Friday, November 30, 2007

Early days

An ABC online news item refers to Nicola Roxon as the “Minister for the Ageing” in Our New Rudd Government.

In fact, according to a list published yesterday, Ms Roxon is the senior Minister for the Health and Ageing portfolio. The junior Minister for Ageing is Justine Elliot.

Oh well, it’s early days yet, so we might expect the media to eventually get these things right.

The news item goes on to report Retirement Village Association chief executive Kate Hamond’s call for the Rudd Government to appoint an “Ambassador for Ageing”.

That’s a nice warm’n’fuzzy idea, but one would hope and expect that a minister of the crown, whose specific responsibility is to the ageing, should be able to fulfill that function. Yet another government appointee will only blur the lines of accountability.

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It was NEVER about me.....

Apologies. Seems I have a Howard thing

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Sheridan 4 Howard 4 Evah!

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is only just on his way out, so it’s maybe a little early for hagiographies.

But Greg Sheridan’s latest column, titled “A tribute to John Howard”, begins in earnest the process of bowdlerisation and sanctification that will only end when Prime Minister Tony Abbott cuts the tape at the opening of the John Howard National Library.

For according to Sheridan, “Howard is an absolute giant of Australian history,” who ranks “among the top five strategic prime ministers in Australian history.” After which, Sheridan’s prose becomes decidely purple.

Apparently, John Howard has “remade national security policy at all levels.” Well, considering the man and his team had eleven long years stewardship of the nation’s foreign policy, it would be difficult not to have done so — although “mostly it has been evolution rather than revolution.”

Let’s consider for a minute the meaning of ‘evolution’. It can be thought of as cumulative, trial-and-error, random, hit-and-miss, incremental change that as likely as not culminates in evolutionary dead-ends. Think of the koala hanging for grim death to his eucalyptus tree, like a discarded hypothesis.

As for the ‘revolutionary’ aspects of Howard’s legacy, Sheridan is quite arguably being charitable in the examples he evinces, which could easily bear other interpretations. For example, here’s a glaring piece of cant that just barely manages to avoid the obvious:

In East Timor, although Australian policy was confused and ineffective leading up to the independence referendum of 1999, it was right for Australia to send troops to intervene after the militias began their killing spree.

Does a “confused and ineffective” policy indicate the strength in foreign policy that Sheridan attributes to Howard?

Anyway, how many times must this myth of the Howard Government’s ‘decisive’ action with regard to the conflagration in East Timor be debunked?

What really happened was that the Government gravely deplored the violence against innocent Timorese, while earnestly sitting on its hands and pleading there was nothing we could do. The Government even seemed to feign surprise, notwithstanding that accurate intelligence-gathering had given it forewarning of the violence.

The silence — indeed the deep sleep — of Australia was broken by a largely trade union-led campaign which awakened grass-roots clamour for our Government to get off its arse and do something.

But sadly it wasn’t the PM’s regard to his own people’s injunctions that tipped the scales. No, finally it was a gentle but firm word in the Government’s ear from the Clinton Whitehouse that inspired Mr Howard to act ‘decisively’ in spearheading the intervention — which was all but too late to stop much of the deadly violence.

As with the economic prosperity we now enjoy, the Government’s apologists tend to credit the PM with the impetus for the intervention. But in reality the impetus for the Australian-led mission in East Timor was due to the hard work and caring of many, many ordinary Australians.

Labor had left behind a grievously weakened army and the malign fiction of the Defence of Australia policy had left our forces almost undeployable.

The Howard Government was into its fourth year in office, and only by 1999 had begun to appreciate our “weakened” defence forces? Wow, such forward-looking perspicacity!!

Howard’s government had to manage incredibly complex diplomacy with the US and Indonesia, and indeed the rest of Southeast Asia, and send in thousands of under-equipped Australian troops when there was no guarantee there would not be substantial casualties and military disaster. Doing this took both exceptional courage and a high degree of operational competence. From that moment onwards, the Howard government began the overthrow of the stultifying orthodoxies of defence policy and began to re-equip our defence forces and begin the long business of expanding and vastly enhancing the Australian army.

Incredibly complex diplomacy”? All the Howard Government really had to do was say “Yes” to the Clinton Whitehouse, and then lean on US authority to ride out the inevitable shitstorm of Indonesian resentment.

That “exceptional courage and high degree of operational competence” in fact belonged to the diggers, and their military command, that the Government finally sent over there — not to Mr Howard, who already had the strong support of those thousands of ordinary Australians in the street who begged his Government to act.

That “the Howard government began the overthrow of stultifying orthodoxies,” etc., is presumably Sheridan-speak for finally getting off their arses and getting things in order, more than three years and another election into their ministry.

Howard, and his close collaborator Alexander Downer, saw the election of George W. Bush as a strategic opportunity for Australia. They set out to secure a free trade agreement, enhanced military co-operation, better intelligence access, more Australian influence on US policy in Asia and much else. They succeeded in all their ambitions and, enormously to Australia’s benefit, have transformed the US alliance.

The Australia-US Free Trade Agreement was dead in the water until the Howard Government committed Australian forces to the misadventure in Iraq, whereupon forty US trade officials filed into the country — literally on the eve of the invasion — to hammer out Howard’s prize.

On Iraq, Howard made the right call on the information available, and it took incredible guts to do it. There were certainly no lies involved — every responsible authority was convinced Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction — and Howard will be vindicated by history.

On all of that, Greg, the jury is still out. And there’s lots of information available, with more surely to follow, that suggests very much the contrary.

Wrapping up, Sheridan offers:

The truth is, Howard was an old-fashioned gentleman, a decent bloke by any measure. He grew immeasurably during his leadership, but the essence of the man remained.

A decent man, a genuinely great prime minister and a giant in Australian foreign and security policy.

Mr Howard will lerv you too, Greg! Forever and amen!

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Goat Friday

click to enlarge  —  image source

GOAT 2007
Hybrid GOAT (Go All Terrain) Robot with Tracks

It’s the latest thing in GOATs, and all yours for a cool $11,999 US. You wouldn’t want to be seen dead with last year’s model, would you?

But wait, there’s more!  With thanks to Dylan for spotting the following vid... (via Tim Blair)

Presenting the
Fainting Goats

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No surprise....

Qantas, in a US court, has been fined the better part of 70 million dollars (Aus) for engaging in "price fixing" on its US - Australia cargo routes. British Airways and Korean Airlines have been ordered to pay (USD) 300 million for their "roles in passenger and freight price fixing conspiracies".

This shouldn't surprise anyone. Even less surprising is the apparent rationale used: fuel levies. Anyone who has travelled by air recently will realise just what this little "surcharge" adds.

A marvellous revenue raiser are "fuel levies". The nice little earner works by the facade of being"up-front" with the punter by declaring that this outside the airline's control and this is what it costs. you know, just like all the other charges that governments impose. And, just like government charges, once in they are not ever removed and - a fortiori - never reduced. Used to be a day when airlines factored fuel as a running cost into a ticket price.

I suppose car dealers might charge a "rubber levy" to cover the increasing cost of tyres. Maybe a levy for the grease and oil supplied?

The US government takes a rather dim view of this anti-competitive behaviour:

(US Assistant Attorney-General) Mr Barnett said the latest guilty plea should send a message that price fixers would pay a heavy price for collusion.

"The shipment of consumer products by air is critical to our global economy.Our investigation into this important industry will continue and we will aggressively pursue those who engage in criminal conduct that harms American consumers."

As well it should. It remains a great pity the US has no need to investigate Qanats' passenger ticketing behaviour. Anyone who has travelled to the US on Qantas should read the following and feel, well, pissed off:

Qantas, which is presently offering US passengers return airfares to Australia of $US1298, or about 40 per cent of what it charges Australians to fly to the US, committed the breaches between January 1, 2000, and February 14, 2006, authorities say.

A pity there seems little political interest in decent competition here. It seems that Qantas will enjoy its "protected" routes staus no matter what stripe of government resides in Canberra. Airlines such as Virgin and Singapore might knock on the door forever and never be admitted. Can't have such open competition on Qantas' nice little earners.

That though is not "price fixing". That is price gouging.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Poker face

With the sky not falling in, but in fact rather expanding rapidly skywards following the electoral victory of Rudd Labor, surprising admissions continue to emerge from employer unions groups.

Employers attacked the former [Howard] government for keeping secret its analysis of Australian Workplace Agreements, declaring the Coalition’s lack of transparency had made it difficult for business to defend the workplace laws.

Gee guys, there’s nothing there that hasn’t been said for a long time by the then Labor Opposition, labour unions, academics and others in the general community. Neither is the following any great revelation to most Australians:

Business said it struggled to sell Work Choices to apprehensive workers and that the laws had become cumbersome and overly bureaucratic, particularly since the introduction of the Fairness Test in May.

Such admissions from employer unions groups may lead one to speculate around at least two possibilities. Either...

  1. Employer unions groups really didn’t know, prior to the election, that the Howard Government was “keeping secret its analysis of Australian Workplace Agreements”, and weren’t aware of “the Coalition’s lack of transparency” on IR policy. This forced them unwittingly to “defend the workplace laws” and with “difficulty” to plough millions of their dollars, at the Government’s behest, into the anti-Labor advertising blitz.
  2. Or

  3. Employer unions groups really did know all that, but were playing their cards close to their chest in the hope that their man would pull that rabbit out of the hat and, upon re-election, pay out some more on their wishlist.

Call me a cynic, but I’d tend to go with (2) above as the more likely scenario.

Clearly, the gambit failed, but their reserve gambit of courting the “incredibly positive” Rudd Labor Government is surely unfolding, even as we ordinary peons, with bleary eyes, adjust to the brave new post-Howard world.

By the way, it would seem Mr Howard and his gang were so right with their dire predictions that the unions would rampantly exercise undue influence over a Rudd Labor Government. Mr Rudd hasn’t even been sworn in, and yet the business unions groups are already falling over themselves to get in for their chop.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Magic of Alex survives tsunami

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister* Alexander Downer, speaking to Barrie Cassidy on ABC-TV’s Insiders program, laments the inefficacy of the Howard Government’s Intervention in indigenous communities:

“And when we intervened in the Northern Territory in the Indigenous communities there again, the actual initiative was very popular with the public but it didn’t shift the opinion polls.”

* Yes, technically Mr Downer is still Minister for Foreign Affairs, and will remain so while caretaker arrangements are in effect, which will be until the new government is sworn in — probably next week.


Sky fails to fall in

Dire predictions of the sky falling in, should the Coalition be dumped in favour of Our New Labor Government, have against all the odds failed to come true.

In fact, according to the some of the formerly gloomiest Doomsayers-in-Chief, the sky now seems to be gravitating outwards at warp speed, presenting glorious new vistas:

Business in Australia has welcomed the election of a Rudd Labor Government as a new chance for significant reform, particularly in improving the dysfunctional condition of federal-state relations.

The new head of the Business Council of Australia, Greig Gailey, said the BCA wanted to work closely with Labor in helping to lay the foundations for the future.

“Many of the items on the BCA agenda have been flagged by the incoming Government as immediate priorities ... that is incredibly positive,” he said.

Oh, goody!! Meanwhile, the consensus among our glittering cognoscenti is that the Rudd Era has begun. Alan Ramsey trumpets jubilantly,

“We have our country back.”

Get it? We are back!!

We all know who the we and the us are in this country, in contradistinction to the them. And we are back — presumably from our self-imposed exile in New Zealand, waiting out the exceptionally long Howard Interregnum.

Whether the Labor victory turns out to be merely the Rudd Interregnum (as this blogger will foolishly begin predicting right about now) is not even on the horizon in Cognoscenti Land.

But meanwhile, and inevitably, wet-blankets like Paul Sheehan have already begun to cloud the horizon with negative vibes:

Ideology is dead in Australia. The electorate made sure of that at the weekend. Australia now has a new leader as conservative as the one the public has just cast aside.

Oh Paul, now get this: Australia has “voted for change.” And we don’t need people like you telling us that we voted for the status quo, okay. Please.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Howard's end....

The AEC figures at the close of counting last night.

Nick Minchin claimed that Howard may well be saved by postal votes. His theory is that McKew needed to be a good percentage point above the swing to carry the seat against the postal votes. By night's end he was intimating 6% - perhaps as a result of the firming swing to the ALP. At close of counting McKew appaers on track at 1.87% above the required 4.1% to win the seat

House of Representatives Division First Preferences:

Two Candidate Preferred Polling Places Returned: 47 of 48; Turnout: 77.17%

Candidate Party Votes This Election (%) Last Election (%) Swing (%)

HOWARD, John WinstonLiberal 34,472 48.16 54.13 -5.97

McKEW, Maxine Labor 37,101 51.84 45.87 +5.97

Given that the swing required was 4.1%, there would need to be a goodly percentage of the electorate recording postal votes for Nick Minichin's scenario to get up.

Does Howard want to cling on by a handfull of preferences simply to resign his seat and bring about a by election? I sensed, when he mentioned the likely loss of his seat in his well made concession speech, something like relief. He may prefer (to borrow his metaphor), as commanding general, to lose his seat in "electoral battle" with those who also lost their seats on the night.

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I’d tipped more or less a repeat of the ’98 election result, i.e., the Howard Government returned with under 50% of popular vote thanks to strong performance in key marginals, etc.

Oops. Bummer. How could I have been so wrong??!!!

Guilty. I sentence myself to a minimum 3 years of daily being reminded of my monumental error.

Forgive me, Kevin, for my lack of faith... for not believing.

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