Why a “mandate” is a slippery proposition

Last night on national television we were treated to the sight of the Treasurer Scott Morrison introducing Malcolm Turnbull to the Opposition.


ScoMo gets to grips with Malcolm

 “Here is Prime Minister. He just won the election.”

Yes Scott, he has just won the election, but only just.

The motion for a Royal Commission into the banking industry, proposed by Labor, was lost 75 – 73. On those numbers it would appear that the opposition and all cross benchers voted for it.  Someone must’ve been in the toilet when the vote was taken.

In the last federal election, the Coalition won 40% of first preference vote. This, with preferences, has given them the smallest possible parliamentary majority.

However, the Opposition and the minor parties receive 60% of first preference votes  (Labor 35%, minor parties 25%). On this particular issue, the parties representing 60% of first preferences  voted for a Royal Commission into the banking industry.  Yet the motion was lost.

It appears likely that similar support for this particular Royal Commission will exist in the Senate.

There is something fundamentally wrong with our democracy when something that is clearly the wish of the majority of the Australian electorate can be thwarted by the vagaries of the electoral system.

And then we have the issue of marriage equality which will face the same problem: majority support in the electorate and opposition from the government.



Letter to my grandson (xxv)

Dear Winton

You’re growing up before my very eyes and demonstrating a worldly sophistication far beyond your years.

This is a picture of you taken by your mum as you explained some point to her in one of the local cafes.


One of the things about being an inner-city kid is that you learn how to be cool in a coffee shop.

W and GPT at Laikon 2.jpg

This is us waiting for coffee at Laikon Deli.

You are developing into a wonderful mix of boy who is growing increasingly independent and one who still needs his Nana.

This is you two sharing lunch on a recent visit to the city.

And discussing the finer points of muffins at the Collingwood Children’s Farm.


And getting ready for a big jump at the Melbourne Zoo.


But for all this you are growing in your independence and your confidence in the way that you deal with the world around you.

But you still take time to view the world from the safety of Nana Di’s arms.


We have changed our morning greeting ritual. You used to come through the front door in your pusher and I would take you down to the living room where I would take you out of the pusher and we would unwrap the morning newspaper.

Now you are getting out of your pusher at the gate and climbing the stairs and knocking on the door. I am always waiting in my study and open the door for you. You look up at me, almost as if you don’t recognise me at first. Then you jump up for a big cuddle and we set off to find Nana Di in a game of hide and seek that has you shrieking and clinging to me in terrified delight.

You are also great company and have a remarkable ease with people particularly with the young kids that you meet.  This is you and a friend sharing some fun with balloons at an open day at the Richmond library.


This is you explaining some perfectly obvious point about pigs and gravel to your rather dimwitted grandparents.


But you are at your best with your mum and your dad.

This is you sharing a secret joke with your mum on your way to our place.


And discussing the joys of balloons with your dad.




Justice catches up with Kathy Jackson

Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small;
Former Health Services Union leader Kathy Jackson is facing dozens of fraud related charges and the prospect of a jail term over allegations she misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars of union funds.
Sources have told Fairfax Media that Ms Jackson was charged on Wednesday via summons in NSW with 70 counts of obtaining property by deception and other fraud related offences.


Kathy Jackson: international traveller, fine diner, expensive dresser, fraudster and potentially soon-to-be jailbird 

Former prime Minister Tony Abbott previously lauded Ms Jackson as a “brave, decent woman”, while frontbencher Christopher Pyne said she would be remembered as a “lion of the union movement.”


How Systems Thinking explains the All Blacks’ success.

There is a diagram that is frequently used by Systems Thinkers to explain how we make sense of the world in a way that is unique to our discipline.

This model proposes four levels of analysis.

Title page

At the top are events. Things are one-off  occurrences and that are often unremarkable. The next level is when these events begin to occur regularly and to appear as some form of pattern.   When these patterns occur, the Systems Thinker looks for underlying structures that produce these patterns.

If these structures appear in organisational, political or social systems, namely they are constructs of conscious action on the part of humans, we look for the mental models, the habits of thought, the attitudes, values and prejudices of the people who may have designed (consciously or otherwise) the system.

The argument is that if you want to change behaviour performance, the first stage is to change the mental models of the people involved in the system. This is a pre-requisite to changing the structures that govern behaviour. If these can be changed then the patterns will change and everyday events will change with them.

In sport, a successful team will strive to turn a  victory in game or a match into a pattern of victories. But often this simply remains an event. It is not until the right structures and income models have been put in place, that a pattern of victories can emerge.

Since 2010, the New Zealand All Blacks have played 85 test matches (that is international matches), they have lost four and drawn two, winning the remaining 79. In the decade before that they played 141 test matches, losing 22. They have won the last two Rugby World Championships which are played every four years.

During this period, nearly 200 people have played for the All Blacks. This means there has  been not just one good team  but a system and structures in place that produce groups of players were consistently the best in the world.

Without a doubt, there have also been brilliant individuals.

But they are only part of the story and they are a result of the system, structures and mental models within New Zealand rugby.

So what are the structures that underlie this particular success?

The first interesting thing about the structures that support to succeed that they are recursive: they occur at a number of levels in the system.

The first  and most fundamental of these structures occur is in the way that the All Blacks are able to play their rugby.  In the first instance, this is based on the talents of the players who have been selected.

Three players who have played in the second row in the scrum, Sam Whitlock  (2.02 m 116 kg), Brad Thorn  (1.95 m 116 kg ) and Brodie Retallick  (2.04 m, 121 kg) are an excellent example. These players are known as the “tall timber” and exemplified  the huge depth of talent that the New Zealand selectors can draw upon.  It is interesting to consider the way their skills have been developed to change the pattern of play.

This is a shot of Retallick taking the ball in the lineout which is one of the key skills for these players. The ball is probably somewhere between 4m and 5m off the ground but this is stock in trade for these players.

What is remarkable about these three is that they reflect an expansion the role of the second row forward, traditionally expected to do the hard work in the lineouts, scrums, rucks and mauls.

Instead of being always involved in the rucks and mauls, these players will often be standing in the backline, running the ball at their opponents.

It is a transformation in the structure of the way the All Blacks play their rugby and it hasn’t been limited to the big second row forwards.

Dane Coles is a front row forward, the hooker, who is a pivotal point of two 800kg packs of forwards in the scrum. So he has to be tough and strong. He is 1.84m and 103 kg, in New Zealand parlance, built like a brick shit house. But he is also a fearsome bal-carrier often scoring tries by out-sprinting opposition backs.


Big players like Retallick, Whitlock, Thorn and Coles are now are expected to excel at the  traditional hard work of the “tight five”, lineouts, scrums, rucks and mauls. In addition, they are now also expected to have ball-handling and running skills of a back and add to the midfield offensive power of inside-centres like Tane Umaga and Ma’a Nonu, both of whom are built like Dane Coles but who run much faster.

These players serve as an illustration of the way the All Blacks have imposed their pattern of play in the game.  This pattern involves contesting  and gaining possession. In the recent Bledisloe cup series against Australia, the All Blacks began contesting lineups far more effectively than in the past and they began contesting the ball from their own kick-off, often winning possession against the run of play.

The structure of the team, and in particular the greatly enhanced skill base, means that attacks can be mounted from midfield using big, hard running backs and forwards. These attacks stretch the opposition defence and eventually the ball can be swung wider to the  outside backs, the greatest of whom was the late Jonah Lomu who was 1.96m and weighed 119kg making him the same size as second row forward Brad Thorn.

So the structure of the team is built on a very simple principle: backs need to have the size and strength of forwards and the forwards need to have the running and handling skills of the backs.  This means that instead of having a team made up of backs and forwards, the All Blacks field team where each player has the skills to play in almost any position.

These structures support the fundamental strategy employed in the game and produce the current performance of the All Blacks.

Underlying all this are the mental models of the men who play for the All Blacks.  Over the last two decades, there has been a growing belief that this team is the best in the world and that each player who is selected has a responsibility to the legacy of victories in the past.

Richie McCaw said “The first day put on this jersey I just didn’t want let it down, I wanted to add to the legacy of what was 100 odd years before.”

There is also a different way of thinking about the game from the player’s perspective.

Again Richie McCaw says “The coaching team put a lot of effort into growing us as people, and developing our leadership and decision-making skills. The only way of doing that is by giving us players real power over our own systems and protocols, and by integrating them into all the major decisions.”

There is another fundamental structure which is not apparent when the teams on the ground. It is way that New Zealand rugby is structured.

When young New Zealanders grow up, they began playing for a rugby for one of the 520 rugby clubs in New Zealand .

Once they start secondary school, they will normally play for school teams each Saturday. While at this level, they have the opportunity to play for the New Zealand Schools side.  On leaving school, they will probably rejoin their original club.

From there the next level is the North Island and South Island unions consisting of 36 regional teams. These teams compete in the Heartland Championship and the ITM Cup

One step above this are the Super Rugby teams, the Blues, the Chiefs, the Hurricanes, the Crusaders and the Highlanders. These teams play in the international competition against teams from South Africa, Australia and Argentina.

One step above this are the national teams: the All Blacks,  the Junior All Blacks, the New Zealand Maoris, the All Blacks Sevens, and the New Zealand  U-20s.

The Black Ferns are the top national women’s team in New Zealand. They have won Women’s Rugby World Cup champions, four of the seven times it is been played.

This means that when a player is selected for the All Blacks they could well have already played international rugby in the National School boy side, the Junior All Blacks, the New Zealand U-20s and in one of the international Super 16 sides.

All of this demonstrates the close connection between structure and strategy. The way the All Blacks play the game on the field is result of the structures that support the strategy off the field.

There is no magic about it. It’s the result of years of hard work, careful thought and planning and it is these aspects of may make the success of this team enduring.


What’s the difference between Sam Dastyari and Cory Bernardi?

One is a mean-spirited political Machiavellian interested only in self-promotion and whose real political interests are far removed from the concerns of mainstream Australians.

The other is a high-minded altruistic politician whose pursuit of truth and justice is done without care or concern for their own political standing and who champions politically unpopular causes simply to ensure that they do the right thing.


Your choice!


Changing negative gearing still a top option for budget repair

Now that the Prime Minister has defined budget repair as a “moral challenge”, he should explain the morality of allowing wealthiest Australians a tax deduction for negative gearing while budgeting to reduce benefits to the poorest Australians.

It’s simple.

Negative gearing on property, essentially a speculative activity, should be limited to the corporate tax rate not the marginal tax rate of the investor. To allow people time to adjust, this change should be phased in over a period of time.

But now we find that our two most senior politicians actually think that changing the rules is a good idea. They just don’t have the political clout to do it.


Turnbull and Morrison: cloutless in cabinet

The Age reports that revelations in a new book   The Turnbull Gamble by Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington, that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison supported a crackdown on negative gearing but were rolled by cabinet.

This comes to the the heart of the real problem about Malcolm Turnbull.  Turnbull was able to supplant Tony Abbott on the basis of opinion polls. Many Australian saw Turnbull as moderate liberal embracing a number of progressive causes: same-sex marriage, the Republic, action on climate change. Many progressive minded left- leaning voters demonstrated their support for him over a Labor Party that had been riven by internal dissension and instability.

Unfortunately, what we saw was not what we got. Whatever Turnbull’s personal political views may be, he still heads a party that is dominated by a conservative right wing to whom he seems to be politically beholden.

So here’s the prediction.

Malcolm Turnbull finally gets sick to death of being frustrated and bullied by the right wing of his party. He resigns as Prime Minister and as member for Wentworth. The Coalition loses the by-election, leaving the Coalition dependent on cross bench support. Chaos ensues with the likes of Bernardi  and Christensen running riot.  Abbott is returned as PM  and leads the Coalition to a crushing defeat in the next federal election.

We wind up with Bill Shorten as Prime Minister.


Depressing isn’t it?

Malcolm Turnbull gets it wrong again

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared budget repair the “massive moral challenge” of the new Parliament, challenging Labor, the Greens and the crossbench to tackle the nation’s ballooning debt “head-on” while echoing Kevin Rudd’s stark warning about climate change a decade ago.


This is what he said, “This is a fundamental moral challenge. How long are we prepared as a nation, as a generation, to load more and more debt on to the shoulders of our children and grandchildren? How long are we prepared to live beyond our means, to live effectively on the credit card of the generations that come after us?”

This is what he should be saying: ” Climate change is a fundamental moral challenge. How long are we prepared as a nation, as a generation, to load more and more carbon into the atmosphere? How long are we prepared to emit carbon beyond the earth’s ability  to absorb it, to live by the scoring the atmosphere for the generations that come after us?”

Fixing the budget is not a moral challenge. It’s a political challenge.

There’s no point in the Prime Minister standing on the sidelines carping about morality when he lacks a political ability and will to govern.

And it was stupid to echo Kevin Rudd’s warning on climate change.  Rudd failed to meet that challenge.

And now Turnbull is drawing a comparison between Rudd’s past failures and his own current failings.


 Kevin Rudd failed his great moral challenge, just as Malcolm Turnbull will


Same Sex Marriage Plebiscite a schmozzle indicative of the malaise in Australian politics

What should have been a very simple and straightforward process is now being made immensely complicated.

A conscience vote vote in parliament, which seems necessary because politicians seem to think that their conscience and religious views  should take precedence over the will of the people, would succeed and the matter would pass into law.

We didn’t have a plebiscite on whether we sent troops Iran, Afghanistan or our F/A-18Fs to Syria to bomb innocent civilians. We didn’t even have a vote in parliament. So if we don’t have plebiscites going to war, why do we need one on marriage equality?

Parliament should decided both cases.

Whatever happens from now on, it is going to be deeply divisive and possibly inconclusive. This is unfortunate because the vast variety of Australians support marriage equality.

I blame everyone starting with Tony Abbott who proposed a plebiscite as a way of stalling and possibly frustrating the legislation for marriage equality.

Then I blame Malcolm Turnbull who didn’t have the political balls to recognise this ploy for what it was and call out the lunatic right in his party. He went to the election saying he would support a plebiscite rather than a vote in parliament. Now he appears to be stuck with that decision and can’t get himself off the hook .


 The hapless Prime Minister tries to think of ways to get his haps back.

 The argument that he has a mandate for the plebiscite is fallacious. He received  roughly 40% of the first preference votes. Those combined with the preference of a group of people who really didn’t want as prime minister have given him a majority in parliament. But this is hardly a mandate for a plebiscite on marriage equality.

Then I blame Bill Shorten (and  the Greens) for threatening to block the plebiscite legislation and potentially giving the Coalition the opportunity to take the issue off the legislative agenda for this to Parliament.


 Bill Shorten: is he only interested in making life difficult for Malcolm Turnbull?

 All this will add up to a massive victory for Tony Abbott and the right wing of the Coalition. They have comprehensively outmanoeuvred the Prime Minister who has demonstrated, yet again, his total inability to get anything right.


 Tony Abbott must be well pleased with his handiwork

 And the whole unhappy mess is a result of the political intransigence of Tony Abbott, the lack of leadership on the part of Malcolm Turnbull and the political point scoring on the part of Bill Shorten and Richard Di Natale.

With all this going on in Canberra, it is abundantly clear what the will of the Australian people is on this issue.

When Australians wonder why a  a proportion of the disillusioned American electorate supports Donald Trump, they should reflect on the actions of our own politicians on the issue of marriage equality.

If politics were played like rugby (iii): Question time would be a haka

The All Blacks’ traditional challenge at the beginning of rugby test matches is now famous throughout the rugby-playing world.

It is designed as a rallying call for warriors going into battle. The best known is Ka Mate

Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!

Tis death! ’tis death!  ’Tis life! ‘tis life!
’Tis death! ‘tis death! ’Tis life! ‘tis life!

The haka has now replaced Question Time in Federal Parliament.  Now, instead of having questions, the two major parties simply assemble on the floor of the house and hurl three word slogans of each other and stamped their feet a lot.

It is meant to rally the troops but it also has the advantage that it is particularly suitable to Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership style. The leader of the Haka leads from the middle and sometimes from the back but never from the front.

It is also particularly suitable because of the tendency, since Tony Abbott, to frame most political debates as Three Word Slogans, fits well with the rhythm of the Haka.

The most popular version with the current government is

Jobs and growth, jobs and growth                                                                                                                  We have a plan, we have a plan,                                                                                                               Agile agile agile.


This has replaced the haka from Tony Abbott’s time

Stop the boats, Stop the boats,                                                                                                                 Toxic tax, toxic tax,                                                                                                                                        Debt and deficit, Debt and deficit


Neither of these guys has got the style of Piri Weepu when it comes to scary, but it’s early days yet.

The introduction of the Haka to Question Time has given two of the leading women in the Coalition, Julie Bishop and Michaelia Cash, a chance to demonstrate their scary skills.


Some of the members of the Coalition haven’t quite got with the plan yet.

3761.jpg George Christensen’s efforts underwhelm

 But Christopher Pyne seems to be catching on, albeit slowly


 The Labor Party has had difficulty adjusting to the new regime. All it has to work with are Bill Shorten’s famous zingers such as:

 “What exactly in higher education has the fixer fixed?

  “We know that when Tony Abbott says that Work Choices is dead, buried and cremated, he really means is just sedated”

 Not really promising material.  But then, that’s  Bill.



If politics were played like rugby


If politics were played like rugby (ii): Malcolm Turnbull and the very cross bench

One of the great innovations in rugby has been the use of the bench where 8 player can be held in reserve for some time in the match to meet the changing needs of the game.

Often the strength of your bench would the decisive factor in whether you won or lost.

When Malcolm Turnbull became captain-player-coach of the Australian Wallaby Parliamentary team, he decided to change the rules about the bench. He didn’t give it enough thought and what he ended up with was cross bench, in fact a very cross bench.

A cross bench is a group of players who are on the bench and who are very very cross about almost everything.  And almost to a man and woman they are cross with the  government for some reason.

The general rule is that the coach can bring players off the bench to replace players who may be injured or tired but also not playing well.  It is a one-on/one-off system.

But the cross bench doesn’t work to these rules.

They don’t belong to either side so they can simply run on the field whenever they feel like it.

They can play for whichever side they like and even change sides while on the field.

They don’t even have to play rugby.  One Nation now has enough senators to challenge Team Xenophon to a game of quoits.

It can make life terribly confusing for the two sides who are actually trying to play rugby: all these odds and sods was running round, getting in the way and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they came on and played for the same side but they don’t.

Members of the old Palmer United Party gave up on trying to have a coordinated approach and supporting one side or the other. It was surprising because one of them was the Brick with Ears who actually knew how a bench should work and also how to run in the same direction consistently. The Brick with Ears understood how a bench worked


The Brick with Ears with the cross bench when the sense of direction seem to have departed

 A major problem for Malcolm is that most the new cross bench aren’t really interested in playing rugby at all when they are on the field.  There are just interested in attracting attention to themselves.

One Nation Senator 72 Malcolm Roberts regularly runs on the field dressed as a clown.

Nick Xenophon regularly turns up dressed as a scuba diver.


Liberal democrats David Leyonhjelm often runs on carrying an imitation rifle and handing out free cigarettes to the players.

Pauline Hanson started turning up in her ballroom dress trying to reprise her Dancing with the Stars days.  She got tired of the large sweaty front row forwards asking her for a quick knees up.


So she changed tactics to demanding “please explain” every time the referee blows his whistle.

Many referees try to explain, but have as much success as anyone else explaining something to Pauline Hanson.

 As a result, slanging matches develop between the referee, the cross bench and the players on both sides, much to the displeasure of the paying public who turned up to see a rugby match.

 Most people blame Malcolm.


 So do I.

More at

If politics were played like rugby