Sunday, 22 December 2013

Further Notes on 2013

As discussed in previous posts, 2013 has probably been my favourite and best year to date. Despite this a few key things have disappointed me. Unfortunately life can never be perfect.

Aside from the steady progress on my thesis, this year has been a dreadful one for my profession. The 2013 Federal Election was the worst in my time involved with politics. Two castrated major political parties, led by two uninspiring leaders fought a campaign devoid of policy discussion. It is no wonder voters chose the worst of two very bad options. At least I got my first two writing gigs as a political scientist out of it.

The area that best encapsulated the political failures of 2013 more than any other was the disability sector (again). Predictably, the majority of stakeholders are still holding on to their 'magic beans', otherwise known as the NDIS. This was demonstrated in an article published on RampUp this past Friday attacking Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey for saying that there may be cut backs to the scheme to make it more efficient. As I argued in my (yet to be published) comment to the piece:

While a properly instituted scheme would of course increase productivity, the current model as proposed by the political community just doesn't get the job done. On this score, Hockey, Cormann and Abbott are absolutely correct. And they knew this from the beginning of 2011 (as I did). Back then, I predicted in various forums that this argument would come out eventually.

It was suggested that I was being negative for the sake of it as well as trying to build my reputation on the back of my (correct) stance. The rhetoric on display here demonstrates that no one, not the government, the opposition, nor the feeble
Every Australian Counts has the slightest clue on how to develop an equitable cost effective disability policy that serves the interests of all parties.

There are numerous critics of the NDIS who saw this all coming, have expertise in developing policy and actually know what they're talking about. These people, myself included, were dismissed as radicals and zealots. Maybe now those voices can be heard. The best thing the Government can do now is scrap the whole model in the name of 'fiscal restraint', start again and get the formulation of a new policy right this time.
It staggers me that supporters of the scheme trot out the same ineffective arguments time and again, which argue the wrong points from the wrong perspectives. At this rate, 2014 is looking to be more politically disastrous than this year.

Speaking of disastrous, that is certainly one way to describe my attempts at dating this year. Or rather my failure to generate any interest at all, particularly after a shocking start. Personally, this is perhaps the year's greatest disappointment.

However, for every tragedy, there has been a triumph, which is more than I can say for the previous few years. The biggest triumph is however yet to come. At the end of next year my single greatest achievement will be complete.

Now that will be something to celebrate.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

2013: The Year of Living Properly.

December 27th marks my first full year of true independence, something that was 29 years in the making. As I’ve often discussed, people told me constantly through my childhood that this year would come; I never truly believed it would happen. To me the dream always remained a distant hope, one in which I was not confident in taking. I did not think I could cope on my own without the distant gaze of parental supervision, the ever-reliable cushion that had helped me survive.

2013 was not only the year I proved myself wrong, it was The Year of Living Properly.

One with the necessary help, I have lived the way I have always wanted to. Life for me is not easy with each day providing more challenges than the last. This is why I must give credit to Wesley Mission Brisbane, the real unsung hero of the operation. Though I do a lot of volunteer work for Youngcare, and they get most of the media attention, Wesley Mission are responsible for funding the services, and the salaries of the carers, which comprise more than 30 staff members. They all come from a number of backgrounds, from the young to the experienced. Though their origins may be varied, all of the staff are of the highest quality, without exception (It helps that I have had the final say in recruiting them since I became chairman of the Residents’ Committee in August). Staff often receive huge amounts of unjustified criticism from many Residents, as they perform thankless tasks that we all take for granted.  However, I could not have achieved anything this past year without their help.

For the first time in recent memory I am on top of my PhD thesis, which is due for completion at the end of 2014. Currently, I only have one more chapter to write (an extended examination of Kevin Rudd), mostly because I have been able to consult with my two supervisors on a more regular basis and have had more frequent access to much needed resources.

Most importantly, 2013 has been a year of fun. Though I had been able to attend both the Brisbane Writer’s and Film Festivals in the past, I attended almost triple the number of events this year now that I am a fully fledged Brisbanite. In April, the undoubted highlight was being able to meet Tegan and Sara, my musical heroes. This was only the peak of many concerts I attended, which included a diverse range of artists such as Taylor Swift, Julie Andrews, City and Colour and Mandy Patinkin. I have even managed to catch some live theatre too. On average I have been going to the cinema once a fortnight. It is a simple pleasure I cherish every time I go.

The biggest lesson I have learnt this year is that 2013 is only the beginning. I can do what I want, where I want, how I want without having to justify myself to anyone. It has made the terribly traumatic journey of the previous two years worthwhile.

I made it through the darkness and I’m genuinely happy for the first time in literal decades.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

My Top 7 Films of 2013

As is my custom I've been ranking my favourite movies of the year since I saw my first one of 2013.

Tonight the Australian TV Show At The Movies began its best of 2013 movie poll. I've added two more films that I saw at the Brisbane Film Festival In November that have yet to be released in Australia and are thus ineligible for this poll.

So in reverse order:
7. The Spectacular Now
6. Stories We Tell
5. This House (National Theatre Live)
4. Frances Ha
3. Slience in the House of God: Mea Maxima Culpa
2. Blue is the Warmest Colour
1. Foxfire

Be sure to follow me on my Twitter feed in 2014, as I will attempt to review every film I see next year in 140 characters with a letter grade from A+ to F

Sunday, 8 December 2013

(She Knows Me) All Too Well: Why I Am A Taylor Swift Apologist

Perhaps the most fitting way to end a year of highlights occurred last night when I finally got to see the wonderful Taylor Swift in concert. When I wrote here about discovering her a few years back it was met by faint echoes of derison. 'She writes for 12 year old girls' some said. Those voices grew louder as the years progressed, particularly as she became a walking tabloid headline due to high profile romantic missteps. Granted, her confessional songwriting style isn't for everyone. After all its not cool to like pop anymore (unless you're a fifteen year old Kiwi who claims to be 'original' but is in fact highly derivative). Though last night the median age of spectators at Suncorp Stadium was young enough to be my daughter, I am a Taylor Swift apologist of the highest order, a huge fan, and she is probably my second favourite artist behind the irreplacible Tegan and Sara.

To me, Taylor Swift is the greatest romantic poet of her generation. Notice how I didn't bother saying the words 'musician' or 'songwriter'? While there are some great musical arrangements on the majority of songs, such notions are purely subjective. Her skills as a writer of romantic prose are however beyond doubt.

The qualities that set Taylor apart from her contemporaries in this genre, most of whom I am ambivalent about, remain her trademark contradictory assets: the ability to make the universal seem personal and the personal seem universal. To her the song may be about Jake Gyllenhaal, but when I'm listening to it, that point is irrelevent. It is about me.

The song that best demonstrates this is All Too Well off of her latest album Red. The song heightens these qualities to great affect, and invites listeners to interpret the story in their own mind. I know each time I do, the same story from my past comes up in my mind, particularly because of a series of lyrics in the middle of the song:

And I know it's long gone
And there was nothing else I could do
And I forget about you long enough
To forget why I needed to...

'Cause there we are again in the middle of the night.
We dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light
Down the stairs, I was there, I remember it all too well, yeah.

Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much,

But maybe this thing was a masterpiece 'til you tore it all up?
Running scared, I was there, I remember it all too well.

And you call me up again just to break me like a promise.
So casually cruel in the name of being honest.
I'm a crumpled up piece of paper lying here
'Cause I remember it all, all, all... too well.

Superficially these lyrics may seem simple, but behind that first look lies an unmatched specificity and a simile that is particularly devastating: You call me up again just to break me like a promise. So casually cruel in the name of being honest.

This resonates because we have all been here, but have never been able to express such emotions as eloquently. The 12 year old girls going to their first concert, the 30 year old cripple who has been desperately unlucky in love, and the group of 50 year old women cheering to my left for two straight hours have all felt like a crumpled up piece of paper in their darkest moments.

Taylor knows this too, prolouging the set at the beginning of the night by declaring that the audience were going to hear two hours of love songs. You were either one of the 40,000 who attended last night and bought into that entirely, or you dismiss her as another teen pop starlet at your peril. You may not like the romance, but I revelled in her poetry. Despite the million dollar set up, the cherography, the dancers, and the fireworks I could have (and wanted to) listened to her for another two hours just to hear more stories of how I gave my heart away, how it was restored, and then how I gave it away again.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Keating Interviews Episode 2: Hawke Eyes on the Legacy Prize

You simply cannot talk about Australian Politics in the 1980s without mentioning the mechanics of the relationship between Hawke and Keating. Whilst this episode remained as dynamic and interesting as its predosessor, this humble reviewer has heard this narrative too many times.

Keating rose through the ranks of the ALP opposition under the leadership of Bill Hayden, becoming both the convener of the all powerful NSW Right Faction, as well as State Secretary of the NSW branch of the ALP. As Keating tells it, Hawke would not have secured the leadership from Hayden if it were not for Keating's support. However as I argued in my review of Paul Kelly's book The Hawke Ascendancy 
It is particularly valuable to view these events with hindsight given the way that the party dealt with Hawke in 1991, in exactly the same fashion that he deposed of his predecessor just short of nine years earlier. It suggests a historical karma working against Hawke’s marvellously Machiavellian exploits. The power dynamics of the ALP are fickle.  
When Hawke assumed the ALP leadership on the opening day of the 1983 electoral campaign he did not want Keating as Treasurer. The latter was green and had a steep learning curve when the ALP returned to government 5 weeks later. Keating spent the better part of 1983 learning the fundamentals of macroenomic policy, culminating in the float of the Australian Dollar that December. Hawke claims it was his idea, but Keating says otherwise. It does not really matter, but the petty squabble over credit goes to the heart of the Hawke and Keating conflict and their contradictory relationship.

In Keating's mind 1984 was when the power really began to shift. As the year commenced, Hawke called an ill-advised early election, with a ridiculously long campaign to boot. Around the same time, Hawke's daughter suffered a drug overdose and the Prime Minister sank into a deep depression. While Hawke claimed this lasted for 6 weeks, Keating contradicts him by stating that this period for up to 3 years, perhaps not coincidentally the one which is universally regarded as the most fruitful years in the Hawke Keating partnership. Keating is second banana to no one in his eyes, even the ALP's most successful Prime Minister.

Throughout the mid eighties the volitile love hate relationship between Hawke and Keating continued, especially over economic policy. The 1995 documentary series Labor in Power hears from both men and is worth watching to capture the multi faceted debates over their policy legacy in more detail. As I have argued previously:
...the Hawke Government discarded the Australian Settlement comprised of White Australia, Protection, Arbitration and State Paternalism to pursue a policy of economic rationalism, with Keating as the architect of many of these policies in his role as Treasurer. Such policies were in fact the domain of the Liberal Party before this period and betrayed many of the policies that the ALP held dear. The Hawke Government achieved this economic reform through various methods of deregulation including floating the Australian dollar and deregulating the labour market through a process known as the Accord. The Accord was an alliance with the trade unions designed in order to prevent a wage explosion that crippled the two previous governments by ensuring that wages were stablised and unemployment was kept under control.
The legacy battle is so contentious because Hawke and Keating are opposites. While Hawke had the touch of the common man and was electorally appealing, Keating had the policy vision and knowledge to drive their duel agenda when they were both focused upon it. And I think that is why, in my mind at least, you will never get a four hour interview series with Hawke on his public life. Hawke captured the feeling of politics, relying on instinct, where as Keating is the explainer. While Hawke was more successful at the time, Keating has won the battle with revisionists. Despite being 90% correct throughout the episode, Keating is telling his story, his way, as if it was the only version to ever exist.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Keating Interviews Episode 1: The Passion for Power.

I'll state my bias from the outset. I have long regarded Paul Keating as my favourite Australian Prime Minister. When I took a trip to Parliament House in 2010, the very first thing I bought was a Paul Keating Prime Ministerial Mug. Keating's vision is the reason I love politics, even though my political love affair began on the night of his defeat. His commitment to the Republic, to the Arts and to the less fortunate resonates with me. I also adore the fact that he shows contempt and bile to those who he dislikes, and doesn't really give a shit what anyone else thinks about it. So when it was announced that Australia's best political interviewer, Kerry O'Brien, was taking part in a four hour interview series with Keating I was understandably in raptures.

The first episode at least lives up to my extremely high expectations of wanting to find out what motivates Keating. He has always had a different kind of personality as opposed to other prominent Australian politicians. Less inclined to enjoy sports or farming, Keating is known instead for his passions for the fine arts and classical music. This week's episode went a long way in telling the viewer why Keating adores these pursuits. For him, like politics, it can be simply refined in one word: passion. His description of his love of certain classical music pieces are akin to his famous diatribes in parliament. They are filled with the aggressive knowledge of superiority. In his mind Keating is right to love these interests, and those who do not are missing out on something fundamental.

If there is one characteristic that defines his career it is this certainty, and the first episode tracks this wonderfully. Keating left school to enter the workforce at fourteen, immediately joining the ALP. When Keating describes his brief tenure at the Sydney County Council Transformer Handling Bay, he believes that this was his schooling in the ways of the working class, perhaps arrogantly so. Also during this time he actively sought out the infamous former New South Wales Premier, Jack Lang. Keating sat at his feet and quickly learned intricate the ways of the ALP.
"People will tell you that you have plenty of time, but the truth is you haven't got a second to waste."
The above quote came from Lang talking to the young Keating. This describes Keating's quest for power more than anything else. The highlight of the episode charts Keating's initial campaign for ALP preselection in 1969. At the age of just 25, he visited over 30 plus branch meetings per month in the electorate of Banks in New South Wales in order to obtain victory. At the last minute there was an electoral redistribution and Keating ended up running for the seat of Blaxland, having lost his base of his support, he had to begin the process of attending 30 more branch meetings a month, just squeaking through to victory against his factional rivals.

Having arrived in parliament during the middle of Whitlam's term as Labor Leader. Keating in his own words '…played the game, got to know people, got to judge them, see what they really thought and try to put coalitions of people together inside the place.' In other words he began the process of rising up through the ranks of the ALP like a modern political operative ahead of his time. By the dying days of the Whitlam Government in 1975, Keating obtained a portfolio at the age of just 31.

Keating's passion had become the process of obtaining and deploying of power within the ALP. The next challenge would be how to use those skills to his advantage. 
Other great Keating Quotes in this episode

"Having enemies worries some people. For me it's a badge of honour.”

“The great things are always worth doing; they’re hard because they’re valuable."

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Promise Rescinded: The End of Rudd as Told in Quotes

Kevin Rudd has just resigned from parliament, His most tulmultious years cover the life of this blog. They also cover the evolution of my feelings of antipathy toward the Labor Party, for which he is partially responsible. I feel the only accurate way to describe his legacy in the immediate aftermarth is to quote this blog.

On The 2007 Election:

I had followed every Federal election up until that point only for it to end in tears, quite literally. Then two days after my 23rd birthday that all changed, and finally the ALP under Kevin Rudd stormed into power. The four years of being a member of the party, volunteering on polling booths, the early morning meetings, the trips to Brisbane, and agonising through several leadership challenges all paid off at 7:20pm Queensland time when election analyst Antony Green called the election in the ALP’s favour.
 On the Stimulus Package 03/02/09:

The question is this: When will leaders recognise that economics is always a long term exercise? One must always plan for the future. The transformation in politics towards continual campaigning and generating short term political capital has come at the expense of overarching economic policy. While Hawke, Keating, Howard and Rudd learn this lesson in Australia, our citizens will suffer. No stimulus package will fix that.

On The 'Rudd Honeymoon' 04/04/09:
What is it in particular that draws the voters to Kevin Rudd?

Even as a Labor Party stalwart I acknowledge that Rudd is about as benign of a leader as the public can get. He does not have the ability to capture the public imagination like a Whitlam, the ability to mix with the public like a Hawke, or the turn of phrase of a Keating. What may propel him into stratosphere of popular opinion is his ordinariness. Except every time he is on television trying to look like a ‘man of the people’ I cringe because (at least to me) he comes across as pathetic try hard. The one thing that he has going for him is the Howardesque ability to read the public mood, something at which Turnbull and his Liberal colleagues have no clue how to do at the moment

However all of this doesn’t explain why the public feels sympathy for Rudd after he acted like a complete dickhead. Yes, he’s human and is entitled to make mistakes, but such luxuries are not normally afforded to your average politician.
The First Bump in the Road 30/05/09:
...Rudd has yet to prove he can actually govern. He can certainly give out money to bribe voters, he can certainly use rhetoric to his advantage, but the question still remains if he can actually turn it into reality.
The Media Backlash 12/06/10:
...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... 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.
The Coup 23/06/10:
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?

Rudd Resigns as Foreign Minister 22/02/12:
The wider consequences for the ALP are brutal, whatever the outcome. Challenge or no, a former Prime Minister will be gone for good by Tuesday. Although it is of course easy to say and much harder to do, if both Gillard and Rudd worked together on policy and not undermined each other and worked cohesively just as they had promised in 2006, the ALP could have been staring down numerous election victories, a decade plus in power, and two bloody good Prime Ministers. What we have instead is a bitch fight on a national scale.
The First Challenge 24/02/12:
It has now been confirmed that Australia’s last two Prime Ministers will contest a leadership ballot on Monday to determine the leader of the ALP. Rarely has a political event carried more weight outside of a traditional electoral contest. Whether Gillard or Rudd emerges victorious, the wider implications for Australian democracy are indeed worrying.
The Second Challenge 21/03/13:
An ALP leadership challenge was brought on by former leader Simon Crean, hoping that Rudd would stand against Gillard, only for it not to happen. Confused? So is the rest of Australia.
The 2013 Election:
So the 2013 election is underway and while I'm interested in the scholarly aspects of life on the campaign trail, I'm nowhere near as invested as I used to be. Kevin Rudd and the ALP doesn't care about me, nor the people I care about.

The transformation is complete. Kevin lost the ALP. And the ALP lost me.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Keating Interview Part I: Initial Impressions

Good god what an extraordinary hour of television that was! So much to take in. So much to process. I feel about 20% smarter just watching it. And there's three hours to go! I have to rewatch this again, take notes and soak it in. I have decided to do a comprehensive review of each of the four episodes. First one will be up Friday.

I don't think I've enjoyed a political hour of television that much. We saw so many sides of this complex genius and crucially we saw the human side for the first time too. Just extraordinary! Compulsory viewing, my birthday came early.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

'Phone Rings, Door Chimes, In Comes Company'

Stephen Sondheim's 'Company', first performed in 1970, may well be the perfect musical for someone in their late 20s/30s, particularly those of us who are single. It is the best discovery I've made this year.

About 4 weeks ago I saw the DVD of the 2011 revival performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which stars Neil Patrick Harris, (How I Met Your Mother) Stephen Colbert, (The Colbert Report) and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) amongst others and completely fell in love with it. In my current incarnation I can relate to every single minute 

The plot is outlined below. 
Originally titled Threes, its plot revolves around Bobby (a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage), the five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends. Unlike most book musicals, which follow a clearly delineated plot, Company is a concept musical composed of short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order, linked by a celebration for Bobby's 35th birthday.
It is not until the final song that Bobby comes to the conclusion that he sees the value in these relationships. ‘Being Alive’ is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, not only because Bobby comes to a fundamental conclusion through song, but it is because we have all come to the same conclusion at some point in our lives. ‘Alone is alone, not alive’ might be one of the few phrases that sums up the biological need for intimate comfort, connection and support.
Someone has been kind enough to upload the entire performance up on YouTube. Believe me it is well and truly worth 2.5 hours of your time. Like all great art, it captures a time in one’s life that is both personal and universal

Thursday, 31 October 2013


In the past hour I've changed my dating profile significantly for the first time since I signed up nearly two and a half years ago. (Yes, it has been that long.)  It now reads as follows:
I'm a political academic and freelance writer by trade, having been published by several national publications. I have always been a career and goal orientated person, only to realise rather late in the game that I wanted something more: rewarding friendships, and perhaps if I'm lucky enough, a satisfying romantic relationship.

By nature and by design I'm a rather insular person. I like in depth one to one conversation, reading fascinating books, going to gigs; partaking in literary and film festivals.  I am not into adventurous activity. I seem to be in the minority here (or maybe just honest?). The observant amongst you can probably figure out why from looking at the provided photos.

I offer something different than what is normally on show here. I'm an analytical thinker who ponders big questions and thinks outside myself. After being on here for longer than I ever thought I would be, I have come to realise this certainly isn't for everyone, but those interested in this kind of experience will be rewarded.
The first thing you'll notice is the explicit references to the four wheels have gone. Although the self appointed 'disability activists' will have another dart to add to their ever expanding board, the first approach just wasn't working at all.

Actually that applies to all of it really. I haven't had any luck in the 10 months since moving to Brisbane and I figure this new approach can't hurt. To be sure this more direct honest method will probably put off even more people again. But perhaps one or two different viewers might like what they see with this new approach.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Letter To Myself Aged 16

I have just read a piece by Stella Young, the editor of RampUp who wrote a letter to her 16 year old self. As usual, our perspectives are dramatically different, so rather than be 'inspired' by her piece, I felt a need to write my own truth. While I respect Stella for her honesty, I will say that fans of her initial piece will probably find the following uncomfortable.

Dear Todd,

I know you hate the place you're in right now. You miss your friends, your sense of identity is gone, you have no real friends, and you're stuck in high school. I have temporary comfort for you, whoever said high school is the best time of your life was full of shit. It is probably one of the worst periods you will ever experience. Continue to make the most of your free time, keep reading books. You don't think so now, but it will make your life so much better.

You are currently at the first turning point of your life. The people who you are grieving for are of no consequence to you from now on. Keep your head down and keep going. This is what you are good at. Use the next two years to absorb as much information as you can. Embrace the move away from Adelaide, it will be the best decision somebody else made for you.

Now for the most important information you will ever learn.

Life is unfair. It is cruel. Don't pretend otherwise. Your physical disability is not something you can 'deal with.' Until they prove the opposite, people are ignorant, judgmental, and will not treat you with the respect you deserve. This will make you angry, very angry. Do not wait another decade to address it like I did. Know that the anger is there inside you and don't deny it. Unfortunately there is more bad news.

You think your romantic life is terrible now? Apart from a few brief shining moments it does not get any better. I know you are fragile and you wear your heart on your sleeve, but please be careful. I still haven't found peace of mind in this area. I'm not going to tell you that you will never find it, but do not turn yourself upside down to find this peace. It will destroy you.

And now for the good news.

Now that you have moved interstate you are finally able to challenge yourself. Despite what you tell yourself, you are smarter at age 29 than you could have ever possibly imagined. You will do great things not because you are inspirational, but because you have to prove to people that you are capable of greatness. The toughest critic will always be yourself. Give yourself a break, and have a little fun. You will need it.

It will take you years to find the friends you need. Right now you don't think you need friends, but you do. While you think you are satisfied with your own company, you are in extreme denial. Your friends will be the most important people in your life. Accept that you will need support, comfort, and that you can not solve every problem yourself. Beyond the definable brain damage that caused your disability, your brain is not 'otherwise full proof'. Your logic is flawed and you NEED people to bounce ideas off.

The best news of all is that there is life beyond your parents' walls. It will take superhuman strength to find it, but it will be there. If you have faith in nothing else (and I know you, you don't) have faith in this. You will appreciate your freedom all the more because of the struggle to attain it.

Life will never be as satisfying as you wish it to be, but it does get much better than it is now. You will never believe me, but it is.

Todd (Aged 29 and 10 months)