program and who has  has a Bachelor of Economics with Honours from Monash University would put a stop to all this.

 Matthew Taylor B.Ec (Hons)

Matthew Taylor B.Ec (Hons)

Take a stroll down Mary Street, Matthew.  Talk to some of the people that your policy would affect.

Actually don’t do that. It would probably be quite bad for your health.

The Direct Action Fraud

Last night, Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt appeared on 7.30 and was interviewed by Leigh Sales who demonstrated yet again that she doesn’t have the intellectual grunt to take on even lightweights like the Minister for the Environment.

Leigh Sales:  Tries hard but not really up to the job of being the 7.30 host

Leigh Sales: Tries hard but not really up to the job of being the 7.30 host

What was more important was the nature of the announcements that the Minister made.

He announced that emissions reduction contracts worth $660.4m for businesses to prevent 47m tonnes of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, had been granted in the first round of auctions under its Direct Action climate policy.

Environment Minister Greg  Hunt:

Environment Minister Greg Hunt: “We’ll get about this much reduction from the current round of auctions.”

The deputy chief executive of the Climate Institute, Erwin Jackson, said a quarter of the $2.55bn emissions reduction fund had been spent to secure just 15% of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions needed for Australia to meet its target of a 5% cut by 2020, based on 2000 levels.

Any reasonably numerate primary school child would tell you that this is not value for money.

Yet,  Hunt said the auctions produced a “stunning outcome” which exceeded expectations. But the Climate Institute has said the first auctions showed the policy would fall well short of meeting even Australia’s “woefully inadequate” emissions reduction target.

In addition, many of the projects that were funded had been funded by the previous Labor government under the Carbon Tax that Hunt maintained (incorrectly) had failed to reduce emissions.

There’s more to come.

The average time for these projects is seven years, some of them will run for a decade. Yet, Hunt maintained that the reductions of these projects would go towards meeting the 2020 goal of 5%.

If the average for these projects is seven years, this means that half of them will still be running after 2022. Well past the target date of 2020.

Throughout the interview, his entire rhetoric was that of the achievement of these goals was a fait accompli. No hint that some might not reach their targets.

And not once did he have the decency to acknowledge the total inadequacy of the 5% target.

A land of droughts and flooding rains.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office drove the push to provide government funding for “sceptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg’s climate think tank with $4 million in funding to establish his Copenhagen Consensus Centre methodology at UWA.

The brains behind the Lomborg decision

The brains behind the Lomborg decision

Why do you need to spend $4 million on a research centre when you know that climate change is bullshit.

You can bet that this bloke would have some better deas about how $4m  dollars could be spent.

A man rescues his horse in the  worst-ever New South Wales floods

A man rescues his horse in the worst-ever New South Wales floods

How to lose your virginity

If that weren’t so appalling it would be laughable.

Girls at Islamic school banned from running, teachers claim

Girls at Al-Taqwa College have been banned from running at sporting events because the principal believes it may cause them to lose their virginity, former teachers claim

The principal of  Al-Taqwa school Mr Hallak  achieved some notoriety when he told The Age last month that he believed IS was a scheme by Israel and the US to control oil in the Middle East.

Al-Taqwa College principal Omar Hallak: A voice from the darkness

Al-Taqwa College principal Omar Hallak: A voice from the darkness

It makes you wonder what else is going on at that school in the name of education.

One commentator, Bernie Geary, Victorian Children’s Commissioner, said that it was cultural and religious.

Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People, Bernie Geary.

Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People, Bernie Geary.

No Byrne. It’s  just plain wrong. It won’t happen.  And kids shouldn’t be told that it will.

And you should stand up and say so.

The tragic thing is that there is a small group of young women who may be growing up thinking that running means that you lose your virginity. And more tragic is the fact that they live in a community where the virginity of young women is valued exceptionally highly.

One step nearer a police state.

Jonathan Holmes published an article entitled A chilling step closer to Australian secret police in The Age today. In it, Holmes points out the dangers inherent in the new Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015.

Jonathan Holmes

Jonathan Holmes

The legislation has been passed with the support of both major parties but Holmes raises some serious considerations particularly in relation to the ability of police to access metadata of journalists. Access to metadata that would allow authorities to identify a journalists’ sources, which is particularly worrying in the cases of whistleblowing and government corruption.

Still more worrying for Holmes and for all journalists is that although authorities need the approval of a senior bureaucrat before accessing anyone’s metadata, they do this without the knowledge or agreement of the individual. When the application to access the metadata is made, the Prime Minister no less appoints a senior official to argue the case for  the metadata not being accessed.

And here is the amazing bit. The individual concerned is not informed of this process, not able to make a submission or able to brief the person who is defending his or her rights. They don’t even appear to have the right to know whether the application was successful or not.

Holmes sees this as a dangerous step towards a police state.

I think he is right.

Few political options for Abbott and Hockey in the next federal budget

With the Federal Government backing away from any reasonable chance of reducing the structural deficit in the budget, the political options for the Government are becoming extremely limited.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the government is not prepared to tackle the problem of tax evasion by major international companies, that negative gearing reform is off the agenda, there will be no increase in the GST and that superannuation concessions to the rich are not going to be tackled.

Juggling the budget deficit has become a hot potato for Tony Abbott

Juggling the budget deficit has become a hot potato for Tony Abbott

Addressing any one of these problems would make a significant difference to the deficit.

However, the government has promised childcare  concessions to families and also tax cuts to small business saying that this new spending will need to be covered by savings in other parts of the budget.

Abbott will use the increased childcare subsidies as leverage for the reintroduction of failed policies from the first budget, such cuts to University funding, pension reductions for the “elderly rich”.

He will then brand the Senate, particularly the cross bench as obstructionist, for failing to support the budget cuts and, by implication, failing to support extra funding for families.

It’s a strategy that he hopes will win him electoral support and will close the 8% opinion-poll gap between the government and the opposition.

It might just work.

But the government strategists will need to rise above the abysmal ineptitude of their handling of the first budget if they are to have any chance of success.

Think fully-laden pigs on the runway, flapping their wings.

The Government fantasy will be that the budget will turn around their electoral fortunes and they will be able to call a double dissolution some time later in 2015. The other part of the fantasy is that a double dissolution will clean out the feral cross bench.

It may mean that some current cross benchers will not be re-elected but they will be replaced by another lot, probably equally intractable.

Some Senators will not survive the double dissolution

Some Senators will not survive the double dissolution

There is nothing to suggest that  a newly-elected Senate will be any more amenable to the government, of whatever persuasion, than the present one is.

So Abbott’s options are limited. He has chosen not to take a hardline and produce a budget that addresses the structural problems.

Every year that a government chooses not to do this makes solving the problem even more difficult for future governments.

Tackling tax avoidance by international companies must be a vote winner. Whether it is possible to get these hugely powerful organisations to pay their fair share of tax is debatable but the political kudos from taking them on would be huge.

It’s a massive wasted opportunity.

Abbott is on a hiding to nothing at present.He should take the “strong leader, tough decisions, Australia’s future” approach and crash or crash through.

He’ll probably crash.

Will electoral reform fix a “feral” Senate?

The Saturday Paper ran an article by Sophie Moss entitled “Abbott government plans to be rid of Senate ferals”

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm: unrepentantly feral

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm: unrepentantly feral

The parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has recommended a number of reforms including some that are predicted to  “stymie  the election of micro-parties, which rely on byzantine preference flows rather than direct voter endorsement”.

Moss reports that “Under the committee’s proposals, those choosing to vote “above the line” could allocate preferences to as many or as few parties as they wished. Those casting their vote “below the line”, for individuals rather than groups, would need to number six boxes at a regular half-senate election or 12 at a double dissolution, rather than every single box, which can run to more than 100.”

It is hoped that this will short-circuit processes whereby the labyrinthine preference deals, often amongst parties with totally opposed policy positions, lead to the election of candidates most members of the public have never heard of, let alone would consider voting for.

Ricky Muir made a the very important point that close to 20% of the electorate votes for parties other than the major parties. “Voters are looking for alternatives”, says Muir.

This is certainly true.

However, it is unlikely that the wishes of that 20% are accurately represented by the current membership of the Senate. There are undoubtedly a large number of people whose voting preferences were allocated in a way that they did not understand and would probably not approve of.

But there is also a large proportion of the population who vote for minority parties, either because they support their policies because they are fed up with the major parties. This group of people will continue to vote for parties other than the Liberals, Labor or the Greens and, whatever electoral form is put in place, we can still expect a large number of minor party candidates will be elected to the Senate.

With the first preference votes of the supporters of the two major parties now appearing to stabilise at approximately only 75% of the  total vote, we can expect the other 25% to be allocated to minor parties (including the Greens). This will probably mean that the cross bench will hold the balance of power in the foreseeable future.

As an interesting footnote, the New South Wales Parliament recently introduced reforms similar to those being proposed for the federal government. As result, the balance in the upper house now held by a  one man: the Christian Democratic Party’s Fred Nile. who  holds that the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is”public parade of immorality and blasphemy” and who holds a meeting each year praying that it will rain on their parade.

Octogenarian NSW Senator Fred Nile

Octogenarian NSW Senator Fred Nile

On a more serious note, it is likely that  proposed electoral reform will ensure that the democratic wishes of the electorate are more closely represented in the Senate but this does not mean that the voters will naturally turn their support back the two major parties, removing the possibility of a cross bench-dominated Senate.

What electoral reform will mean is that those who do not wish to vote for the major parties will be far more careful in the allocation of their preferences.

This means that we will have a more representative, but still “feral” Senate.

Why we still love Casablanca

How much do we love it?

Casablanca (1942) was voted the greatest film by readers of the Los Angeles Daily News in 1997. It is also regarded the “best Hollywood movie of all time” by the influential Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. In 2006, the Writers’ Guild of America declared Casablanca‘s screenplay the best ever written.

No 3: 100  Greatest Movies of All Time by Entertainment Weekly

No 4: AMC Movie Guide The Greatest 100 Movies of All Time

No 5: on IMDb Top 100 Greatest Movies of All Time (The Ultimate List)

It was so popular that, in 1957, a tradition began of screening Casablanca during the week of final exams at Harvard University, tradition that continues to the present day.

So it’s clearly an exceptionally popular film by any standard.

Perhaps one reason is that the film stars possibly two of the most stylish people ever to grace the silver screen. Bogart  as Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund.

 Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Bergman appeared to be dressed straight out of the pages of Vogue (despite travelling with her fugitive Czech Resistance leader husband, Victor)


The final going away outfit

The final going away outfit

Bogart does pretty well, defining the white dinner jacket


and the trench  coat


As well as the characters being stylish, the script abounds in famous and memorable lines

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.”

“Round up the usual suspects.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Rick’s toast to Ilsa, “Here’s looking at you, kid”, used four times in the film, is not in the draft screenplays, Apparently Bogart used it while teaching Bergman to play poker and found its way into the film.

There are also many memorable lines, some corny, some not so corny

“Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”

“Not an easy day to forget.” “…I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”

“Where were you last night?”  “…That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.”

“Will I see you tonight?” “…I never make plans that far ahead.”

“What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?” “…My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.” “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.” “...I was misinformed.”“Remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.” “…That’s my least vulnerable spot.”

Another reason is that it’s a grown-ups fairytale. When we first meet the dour sardonic Rick, he is clearly the wounded hero-in-waiting.  And when Ilsa comes on the scene, it’s clear what he has been waiting for. She is a fairy princess beyond belief.

Their love story unfolds in a flashback to their time in Paris immediately before the German occupation.  They had decided to leave Paris together   but at the last moment Ilsa sends Rick letter saying that she will not be going with him.

It is not until they meet again in Casablanca that Rick finds out why: her Resistance leader hero husband, who she thought was dead, had suddenly turned up.

In true fairy tale fashion, Rick and Ilsa find they still love each other and it’s clear from the scenes where she appears with her husband, Victor that there is very little passion between the husband and wife.

Victor and Ilsa: Clearly not one of the great romances.

Victor and Ilsa: Clearly not one of the great romances.

This only serves to heighten the poignancy of the relationship between Rick and Ilsa and heightened the anticipation of the fairy story ending where Ilsa tells Victor that she no longer loves him and must leave him for Rick.

But the fairytale does not play out in that way. Rick helps Victor and Ilsa escape to Lisbon and, in the final scene, heads off to join the French Foreign Legion where, when you think of it, he’s probably going to be happier than he would have been with Ilsa.