Friday, April 3, 2009

John Cobb Has The Explanation

There has been an enormous reaction to the reported outburst from the Prime Minister which is said to have left a flight attendant in tears. While many have been outraged that a man in such a position of power and authority could be so insensitive to a young lady in a subordinate position, others have suggested that getting told off by the boss is something that happens in almost every workplace. By far the best explanation has come from the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, John Cobb. I can’t do any better than to simply share with you Mr. Cobb’s press release, word for word. Here it is.

The red meat free diet of the Prime Minister was taking its toll on the Prime Minister, leading to a brain meltdown which left a VIP Jet hostess in tears, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, John Cobb said today.

Mr Cobb said it was an established fact that red meat was an excellent source of iron.

“Without iron in their diet a person will become pale, insipid, wishy-washy, anaemic and prone to outrageous outbursts.

“It is obvious the Prime Minister was as weak a limp lettuce and was suffering from the lack of a decent steak when he reduced a VIP air hostess to tears.

Mr Cobb said this could be the only explanation because he didn’t believe our Prime Minister was such a spoilt brat that he would chuck a toddler tantrum because his ‘special meal’ wasn’t available.”

“The Prime Minister’s lack of red meat in his diet would also explain his extraordinarily high staff turn-over rate. The lack of a decent lamb chop over an extended period of time would certainly make me very cranky,” Mr Cobb said.

Mr Cobb said a number of lamb and beef producers in his electorate of Calare had contacted him and were only to happy to invite the Prime Minister to their farms where they would chuck a chop, a couple of steaks, and a snag on the BBQ for the PM.

“I would happily host the Prime Minister to the best red meat feed (including salad and vegies) he has ever had and would like to invite the Prime Minister and his wife to the Calare electorate, the heartland of our red meat industry to get some iron into his diet to help him control his anger issues.

Mr Cobb said whilst Sam Kekovich is right when he says it is un-Australian not to eat red meat, especially lamb, it was actor Sam Neill who highlighted the bundle of nutrients in red meat making it a foundation food essential for brain development and function.

“Given the tough times Australia is heading into the Prime Minister needs all the brain development and function he can get at the moment.

That’s the press release from John Cobb, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. I just knew there was a logical explanation, and on behalf of all Australians, I thank the Shadow Minister for getting to the bottom of this matter.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Punished For Having An Opinion

Amongst all the various pranks that were performed for April Fool’s Day this year was the announcement by the Guardian newspaper in Britain that it was to discontinue publication in print form and henceforth be published only on Twitter. While quite amusing, it is also an indication of just how radically technology has changed the way we live our lives, go about our business, and communicate with each other. In fact, it’s probably only a matter of time before such a newspaper service exists… if it doesn’t already. Even more astounding is the fact that the change wrought by new technology is continuing to unfold ever more quickly. Only five years ago there was no facebook, and now it is an integral part of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people.

While there are vast benefits that come with this explosion of new ways to communicate, there are also some drawbacks. The difficulty in controlling and containing offensive material on the internet is an obvious example. Another monumental challenge is the issue of privacy, especially when so many people appear to be so casual about placing large amounts of personal information on line in what is not only a public environment, but one which is vulnerable misuse and manipulation.

In many ways, the very existence of the internet is one of the strongest guarantees of free speech that we have. This is partly because it is so difficult to regulate and to censor. People of all ages are embracing a new way of living which is so revolutionary it could almost be considered a new mode of existence. The very interconnectedness of people can and does promote more open behavior and greater understanding for each other, potentially leading to something that might almost be considered a hive mind. At the same time this also leaves people, and their personal information, open to all sorts of abuses.

Right now, an investigation is underway into a number of New South Wales prison guards who were communicating with each other via a facebook discussion group. They claim that they were discussing suggestions for the service to save money without the need for privatization. However they have been accused of breaching employment conditions relating to the making of “public comment”, as well as bullying employees, and making disparaging remarks about the Commissioner. While I do not know the contents of those online discussions, the question here is whether or not using social networking sites in your own time at your own home constitutes a private discussion or a publication, and whether or not making supposedly indiscrete comments in such a forum should threaten a person’s employment.

The prison officers claim that their communications with each other were no different from a discussion among friends or colleagues at a pub or a coffee shop. They claim that they are in essence being punished for having an opinion. However, those discussions were, at least in part, conducted in a forum accessible to the public. The fact is that despite old laws often being overtaken by new technology, any remarks which constitute defamation will be seen by the law as equally defamatory on the internet as they would be in a newspaper. It is possible to get into a lot of trouble by being indiscrete on the internet, no matter how casual the conversation might appear to be.

Whether that is right or wrong is clearly a matter which deserves consideration, because unless the law is flexible enough to reflect the realities of modern life we run the risk of people losing their jobs, or even worse, through simply expressing themselves. If we are to stand by our commitment as a democratic country to the ideal of free speech, we can’t afford to punish people for simply having an opinion.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No Laughing Matter

April the first is never a good day to announce anything. Given the tradition for tomfoolery which has long been honored, any announcement on this date should be viewed with at least mild suspicion. And with good reason. Among today’s announcements have been a new public transport system for Sydney comprising three new monorails labeled as the “triple M” scheme, along with an Aussie Rules football with built in GPS which will, among other things, alert talent scouts to your kicking skills, and even an office pen with a microchip so that when someone inevitably pinches it from your desk you can track it down to the nearest metre anywhere in the world. All great ideas, except perhaps the monorails, but all completely untrue.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that today’s headlines also warned that the Medicare Safety Net was under threat in the forthcoming federal budget. The Telegraph ran a front page headline announcing a “Tax On Mums”, which coming on April Fool’s Day could have been easily misconstrued. While it’s true that the government is now desperately looking at bottom line savings for a budget which has been plunged over the precipice of debt by the Global Financial Crisis, it remains to be seen just what will and won’t be cut when the big night arrives in May.

There has been much debate about the government’s mandate in recent times, especially in the process of passing the industrial relations legislation. The government was clearly elected on a promise to remove Work Choices and replace it with Fair Work Australia, and yet it was still a struggle to get it through the Senate. Now, if it turns out that the government is indeed contemplating taking the axe to the Medicare Safety Net perhaps they should be reminded that they also went to the election promising that the Safety Net would remain intact. If the government is about to start reneging on election promises perhaps we have all been April Fools.

Another April Fool’s Day announcement which is no joke is the worse than expected retail sales figures. After the healthy boost in December, thanks in part to the economic stimulus bonuses, and the better than expected January result, it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that the February figures show a fall of 2%. Worst hit have been the department stores with a decline of almost 10%, while cafes and restaurants have fared much better with a decline of only 1.3%. It is however a reminder that the Great Global Recession is far from over, and both businesses and consumers are still in need of whatever support the government is able to provide.

At the same time, the G20 and the OECD have set the scene for the crisis to continue to drag the global economy backwards for the rest of this year at least. Amidst the wreckage of the global financial system, both British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and our own PM Kevin Rudd are calling for a new economic order which is based on something called “compassionate capitalism”. It sounds like a nice idea, and seems to be something similar to another quaint old idea, that of “enlightened self interest.” That’s the idea that it’s logical to act in the best interest of others because the long term outcome is in your own best interest. Unfortunately, human beings are rarely logical and are more often driven by the more urgent emotions of fear and greed, especially when placed into a mob mentality scenario. That being the case, “compassionate capitalism” doesn’t stand a chance unless it is backed up by a bit of good old fashioned regulation.

Of course, with so much to be gloomy about, it’s a relief to know that there are still some April Fool’s Day pranksters out there giving us something to laugh about.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Working Flat Out For Australia

The federal government has launched a new campaign called “No Leave, No Life” which is targeting the stockpile of unused annual leave which has accrued to Australian workers. It is estimated that 123 million leave days have been saved up by those of us who are too busy to take a break, or who perhaps feel that the salt mine will cave in without us there to support it even for just a few weeks. The government has calculated that these untaken leave days carry a financial value of $33 billion, and if people could be persuaded to take a break and spend some of that money it would help boost the local tourism industry, and the economy generally.

Apparently the most likely offenders are male, over forty, and in executive positions where they might be tempted to believe in their own indispensability. On average these workaholics have totted up around 25 days annual leave each, which means it has been a while since their last holiday. It’s true that many people also see the accumulation of leave as building up a kind of buffer against future needs, or even the possibility of losing a job. But now the government is telling us that our country needs us, and that we should take a holiday because it’s the Australian thing to do.

The tourism industry is said to be worth around $65 billion annually, but right now the Global Financial Crisis means that there is a shortage of rich Americans looking for something adventurous to do. Most of them too busy packing their golden parachutes and wondering when the share market slide will really be over. For them, reading the financial pages is about all the excitement they can handle at present, so an adventure holiday “Downunder” is out of the question. That’s where you and I come in.

If you and I, and everybody else, all cash in our accrued annual leave and spend a couple of weeks in the country visiting pubs, not only will we be living the Australian Dream, we will be helping to preserve it. It’s up to us to take up the challenge and save the Australian tourism industry by doing what we all do best… spend some time flat out like a lizard drinking by the pool at a holiday resort at the regional destination of our choice. Like the call from an earlier era when Peter Costello urged us all to do our bit for this great nation by procreating more prolifically, it’s a job that has to be done. Yes, it’s a tough job, but I know between us we can do it.

Besides, with all the bikies shooting each other in the streets of Sydney, now is probably a good time to get out of town for a while anyway.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Only The Spin Is Under Control

The police minister Tony Kelly has been asked if the New South Wales Police have the bikie violence situation under control. His reply was “Yes, they certainly do.” No doubt it is his attempt to promote community confidence in the efforts of the police to tackle the escalating gangland war, which has spilled over from the front pages into the lives of ordinary everyday bystanders. The threat to public safety has added to the necessity for the minister to make reassuring statements to the media, but the truth is that the situation is far from under control.

The very fact that a man has been ambushed as he arrived at the apartment block in which he lives makes it self evident that matters are out of control. Peter Zervas was shot as he got out of his car to open the security gate at his home, barely a week after his brother Anthony was bashed to death at the infamous Sydney Airport brawl. He was shot three times and left for dead as the gunman ran away. Peter Zervas now lies in hospital in a serious condition. And yet the police minister wants to assure us that police have matters under control.

The fact that the targets and the victims of this violence are all bikies might give some people comfort, perhaps leading them to think that it’s somehow alright that bikies are killing each other, so long as nobody else gets hurt. But the longer this goes on, and the more out of hand it becomes, the greater is the risk that innocent bystanders will get hurt. In fact, it’s only a matter of time.

The challenge for police is not to be underestimated. It’s easy enough for all of us to demand that something should be done, but for police to actually put a stop to all of this is far from simple. A whole range of factors must be considered, including laws to increase police powers, along with boosting police numbers and resources. But in the end, success depends upon effectively addressing the criminal culture which exists not only among bikies, but more broadly in the form of gangs generally.

While it might be important for the police minister to be seen to be urging calm in the community and saying things to reassure the public, nobody is going to believe him that the police have matters under control as long as the bullets are still flying. If making vague but reassuring statements is the best that the government can do then the effect is not very reassuring at all. In fact, it would seem to indicate that the minister, and the government, really don’t have anything under control at all, except perhaps for the spin.