Shorten-Albo arm wrestle

This week’s specials: 1) Shorten v Albanese; 2) The Great Pokie Robbery; 3) Media catastrophe (three of them!) 4) Being a spoilsport; 5) The Great Gough; and more

Shorten-Albanese arm wrestle: Dumb versus Dumber

Anthony Albanese, the new Australian Labor Party and former leader of the “hard left” faction, has moved to the centre-right. At the same time, Bill Shorten, the ex-leader of the ALP and the AWU, has moved from the party’s right to the centre-left.

Talk about the shifting sands of politics. Since the last Federal Election on 18 May 2019, Shorten and Albanese have crossed over: “Short’n’sweet” is more left-wing and “Albo” is more right-wing.

This week Albanese travelled to Perth on the other side of the Continent to deliver his first major policy speech since becoming Opposition Leader.

He used the suck-up speech to reassure “traditional industries”, i.e. the heavily-subsidised mining and foreign-owned car manufacturing giants, that Labor was still their best friend. Significantly, he also said the demand for coalmining would continue.

Speaking out of both sides of his mouth, the ever-nimble Albanese said: “Simply put, the road to a low-carbon future can be paved with hundreds of clean energy jobs, as well as supporting traditional jobs, including coalmining.

It was a wake-up call for all those anti-coal Labor Party activists who have been marching, lobbying and protesting against the coal industry, coal exports and the coal-fired power industry. Albanese had thrown them under a bus just as Scott Morrison’s Federal Government and State Government’s in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia and WA bring out cops armed with teargas and tough laws to smash anti-mining protests.

Albanese’s first “headline” speech was, in part, to embrace the review of the last Federal Election being conducted by former SA premier Jay Weatherill and former Federal Cabinet Minister Craig Emerson. Albo’s spinmeisters are ready to sheet home all the blame for the election debacle to his predecessor, Bill Shorten.

Albanese turns his back on anti-Adani protestors in the last federal election campaign

In a pointed message to the construction industry, Albanese borrowed heavily from Pastor Morrison’s platform on infrastructure. He told his Perth audience last Tuesday: “Labor has been urging a bringing forward of the investment that is needed to stimulate the economy. A bring-forward of infrastructure investment combined with increased business investment would create jobs in the short-term as well as lift productivity.”

When decoded, Albanese wants the Federal Government to fund major infrastructure using taxpayers’ money. Against all the economic evidence, he appears to believe that this will prompt private infrastructure corporations to unlock funds for major projects.

Here we go again with the disastrous mix of unregulated Public-Private Partnerships. How naive can you get!

The Great Pokie Robbery

Poker machines are robbing people in NSW of billions of dollars. The social cost is devastating: increased poverty, marriage break-ups, domestic violence, family disintegration, alcoholism, drug addiction and even suicide.

Governing parties in NSW grow fat on the tax revenue from pokies. Every attempt to curb the spread of poker machines is resisted by the three main parties – Liberal, National and Labor. They all receive fat campaign donations which buys their support. The only party with a commitment to ban pokies is the NSW Greens.

But the tide is turning. More and more people are anti-poker machines. They have experienced the tragic cost and, at a more prosaic level, they could use the money rather than give it to the poker machine tsars.

The catastrophic experience of the opioid epidemic across the United States shows what can happen when governments – federal, state and local – fall under the influence of private vested interests, i.e. “Big Pharma”, and put short-term financial interests ahead of public well-being.

In 2017 the US Federal government declared a public health emergency after recording 42,000 deaths in 2016 from opioid abuse.

The “war on terrorism” and the “war on drugs” shifted to a “war on opioids”. “Big Pharma’s” response was executed with icy precision: its army of lobbyists went to war against the Trump Administration which, admittedly, wasn’t hard to do. Nobody liked Trump, even when he had initiated a policy of commendable sanity.

US governments are now forced to find billions of dollars to cover the social cost of opioid addiction. This week the federal government’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) estimated the cost of the drug crisis over a four-year period from 2015 to 2018 at more than $US2.5 TRILLION.

Poker machines: addictive

The CEA report measured the full cost of the opioid epidemic by adding the value of lost lives, the increase in health care and substance abuse treatment, exploding budgets for police, law enforcement, courts and prisons and reductions in productivity.

According to estimates from the US Department of Health and Human Resources, from 2016 to 2019, the number of Americans receiving medication-assisted treatment rose 38% from 920,000 to 1.27 million.

Why don’t Australian health, criminal justice and social welfare departments publish similar material about the impact of poker machines? Because highly-paid influencers of the pokies lobby are quick to suppress them.

In Australia, mainstream politicians and Treasury fixers have been bought off by years of tax revenue, plus bribes and special “favours”, from the poker industry.

Only a groundswell in public opinion will stop the pokie tsars in their tracks. How to do it? 1) Stop playing the infernal machines; 2) Boycott clubs, pubs, casinos and other pokie venues; 3) Name and shame the “big wigs” of the pokie industry and their greed; 4) Protest to MPs and shareholders and picket the AGMs of poker machine giants.

The poker machine industry is already planning its counter-attack. This is where the wise words of US feminist Gloria Steinem are worth recalling:

“The first resistance to social change is to say it’s not necessary.”

Another media catastrophe (1)

Once upon a time, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Saturday magazine, Good Weekend, was compulsory reading. Week after week some of the best writers in the country turned out interviews, profiles and feature articles of a very high standard.

Their pieces were so impressive they were bought by overseas publishers for republication. Some became books or films.

Those were the days, but not any more. Today Good Weekend is an ad mag. It’s the kind of thing you would expect to pick up in the showrooms of Nick Scali, Harvey Norman or K Mart.

Good Weekend: consumer-driven

It’s glossy and it’s trashy. The target audience is no longer readers; it is buyers i.e. people whose lives are dominated by the urge to shop and buy the latest bathroom, bedroom or kitchen gadget. Having bought it – on the credit card, of course – they may never use it. Never mind. The point is to own it, not to use it.

Although I was a Fairfax reporter for 30 years, the current Good Weekend team is unknown to me. They are new and I am old. In between adverts for Maseratis, luxury travel, “ultra-luxury” cruises and Rolex watches, there is the occasional outstanding piece of writing by the multi-award-winning journalist Jane Cadzow. Her latest profile of Peter V’landys, the abrasive ruffian leading the racehorse industry, is a terrific example of what the “old” Good Weekend was like.

However, the circulation of a newspaper or magazine cannot be built on the reputation of one or two reporters. No. Success depends upon a team of reporters and photographers under strong and independent editorial leadership. Long experience tells us that advertisers will follow editorial success even if it is unkind to consumerism, commercialism and crooked businesses.

This will be shocking heresy to the team of shallow-minded twerps now running Fairfax, aka “Red”. Over the past 15 years Fairfax Media has morphed from a quality media platform into an advertising platform. It no longer gathers news, it gathers advertisers, sponsors and pop-up chancers.

No wonder circulation is dropping catastrophically as readers give up in despair.

Yet another media catastrophe (2)

Some of Fairfax Media’s best remaining writers and contributors have found refuge in Spectrum, the Saturday lift-out covering everything from film, books, music, art and wine.

Ms Shona Martyn, a very talented New Zealander with extraordinary energy, is the editor.

In the latest edition she has a two-and-a-half page article on Takashi Murakami and his part in a new exhibition the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney’s Domain.

It is a gushing piece of rambling nonsense. It will be read by fewer people than attend the Sydney exhibition itself.

Artist Takashi Murakami

As far as I can judge, Murakami is a confused and confusing futurist with no idea what his cartoon-style drawings mean. He has talent but it has not emerged yet. Unlike the modern Aboriginal women whose “new wave” paintings are remarkable and inspiring.

Ms Martyn’s article starts on Pages 8 and 9 and jumps to a conclusion on Page 31. At the foot of her article appears the following: “The Sydney International Art Series exhibition on Japan Supernatural is at the Art Gallery of NSW exclusively from November 2 to March 8 supported by the NSW Government and Destination NSW. Shona Martyn travelled to Japan as a guest of AGNSW.”

Did Ms Martyn travel first class, business class or economy? Was Ms Martyn’s hotel accommodation paid for by the AGNSW or the NSW Government or Destination NSW? Was the hotel accommodation six-star, five-star or four-star?

Perhaps we should not be so ungracious. At least she acknowledged the trip was funded by the AGNSW, aka the “Culture House of Horrors”. Over the years dozens of Sydney hacks – News Ltd’s Greg Sheridan used to be a serial offender – have taken trips to Europe, the US, Taiwan and Israel without mentioning which government agency picked up the tab.

Paid-for journalism is rarely interesting and never readable. That’s because it fails the test of “Independent. Always”.

And one final media catastrophe (3)

On Page 3 of the SMH news pages in the same edition which published Shona Martyn’s risible “review” of the work of Takashi Murakami, Ms Martyn wrote a half-page piece entitled: “Superflat supercat is a modern masterpiece” (October 26-27, 2019).

She wrote: “A giant new painting by Japanese art star Takashi Murakami has been commissioned by the Art Gallery of NSW for a significant “seven-figure” sum.

“Art Gallery director Dr Michael Brand said yesterday that the work was an ‘unquestioned masterpiece’ – a phrase not thrown around lightly in the cautious world of the art museum.

“’It is a destination piece that will become part of the iconography of Sydney,’ said Brand, drawing comparisons with Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, bought by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973.

“Unlike Blue Poles, a controversial purchase in its day, Murakami’s work is a family-friendly crowd-pleaser (!!). Arguably, ‘the biggest cat in art history’ dominates the work, which depicts a battle between samurai and the Japanese spirits known as yokai.

“Ten metres wide and three metres tall, the work entitled Japan Supernatural: Vertiginous After Staring at the Empty World Too Intensely, I Found Myself Trapped in the Realm of Lurking Ghosts and Monsters, was completed last week on the outskirts of Tokyo.

“Brand refused to be more specific about the purchase price, but said the money came from income on the gallery’s investments.”

The AGNSW has “investments”? Since when? It is a not-for-profit statutory body responsible to NSW Parliament acting on behalf of the people of NSW.

Murakami’s work entitled  ‘Japan Supernatural: Vertiginous After Staring at the Empty World Too Intensely, I Found Myself Trapped in the Realm of Lurking Ghosts and Monsters’

Murakami’s “modern masterpiece” is a piece of unfathomable cartoonery. Comparing it to Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles is laughable and ignorant.

Murakami can’t believe his luck. He’s laughing all the way to the bank with his $1 million-plus commission. “It was super lucky your guys gave me this big opportunity,” he said while licking his chops like a “super cat” after downing a bowl of milk.

On being a spoilsport

Yet again the internet is full of messages that 2019 is a “special” year that “only happens once every 1,000 years”.

The instructions are simple: Add your age to the year you were born and you get the 2019. Try it and see.

Let us say you are 77 and you were born in 1942, the simple arithmetric gives the answer 2019. The internet will tell you, “We are all 2019 today.”

However, I received the same internet message in 2017 and 2018. When I did the sums in those two years, I got 2017 and 2018.

Each time I was told, “Today is a very special day. Today the whole world is the same age. This only happens once every 1,000 years. Your age + your year of birth, every person in the world is the same age.”

The internet routine is an innocent piece of rubbish. As one sceptic wrote: “All the people in the world are of the same age this year! It’s amazing! This year all the people in the world are all in the same age group, all equal to 2019. For example, you are 55 years old and you born in 1964, which adds up to 2019. Very strange. Even the Chinese and foreign masters cannot explain it.

“The idea that it only happens once every 1,000 years is ludicrous. By definition, if you add the number of years you’ve lived to the year you were born, you will get the current year. The main lesson from this is how fake news can spread quickly. It’s very easy to read something like this, try it, see that it works, and decide to share it with others.

“Or there is a post that reinforces a message that we like, so we don’t check it out too closely and pass it on. A statement like the once being shared at the moment doesn’t matter because it makes no difference to anyone, except maybe a maths teacher.

“Unfortunately, there are also many examples where people share misinformation about important issues.”

His advice is to use integrity when posting material on the net and don’t share dodgy material.

Happens every year…

Etymology of the week

William Barnes, the 19th century poet and author of A Glossary of the Dorset Dialect, has defined the regional word “boris-noris”. It means “going on blindly without thought to risk or decency”. The expression is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “borges ne borges” or “borges-norges” meaning “with security or not with security”.

In the 1878 novel The Miller’s Daughter by Anne Beale one of her characters shouts: “Idiots! Running boris-noris into the ditch without a thought of the morrow.”

Remind you of anyone?

Things they said

Max Hastings, former editor of the London Telegraph, said Boris Johnson was “unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for interest save his own fame and gratification … his premiership will almost certainly reveal a contempt rules, precedent, order and stability. If the price of Johnson proves to be [Jeremy] Corbyn, blame will rest with the Conservative Party, which to about to foist a tasteless joke upon the British people, who will not find it funny for long.”

Canadian-born publisher Conrad Black, who once employed both Johnson as editor of The Spectator and Hastings as editor of the London Torygraph, commented: “On balance, I must declare Boris to be more reliable and trustworthy than Max.” Yet another example of Black’s notoriety for lacking  judgment. Any serious person wouldn’t trust either of them.

The Great Gough

Gough Whitlam: the ultimate wit

In April 1994 Conrad Black, then majority shareholder in John Fairfax & Sons, clashed publicly and bitterly with Bob Hawke, the former prime minister.

Hawke gratuitously attacked Black’s credibility in early April 1994 saying: “The simple fact is that Conrad Black does not tell the truth.”

One week later, appearing as a witness before a parliamentary inquiry, Black took aim at Hawke and testified: “This is a man … who saw fit to ask my colleague, Dan Colson, some months ago if we would anonymously hire him and pay him $50,000 to be our ‘eyes and ears in Canberra’ to keep an eye on his successor [Paul Keating]. We did not accept the offer.”

At Susie Carleton’s Bellevue Hotel in Paddington someone asked another former prime minister, Gough Whitlam, about the Hawke-Black stoush. It was very day that Sydney newspapers began covering the story.

“What do you think, Mr Whitlam?” asked one of the regulars. “Hawkie says that Black is incapable of telling the truth and Black says that Hawke tells lies about him. Who do you believe?”

The great man threw back his shoulders, drew himself up and intoned gravely: “I believe them both.”

Passage from the Past

Australians themselves have a saying that when a stranger arrives in Perth, the first question he is asked is, “Where do you come from?”; in Adelaide, “What church do you belong to?”; in Melbourne, “What school were you at?; in Sydney, “How much money have you got?”; while in Brisbane they merely say, “Come and have a drink.”

  • J.D. Pringle, Scottish-born editor of the SMH, in his 1958 book Australian Accent

Photograph of the Year

Natalie Joyce, former wife of Barnaby Joyce, takes up body building.

























  1. I’m reading from Baku in Azerbaijan – a beautiful city – caring about its history, its people – its re-building – old Soviet-era apartment blocks (of around four or five floors being demolished and re-built higher – those displaced for the process having rents in the interim paid – and when the new building is complete – moved back to their apartments on the same floor – or id they wish to go higher up (up to maximum 16 floors) to pay some extra – but now with security, central heating, elevators…! What’s the situation in Australia – public housing inner city – hounded out – to where? Community disrupted – the resumed property given to developers – the wealthy move in – nothing for the former residents – and nothing really for the citizens – rorts galore to shareholder/investors (a large part overseas). The country produces almost all its own food requirements – and its oil exports are owned by the people. Local truly public transport is owned by the state and 30 cent a trip. Recently increased from 20 cents – because more new buses/trains purchased. Australian has much it could learn from the way this country has built itself up out of attacks from neighbouring countries – including memorials to those killed in massacre/attacks from the artificial state of Armenia carved from part of its historical Azeri territory – back in the 1988-1994 period – and other exploitative “masters” after its 1918 declaration of Independence. There is much to learn here – when I was a boy the Social Studies and history was mainly about the glories of our Britishness and the pink bits on the world map (Mercator – not Peters) and little to alert us to other histories – unless we went to war – the Sudan, South Africa, The Great War, WWII, Korea, Viet-nam – Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria – and peace-keeping Japan, Timor Leste (while spying on it, too), The South Pacific, Cyprus… and other places! The massacres here – as recent as those in Serbia and Bosnia and such places – reminding me of my recent reading of how the nation-builder Downers of South Australia had grand-father John (PM and Attorney-General at various stages in the 1880s and 1890s) profited from the massacres across the North of Australia – then under S.A. jurisdiction. [The Woolwonga First Nations people wiped out in the Coppermine Massacres of 1884-1886 – all bar one little girl – whose great grandson is the husband of one of my kinship connections in the NT – his father a Gurindji+ Stolen Generations child – whose story she wrote. Or of Red Rock just north of Woolgoolga (known to the massacre survivor Gumbayngirr as “Blood” Rock (mid-19th century). Or teaching nearby the Meal Creek Massacre of 1838 in my Inverell years – or visiting Murdering Island in the Murrumbidgee just upstream from Narrandera – site of a massacre of many. local Wiradjuri people in the early 1840s – near Poison Waterholes Creek – another place of murders – just nearby!] Thanks again. Alex for your knowledge/insight/revelations!

  2. Natalie Joyce is a revelation – an acquaintance of my brother and his wife (both themselves keep-fit aficionados) in Tamworth. And shocked by the way in which Barnaby treated his family, of course.

    1. Alas! Vale.. The Heralds “Good Week-end”. Another reminder of how citizens are viewed as mere units of capital…empty-headed consumers…a dumb down strategy to support ‘the market’ of the empty headed neo-libs. Sick making. Continue to resist.

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