Sunday, 22 August 2010

Not So Well Hung

I haven’t done something I normally do in the morning after an election and that is read the paper. In the wake of the ALP’s victory in 2007 I scoured through all the newspapers picked out my favourite columnists and chose quotes that I thought would accurately describe the mood I was feeling. My mood now, is one of emptiness. The reality is that we still don’t know who will be Prime Minister for the next three years and we probably won’t for at least a week.

The sense of impending doom I thought I would feel if the ALP lost hasn’t arrived. Perhaps its because the result is by no means definitive yet. I’m certainly not the most knowledgeable political scientist in the country but I like to think that I have some sort of specialised knowledge in the area of interpreting election results. We are no closer to determining the result than when the polls closed last night. In short I have no idea what will happen next.

Whatever the result and whoever forms government the Australian democracy is in complete and utter chaos. Gillard ran the most disappointing ALP campaign since 1996, and has demonstrated a lack of intellectual and tactical nous that is required to be an effective political leader. Tony Abbott, meanwhile, ran a surprisingly good campaign, but in doing so completely neutered is own personality that it has now become devoid of any distinctive leadership qualities. The lack of leadership is only magnified when it is you consider that it is ultimately up to the 5 people who will decide who forms government and they have nothing to choose from.

The last time an election result indicated similar results was in the late 1930s when Menzies was elected Prime Minister the first time. Halfway through his parliamentary term the two independents that held the balance of power shifted their allegiances to the ALP and its parliamentary leader John Curtin. When the Prime Minister is decided in the next few days, don’t be surprised if their opponent succeeds them during the course of this parliamentary term.

Do we get the democracy we vote for? Perhaps. This result more than ever is indicative of the campaign that proceeded it. Both major parties were uninspiring with leaders who lacked both conviction and purpose. So I guess its only fitting that the Australian electorate has said ‘Well fuck you both’.

Friday, 13 August 2010

'...The Story Is Old, It Goes On and On.': Why You Must Listen to The Smiths

The+Smiths

It almost seems cliché to describe The Smiths as melodramatic. They are almost the go to band when looking for the typical teenage experience. Their songs embody the trajectory of adolescence: always tumultuous, marked by sexual repression, snide remarks, characterised by emotional hyperactivity as well as long periods of melancholy and depression. At least that is what every writer at Pitchfork would have you believe.

For me The Smiths were the band that was the soundtrack to the emotional degradation of my early 20s. I bought The Smiths Singles collection just before my 21st birthday and that CD got played into the ground as I experienced arguably the most emotionally exhausting period of my life. The Smiths are absolutely the perfect soundtrack for anyone who believes that love is a harsh mistress, which cannot be tamed. At that point in my life I was firmly in the Morrissey camp because Heaven Knows I Was Miserable… (Then)

Despite the debate over stereotypical notions in what the band represents, it is clear that The Smiths were the band of their generation, arguably the 1980s equivalent to Nirvana (As terrible and as shockingly overrated as they are) a decade later. Both tapped into a sense of dissatisfaction with the masses, both achieved huge underground and moderate mainstream success. Morrissey is Kurt Cobain without the martyrdom. For those who are unfamiliar with the work of The Smiths the All Music Guide describes them:

The Smiths were the definitive British indie rock band of the '80s, marking the end of synth-driven new wave and the beginning of the guitar rock that dominated English rock into the '90s. Sonically, the group was indebted to the British Invasion, crafting ringing, melodic three-minute pop singles, even for their album tracks. But their scope was far broader than that of a revivalist band… Morrissey and Marr also represented one of the strangest teams of collaborators in rock history. Marr was the rock traditionalist, looking like an elegant version of Keith Richards during the Smiths' heyday and meticulously layering his guitar tracks in the studio. Morrissey, on the other hand, broke from rock tradition by singing in a keening, self-absorbed croon, embracing the forlorn, romantic poetry of Oscar Wilde, publicly declaring his celibacy, performing with a pocketful of gladioli and a hearing aid, and making no secret of his disgust for most of his peers. While it eventually led to the Smiths' early demise, the friction between Morrissey and Marr resulted in a flurry of singles and albums over the course of three years that provided the blueprint for British guitar rock in the following decade.

There are two songs that define why I love The Smiths: The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore and Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me. Both are overwhelmingly dark, orchestral in nature and represent the purest types of love song.

The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore was released in 1985 on the band’s second album Meat Is Murder. It is a classic songwriting master class. It has Morrissey’s trademark homoerotic imagery: ‘It was dark when I drove home the point (his penis) home, and on cold leather seats, well, it suddenly struck me I just might die with a smile on my face, after all'. The typical interpretation of the song is that he is pining for a lost love that shall never be returned. The contentious line always seems to be ‘I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, but now its happening in mine.’ Originally I thought Morrissey meant that this represented a breakup. Recently I changed my mind and now interpret it to mean that he has fallen in love with a one night stand who he knows is not right for him, and he thinks it is ironic, hence ‘the joke’.

Whatever the interpretation there is no doubt that the partnership between Morrissey and Marr reached its apex with this song. Marr’s unforgettable guitar line matches Morrissey’s feelings of regret line for line. My highlight in the song’s production is the fade out just before the coda at 3:49 when Morrissey repeats that famous line ‘I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, but now its happening in mine’ almost as if both the song and the music will never let him forget that moment for as long as he lives.

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me is more direct and perhaps more powerful. The last single to be released on their last album, 1987’s Strangeways, Here We Come this is quite simply the best song about heartbreak ever recorded. All Music Guide again explains why:

The two-minute opening consists of only piano notes and samples of a raging mob, before the band kicks into a maelstrom of sweeping strings, weary guitars, and processed effects. The bombast and aggression of Johnny Marr's guitar seems a bit out of character, and Morrissey's vocals seem more emotionally distant and more produced than usual. With Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce all providing a backdrop of tension, it's up to Morrissey to bring the song back to earth, but he sounds more and more disinterested as the song reaches its conclusion. His vocals dissolve into higher and higher octaves until his breath runs out. Bombastic, but also energy-draining, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is a beautiful, sad song that sees The Smiths pulling away from each other at odd angles. One can imagine that its recording may have added at least a small helping of weariness and unease to the deteriorating relationship of Morrissey and Marr. It would seem more than reasonable to suggest that the song is symbolic of Morrissey's views toward his friend and musical muse Marr at the time

There’s such remarkable pain in the lyrics and in Morrissey’s voice that anyone who has lost a lover can understand. ‘Last night I felt real arms around me: no hope, no harm, just another false alarm… the story is old, I know but it goes on, it goes on, and on.’ The lyrics in Morrissey’s sweet anguished tones make me get a lump in my throat every time I hear them. It is so simple, yet so devastatingly effective. The song has unparalleled amounts of sorrow and perhaps that’s why I identify with it so much.

The Smiths only lasted seven years and released four studio albums. To anyone who is reading about The Smiths for the first time through this blog I cannot recommend them highly enough. If you want lyrics that you can think about for days on end, if you are into the great works of art, if you have ever pined for someone, felt bitter, or been treated as an outcast then you must listen to The Smiths. You will never look at love the same way again.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Ignorance Demonstrates Peacock's own Deffiencies

Being a political academic, a member of a political party and a person with a disability I feel it would be remiss of me not to write about the words of former Liberal leader Andrew Peacock yesterday. Returning to campaign in his old seat of Kooyong (also once held by Robert Menzies) on behalf of his party Peacock made an inappropriate statement during the course of his media statement. He said:

You'd need to be pretty handicapped not to appreciate that this [Labor] government is dissolving before your eyes daily...

Now unlike some others I’ve come across I don’t find this comment particularly offensive. I am disappointed more than angry. His words were even more stupefying given the ALP’s candidate for Kooyong has a vision impairment. Make no mistake Peacock knew what he was saying, this was carefully targeted in an effort to score cheap political points. No apology will get him out of this.

I’ve previously written about the disadvantage that my disability would have on a potential political career. This is exactly the kind of comment I fear. Peacock’s attempts to juxtapose a ‘handicap’ with incompetence and mismanagement demonstrate how ignorant he is about people with disabilities and the issues that confront us. Putting the aside that the term ‘handicapped’ became outmoded several years ago, it is clear that Peacock has had little exposure to people with disabilities in his life, otherwise he would know that his comments would put him at a greater disadvantage than anyone who is diagnosed with a physical disability, intellectual impairment or mental illness. Attack one Mr Peacock and you attack us all.

This is not a party political issue. This is an issue about respect and human decency. My initial reaction to his comments was to make it personal and want to challenge him on an intellectual level. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that I am wasting my time. Peacock was a politician who struggled with credibility in his heyday and his comments represent attitudes of the past generations and he is relic of his era. What little credibility he had now is gone. For all his faults his arch political foe John Howard would have never made such a disgraceful comment. He has honour, Peacock clearly has none.

Those offended by Peacock’s comments need not get angry. People with disabilities have already been elected to Federal Parliament and will continue to be. Who knows a ‘handicapped’ person might achieve the office of Prime Minister, the one office Peacock craved so much. That would be delicious irony.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Campaign Tidbits: Adult Contemporary Music Style

There is two weeks to go in the 2010 Federal Election Campaign: the polls are neck and neck, so here’s a quick rundown of the important points so far:

  • Increasingly my attitude towards the current ALP campaign resembles that of Meat Loaf. The campaign lacks substance, any sense of direction or coherent message. Julia’s had a terrible campaign, with the NSW Right faction to blame for installing Gillard in the first place, and even worse rushing to an election so quickly when she has nothing to sell, no record to market, and demonstrates few discernible leadership qualities. The fact that Abbott is on even terms is not a reflection on him, but evidence that Gillard is tanking.
  • Kevin Rudd’s return to the campaign has served as a reminder of his superior campaigning skills. It seems to be doing no harm that he is taking my advice. How about a job Kevin?
  • The Opposition's campaign launch was yesterday and it demonstrated why an Abbott Government would be an equivalent to an Australian political apocalypse. It was all very 1985: Back to the Future was very popular, John Howard was Liberal leader pushing almost identical policies and Simply Red released Tony Abbott’s new campaign theme song.
  • God bless Mark Latham. He may be a dickhead, but gosh he is the only thing exciting about the campaign. It’d be an absolute catastrophe but I wish he would return to politics. Or better yet he could be a political reporter for a current affairs show that is famous for its lowest common denominator political coverage and flirt pieces with politicians. Hang on…
  • We all know why Labor isn’t pushing its tremendous record of economic stability, it’s Kevin’s, not Julia’s. But Karl Bitar should craft an ad out of this article from a Nobel Prize winning economist. If crafted in the right way, the campaign is over.

Right now there’s a strong possibility I might be playing Skyhooks on election night as Red Kerry and Antony Green count the numbers on the ABC. It will only be the beginning of three years in which Australia is trapped in a bygone era.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The National Disability Strategy: The Hard Work Has Only Just Begun

You wouldn’t know it given all the talk about leadership struggles and blandness in the current election campaign but last week the ALP returned to its roots and announced the most groundbreaking social policy in two decades. Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled the National Disability Strategy, a set of aspirational goals for the Government’s disability policy for the next decade. Yes, I said ‘aspirational’, but its important to realise that the National Disability Strategy is the first document of its kind ever attempted by any Federal Government.

Like the higher profile areas of transport and health, disability policy has always been a victim of Australia’s Federal system of government. The Federal Government is responsible for allocating the funds to the State Governments so they can implement necessary services to various disability organisations, advocacy groups and charities. The problems here are numerous. The State Governments blame the Federal Governments for not allocating them enough money and the Federal Government blames the States for ineffective service delivery. History has demonstrated that both levels of governments no matter their partisan persuasions have been equally culpable.

Yet nothing has been done about it despite the fact that nearly 10% of the Australian population are eligible for a Disability Support Pension. Why? It doesn’t change votes purely and simply. Unless you are a disabled person or a carer, very few understand (including many disability sector organisations) how a couple of small but vitally important steps can change thousands of lives.

That’s why I applaud the announcement of a National Disability Strategy. It symbolises the start of something that should have begun decades ago. The real test will come after the election when real and tough policy decisions will have to be made. However the Strategy represents the first time that policy bureaucrats have truly understood the issues that face people with a disability on a daily basis. Here’s why:


The shared vision is for an inclusive Australian society that enables people with disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens.

Simple words, but this represents a seismic shift in the way that Governments have viewed disability policy. Previously they have relied on ‘the medical model’ where people with disabilities are characterised by what they cannot do rather than what they can contribute to the community. Accordingly the National Disability Strategy focuses on six key but interrelated policy areas:

1. Inclusive and accessible communities
2. Rights protection, justice and legislation
3. Economic security
4. Personal and community support
5. Learning and skills
6. Health and wellbeing

Of course the main focus of the media has been on the 'Learning and Skills' paradigm which focuses on early intervention and support for special education in schools. As a young adult with a severe disability I am acutely aware of how important such measures were on fostering my own development, when such policies were barely in the gestation period. I would not be the university educated professional academic I am today if I did not receive specialised educational support and I welcome the Gillard Government’s promise to increase funding in these areas.

Despite this, I feel that everything else needs the media’s attention too. Everyone loves a cute disabled kid who smiles at the camera (Hell I WAS that kid in the 1980s and early 1990s) but what happens when the cute kid turns 18 and the current system essentially fails them at every opportunity. At 17 years, 364 days old organisations will provide all the support a person with a disability requires, the next day they are left to fend for themselves. Any policy for adults with disabilities must address these questions:

How do you help a young adult find a job?
What if they want to move out of home?
How do you help them have some semblance of a social life?

The answers to these questions are the ones that will truly test the mettle of the strategy’s aspirational targets. It is one thing to talk in flowery bureaucratic language, quite another to deal with advocacy groups, carers and the actual person with a disability: the person who often gets neglected the most in the policy process. It might seem obvious to readers out there, but this in my opinion is what makes the National Disability Strategy so compelling. It’s clear that people with disabilities were actually consulted and not people ‘who think they know what’s best’ for them. This is the strongest indication that the strategy is heading in the right direction. My life and millions of others depend on it.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Three Bullets


American historians wax lyrical about the ‘Summer of 1968’. Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5th halfway through the Democratic Party Primary race to elect their Presidential candidate. Kennedy’s death left his party bruised, battered and weak. This allowed Richard Nixon to rise from the ashes and obtain the Presidency five months after Kennedy’s death. Historians have speculated that he would have trounced Nixon in the general election. If that had happened there would be no Watergate, probably no Reagan, which by extension means no Bush dynasty: the fate of the modern world would be changed forever. The three bullets that killed Robert Kennedy altered everything.
As a political historian I often like to ponder such hypothetical questions for fun. There is so many ‘what ifs?’ in life that often at times they can do your head in: the ‘what ifs?’ do not only apply to history, but to life as well. Chief among those for me is ‘What if I could walk?’ I’ve pondered this question before because I have never been totally content with my disability for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I feel as if due to my disability I could never live up to my full potential whatever this may be. That’s why I work tirelessly to demonstrate that I’m not only competent, but also that I excel.
Yesterday my favourite footballer retired, and I’m grieving. Warren Tredrea is and will always be a champion. He played Centre Half Forward for Port Adelaide, the most difficult position on the field of Australian Rules Football. Coupled with the resignation of long time coach Mark Williams this represents the end of an era for my football club. Tredrea is less than five years older than me. At 26 I could be in the prime of my football career. As I watched Tredrea’s press conference I remembered the time I went to see his first ever game with Dad at Football Park, the time he destroyed Carlton off his own boot, watching his signature pack marks constantly, and laughing with joy at his bow during the 2007 Preliminary Final. I had one thought through all of this: that could have been me. I wanted it to be me.
I love my football. For more than 20 years I have woken early on Grand Final Day to watch eight hours of continuous coverage (much to my mothers annoyance). I regard myself as a skilled strategic analyst of the Dean Laidley ilk, and I think I could be the next coach of the Power (and that I would do a much better job than Matthew Primus). When I was in high school my Health Education teacher (who coached the football team) said that despite not being able to play the game not only did I know much more than he did, but I knew more than anyone he had ever seen.
That could have been my life. I could have been the next Warren Tredrea if my brain got the required amount of oxygen. But it didn’t. This is my ultimate ‘what if?’. If I became that footballer would I become someone that my current self detests despite my superior athletic skill? Would I be the type of guy who has a girlfriend with more plastic in her than a kit bag of footballs? The type of guy who gets drunk regularly? The type of guy who has no self confidence beyond the sporting field? Would the imaginary me give the real me a second look?
I am unorthodox and unique due to my disability. My disability has been the driving force in creating a personality that sets me apart. Society instructs people to generate sympathy for me, suggests that I should be compensated at every opportunity, and indicates that I should be treated differently. Over the course of my life I’ve met people with disabilities who have taken these concepts to extremes: one who refuses any help of an equitable nature, and another who exploits the system at every opportunity. I realise that I am different, that I may need to use different means to achieve the same ends. I may need to adopt unconventional approaches that may not necessarily correlate with mainstream values but I think I am entitled to do that.
I don’t have any answers as to why my life has altered so drastically from the norm. Doctors it seems will never know the exact reason for my impairments. There is no definitive turning point that alters the course of my history, just as there will be no AFL flags, nor best and fairest awards. I know that I won’t be the next Warren Tredrea. I struggled with that for a long time. There weren’t three bullets that ruined this opportunity that I can definitively point to and there never will be. That to me is the hardest thing of all.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Joint Press Conference

I was going to blog about last night’s election debate, but even for me it was so uninspiring and so devoid of actual content that it’s not worth the effort. Congratulations to Karl Bitar for making this contest a non event: exactly what the ALP would have wanted.

Bring back Paul Keating I say!

This campaign is proving to be so uninspiring I might curtail my initial plans and save the next post until Election Night.

More exciting things are happening instead...

Friday, 23 July 2010

Soulless or Stuck?

Does the Australian Labor Party have a soul? This question was posed at a Queensland Fabian Society Forum I attended on Monday night. To me this is an interesting question, because it assumes a positive outlook, that it does (or did) indeed have a ‘soul.' Given this discussion though, this was a very wrong assumption. Ian McLean, a former Queensland State Party President and the current one, Andrew Dettmer acted as the forum’s main speakers. Whilst they provided commentary, they both used words like ‘class’ and ‘socialism’. Winning is everything to the Labor Party they said, dominated by party machine men primarily concerned with obtaining, or staying in goverment and not much else. Excuse me while I say bullshit.

Class as a political tool has long past its used by date. People who comprise the ‘lower class' refuse to think in such terms these days. Instead, they aspire to reach the ‘middle class’ while the people who occupy this category now believe themselves to be 'upper middle class'. Consequently, the political debate has shifted. As Clive Hamilton points out in his 2006 essay What’s Left: The Death of Social Democracy: ‘The shift in the 1960s from a politics of inequality to a politics of identity involved a new focus on the cultural and social domain, rather than on underlying economic forces.’ It was clear based on each speaker’s content that they both failed to grasp these concepts, and in doing so clearly misunderstand the current political climate.

Its true that the Labor Party has a well thought out clearly defined set of values that make it distinct from any other political party in Australia. However we no longer live with the looming ideological threat of the Cold War and terms such as ‘democratic socialism’ remain vague abstract notions to many young people. They see ideological terms as a way that academics can look sophisticated, or as a debating tool for the well educated. It’d be interesting to see the reaction of Andrew Dettmer as he walked around the Café J at the University of the Sunshine Coast and asked students how they would define ‘democratic socialism’. He would get plenty of quizzical stares.

But if he asked what each student stood for politically I dare say he would get many different and articulate answers. Should the government invest more or less in services? Should the government provide services so the socially disadvantaged can gain access to equitable treatment? How much influence should the government have in controlling the economy? These three questions are where the political battle is fought in the 21st century.

So how does the Labor Party (or any other political party for that matter) respond to this changing political climate? The answers are simple. Create a political narrative and make it personally identifiable. I had to laugh at this forum because one of the audience members said: ‘Your Rights At Work (A political campaign against WorkChoices, an industrial relations reform package) was successful because the Labor Party and the unions returned to class based politics’. In fact the opposite proved to be true. Your Rights At Work was an excellent grass roots campaign that tapped into the personal priorities of working Australians. They could care less that the power of the unions was being eroded. Instead they knew that WorkChoices meant that their overtime was being cut, and sick pay benefits were being slashed (amongst many things). They knew that this meant they might no longer be able to afford their repayments on their house, or they could not spend more time with their kids. Your Rights At Work was personal, not communal.

‘Politics is Personal’ is the political maxim for the 21 century. It is why ‘Moving Forward’ has replaced ‘Bringing Australia Together’ as the dominant campaign line of the modern era. As voters across all generations gain more and more access to information on political content, the opinion makers that McLean and Dettmar dismissed continually out of hand are vitally important: they provide people with information that allows them to connect with issues on a personal basis. Blogging achieves just that but was criticised as ‘a political fad’ on Monday night, when it is in fact a great political weapon. This page is just one example of the ability to put forward a cogent argument uninterrupted whilst allowing audience members (or indeed voters) to provide real time feedback, a wonderful asset for any politician. A failure to comprehend this highlights an enormous generational disconnect in the Labor Party.

I attended this forum with my colleagues, branch members and friends Carl and Rachael, the tripartite force of Generation Y Labor on the Sunshine Coast. We were not surprised that we were the only members of the forum who did not yearn for ‘…the good old days of Labor politics where we used to protest about protesting…' The Labor Party for the past week has been all about moving forward and yet it seems the greater portion of Labor’s members remain stuck in the past still fighting battles that no longer exists. The question should not be ‘Has The Labor Party Lost its Soul?’, but rather ‘Can the Labor Party Truly Represent Modern Australia?’

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Note: Readers who live in South East Queensland that are interested in attending Fabian Society forums should contact Joff at japlelliott@hotmail.com

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Focus Tested or Untested? The 2010 Federal Election

Elections are to me like several weeks worth of Christmas Days. The heightened sense of theatre and the pure political blood sport of it all are what make them so entertaining. When new Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced today that the 2010 Federal election would be held on August 21st I was really, really excited.

Although I have an obvious stake in the outcome of wanting my beloved ALP to be returned to government this election is different. Unlike the three other Federal Elections I have followed closely I feel as if I don’t have a particular affinity with the ALP leader for reasons previously discussed on this blog. In that sense I feel as if I’ll be able to judge the respective performance of the leaders more objectively then on any other of the previous occasions, particularly given my research area for my PhD.

The phrase ‘moving forward’ dominated Gillard’s opening statement, continuing the modern tradition of political campaigns being overwhelmed by ubiquitous catch phrases. In 2007, Rudd used ‘New Leadership’ to great effect in order to limit the power of John Howard’s well defined incumbency. In the election prior to that John Howard used the phrase ‘Who Do You Trust?’ to crucify Mark Latham in 2004. Gillard used the phrase ‘moving forward’ or a variation on that theme at least 28 times today during her half hour long press conference, ‘moving forward’ so often it was enough to give me motion sickness. If it wasn’t obvious enough already it was clear from Gillard’s opening statement that she will utter no phrase without it being work shopped in a focus group first. Voters may well and truly be sick of the message, but at least we know what the message is.

In contrast Abbott had no definable message. Crikey Political Correspondent Bernard Keane points out:

Tony Abbott gave a similarly content-free press conference, using a short – too short – announcement (in a poorly-prepared venue in Brisbane, with no backdrop and bad lighting) to attack Julia Gillard and particularly her apparent obsession with “moving forward”.

This to me highlights the essential problem of Abbott’s truly inept performance. He failed to articulate any vision for the future: instead preferring to cede ground to Labor. On the very first day of the election campaign, arguably one of the most important, the Coalition is fighting on Labor’s turf. Labor has been able to set the agenda without being challenged. Consequently voters will remember the ‘moving forward’ slogan, but they won’t remember anything that Abbott had to say. As Mark Bahnisch observes at Larvatus Prodeo:

Julia Gillard’s performance was assured. Tony Abbott, by contrast, speaking from Brisbane where he’d ambiguously promised to embrace Labor’s Fair Work Act (but with a bit of “tweaking”), got off to a very shaky start, with a surprisingly quick address to the media. He didn’t convince as an alternative PM, struggling to move beyond the posture of carping opposition leader. He also emphasised trust, pointedly asking whether Julia Gillard could be trusted by the people if Kevin Rudd could not trust her. Abbott has a parallel problem to Gillard: just as she needs to both embrace and distance herself from her predecessor, he wants to claim that the Howard government gave us competence and security, while avoiding the very real negatives which led to its rejection in 2007

What does this mean for the rest of the five week campaign? It’s hard to say but perhaps the best analysis so far belongs to Peter Brent at Mumble:
Labor “hardheads” may reckon that in a campaign the Gillard hooplah will end and Abbott will come under scrutiny. But Julia is still the centre of attention. Tony may remain under the radar.

Under normal circumstances Abbott would be all but unelectable from opposition.

But this campaign isn’t normal because Gillard has contrived to make it a contest between two opposition leaders. In deliberately eschewing her government’s record, she may find she carries its negatives but none of the positives.

Gillard is not the safe, boring option and Abbott looks less risky by comparison.

This opposition leader is a proven gaffe-maker and says odd things on occasion.

But the prime minister’s political instincts are also open to question. She seems susceptible to big stories about “values”, “cut through” and “momentum”. That way lies danger.

As I wait to see which of these predictions come true, check back to this blog for semi regular coverage of the 2010 Australian Federal Election. I will be providing analysis on the key showpiece events of the campaign: the debate(s), the launches, other major events and of course the night itself. I will be looking at the election from a national perspective, so I encourage those of you who are interested in this election to comment and encourage your friends to join the fun too. Also, If you are not following me on Facebook or Twitter, please do so for access to constant updates.

Strap in, and buckle up because the fun has only just begun.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Thesis Outline: A Party of One?: A Study of ALP Leadership

Note: Due to the demands of a highly valued reader, I present to you an edited version of my PhD thesis plan. It significantly differs from the earlier version I posted last year.

The thesis seeks to study the relationship between party and democratic leadership. It aims to explore the ways in which the practice of political leadership is subject to a tension between the need to be responsive to a party’s hard core supporters that the leader represents, and as a party leader who needs to be responsive to the electorate at large. This study will focus upon the inherent tension of what the public wants in a Prime Minister, and who a party will elect to be its leader—a topic that in spite of its obvious importance, especially now that the Australian system of government seems to become increasingly presidentialised, has not been adequately covered in the literature.

The research throughout the thesis will be of a theoretical and analytical manner, using secondary source data to ascertain how the tensions in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) between democratic leadership (leading the Australian electorate) and party leadership (leading a party’s organisational wing, and in particular managing its factions) and how these play out in the course of the party’s decision making processes. The study will investigate the tenures of three different ALP leaders: Simon Crean (2001-2003), Mark Latham (2003-2005) and Kevin Rudd (2006-2010) These leadership tenures will be examined to explore, as well as to compare and contrast, how each leader represented three different types of leadership paradigms within the party. All of which were unsuccessful for different reasons, skewing the delicate balance between democratic and party leadership.

Crean, in many respects was an underestimated leader of the ALP. During his leadership, he was able to harmonise the internal mechanisms of the party, and was able to instigate much needed and overdue internal party reform. However his major and fatal failing was that he could not translate his positive internal standing to the electorate at large, unable to convince the voting public that he had the necessary characteristics to be leader of the Australian nation. His direct successor’s rise to the leadership was a direct result of this failing. This thesis argues that Latham was elevated to the leadership of the ALP as a direct result of a factional power play, and as a consequence there was not sufficient consideration of Latham’s potential strength and weaknesses as a figurehead of the ALP. Latham was installed to the leadership at the last minute in order to appease Crean’s factional backers within the party, so that they could ward off a challenge by their factional rivals that were under the leadership of Kim Beazley. The impact of such a hasty decision would have far reaching consequences for the ALP throughout the next parliamentary term.

Initially Latham’s pitch as a populist political leader that was the antithesis of Crean was highly successful. His first few months in the leadership were an example of how the needs of the internal structure of the ALP, and the Australian constituency can work in harmony. However as the political pressure increased and Latham’s unusual personality characteristics began to surface, it became clear that his leadership style was becoming increasing unilateral and autocratic, thus alienating important parts of the ALP’s internal hierarchy. That this process occurred under the intense scrutiny of a Federal Election campaign only increased the damage to both Latham’s leadership and the party in both the short and medium terms.

If both Crean and Latham used the party’s internal machinations to their advantage, Kevin Rudd was able to skillfully bypass these restrictions initially, though this would lead ultimately to his downfall. Rudd is perhaps the purest definition of a populist leader Australia has seen. Yet, ironically his leadership could only be secured through a factional alliance, something that, as this thesis will argue, Rudd seemed to take for granted. Rudd’s trajectory as leader is marked by extraordinary volatility, a fact that indicates that his support as leader was contingent upon his popularity with the electorate. Belonging to the relatively small Queensland Labor Unity faction, he underestimated the power of the bigger and more influential factions had in securing him the party leadership. Up until his resignation as Prime Minister, he still remained popular with the electorate at large, but during the latter stages of his term in office he was an extremely divisive figure within the organisational wing of the ALP, as he managed to put all the major factional bosses offside, thus precipitating the eventual challenge to Rudd’s leadership by his deputy Julia Gillard.

Chapter Structure

1. Introduction

2. Democratic Leadership vs Democratic Leadership
• What Is Democratic Leadership?
• What is Party Leadership?
• Combining the two concepts to create a theoretical framework

3. The Labor Party Structure
• What is the structure?
• Why is it unique?
• The power of the factions

4. The Crean Leadership
• Internal Master
• It’s The Polling!
• Downfall

5. The Latham Leadership
• Shock Leader?
• Honeymoon
• Implosion

6. The Rudd Leadership
• An Uneasy Alliance
• Election Win
• Collapse

7. Conclusion

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Power of Mark Williams

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First Kevin Rudd, now Mark Williams: a month of tearful goodbyes. The two organisations I love the most have lost their leaders, both to bloody coups. One changes the country forever, the other changes a community forever. The Port Adelaide Football Club is a community that thrives on its culture of tradition. Williams, 51, has been a part of the Port Adelaide Football Club since birth. His father Fos, was arguably the club’s most successful coach having led the Magpies to nine premierships in the 1950s and 60s. Mark played in four premierships for the Port Adelaide Magpies, (1979, 1980, 1990, 1992) having played for both Collingwood and Brisbane in between. As Port Adelaide moved into the AFL he joined the Power as assistant coach in 1997, taking over as senior coach the year after, having coached the team to a Premiership (2004) and leading them to another Grand Final (2007).

Few who read this blog are remotely interested in AFL, most don’t even know what it is, so it is hard to describe my current emotions accurately. It is unlike the Rudd experience where I can share it with others across the nation and the world. People who don’t follow AFL. or sport in general, might think that losing the coach of your team is nothing to be upset about. Although I do agree it was time for ‘Chocco’ to move on, it still hurts. If losing Kevin was divorce, losing the coach of your beloved football team (Especially one as iconic as Mark Williams was), is like having a relative die. Watching footy for me is a ritualistic past time, its one of the things that bonds me to my father, to my brother, to my grandmother and to my best friend, all for different reasons. Watching Port Adelaide Power for the past 11 seasons, every single week, seven months of the year was to watch the communal embodiment of Mark Williams.

The most that defines Mark Williams as a coach, and as a human being is that last minute of the 2004 Grand Final. In my Moments of the 00s blog I describe it this way:

Even now I tear up watching the final moments as coach Mark Williams walks down the stairs of the MCG in tears as the ‘choker tag’ is finally defeated. It’s the most emotional sporting moment of my life thus far.

Walking down those steps descending the Northern Stand, tears in his eyes as he finally realises the dream of his life, to follow in his father’s footsteps and coach a Port Adelaide team to premiership victory, you could not help but be emotional. As a Port Adelaide supporter I knew how carthardic that moment was. Others who fail to understand the Port Adelaide culture thought he carried on a bit too much, that there was no need to make a choking signal to the MCG members (who taunted the club by calling us ‘chokers’ after finishing top of the ladder, but failing to make the Grand Final in the two previous seasons) or deliberately calling out the club’s major sponsor during the presentation for his lack of loyalty. But that was ‘Chocco’ and we loved him for it.

Mark Williams coached Port Adelaide Power the same way he played: tough, uncompromising but fiercely loyal to his team. This will be the first time a Williams family member has not played or coached either the Magpies or the Power in nearly six decades. This is not only the end of an era, but the end of a tradition.

There are only two players left at the Power who were there when Mark Williams took over as coach. Personally, one of a only a few of my non familial links to my home town is now gone. The day that Mark Williams would no longer coach Port Adelaide, was always going to come soon, but in conjunction with Kevin Rudd’s resignation, it really is further proof that time marches on to its own beat, and there is no room for sentimentality in either football or politics.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Dear Kevin: My Name Is Todd, I'm From Queensland, and I'm Here to Help (You)

Dear Kevin,

You have been a former Prime Minister for less than 12 days. It’s been the saddest 12 days I can remember since I have been involved in politics. I really feel like I’ve been kicked in the guts. I coped when our party struggled for 12 years in opposition, confident that one day the majority of Australians would hate John Howard as much as I did. That day came care of you. But I am really and truly struggling with the current political climate. While the rest of the country welcomes Julia with open arms, I greet our new PM with a mixture of scorn and derision. The flame haired Prime Minister, standing behind YOUR podium in YOUR courtyard, standing where you should be standing, flirting with the press corps, the same mob who were co-conspirators in your demise.

Julia as PM is like an ex girlfriend. There are things I once liked about her. I studied her, thought she was a good sort, kept an eye on her, made plans for her, but now all that I liked about her has withered away as I am overcome with pain. I am sure you feel the same. I cannot take her seriously as PM because she does not deserve my respect. My heart aches for the days of 2008. You were the man. You said sorry (twice), you ratified Kyoto, you stopped the evil demon known as WorkChoices, and you worked bloody hard to make sure the national economy was ticking over in the midst of the greatest economic downturn in 80 years. In other words, you did more in 2.5 years than your predecessor did in twelve, and much more than I suspect your successor will do.

I am sure you have looked at the events of the past week with as much bewilderment as I have. Julia, after all has kicked you in the testicles with a shit eating grin. The Resource Super Profit Tax (RSPT) was one of your best ideas yet. Julia even agreed with you, and so did Wayne, and yet they have spent this week running away from the idea as fast as Carl Lewis with the breeze at his back. Unfortunately the problem was not the tax itself, but more about your inability to sell it. Your ability to communicate policies with the electorate at large was not your strong point. I’m sure you’ll agree that is a fair ‘shake of the sauce bottle', no? Yet Julia has caved in to the mining bosses by cutting the tax in half and renaming it! When you do your tax this year Kevin, make sure you go to your accountant and say you think your paying too much income tax, and demand it be cut in half. When your accountant asks you where you come up with such a fanciful notion, you tell them that you are just being a consensus builder like Hawkey.


Take a few days off shopping at Sunshine Beach, did you know that’s only about a half an hour drive from where I live? Come visit me Kev, now that your Chief of Staff has been vilified and sent to the political dungeon, I’d like to apply for the position. Together with your biggest fan, the three of us will plot your comeback. Here’s how:

  1. Take a cabinet position after the election, doesn’t matter which one, and work the media like you did in the middle of last decade. Go on Sunrise again, but stop trying to act like everyone’s best mate, and drop the oker language, because the public is not stupid, we know its bullshit
  2. Play to your strengths and use your intelligence, but don’t be arrogant. We all know you’re the smartest guy in the room, but you don’t have to prove it all the time
  3. Further to that point, quit acting like a ‘wonker’, communicate with the people using snappy, digestible language. Throw the thesaurus out, and take notes from Julia, she is the master of communicating the complex and turning it into either warm fuzzies or a kick up the arse
  4. Go back to Brisbane and start being a top notch local member for a while, like you were back in the day
  5. Mend some fences with people in Caucus, because if you are patient, your time will come again

Even if it doesn’t, its time to rebuild your personal brand. The press are already assessing your legacy and it is not pretty, but I don’t like the direction that Julia is taking YOUR government. Its not an ALP government at least one that I know anyway. The only thing that inspires me to volunteer at the upcoming Federal Election as much as I have done in the past, is not to reaffirm Julia, but to ensure Abbott never sets foot in that courtyard, its bad enough that Julia is there already. Whilst I doubt I’ll ever reach Phillip Adams type proportions, my faith in our party is wavering.

Whilst current historical comparisons may equate you with John Gorton, I am going to pay you the biggest compliment any ALP member can bestow. You are my Whitlam. Sure, you may not have ‘crashed, or crashed through’, but you Kevin represent the 21st Century ALP: intellectually rigorous, centrist, with socially democratic policies. While the public at large think you are yesterday’s news I have faith in you. You won’t recapture the days of 2008, you have the potential to do better. Kevin, the ALP needs you more now than it did in 2006. Will you let me help you accept the challenge?


In Solidarity,

Todd Winther

Monday, 28 June 2010

A Crippled Prime Minister? Forget it!

People are asking me whether I am over Kevin Rudd’s resignation yet? The answer I give is no. It seems that the rest of the nation has moved on in this media age of instant gratification and frenzied media cycles. Not just because the polls and the policies have remained unchanged since Rudd was deposed, but more simply because the media’s coverage of Gillard this week has been downright farcical. Why? Because she’s a woman.

I am aware such a claim could potentially alienate half my audience so I want to use another example here to illustrate my point. Let’s imagine for one second that I secured the office of Prime Minister in a generation’s time, as it would surely be the first time to have someone with a physical disability developed from birth achieve the office as head of a national government not only in Australia, but in the world. (US President Franklin Roosevelt became wheelchair bound in later life, but hid it from the public, and did not live in the age of television or the Internet where image is everything in politics).

Although I held that dream between the ages of 12 and 21, I now believe that such a goal would be almost impossible. Why? Because being in an electric wheelchair doesn’t promote the qualities of strong leadership that the electorate take for granted. The image of an electric wheelchair doesn’t promote strength, it promotes weakness. The electorate also likes a leader who is intelligent. Being in a wheelchair elicits the stereotypical assumption of intellectual impairment. I know this for a fact because I have to break this stereotype every single day of my life. Being physically disabled would automatically wipe off between 5% to 10% of my vote. Of course if you were pragmatic and honest enough to state this to anyone it would get dismissed out of hand, but secretly most I dare say would agree with this assessment.

But do I have the potential to be a good Prime Minister? You bet I do. With a little more experience I could one day secure the political knowledge to assume the position. I am widely acknowledged to have astute political and policy skills. I have proven to be more than capable of the tasks I have completed in my life so far that would prepare me for such a position. But should I even get anywhere remotely close, the media would fail to asses these political characteristics, and instead question me about what it is like to be a member of a minority, or ask about why other people have to clean up my own shit, literally. Then when the time would come for my inevitable fall from grace they would draw those literal comparisons, then make them metaphorical ones. ‘WINTHER’S LEADERSHIP CRIPPLED’ I can just imagine it now, can’t you?

And yet for all this imaginary posturing. I have the opposite attitude. Gillard is a suitable candidate as Prime Minister, not because she is a woman, but rather because her parliamentary colleagues in the Labor Party deemed her to be strong, tough, a skilled communicator and was seen to have an even temperament: all the things the Labor Party didn’t believe Rudd had. Yet all this talk about Gillard breaking the 'glass ceiling' just because she has to sit down to go to the toilet is down right farcical. The political commentators who seem to be obsessed with this meaningless coverage should be asking a more important question. Can she do the job? It’s the media driving this gender argument and one voters should ignore, but obviously won’t given the simple assessments made my colleagues and friends this week, 90% of which are about Gillard’s sex.

To draw another parallel with disability, I recently wrote a post criticising Kelly Vincent, the first person with a physical disability to win a seat in an Australian Parliament. People were often asking me what I thought of this so called ‘historic occasion’ due to my political obsession. I declared it to be a complete waste of time because her agenda for disability sector reform was second rate and ill advised. When I stated this people would retort, ‘Well isn’t enough that she’s in there, breaking down barriers, getting the issue publicity?’ Well no it isn’t, because her agenda is a giant step backwards for the Disability Sector. To me it would not matter if she had Cerebral Palsy (like me) or whether she could walk comfortably, I find her approach utterly reprehensible.

And so it is with Julia Gillard. Forget the talk of crossing the gender barrier. Does she deserve to be Prime Minister? Absolutely not. Will she do a good job? I think she will. Should it matter if she’s a woman or not? It will to the media, but it shouldn’t, and it certainly won’t to me. It’s one thing to break a glass ceiling, quite another to avoid leaving a bloody trail when you land with the inevitable thump.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Divorce?

Being a member of a political party is a lot like I imagine a marriage would be. Your love should be unquestioning, unwavering, unfaltering despite what life throws at you. But then there are times where your partner pisses you off so much that you question the purpose of your union in the heat of argument, only to hopefully realise that such an argument is a brief detour in your long and happy partnership. Make no mistake readers, I am disgusted by my party’s actions today, while I pledge to love my party dearly and continue to do so. I am enraged, and for the first time in my eight years of membership, it does not deserve my loyalty. Those words may well come back to haunt me, but the fault of this horrible 24 hours lies not with Kevin Rudd, nor with Julia Gillard, but with the organizational wing of the party, part of which I aspire to one day control.

June 23rd 2010 will go down as a day that will forever change Australian political history. This is our generational equivalent to the Whitlam Government Dismissal, with one major caveat. We are not the martyrs this time around: we are the enemy. I’m struggling to maintain my rage. This change in leadership was not instigated by the electorate, but rather by seven or eight factional heavyweights whom Kevin Rudd has pissed off. By no means am I arguing that Rudd was the perfect leader, far from it. But it is important to remember that we as the Australian nation voted Kevin Rudd in to power just 2.5 years ago. We have not voted for Julia Gillard (yet).

I remember when Bob Hawke resigned in 1991. I had just turned eight, and the Prime Minister whose only identifiable feature to me then was his thick layer of white hair was crying. He was not leading Australia anymore. The only Prime Minister I had known (he was elected eight months before I was born) was gone and he was in tears. Several vital differences between 1991 and today exist. Hawke had successfully won three elections. Rudd will be the only elected Prime Minister not to contest the following election as the country’s leader. There was also significant build up to Keating’s coup of Hawke. Keating had challenged for the leadership six months prior, lost, then challenged again, finally securing the numbers on that warm December night, and had never hidden the fact that he aspired to oust his predecessor.

In this current situation the thing to remember for the non political types reading this is the factions solidify the power for the ALP leader, and not the other way around. The unique thing about Kevin Rudd as a modern (post 1983) Labor Leader was that he did not have solid factional backing, as he is a member of (my own) Queensland Labor Unity faction, which in strategic terms is small in the scheme of things. When he won the leadership in 2006, his factional alliances with the powerful NSW Right faction was a partnership contingent upon his popularity. As soon as this dissipated the partnership was always on unstable ground. Gillard did not seek to challenge Rudd as Prime Minister, the job was offered to her by members of the Parliamentary Labor Party (known as The Caucus) who control the various factions. Once the Victorian Right went from Rudd to Gillard, their South Australian counterparts followed, and then the NSW right, meaning that the rest of the ALP Right Wing across the country moved with them and the game was up. Ironically Gillard is a member of the Victorian ‘Soft’ Left and all the other left factions beside her own were backing Rudd. So essentially the Left were backing the Right Wing Leader, and The Right were backing the Left Wing leader. That’s kind of like all Queenslanders supporting the NSW rugby league team in the State of Origin: wildly implausible and almost unthinkable.

So what to expect from the election? I’ve lost my confidence. Rudd to me was always a better match for Abbott then Gillard despite his failings. An election win under Rudd, which I considered to be a mere certainty yesterday has gone to a toss of a coin under Gillard. The reason: if you can’t govern your party, how can you expect to govern the nation? It’s not enough to be the First Australian Woman Prime Minister; that novelty will wear off quickly. With no Resource Super Profit Tax as Gillard promised in her first Press Conference as Prime Minister, so to goes the budget bottom line that was forever linked with the ability to put the nation’s budget back into surplus, and then goes the ALP’s economic credibility. The one man who will be overjoyed with these developments is Tony Abbott, and this is not good at all.

As for me, my PhD thesis on the ALP’s relationship with its parliamentary leaders just got a lot more interesting. This could very well be the making of my professional career. But in a strange twist of fete it also means that the rose coloured glasses that I once viewed my party in have not just been broken, but smashed.

If Kevin Rudd managed to defeat the Liberal Party’s second longest serving leader (John Howard), and the opinion polls still had him winning the upcoming election by a reasonably comfortable margin, then where to for Gillard when she reaches inevitable crisis? And where to for future Prime Ministers who piss the wrong people off? That is something both Labor and Liberal members should fear. Maybe Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t so crazy after all?

I remember when the ALP won the 2007 Federal Election. The possibilities seemed limitless, the future looked bright. For once I had a leader I respected who had a vision. He wasn’t exciting, he wasn’t extraordinary, but he was smart and he was tough and I knew he was going to be a great Prime Minister. And now the hope has gone, the dream has died, and I am left teetering on the edge. I love my party and yet I cannot stand it right now.

I am a shattered man.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Linkage: Volume I

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do on this blog for a long time is to provide access to my favourite articles/websites. I can do this now because the technological luddite in me has finally worked out how to link to things. So, I’m starting a new series of blogs called The Linkage, which will be updated periodically. Sure the Knowledge Is Power section on the right hand column gives you some vague notion of my interests, but here’s some links you must check out.



Tuesday, 22 June 2010

An Emotional Journey With Tegan

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with my mother about Tegan and Sara. Because of my obsession with all things Quin related, she knows the music well, as it gets played in the house at least once a day. And so when I described Tegan and Sara’s music as ‘dark and twisty’ (to use a phrase borrowed from Meredith Grey) she immediately questioned this. I’m not surprised quite frankly, because to the casual observer those catchy pop hooks leave the impression that everything is bright and sunny, but beneath the surface lies an emotional fragility, particularly in Tegan’s songwriting that cuts to the core of my soul.

Take yesterday for example. I decided to put my Best of T&S Mix on my IPOD while I made the quick trip to uni to pick up some books. A round trip to the uni perfectly fits the confines of this 17 song, 59 minute mix, which starts as I close my garage door and concludes when it reopens. Emotionally I have been fine of late, things have sorted themselves out, but yesterday I put this mix of songs on, and it was like I had been put through an emotional washing machine.

The trip to the uni went along fine, I take the journey singing at the top of my lungs to I Hear Noises, Hop a Plane, On Directing, Take Me Anywhere, The Con, Red Belt, Walking With a Ghost, Northshore, Divided, and Someday. The whole time as I drove down the footpath I’m aware that people were looking at me, as they could probably hear both my terrible singing and the backing track through my headphones, as I had the music up at maximum volume. I didn’t care, I really and truly didn’t. I passed school kids trying to look cool on skateboards (and failing), people jogging or taking their dogs for a walk, and a father trying to teach their daughter how to ride a bike. Each gave me quizzical looks as I glided by. The skater kids laughed at me and probably thought I was trying to look what they considered to be cool. I know I’m anything but. I made way to the top of the uni’s Innovation Centre just as the incredibly awesome bit of Northshore comes in at 1:42 where Sara’s backing vocals start, during what can only be described as an aural orgasm. Two semi professional guys in a suit and tie were having their smoke break, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. In a rush of energy there I was harmonising with Sara as she sang ‘Something so sick about this, I am so addicted’ I knew I looked like a wanker, but harmonising with Sara, trumps my own self consciousness every single time. That half an hour trip was the happiest I had been in 6 weeks.

On the way back I reached the mid point of my journey. I was crossing the bridge on Stringybark Road and The Cure comes on. Of course I’ve paid attention to the lyrics before, but suddenly I reach a moment of complete clarity, and relate it to an awkward trip down memory lane a fortnight ago. ‘All I said to you, all I did for you, seems silly to me now’ Suddenly a light bulb flashes. I get it. Tegan is talking about that. If only I had said that a fortnight ago. Then Nineteen envelops me, possibly the most emotionally arresting song to ever exist. Take every teen drama, every failed romance, multiply it by 100 and you have Nineteen. So there I am crossing an intersection singing ‘I was Nineteeeeeen callllll meeeeeee’ tears flowing down my cheeks, just swept up in the emotion of it all. I'm not only thinking about those moments which Tegan describes and how they pertain to me, but also what they represent. I am not young and naive anymore. It’s not enough just to feel the pangs of love as the percussion filled crescendo towers over me. That time is over. But then Dark Come Soon starts and as I’m immersed in the lyrics, another line hits me right between the eyes: “So what, I lie? I lie to me too.’ And then all these other layers open up…. The garage door opens up and I’m home.

Sure the BFF and I say that Tegan is the hottest woman on two legs, and she is undoubtedly so. But I connect with Tegan particularly in an emotional way, not just through fan boy adulation, but through experience. I regard myself as emotionally fucked up in all the worst ways, unable to communicate my feelings properly unless shielded in a protective cocoon. But you know what? Tegan is emotionally fucked up too, and that comes through in almost all of her songs. She is strong enough to communicate that to the rest of the world.

I wish I was that brave, and strong, and fearless. That is why I love her

Thursday, 17 June 2010

A Call to Arms for Every Tegan and Sara Fan.

You know how much I love Tegan and Sara, right? They're my heroes, my creative muses, not to mention the two best musicians ever. They're twin sisters, and they're both lesbians.

However, some sick 'fans' thought it would be cool to make a website to post fan fiction of Tegan and Sara having sex. This is disgusting and offensive. So me and my T&S loving pal Sarah are kicking arse and taking names. We're asking you to report said group whose full web address is below

http://community.livejournal.com/tnsquincest

Report this website for abuse and shut down it by going here

Tegan, Sara, their family (who are included in some posts) deserve better, so even if you're not a fan or haven't heard of them, please do your bit to help them get the treatment they deserve!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Political Animal

Last night I travelled an hour south to Queensland Parliament House for a forum put on by the Queensland Fabian Society entitled The British Election and the Future of Progressive Politics, by Senior Lecturer in Political Science Dr Andrew Hindmoor. It was a fantastic and engrossing talk that I got a lot out of mainly because at this exact point in my PhD I’m doing a comparative study between the ALP and British New Labour. I came home, scribbled down copious amounts of notes, and really felt as if despite the two hour round trip I really got something out of it. To me, going to these types of political forums runs a close second to going a gig. As Hindmoor told the story of witnessing one of Blair’s landmark speeches some 15 years before, one thought raced across my brain ‘Fuck, I wish I was there, that would have been awesome!’

So on the long journey home I had plenty of time to think about what it means for me to be involved in politics. No, I am not talking about the biographical reason why, I could recite in my sleep. More important than that, how has my involvement in politics become such a part of who I am? Why do I choose a passion that is so detested by the general public?

It’s one thing to be a cripple, or a young political operative, but to be both I would assume is entirely unique. When I first joined the ALP at the age of 19, I walked into my local branch meeting, and I am quite certain there was not anyone born after 1960. And yet I knew this was a step I had to take, so despite my trepidation I dove in head first attended all the meetings I could, and soaked in all the knowledge I could like a sponge. I knew that the ALP with my holy place, a place of comradeship, a place to practice the marvellous activity known as politics, and although sometimes I question the direction of the party, or the decisions it makes, my undying love for the party, or the art of politics will never be questioned.

I can pinpoint the exact moment I made that choice. I was on Year 11 camp, and although I loved the academic side of high school, I absolutely hated the social side with a passion. Everyone’s favourite time of camp was the time that they got to choose their own activity (ie. Crack on to their object of affection, continuing to act like a dickhead that they always were, or socialising within their various cliques) I struggled to find things to do because I was unwilling and unable to pursue these activities. However, I had a crush on a girl from the moment I had laid eyes on her 18 months before. Camp would be my chance to get to know her socially. Free time on the last night had arrived, she sees me, smiles my way, eyes gleaming in her typical fashion ‘Hey, why don’t you come hang with us?’ I, stop, pause, mind ticking over and then say ‘Gee thanks, but this is the only chance I’ve had to read my book all week’. I turned and walked away, my fate, as I knew it defined by that tiny moment.

Hardly anyone understands what living a life that involves eating, sleeping and breathing politics actually means. Further, it seems to most that the fact I chose this life voluntarily is equally baffling. I don’t go to parties and I don’t get drunk, As one person described it: ‘You’ve got a mind of a fifty year old, trapped in the body of someone half his age.’ Others are less kind, a long lasting friendship ended when a person I regarded as a close confidant told me my ‘life was boring’ because I was working on my Honours thesis and helping out on a State Campaign. My response: ‘One day I will change the world and when that day comes years from now, you’ll still be a bitter and twisted cow.’ The friends I have had since may not understand my passion for all things political, but they get that I love it, and they respect me because of it.

My mentor in the ALP has often theorised that in order for me to have a successful romantic relationship that person must share my undying passion for politics. I certainly see his point as he and his wife both share my obsession for politics and also share a love for one another that I have not seen in any couple, besides my own parents. It is also true that politics is brutal on relationships. Yet if my romantic entanglements and politics collide I think I will regard it as some sort of happy accident. It seems there will be two true tests that any potential partner has to overcome. Can you cope with the crippleness? Do you believe in ‘Solidarity Forever’? Only time will tell.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Kevin Rudd: The Incredible Sulk?

David Marr’s Quarterly Essay has received lots of attention this past week. Justifiably so it would seem. After watching a fantastic interview on The 7:30 Report on Monday, I was excited that we would finally get a substantive biographical account of this country’s Prime Minister. It was not so unfortunately. Instead what was uncovered was a standard by the numbers retelling of Rudd’s life, with a bit of pop psychology thrown in for good measure, and dominated largely by journalistic groupthink.

Naturally, much of the publicity surrounding this essay is left to the last page. Marr details an …‘off the record’ conversation with Rudd where the Prime Minister asks the author what the central thesis of his essay was about. Marr describes this, and Rudd flies into a ‘rage’. Marr details this in his 7:30 Report interview:

He very carefully disguises that real person and the real person is a very angry person. Now, anger doesn't disqualify himself from high public office, but I think he's driven by very old angers…. You see the real thing. Don't you feel that there, when the anger starts, you feel in the presence of the real person, and I certainly did when it happened to me.

I can't tell you what he actually said, except to say that he was vivid and eloquent; he was the most himself that I saw him at any time. And I, curiously, enjoyed that experience very much, about 20 minutes of being ticked off by him. No swearing, no stamping, none of that. I put it at about 3.8 on the Richter scale.

Wow, I thought, this essay might finally provide a fascinating insight into what makes him tick as a leader. Political academics notoriously hate to provide psychological profiles of leaders. But I find them eternally fascinating, and it was one of the reasons that I was drawn to studying political leadership in the first place. To understand how the political process works, you must understand how leaders make their decisions. Mark Bahnisch from Larvatus Prodeo criticises this particular example of political psychology arguing that Marr’s hypothesis was ‘tortuously argued’ He goes on:

And it’s one I suspect that informed Marr’s conversations with others, rather than emerged from the evidence he examined. Marr himself highlights the notorious belief in Canberra circles that Rudd’s squeaky clean image was dissonant with the face he presented privately.

Marr contends that Rudd revealed himself as “most human” when he was angry at the conclusion of a dinner he’d had with the writer, and after Marr had told him that his argument in the essay was that Rudd’s “contradictions” were borne of rage. This seems to me to be absurd. I can’t imagine anyone under the same circumstances not being angry at such an insulting, wounding and trivialising line of argument.

In many ways I agree with this, but I think the problem lies not with the argument itself, but with its structure. It strikes me as a wonderful editorial decision to leave the ‘sexy bit’ to the end. However, it was the wrong decision to have Marr’s central thesis characterise Rudd as the ‘choke point in the government’, or as the endless micromanager, which so many journalists claim him to be (in the height of stating the bleeding obvious). I would have thought it would have been better to start the essay with their infamous encounter and seek to characterise Rudd through the prism of his anger, much as Marr attempted to during his 7:30 Report interview.

This in turn explains so much, including the micromanaging, the almost insincere repour with the public, the need to obsessively claim all the power and all the responsibility within his own government. Marr does a good job of painting a biographical account of Rudd in the early portions of the essay, and it has potential to take this route, but for what? To explain that he’s a control freak, well again Marr plays the part of Captain Obvious here. All Prime Ministers need to be control freaks. Far from brilliant, the essay despite its potential is in fact the opposite of what the commentators are suggesting, Marr is not brave enough and should have gone even further, if he did want to explore Rudd’s Power Trip in its fullest context.

As I have previously argued there has yet to be a lot of substance behind Rudd’s rhetorical arsenal. Marr had the makings of what could have been an insightful essay, but instead chose to contribute to the already benign commentary of Rudd’s leadership failures. Marr endeavoured to explore Rudd’s changing relationship with the Australian voting public through an examination of Rudd’s character, but he only really scratched the surface. To me that is more disappointing than if he failed to try in the first place.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Glee: The Most Frustrating Show on Television?



Glee it seems is the TV show of the moment, burning as brightly in the pop cultural landscape of 2010 as The OC did in 2004. Unlike the millions throughout the world who think Glee is the greatest show since… well the last popular TV show, I find it ever so infuriating. Its highs are downright fantastic, its lows so cringe worthy, they induce vomit in the back in my throat. About half through its first season I was ready to give up, but somehow I managed to hang on in there. After viewing yesterday’s finale, I realise this unevenness is what makes the show watchable.

The Glee soundtrack acts as a microcosm for the show. I’m a musical theatre fan from way back and count Rent as probably my favourite theatrical production of all time. However with Glee, the music acts as more of a marketing arm of the entire craze. Autotuned to high heaven, the songs are always produced within an inch of themselves. Sometimes this can work (See in order of musical greatness: here, here, here, and here), but more often than not the songs turn into utter disasters. For every Total Eclipse of the Heart, there is an Ice, Ice Baby. These songs are then placed outside the show’s context and on to ITunes to compete with the latest idiotic Katy Perry single for pop chart supremacy. Without context these songs lose all their pleasing qualities, as musical numbers are only supposed to service the plot to peek inside a character’s emotional state and extend it out into the audience.

The same dilemma occurs with the show itself. Sure it aims to be an inspiring musical about the trials and tribulations of a high school glee club, but beyond that the show remains confused about what type of show it wants to be. Is it a dark comedy? Or a teenaged moralistic fable, ala Degrassi with a choir? The show isn’t quite sure and neither is the viewer. It is here that the most enjoyable part of the show takes place, not within the show itself, but in the wider discussions of the episodes within a critical context. Television Critic for The A.V. Club Todd VanDerWerff even put forward his own theory midway through the first season to suggest that Glee is in fact three shows in one to explain his own frustrations:

Glee is unusual in two regards. It seems to be written entirely by its three creators – Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan – but all three of those creators also seem to have wildly different ideas of what the show is. Murphy, responsible for “Acafellas” and … “Vitamin D,” is most interested in making the show a funhouse mirror version of an afterschool special. Brennan, responsible for “The Rhodes Not Taken,” is most interested in the sadness buried down at the core of the show’s concept. And Falchuk, responsible for [Throwdown] and “Preggers,” still probably the best post-pilot episode, is most interested in pulling the two approaches together in a hybridized fashion while deepening the teenage characters on the show. (For the record, the three wrote the pilot and “Showmance” together.) I don’t doubt that the three creators all plot out where the show is going generally, as well as what’s happening in each episode, but where Brennan (on the scant evidence of one episode) mostly tries to avoid the soap opera plotting of Murphy’s show as much as he can, Falchuk tries to incorporate those verifiably insane moments while sticking with Brennan’s more emotionally realistic tone. I don’t imagine this is going to be a way the show can work going forward, but the three writers are somehow making all three of their different visions seem like they take place in the same universe, which means the show is still working. But just barely.

As the first season progressed, I become more and more convinced of this theory, and of the show’s bipolar nature, particularly with regards to its supporting characters. Naturally, I took an interest in Artie, the paralysed, wheelchair bound geek who finds a sense of purpose in joining the glee club. His character was superbly handled in the episode Wheels where he got his own storyline that was empowering, positive and encouraging for someone who doesn’t see a lot of physically disabled characters acting as positive role models on television. But by the time Artie’s storyline was revisited in Dream On, he had turned into a stereotypical pitiful, pathetic, cripple who longs to be able bodied. Where I was overjoyed in Wheels that my story was being told to a mainstream audience, I was downright outraged in Dream On that the same viewers were being told that my life was meaningless unless I could get up in a mall and do The Safety Dance

So what to make of Glee? It’s a middling show that doesn’t deserve the over hype its getting. Favourite TV critics of mine Myles McNutt and VanDerWerff give excellent overviews of the season in their reviews of the finale. The show may be groundbreaking and edgy, but the challenge for the writers next season is to find some solid New Directions for Season Two. Otherwise Glee may well be headed in the same place as Seth Cohen.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Proust Questionnaire

So I finished reading Hitch 22 today. During the final third of the book Hitchens republishes the Proust questionnaire that was also published on the Vanity Fair website recently. Thought I may give it a go too. Feel free to post yours on whatever forums you use if you feel inclined

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?_
A life without my passions: politics & music. Also a life without the G6 would be unbearable

Where would you like to live?
In a place where I am challenged intellectually, constantly surprised and enlivened.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
A world where there is a Labor Government in Australia indefinitely, quality TV shows are plentiful and everyone loves the Quin Twins as much as I do

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
Arrogance, distance, emotional hyperactivity

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Joshua Lyman & Malcolm Tucker

Who are your favorite characters in history?
Paul Keating, Denis Murphy, Don Dunston, Gough Whitlam

Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
Oh most definitely the BFF, and the girl who must not be named, but knows who she is.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Rory Gilmore, Emily Fitch, Peyton Sawyer, Amy Gardner

Your favorite painter?
NA

Your favorite musician?
Well, duh its Tegan Quin

The quality you most admire in a man?
The ability to think like a woman, courage, intelligence

The quality you most admire in a woman?
Courage, Intelligence, conversationalist

Your favorite virtue?
Honesty

Your least favorite virtue, or nominee for the most overrated one?
Faith. It’s all bullshit

Your proudest achievement?
Surviving intellectually when so many told I could not

Your favorite occupation?
Satisfying my never ending quest for knowledge.

Who would you have liked to be?
Kevin Rudd (Not for the obvious reason either)

Your most marked characteristic?
Determination.

What do you most value in your friends?
Their continued existence and their loyalty.

What is your principal defect?
The obvious one.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Nothing, already had it and overcame it

What would you like to be?
A writer of non fiction professionally

What is your favorite color?
Scarlet.

What is your favorite flower?
None.

What is your favorite bird?
Chicken (When it is cooked)

What word or expression do you most overuse?
'Why?'

Who are your favorite poets?

None, much prefer prose.

What are your favorite names?
Tegan, Sara, Vanessa, Katie (why are these all girls names?)

What is it you most dislike?

Stupidity!

Which historical figures do you most despise?
John Howard!

Which contemporary figures do you most despise?
Tony Abbott, Nick Minchin, (lets just make it the entire dry faction of the Libs)

Which events in military history do you most admire?

I am a pacifist!

Which natural gift would you most like to possess?
Athleticism, Warren Tredrea style

How would you like to die?
Quickly

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

Everything!

What is your motto?
Knowledge is Power!