Thursday, 21 March 2013


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.

If the last leadership change was a divorce, today the ALP and I are now in fourth stage terminal cancer. Aside from counting Rudd out, my Back to the Future series highlights the same problems for the ALP as the ones that occurred today. You should read those posts.

Today I have nothing more to say.

Monday, 18 March 2013

A Post Union Future

The ALP isn’t dead. 
It has just been bludgeoned unconscious, is in a forced coma, unable to open its eyes to make sense of the world. 
The party is too monolithic to be declared dead for at least another generation. Two former leaders used two very opposite platforms last week to declare that the party can still thrive, but they only succeeded in proving the opposite. Elaborate think pieces on the ALP’s future have turned into a cottage industry and may be the only thing keeping the Australian publishing industry afloat. I am guilty of this too. Unfortunately my fellow prognostergators lack some much needed insight.
Mark Latham and I go way back. I have argued that he is one of the few sensible voices to be heard when diagnosing the many ills of the ALP. I for one was looking forward to the Quarterly Essay that promised a new way forward for Labor. This time though he was stuck in the mud. Obviously, he positioned himself as ‘the ghost of Labor’s past' to add authority to his conclusions. But he chose to enlighten the reader with statements of a half decent first year university student:
The problem for Labor, with its concentrated base of union affiliations and financing, lies in the organisational imbalance between the new economy and old-style unionism. In the workforce, unions have become a minority influence, whereas inside the ALP, through the strength of the factional system, they have maintained a majority complex, exercising control over party decision-making.
We all know union and party membership are dwindling. The question is what to do about it? Follow 'The McKell Model' appears to be Latham's answer. In doing so he touches on the very point he fails to comprehend. Reaching back more than 70 years to fix today's problems is certainly not the answer. Less than half the retirees in Australia (incidentally Labor’s core membership base) know who McKell was, let alone the model he created. Latham has fallen into the obvious trap. He is thinking inside the existing paradigm. It no longer works. 

Unionism as a political force in Australia is gasping for air, dying a slow, painful death. 

Ten years from now you can sign its death certificate. Latham fails to acknowledge this and it renders the grand pronouncements he makes on future policy directions meaningless.

The question should now become:

How can a supposed ‘left of centre’ (major) political party survive in Australia without the union movement?

As I continue to progress with my PhD that is the central question I repeatedly ask myself. Nobody inside the ALP is bold enough to ask that question, let alone answer it, as they continue to clutch to the unions for survival. I was hoping Latham may have come up with a well thought answer, but it seems to allude him as well.

For what it is worth, Kevin Rudd is unsurpringsly, in more denial than Latham. Launching Troy Bramston's collection of Greatest Labor Speeches on Saturday, his ironically lacklustre speech essentially said ‘We’ve done more things than the other guys and that’s what makes our party great’. That’s another problem with Labor, history won’t save them as much as they hope it will. Harking back to the days of Curtin, Whitlam and Hawke doesn’t tell them anything about how to approach a post union future.

What exactly does this post union future look like? The easiest and most awful solution would be for the ALP to merge with the Greens, gaining back much of the hard left vote whilst sharing their organisational infrastructure. Going by historical precedence the only thing that will rescue the Centre Left from its own stupidity is a fourth and final Labor split (over what? Immigration? Don’t be silly!) that renders the party rudderless (Pun!). Then a political visionary must pick up the scraps to forge an entirely new path.

Obviously from the above paragraph you can tell that I am not that person. Latham and Rudd though have that potential. However, the first step is admitting you have a problem. How many electoral defeats will that take? Hopefully just the one, but I’m not counting on it.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Great Entertainer: The Legacy of Judy Garland

'If you have to be in a soap opera try not to get the worst role.' Judy Garland
Most people can remember the first time they saw Judy Garland. It is usually in connection with The Wizard of Oz. The moment tends to spark emotions full of vulnerability and tenderness in a child. I remember the first time I saw Oz, and I had no such experience. I had just turned 6, found its black and white prologue boring, and then the actual story terrifying, so terrifying that I actually wet my pants, literally. ‘What happened to the girl who played Dorothy? I asked after. ‘She got sick and died, it was all very sad.’ I was told. That about sums up the popular perception of Judy Garland.

Judy Garland was perhaps the greatest entertainer that ever lived, the equal to only Michael Jackson I would contend. There are books, documentaries and movies that discuss her life, career and tumultuous personal life. Those I know by heart now, as people with only a glancing interest in Hollywood history do. That is not my task here.  It is to explain why she was the best of the best, an unparalleled star of the musical genre.

Her best known work was when Judy was a star at MGM, a studio with expertise in the traditional movie musical. Between 1936 and 1950, she made around twenty five films: straddling between child and adulthood. Of course the populist approach would claim Oz to be her greatest work, but not me. Instead my favourite movie of Judy’s during her MGM years was also released in 1939. Babes in Arms was the High School Musical of its day, and it was also the first movie of ten in which she starred with Mickey Rooney. At age 17, Judy was just beginning to blossom into her talent and has the perfect mixture of innocence and confidence. Her chemistry with Rooney was also undeniable.

Aside from Oz, Judy is probably best known for Meet Me in St Louis, which includes the wondrous and iconic Trolley Song. Although that is an undoubted highlight, as a whole I prefer her last film for MGM, Summer Stock starring alongside Gene Kelly. Despite turmoil throughout production, the film radiates joy from start to finish. It is a showbiz tragedy that her Golden Era ended with that film when she was only 28.

Judy would only make four additional films before her death in 1969. The first of these is the melodramatic second retelling of A Star is Born, for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 1954. Perhaps it was because by the time the film was made her character so closely resembled Judy’s own life that she was able to channel the pain and anguish that was required in her performance. It is well worth the three and a half hours of viewing, even if Warner Brothers did not think so.

The last decade and half of Judy’s life is well known as a professional and personal rollercoaster. For every landmark album there was a disaster, and this is where her legacy tends to get murky. Just this past weekend I attended a play detailing the last concert tour of her career. End of The Rainbow is set in London at the beginning of 1969 where she is escorted by her fifth husband, Mickey Deans and her loyal accompanist, Anthony. The play makes two things remarkably clear: she was a sensational performer, but also an addict with major psychological issues. While both these cannot be disputed, it is a tragedy that 'Judy Garland' now seems to be stereotypical shorthand for the ‘Hollywood Burnout’

Judy Garland's legacy is far more complex. After viewing her entire filmography and owning a great deal of her music, I can safely say that there is not a moment where I feel angry, depressed or disheartened when watching her movies or listening to her music. I just love to watch her numerous spellbinding performances because when Judy smiled, the whole world smiled with her.