I’ll never forget trecking out to the old RAAF base in Canberra to watch Airforce One deliver George W Bush to Canberra the first time he visited Australia. What happened that day was a priceless illustration of what’s great about Australia’s political system.
There are actually two identical planes that travel together, one kitted out with a five-star interior to carry the President and his entourage, and one with a more standard fit-out to carry the hundreds of staff that travel with him. As the President’s plane pulled up to the red carpet John and Janette Howard boarded to welcome the President and his wife, before the four of them waved to the (non existant) crowds and came down the stairs together.
The Bushes then stepped staight into the stretch limo, which was part of a motorcade totalling approximately 42 vehicles (outriders included), and shot off across the closed runway of Canberra airport to drive to the US Embassy traffic light-free.
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Lindsay Tanner’s book of essays will be bought by few and chatted about by many as it provides anti-Labor fodder for the Liberal election campaign beast.
The essays contained in Inside the Gang of Four make just enough sense - Labor hasn’t had a confident and composed agenda - for Mr Tanner’s own contradictions to be ignored.
But those contradictions are really big ones.
Heartening to see our Canberra pollies moved to tears this week on the plight of asylum seekers. With around 100 deaths in the space of a week, it’s good to know our elected officials care for those who’ve watched their loved ones drift off with the current to their deaths.
But you know what? Bawling along party lines just doesn’t cut it.
It’s not going to fix the problem. It’s not going to stop people getting onto overcrowded leaky boats during the six-week Parliamentary recess, while they’re all mooching around their electorate offices, lamenting that something more could have been done.
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Bill Kelty’s awkward syntax and mumbled diction have always been a bit of a paradox. For 17 years to 2000, he was the influential head of the industrial wing of the labour movement - a crucial ideas generator for the most successful ALP federal government in our history.
He was also a gifted communicator, there being few people who could pack more meaning into so few words.
It makes for a startling contrast with the current crop of politicians who rely on workshopped lines and regard not being trapped into revealing what they actually think as the mark of a successful interview.
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There’s no doubt that tackling the escalating cost of living is central to keeping the all-important voters of Western Sydney happy. Sydney is one of the greatest cities in the world and that privilege shouldn’t come with an expensive price tag, especially for Western Sydney.
We need to make Sydney a place that’s once again affordable for all Sydneysiders. That’s the challenge for both the State and Federal Government. Any failure in this regard may spell disaster at election time for the Government of the day.
After years of neglect and poor planning decisions it’s clear that Sydney has lost some of its gloss and Sydney voters don’t like that. Sydney has become just too expensive for all those struggling Aussie families out there in voterland.
Let’s get one thing straight up front. Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott probably deserve points merely for surviving this arduous first calendar year of minority government. With everyone on a steep learning curve, the most obvious lesson is that there is a parallel between minority parliament and the concept of dog years: twelve months of this ages a government like the full three years of a normal term.
The other lesson is that while Julia Gillard has shown she is as tough as nails, simply refusing to blink, Tony Abbott has also adapted to the situation better than he’s been given credit for.
So, to some ratings.
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Just when we thought that politics had started its summer holidays, and the “big questions” were put aside for a while, the Remuneration Tribunal released its report on Commonwealth parliamentary salaries and entitlements. The public reaction was immediate, and in the overwhelming majority, intensely negative.
The cause of the anger was the proposal to lift the basic salary of a member of parliament from $141,000 to $185,000 per year. The Tribunal provided its justification: the need to “remunerate them sufficiently so as to attract and retain men and women of appropriate capacity”. No argument about the aim. We would all like our representatives to have the “appropriate capacity” to serve us.
Currently many people who would be good parliamentarians could not tolerate the party apprenticeship demanded to win pre-selection, especially for a safe seat. In the Labor party, the gene pool of “capacity” seems increasingly restricted to those showing dedicated service to the party, a union and/or faction, and often service as a ministerial minder.
I am becoming increasingly tired of seeing, hearing or reading in the media, former Prime Ministers or politicians struggling to retire from political power and influence with dignity.
Anyone with even a modest interest in politics could compile a substantial list in just a few minutes. Think Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Pauline Hanson, Peter Beattie, Bob Carr, Cheryl Kernot, Jeff Kennett, Mark Latham, John Hewson, Peter Costello, Graham Richardson and Peter Reith and you will have just started. Why don’t these ex-pollies just put the kettle on and relax?
Then of course there is deposed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who is suffering the “Kath and Kim “ syndrome: “Look at me, look at me, look at me!”
One of the many life lessons we have been taught by former South Australian treasurer Kevin Foley is that it is best to wear a disguise when buying hotpants for your girlfriend.
Earlier this year it was reported that Foley had bought some raunchy undergarments for his sheila du jour from an Adelaide boutique on his return from an overseas trip. The story emerged from the store where he made the purchase, proving that the bums who were happy to take the bloke’s money were equally happy to get straight on the telephone to a gossip columnist to peddle their invasive little story.
Despite being a very good treasurer and a likeable if flawed human being, it appears to be Kevin Foley’s lot in life that no form of ridicule or no level of rumour-mongering is off limits. His treatment by the public, sections of the media and his political opponents following his assault outside an Adelaide bar, even at the noteworthy hour of 4am, is something which we should reflect on now that the truth has emerged following the guilty plea by his assailant in the Magistrates Court this week.
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A small minority of people have expressed some concern with the ABC top-rating satire, At Home With Julia. The main complaint has been that the program does not show respect for the office of Prime Minister, nor for the incumbent.
Satire about political leaders is nothing new in Australia. The Rubbery Figures series showed little respect for John Howard, and cartoonists regularly take the mickey out of almost any political leader.
Respect for the office of Prime Minister has never been a strong theme in Australia. In America, the office of the President does carry strong respect. It has its own Seal, its own presidential anthem in Hail to the Chief, and the incumbent is referred to as Mr President, whether popular or not.
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I have a regular segment on a community radio station in Sydney that often takes its subject matter from listeners’ email requests.
Unsurprisingly, this week I received a number asking me to explain the causes of the London riots.
My initial response was that the causes are complex, and we should ignore the many knee-jerk reactions emerging.
Australia is one of the most multi-ethnic societies on earth. As a result, we are living in a kaleidoscope of different cultures and different languages. Among these is one which has always been around.
Ever since democratic politics emerged, and expanding rapidly in recent years, politicians have developed a distinctive language of their own: pollie-speak. This is especially evident among Ministers, but all politicians have learnt to use it.
It is an unusual language. Other languages have developed as a means for people to communicate with each other, with reasonable clarity. Pollie-speak, however, seems to be designed not to communicate but to obfuscate: to make communication unclear, unintelligible, or bewildering.
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This is not about Natasha Stott Despoja. She seems like a perfectly reasonable person who worked hard while in politics. It doesn’t make her someone who deserves a medal.
While we are at it, the same can be said for Ralph Willis, John Anderson and Bob Debus.
We have to stop handing to medals to politicians as some kind of little extra reward for long service. Why are they getting medals for doing the job we are paying them to do anyway?
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Pollies should whinge. Their work is perhaps not as physically disturbing as a sewerage plant, but surely it is more emotionally and intellectually destructive.
If you make a minuscule mistake at a sewerage plant, the punitive measure that follows would probably be a ‘shit happens’ pun from your boss. Conversely, if you make a similarly low-level mistake in public life, the punitive measure that follows is nationwide scorn and ridicule.
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Our politicians need our help. They’re overworked.
According to news.com.au, Federal politicians “who ride in taxpayer-financed cars to board taxpayer-financed flights to get to work, say a tight schedule and winter fog is forcing them to leave their families early and forgo functions in electorates to fly to Canberra on Sunday evenings”.
They also suffer in their jocks with dismal pay, appalling superannuation, and disgusting Parliamentary offices. And their bosses are nitpicking bastards.
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Sex and alcohol used to be the weapons of choice if you wanted to attract fellow uni students to a meeting. The ad industry has known for decades that sex sells.
And now we have the internet to tell us in even more precise detail just how attractive humans find sex, scandals or booze – preferably all three.
So should we be surprised that, as Lindsay Tanner’s new book Sideshow highlights, the media don’t love good policy, but they simply adore “sexy” stories?
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Here’s a game: Pretend you’re famous and the public is interested in the minutiae of your life.
What would the media dig out? How would you be presented? For many of us that’s a frightening thought.
Did you inhale? Have you ever said something inappropriate? Any bitchy ex-colleagues or schoolmates lurking around? Did you ever drink too much, sleep with the wrong person, or get close to someone bad?
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Here at The Punch we’re not above nicking a good idea from our readers.
Last week I posted a piece on the dismal effort that is MyHospitals and some of you (ex ALP, Grumpy and Jim) chimed in with “how about a MyPoliticians site?”.
Which seemed like a mighty sensible suggestion.
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The new paradigm has begun to play mind games with our federal MPs. Yesterday nobody was quite sure what was expected of them. At times it was a little embarrassing to watch, like some awkward kid consistently dancing out of time at the Rock Eisteddfod
Manager of Opposition Business and chief prosecutor in the case of Gillard v the BER Christopher Pyne copped the worst of it. Pyne didn’t ask for a division on a vote that would have forced a judicial inquiry into the Government’s BER spending. A vote the Coalition lost. Awkward.
No matter, Pyne plans to introduce his bill into the Senate after a session with the choreographer on Thursday afternoon.
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First it was Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner and now Defence Minister, John Faulkner.
The two highly respected figures will leave Julia Gillard’s frontbench at the election. Mr Tanner, 54, to private life and Senator Faulkner, 56, to the backbench.
Tony Abbott said the two departures were an implicit vote of no confidence in Julia Gillard’s leadership. The truth is they want their lives back.
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We all know the Prime Minister writes books but does he read them? We are left wondering because the author of Jasper and Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle did not take part in a landmark survey of federal politicians’ reading habits, to be published this Wednesday in The Australian Literary Review.
Tony Abbott was not so shy, revealing his favourite novel to be J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.
Julia Gillard played it safe with Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, Joe Hockey showed his SNAG side with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Peter Garrett was immersed in a Bunnings catalogue (he also mentioned March, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the one-time Fairfax reporter Geraldine Brooks).
Australians want their politicians to be “in touch”. They want us to listen.
Adapting to new technologies is critically important for politicians. In the 1960s, successful politicians had to embrace the new medium of television.
In the US, John F Kennedy understood the immense power of communicating directly into people’s living rooms
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