Mal’s folly

Ok here’s my take on the NBN debacle …Tony Abbott was ideologically committed to trashing Labor’s legacy, root and branch. He tasked his shadow cabinet members with crafting minimalist policies to replace Labor’s, so he could claim to be covering the bases in areas the voters would want, but in ways that would support his neoliberal philosophy (small government, minimal-spend, big business, anti-science).

That’s the beginning point of policies like Turnbull’s NBN and Hunt’s ‘Direct Action’ climate policy. Having started from that ideological base, the Turnbull government has little choice but to defend these policies to the last man. I still remember Tony’s launch of the Coalition’s answer to Labor’s NBN. The day he credited Malcolm T with virtually inventing the internet. (Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.) I recall that Mal, standing beside Tony to announce the plan, looked as comfortable as a pork butcher in a synagogue. But this was the price he’d decided to pay to stay within reach of the crown in an Abbott cabinet. To this day, my gut feeling has remained that Mal has known all along that the bastardised NBN policy that bears his name is rubbish.

But what do you do when in the fulness of time you’ve seized the coveted crown, and now it’s your job to lead the team to the election with the policies your ousted predecessor believed in (which you didn’t and don’t)? Well you do the only thing that won’t make you look an unprincipled prat. You lie through your teeth to defend what you know to be indefensible nonsense, and hope like mad either that your rhetorical skills will carry the day, or that your opponents will look even less impressive.

Welcome to the coal and copper future.

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Differently wired

Amidst the furious political commentary on the rise and fall of Ted Baillieu as Liberal leader, little has been observed about the role of temperament in the art of public leadership. It would be unfortunate not to consider what lessons might be learned, certainly for Mr Baillieu himself but also for other aspiring leaders and those who advise them.

Observations have been made of diminishing confidence in the Baillieu government on account of its seeming inertia, along with occasional inferences that the man seemed something of a recluse, even though a likeable character. To this writer, reflecting from personal experience and growing self-awareness, Baillieu has consistently evidenced what Jungian psychologists call a preference for introversion. More plainly, he is almost certainly an introvert. As such it seems frankly unsurprising that he has struggled to command public confidence in the party he has lead.

In the right context we introverts can make excellent leaders, and many great names from history could be offered as examples. However our styles of thinking and communicating seem ill-suited to some of the demands of modern parliamentary leadership. The 21st century phenomenon of the 24/7 news cycle with its high speed communications has made the challenge more acute, certainly. But more broadly it’s been a reality at least since radios became commonplace. In other words it’s about speaking when all the world is wants to know.

Introverts are people who function best when able to withdraw from public access for times of reflection. We innately prefer to think about what we’d like to say before saying it. This means we’re less likely than others to pay the price of speaking in haste. But it also means we don’t do so well on our feet. We therefore find almost all kinds of interviews difficult, disappointing ourselves more often than not. The same goes for unscripted debates and even chairing public meetings (unless questions are strictly with notice). Baillieu has frequently done an excellent impersonation of a rabbit caught in the headlights, when facing the media, rarely seeming to speak with any reason, authority or conviction. Other introverts would commiserate with him, but may also ask what he’s doing in such a role in the first place. I for one, though thoroughly articulate, would be a disaster on a panel like ABC’s Q&A.

Further, the need for reflective space means moving at a generally slower pace than some, and needing due time to make decisions. Taking due time however is easier said than done with a growing in-tray. Under-reflected decisions are too often bad ones. All in all, many of Baillieu’s observable failures have been not unforeseeable.

The moral of the story: I shouldn’t lead a parliamentary party, and neither should Ted.

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Mobilise the grannies

I quit smoking 40-odd years ago, aged 11, and haven’t looked back. That surely qualifies me to offer a suggestion or two on finishing off the tobacco industry. It all happened the day my grandmother sprung me with a lighted Cambridge in my mouth, in the garage on a rainy day. The ensuing tongue-lashing was more than sufficient to nip my dreams of accelerated manhood clean in the bud.

So I suggest the Federal Government could do far worse than mobilise the Grey Army to the cause. Deploy a platoon of grannies armed with sticks and megaphones on suburban streets across the nation, and just watch British American Tobacco shares head south in quick order. Taking a queue from Victoria, they could be called Pleural Service Officers (PSOs). And believe me, they wouldn’t need guns.

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The driest incontinence on earth

I thought I’d had the laugh of the week on reading the Zits cartoon (18/7) about “the two parent system”. But that was before I got to the bladder-bursting lines from the real bureaucrats.

First there was the piece by Nick MacKenzie, highlighting that government brothel licenses are reserved for “applicants of ‘good repute’.”  Then there was Metro’s spokeswoman with “When a service is cancelled, that constitutes a minor delay.”

It give us all hope to be served by officials blessed with the driest of wit.

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In the wrong queue

Medicare was born not long before our eldest child. At the first consultation with the doctor managing my wife’s pregnancy, he wryly directed us to take the receipt to the “Mediocre-care” office. He added with wistful regret that the epithet was not of his own devising. From the other side of the desk however, the fledgling service seemed OK. We barely noticed the queue, pocketed the takings and went home happy. Until recently little of substance had changed.

But age afflicts some more prematurely than others, it seems. Our son has just turned a spritely thirty. At the same age Medicare has seen much better days. Arthritis is plainly evident; rigor mortis beckons. It’s all happened so quickly, thanks it seems to the Federal Government’s latter day passion for service cohabitation. On my last visit to a Medicare office I was in and out, queue and all, in 5 minutes. The other day I called in at the new digs, where Medicare and Centrelink have shacked up. The care was less than mediocre, the queue 20 minutes at least.

The electoral demographics of this will be something to watch. 30-minute queues in Centrelink offices are de rigueur for many migrants, the disabled and disadvantaged generally, and some sectors of the shrinking ‘middle Australia’. But it’s somehow hard to picture a Collins Street tycoon keeping the Bentley purring outside Centrelink whilst queuing with the bogans for a Medicare refund. Enough to make the bowler hat wilt, I reckon. Let’s see what happens come election time.

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Pollie text

I’m all for a quick hobnob over a cuppa at govvy house. But surely in this age of digital communications and carbon conservation, we could have dispensed with the premier-elect making the trek to the Domain just to tell the Gov what he doubtless already knew from Facebook without leaving his chair. A few taps on the iphone and it could have been as simple as: “gday dave. water bracing, mind racing, votes counted, brumby dismounted, winners grinners, shame abt the cricket, needed wicket, gotta fly, ready when u r, ted”


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Glass houses

The Rudd government is under heavy fire from it’s own constituency on many fronts, most prominently asylum seekers and climate change. Ultimately the two are united by the question of lifestyle. How thinly can a finite pool of resources be spread before the general populace considers itself deprived and cries foul? And as day follows night, any such discontent will surely find its fullest voice on election day.

And there’s the rub, not just for the government but for all Australians. It’s easy to label the PM as “Howard lite” and charge Government and Opposition alike with gross moral relativism, driven by electoral self-interest. “Vote buying!” cry some. “In bed with the coal industry!” say others.

But at least some of the righteous protesters might well live in glass condominiums. Compassionate largesse and serious community action to slow climate change must eventually cost us all in lifestyle, reducing all our options at home, at work, and in leisure.

Our politicians may be vote-driven. But with 3-year terms and a very comfortable electorate, who’d be surprised?


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None so intolerant

Peter Costello is right (Opinion, 29/7) – not a statement I’ve commonly made. “According to these (state government) lawyers, a religious conscience leads to prejudice.” This surely is the fundamental absurdity of the entire so-called “anti-discrimination” proposition currently levelled at the religious school sector. When in the history of this nation have Christian schools proven to be training grounds for young sociopaths? Where is the practical evidence that children educated at such schools turn into intolerant adults? With no evidence on offer, we face the real possibility of legislated social change on the basis of unsubstantiated theory. Did someone mention blind ideological prejudice?

More might be said. For instance, there’s the crafted use of charged language. What was once freedom of choice – a pillar of liberal democracy – is now cast as “discrimination” if exercised by the wrong crowd. If applicants for a position are screened according to their commitment to a company’s culture and values, that’s good management. If a religious body does the same, that’s prejudice.

The inanity might be highlighted by some parallel propositions:

  1. Let’s call it “discrimination” when a major political party declines to endorse a candidate of contrary political persuasion.
  2. Let’s call it “prejudice” when the ADF refuses to grant field command to a confessing pacifist.

None so intolerant as tolerance crusaders.


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