Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Kirby Files (2nd of an intermittent series)

In early January 2003, I posted “The Kirby Files (1st of an intermittent series)”. While in some ways, I’m pleased to be able to now post a sequel – and so make good the long-ago, seat-of-my-pants promise that there would indeed be a “series” – this post will be without the satirical light touch of its predecessor.

Firstly: How did I intuit that there would be a sequel? That’s easy – when you’re entangled with a toxic old queen, like Sydney lawyer Gordon Stewart is (toxic queen, that is; Justice Michael Kirby is the entangled one), it soon becomes painfully clear that nothing short of death is going to shut them up.

In my first instalment, I called Gordon Stewart ‘Gordon “Rose” Bay’, taking the mild precaution of giving him a pseudonym because I felt then that I didn’t have the full measure of him. The underlying November 2002 story, in which the self-described “old friend” of Kirby was (seemingly) gratuitously dragging the judge through media mud, was, frankly, a touch bizarre. Following a kiss’n’tell front page story on the married Stewart and his (male) mistress in today’s Australian, though, Stewart’s game seems transparent enough.

In case it’s not clear, I’m not particularly interested in the details of the small-beer (for Sydney) property dispute between Stewart and his male mistress. Nor is the rest of Australia, I imagine. What does justify the front page treatment of the story, of course, is the involvement of Justice Michael Kirby, in a peripheral and personal capacity only (Kirby had and has nothing to do with the property dispute, but is, as we already know, an “old friend” of Stewart, as well as at least a social acquittance with Jason Harvey, Stewart’s former boyfriend).

Which is really almost the extent of the “story”. In other words, the Australian has again gone on a mud-slinging rampage around Justice Kirby’s private life – mud “slinging” and not digging because there is nothing to dig.

Oh, except for one poisonous morsel to slip from the mouth of Stewart – Kirby apparently had a key to the Stewart/Harvey love-nest, given to him so he could, in Stewart’s forked phrase, “relax” away from work. (The disputed love-nest, at 54 Darley Street, Darlinghurst, is a few hundred metres from where I assume Justice Kirby’s Sydney chambers are).

Not surprisingly, and quite properly, Kirby has not commented on the facts of, and imputations behind Stewart’s story about the key. As a bare fact, it is (assuming that it’s true) a meaningless piece of personal fluff – Kirby possessed the key to a then-friend’s apartment . . . and?. What Stewart clearly intends to imply, however, is that Kirby used the apartment for clandestine sexual purposes; along with a secondary imputation, necessarily resulting from the fact of Harvey living there, that these sexual acts would have either been with Harvey personally, or else only taken place with his forbearance.

As a defensive trump-tactic in a property dispute – former male-mistress Harvey wants title to the apartment – Stewart’s gambit is breath-taking. He has happily admitted the existence of the mistress into the Oz’s tape-recorders, so making the ongoing dispute also financially irrational and self-destructive. Stewart is apparently a very wealthy man, and the current market value of the disputed apartment (purchased for $77,000 in 1991) is not going to be even close to the millions that his wife Lorraine could – and presumably now will, unless she’s insane – take him down for in a divorce.

Unfortunately for Michael Kirby, taking down Gordon Stewart is simply not an option – meaning that Stewart remains free into the future to play “You’re my insurance policy” merry-hell with Kirby’s reputation. High Court judges can’t engage what could be seen as a public slanging match. In terms of defamation remedies, while today’s Oz verily trowels-on imputations adverse to Kirby – and well-knows it, too – the likely slippery qualities of his “friend” Stewart in the witness box means that Kirby’s suing the Oz would be fraught with peril. In court, Stewart would presumably pontificate disingenuously about the intended innocence of his word “relax”, while at the same time make good use of courtroom privilege to wheel out lurid, unsolicited stories about Kirby, the tone of which would likely have made Stewart's closest cognates in legal history, the rent-boy testifiers in Oscar Wilde’s (criminal) trial blush.

Whatever Gordon Stewart’s motivations are, the Australian’s willingness to sign-up alongside him for the ride is frankly despicable. Making its role more heinous is the fact that today’s story did not reference the November 2002 story in the Oz, in which Stewart’s strange personal vendetta against Kirby was first revealed (and abundantly so, in retrospect). Most seriously of all, in its pathetic need to visually link Kirby, as much as possible, to the pretext-for-a-story Stewart/Harvey property dispute, the Australian all but publishes Kirby’s home address. A photo of Stewart and Harvey, captioned “at Justice Kirby’s [Rose Bay] harbourside home” narrows down Kirby’s “palatial” abode (for anyone with a Sydney Street directory) to the spot where the NE tip of Point Piper ("Woollahra Point") is in line with the top of the Harbour Bridge. Nice one, you gutter hacks.

Correction 1 August 2004

The “June 2002” story in the Australian – on the Kirby/Stewart “friendship”– has been corrected to November 2002.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Norma Khouri

Almost ten years ago, when the Helen Demidenko/Darville scandal was in full flight, I weighed-in, on the anti-“Demidenko” side, in public debate on the Internet. The mid-90s being a pre-blog era, ground zero of this debate was an email list-server thingummy called “austlit”.

Although the Demidenko/Darville scandal has some strong overlap with the current Norma Khouri/Forbidden Love one – assumed, or at least grossly exaggerated, ethnicity as a convenient vehicle for sowing racial/religious hatred, by coupling it with the cushioning protection of a first-person, “true story” narrative – I’m not nearly as offended by Khouri’s fraud.

Mostly this is because, at the time, I saw Demidenko/Darville as very much shitting in my own nest. A uni-educated, Australian, Gen X writer was given a break very few others were. In return for this misplaced trust she ungraciously trashed the joint, so making a publisher’s “slush pile” – comprised mainly of young, “unknown” writers – exponentially more slushy, overnight. In contrast, Norma Khouri was a self-styled outsider, writing prurient femo-grist for a niche – albeit numerically substantial – market: middle-class female book groups*.

One thing comparison of the two scandals does reveal is how bad the current state of Australian journalism is. Given that the innards of Khouri’s book were part and parcel of her migration to Australia, I would have thought that the retrospective bona-fides of her migration would be a large part of the current story. Instead, journo Rory Callinan seems more concerned with whether the good ladies of Turramurra (et al) are going to get a refund on their books.

Rory’s blitheness is all the more startling as wildly divergent versions of Khouri’s migration status have been floated, without reference to each other, in the print media. One widely-cited line of thought is that she’s here under the auspices of a temporary protection visa, while today’s Oz has her visa status in the altogether different category of “distinguished talent”.

Personally, I’m inclined to believe that latter, “distinguished talent” theory. This is not so much because it is a sweet and fitting gong for a cynical literary shonk like Khouri. Rather, a little nugget buried away in Rory Callinan’s story makes it clear why Khouri – and husband John Toliopoulos – were surely such immigration “must-haves” for Australia. Quite stunningly, the Jordanian-Greek-American couple have become assimilated white trash faster than you could say “runner-up” in a reality real-estate TV show:

“[Toliopoulos] told me once that he had plenty of money and that his wife was a best-selling author and he had made a lot of money from real estate deals," one local revealed. "He said they were going to buy five or six houses in Bribie Island and do them up."

* An “ABAF Awards” supplement in today’s Oz, obviously compiled some time ago, waxes on about book clubs thus:

So far the most popular literary event was last June, when a talk by Jordanian-Australian author Norma Khouri, who wrote the bestseller Forbidden Love, attracted 300 people to debate the role of women in Muslim countries.

Update 4 August 2004

Khouri’s migration status has finally been authoratively stated; she is “distinguished talent”, after all. Don’t hold your breath waiting for prominent “We Were Wrong” statements by the many media outlets who ran with the “temporary protection visa” line, though.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

What is a money-launderer’s duty of care?
As in – if you’re entrusted with $860,000 of drug money to launder through the tables at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, what is the minimum amount of “clean” cash that you are expected to hand back over?

Apparently, a net, “clean” $350,000-odd  is not good enough.    Such a sum is indeed so unsatisfactory that your own, plus your family’s lives are well and truly on the line, if that’s the way the cards fall for you.

Personally, I think that this is a tad unfair on the erstwhile money-launderer.  Sure, if he’d literally tipped half a mill down the drain, or blown it on a few big nights of cocaine and hookers, then he’d deserve whatever he got.  As far as I can tell, though, the guy here simply gambled the money, as he was contractually expected to do.  I assume that he gambled as proficiently and “luckily” as he would have if the money was his own – the mere fact of losing heavily at a casino table is not, of course, prima facie evidence of the gambler’s lack of proficiency, dedication-to the-task, etc.

While there such a thing as low mathematical-risk money laundering – making “matching” bets on the same table – this method is bound to attract unwanted attention.  Casinos generally do not batt an eyelid at dishevelled gamblers peeling out limitless rolls of cash, but when two people are indulging in a risk-averse betting system – that is something unusual.

If you’re running a Chinese organised crime gang, though, these practicalities and rationalities seem to be given short shrift.

I wonder what is the appropriate State “harm minimisation”-type strategy here?  On one hand, a public education campaign could take place, indicating that laundering money through casino tables is not always “safe” money laundering.  A run of bad luck, and it’s Poof! to all or most of your ill-gotten gains.

Alternatively, there could be a “Job Watch”-style campaign targeting would-be money-launderers.  Such persons could to told to always insist on a written contract, which specifies that they are entitled to lose a certain percentage of the booty, subject to the employee using their “best efforts”, etc.  And most importantly, when and if they reach the said loss limit, their employment is instantly terminated – so leaving both parties where they stand, and without recourse to any further, ahem, contractual remedies.      
Bottom line:  there may or may not be honour among thieves.  But there’s no excuse for not imposing the civilising salve of mathematics on them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Overheard at my ex-Work for the Dole provider’s office

Otherwise having finished with these people last November, I went there in person today in order to (hopefully) expedite some paperwork I needed to get the taxpayer to shell out $75 for a course I’m about to start (being a WfD graduate, I’m entitled to an $800 “training credit”, which expires this November). 

The office at this place has never struck me as being particularly organised.  It seems to exclusively employ young women, and burns through them, too.  Today “Michelle”, the person I had spoke to on the phone yesterday was not available – “unexpectedly called out to one of our off-site premises”.  No one else but “Michelle” could help me with what needed to be done, I was assured.

While waiting for this fob-off to be completed (the above is just a simplified summary; it was actually done with a baroque complexity over five minutes or so), I overheard this little gem:

RECEPTIONIST (on phone):  Sorry for keeping you waiting for so long – you were after Sophie? . . . I’m afraid that Sophie has just suddenly gone into hospital for an operation . . . yes, an operation . . . But she’ll be back very, very soon.

Clearly, I am way out of touch with the ways of the modern office.  I always thought that someone’s being “in a meeting” was a good enough all-purpose excuse to Fuck the Customer Off (When You Personally Can’t Be Bothered).  But excuse hyper-inflation lately seems to have hit in a big way.  Can’t wait to hear this one sometime soon:  “I’m afraid Brianna’s just slumped dead over the photocopier . . . I’ll get her to return your call . . . No, it shouldn’t take that long – she’s just doing a bit of collating and tone-lightening while she’s up there”.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Ho hum, Chris Masters

Lately, “4 Corners” has been rather losing the plot.

Last week’s expose on Gitmo Bay resident, and Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib took at 180-degree turn at about the three-quarter mark.   After quite convincingly – I thought – establishing that Habib had been 100% his own architect of the events which see him currently held at Gitmo Bay, the sympathy card was pulled out of nowhere, and apropos of nothing.  So some of Habib’s fellow touristic jihadis – from Germany – got off scot-free when they got back there?  I doubt that it’s that simple – and if Germany is indeed a soft-touch for middle-management Islamic terrorists, as the ABC implies, then they should really be following that up.

More troublingly, the “expose” on Habib failed as a matter of basic journalism.  The café-owner, with a wife and four kids in Sydney, went off to Pakistan – twice – for months at a time, with no visible means of support.  Even better, Habib’s lengthy missions there were said to be to find a suitably strict Islamic school for his boys to attend.  Err, Mrs Habib and Mamdouh’s taxi-driver friend:  to find a school in Pakistan that teaches the pure Koran and nothing but (apart from a bit of weapons training, wink, wink) is as hard as looking for the nearest street corner – Saudi-financed fundamentalist madrassahs are everywhere.

Similarly devoid of cohesive editorial steering was last-night’s wishy-washy piece on police corruption:

CHRIS MASTERS: As experienced cops often say, "You don't see the line until you've crossed it." A first step might be something as innocuous as a half-price hamburger or a share of an insurance payout.
Now, I’m no big fan of cops getting freebies at fast-food multinationals – but my aversion here stems mainly from (i) innate dislike for these multinationals’ labour practices, and (ii) dislike for life imitating art, a la the fat, porcine cop from “The Simpsons”.  In any case, for Chris Masters to compare receiving fast-food freebies/discounts as morally equivalent to the “innocuous” matter of committing insurance fraud is just ludicrous – and sad, given his sterling corruption-busting work in the 80s.  

Then there’s this curious interview excerpt and voiceover:

DEBORAH LOCKE, FORMER DETECTIVE SENIOR CONSTABLE, NSW POLICE: I mean, I'm reminded every day of the Wood Royal Commission when I look at my boy. And, you know, he's eight next week and he's just got out of nappies, you know?

CHRIS MASTERS: Another whistleblower, Deborah Locke, went into labour while giving evidence.
That ex-cop Deborah Locke went into labour while giving evidence against her colleagues is deeply unfortunate, particularly if it led to medical complications.  But as for the stress of being Crown witness, long ago, causing her son to not be toilet trained until almost the age of eight, pull-eaze

Monday, July 26, 2004

Terrorists threaten Australian tomato sauce-shed

If retrospective justification is needed for Australia’s role in the Iraq invasion/occupation, then the naïve intransigence of terrorist threats mentioning Australia by name should be plenty.

Last year, al Qaida – possibly, even Bin Laden personally – was letting loose with this:

We maintain our right to reply, at the appropriate time and place, to all the states that are taking part in this unjust war, particularly Britain, Spain, Australia, Poland, Japan, and Italy.
Oh, do you just?   Maybe you could brush up on your geography – not only have you done nothing to/in any of the named countries (Spain excepted), but the latest bunch of Iraq hostages come from three countries at the opposite end of the spectrum from Osama’s ersatz short-list:  Pakistan, India and Egypt.  

And what is with Australia and Poland?  Again, Australia has been specifically mentioned alongside this unassailably B-list nation, only this time there’s not even the cushioning impact of a few Proper Countries also being named.  When it’s a short list of Australia, Poland and Bulgaria – only – it’s not so much an ooh-ah threat as a slap-of-the-glove insult to national pride and manhood.

As for the latest threat’s supposed modus operandi – "lines of car bombs" and "pools of blood" – the piss-weakery of terrorist intentions against Australia is reinforced.  Lines of car bombs – so that’d be to dilute the whole exercise into a sort of Mardi Gras parade meets cracker-night?  Ditto for the dinky little "pools of blood" – perhaps you meant "rivers", dears.   Or are you too steeped in the production values of an Agatha Christie murder mystery amateur repertory to risk your props getting more accolades than your acting?

Friday, July 23, 2004

Good onya, Richard Flanagan
For saying what needs to be said about Jim Bacon; a boomer mediocrity who was Left for about five minutes circa 1968,  but who was – against all evidence and logic – allowed to affect a Left identity until his recent dying day.

For Flanagan’s trouble, current Premier of Tasmania Paul Lennon – an all-round toxic turd, by the sound of it – calls him “a bitter, negative, detached person at the fringes of Tasmanian political life”. 

So Lennon believes in clear-felling thesauruses for adjectives, as well as old-growth forests for woodchips?  In any case, in my book, Lennon ’s words are high praise.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Memo to Israel and Palestine – stop dragging me into your border dispute
Earlier today, I was going to have a big rant at a noxious Op Ed in today’s Oz – a rant that could only be construed as hostile to Israel; and so breaking this blog’s long-standing policy of neutrality in that country’s border dispute with Palestine.
The good news is that my rant is indeed running, after all – below – and qualmlessly, on my part.  In terms of my newfound lack of qualms, serendipity has just now provided me with this fresh morsel of news, so allowing me to balance things up, by digging it into the Palestinans as well:    
The moderate Australian Federation of Islamic Councils has attacked the Federal Government over its claim that terrorism was driven by Islamist extremists bent on attacking the West rather than issues such as poverty and the Palestine conflict. 
Oh yeah, Ameer Ali?  Since when, in the last 50 years, have the Saudi Royals and Bin Laden family been concomitant with “poverty”?   As for the Israel/Palestine conflict – yep, there’s a connection there allright.  A bunch of GenX middle-class (mainly) Saudis have been brainwashed into thinking (i) that neo-colonialist intervention on Palestine’s behalf is required, and that (ii) the best form of such diplomacy for Palestine is no longer merely the locals blowing up a bus in Israel with 30 civilians on it.    Saudis blowing up a city-block in the West, killing 3000 civilians (including Muslims, Jews and Australians) is going to get a much better, sooner result for Palestine, isn’t it?
Go play “Kill and Be Killed” with Israel, all you like, Ameer Ali.  Just leave me – and my country – out of it.
Meanwhile, at least one Israelo-fascist seems equally determined to antagonise and provoke distant South Pacific islands – and me.
Opining on the Mossad New Zealand passport scandal, Ted Lapkin thinks that PM Helen Clark has been too hard on Israel, while being too soft on Islamic terrorists.
Fact #1.  The six-month jail sentences Eli Cara and Uri Kelman received seem extraordinarily light, given that the offence they were found guilty of carries a seven-year maximum jail sentence.  If the duo’s activities – stealing the identity of a wheelchair bound New Zealander neighbour of Cara’s, who was suffering from cerebral palsy – aren’t at the upper end of the scale, what is?  The further facts that an accomplice, Zev Barkan, has already escaped, and that the duo have been utterly uncooperative on their Mossad* links, means that, IMO, New Zealand would be entitled to – and moreover, should have – given the duo the full Gitmo Bay treatment, at least until some answers were forthcoming.  Violating a country’s sovereignty in this way is very close to, if not actually, an act of war.
Fact #2.   If NZ PM Helen Clark is indeed deliberately soft on Islamic terrorists gaining aceess to false passports, then I suggest that, far from being buried in an aside in the Op Ed pages, this startling news should be on the front page.  And if it is true, Australia should immediately close its borders to all New Zealand passport-holders until further notice – at the very least.
Lapkin is also wrong is his Keystone Cops/Inspector Clouseau analogy.  The only reason the duo got caught is an alert NZ passport officer, who thought that Cara’s accent was suspiciously foreign for a 30 y.o. New Zealand-born man who had never held a passport before.  It is telling that the unusualness of a 30 y.o. New Zealand-born person not having left their country in the first decade of their adulthood was presumably the passport officer’s main prompt here.  Mossad really needs to get a handle on the dire predicament of GenX in Australasia – apart from this, though, the plan would have gone off smoothly, as the perfect crime.
Finally, for what the Mossad operatives did is personal.  As a fifth-generation settler-Australian, I’m only entitled to one passport, and I value the relative global respectability of the Australian passport, to which New Zealand’s ranks about equally, as I understand it.   What Mossad did has diluted the international par value of a New Zealand passport.  Even if the value of an Australian passport hasn’t been consequently diluted, there is little comfort in knowing that it could so easily have happened here, and quite possibly has already, and also will in the future.

Assuming Ted Lapkin lives in Australia and holds citizenship, he apparently doesn’t care about dilution of his passport’s utility.  Perhaps he holds, or is eligible for, another country's passport.  If so, could he please fuck-off there – and leave Australia to get on with its own problems, of which the Israel/Palestine border dispute is most emphatically not one.

*  If they weren't spies, the only other possible explanation is that they were high-level organised crime operatives.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

"Pre-operative transvestite"?
Seemingly determined to seize Samantha Maiden's recently-installed throne as News Ltd’s most clueless journalist, Herald-Sun journo Chris Jones has dropped this clanger about "Miriam", of reality TV fame.  A transvestite is a man in a frock, Chris – and the said wearing of frock is not generally accompanied by any medical procedure (although the possibility of some of "The Footy Show's" transvestites being lobotomies – post-op, that is – can't be completely discounted). 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

New Telstra chairman announced, following a three-month search
With Nauru well and truly on the financial skids, the guernsey of cashed-up milch-cow for idle corporates to feed off now belongs to Telstra more than ever.  Thus, after an apparently exhaustive three-month search (= an outside recruitment co. would have made a motza just by going through the motions), Telstra has just appointed “rural businessman” – and existing Telstra board member – Donald McGauchie as its chairman.
OTOH, maybe I am being too cynical here – Telstra may have in-housed its search for a new chairman, and the reason that this process took three months, only to come up with the blindingly obvious, is that Telstra relied on its new Sensis search engine to crunch the recruitment data.  (With a short list of – I’m guessing – six candidates, the Sensis engine could well have been stumped by running out of fingers on the hand that wasn’t doing the counting, and then taking two-and-half-months to get around this road-block, finally hitting upon the idea of counting toes instead, so allowing Sensis to go all the way up to ten!) .  Sensis is the search engine that is apparently so good that it’s going to take on Google, any day now.  So good, in fact, that it only needs about $100m in paid ads to inform the public of its current market-winning excellence – and all this coincidentally coming just before an election.
In terms of who is Donald McGauchie, I’d suggest that time-serving Howard hacks don’t come much hack-ier.  Some of his more interesting current other directorships include asbestos criminals James Hardie Industries, and the Reserve Bank of Australia
As for his “rural businessman” credentials, McGauchie can claim credit for selling the last bale of Australia’s infamous wool stockpile – so proud of his August  2001 achievement in so doing was McGauchie (then wearing his hat as WoolStock Australia Limited Chairman), that he gave out his mobile phone number, presumably so that the adulatory calls could just flood on in.  Earlier, McGauchie was President of the National Farmers' Federation, an organisation whose charter apparently includes the very un-moleskins’n’Drizabone business of slush-funding union-busting litigation.    

Update 21 July 2004
You’ve gotta love corporate uber-suck Robert Gottliebsen sometimes.   Like an over-enthusiastic golden retriever, Gottliebsen can bring home more than his (many) masters want – he just can’t help himself with that tail-wagging, eager-to-lease attitude.  Thus Gottliebsen today names  as the ones who got Telstra’s rolled-gold three month retainer.  Onya guys – you and your easy money will be in my thoughts every time I pay my $30 a month landline “rental” (not to Telstra as retailer admittedly, but – quite unavoidably – to Telstra as wholesaler).   
Also revealed in the Oz today, although by way of passing mention only, is McGauchie’s key role as union-buster in the 1998 docks dispute.   Later in that same year, McGauchie was appointed to Telstra’s board.  Not sure of the exact details of what McGauchie actually did on the docks, and the whether there might be an implication that his Telstra appointment was political payback, but stay tuned on this one.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Samantha Maiden – News Ltd’s most clueless journo?
You get the feeling that Oz journo Samantha Maiden – who only a year ago was covering the “Government offers man sex industry job” story for the Hobart Mercury – does not do her own tax return.  Which I mention because such outsourcing does seem rather extravagant of her; assuming she follows the logical implications of two recent news articles carrying her byline, she would perish-the-thought of claiming a single cent in work-related tax deductions, this making the lodging of her tax return no more complicated than stapling a group certificate, and remembering her own name and address.
Personally, I think that there is considerable middle ground between Maiden’s every- work-related-deduction-is-a-rort line, and outright tax evasion, as condoned by the Garfield Barwick (together with able assistant, and unrepentant living redneck, Harry Gibbs) High Court.  Funnily enough, the ATO, as well as the entire body of current Australian tax law seem to agree with me on this.
Which thus begs the question:  what the fuck is Samantha Maiden on about – and why hasn’t her editor reined her in?  
Her errors are not rocket science – more like primary school maths, in fact. If “[a]verage work-related expenses for judges” on an itemised basis “included $2407 for cars, $5973 for other travel, $2075 for self education and $2457 for "other expenses"”, how does this equal an average total deduction claim of $4077?
And look at this sample* succession of howlers (*there are many more in the article):
Under a 1999 taxation ruling, about 1400 members of parliament nationally are able to claim a wide range of work-related expenses not available to ordinary Australians. They include election expenses, airport lounge membership, and the cost of birthday cards, flowers for funerals, conferences and seminars.
An analysis of ATO figures shows generous tax deduction arrangements allow one in three MPs to claim self-education expenses to study for MBAs and law degrees.
. . . Benefits that arise under frequent flyer programs, which can amount to thousands of points a year for globe-trotting ministers, do not form part of an [sic] MPs assessable income.

If only Ms Maiden’s apparent vow of tax-deduction abstinence didn’t financially preclude her from so doing, I’d suggest that a bit of work-related self-education (e.g. Basics of Tax Law) might be just the ticket.  At least she's consistent though, last month she was happily plugging Harvey Norman founder Gerry Harvey, and his too many graduates were failures in "the university of life" message.  For Maiden’s information –  since the said "university of life" has failed her in the area od tax law –  out of the copious various deductions that she claims are available MPs and “not . . . to ordinary Australians”, the only ones which wholly or partly fit the bill here are (i) election expenses, (ii) the cost of birthday cards and funeral flowers, and (iii) “providing light refreshments in the nature of morning and afternoon tea to staff and visitors".
Yes, that’s right, Samantha – even you wouldn’t be taxed on any frequent flyer programs benefits you might receive (I’m talking hypothetically here, of course, because we know that you would never to sully yourself to the extent of claiming the "thousands of points" such as you would get from a single annual Sydney-Canberra return flight, flying discount economy#).  And it’s just as well also that you don’t believe in the deductibility of “conferences and seminars”, because if you ever went to one, you might accidentally overhear your colleagues snickering about what a pathetic excuse for a journalist you really are.
Which is a shame though, OTOH, because what with your evident enthusiasm for Gerry Harvey's "university of life" message, there would be an ideal position for you outside the world of journalism, in which both you and Gerry could practise what you preach:  taking care of Harvey Norman's tax affairs.
# On Qantas, this yields 2000 points/miles

Friday, July 16, 2004

What is the phrase for a gay “Uncle Tom”?

Uncle Tom
n. Offensive
A Black person who is regarded as being humiliatingly subservient or deferential to white people.

Whether shared (homo)sexuality has – or should have – anything to do with other communalities is an age- (or at least generation-) old argument. It inevitably gets most personal and heated around the particular issue of shared politics.

Here there are, I think, three broad schools of thought. The first is that to be gay and Liberal/Right is to be an Uncle Tom. Justifying this approach is the general truth that the Right are more antipathetic to all policy matters and things gay. Secondly, there is the minimalist position, which denies any necessary correlation between the personal/sexual and the political (in the conventional sense of that word). Finally, there is the position of the gay crusade (or jihad, if you prefer), in which the corrosive vice of Uncle Thomism runs much deeper than voting for the “gayer”/Left-er of the two major parties come election time.

As you would most likely guess even from the rhetorical structure, above – the old “two simplistic opposites, followed by a third way that is more nuanced and syncretic” gambit – I am a gay crusader. Which does not, I stress, say too much quantitively or qualitively about my sexuality, at least. On the contrary, I’m rather abashed at Ken Parish’s blogroll tag of this site calling me “militantly gay” – if Ken knew me personally, I think he’d find the descriptor “militantly wallflower (and gay)” would be more accurate.

But enough of my not getting any. Cutting to the chase, or to Andrew Olexander’s recent demolition derby more particularly, it strikes me that it takes two to gay “Uncle Tom”; the doormat and the foot. Out of what might be termed gay solidarity, I deliberately gave Olexander the benefit of the doubt the other day. Subsequently, it has turned out that Olexander was a car crash waiting to happen, in at least two other senses – the probity wreck,
and the previous job black-mark wreck.,5478,10119532^661,00.html

As to how he glided so smoothly, from being (quite properly) sacked by Ansett in 1998 to being installed as a Liberal member in 1999 would make an interesting tale – although it appears that no one is in any hurry to research and write it. The latter fact I find frankly unpalatable. Similar to David Flint’s holy trinity of homosexuality-as-open-secret, friends-in-high-places, and party-line purity and loyalty – only this time in the GenX “lite” version – Andrew Olexander has compromised his life to an extent that he deserves open and complete ridicule. Yet it appears that he will be left to limp along in semi-respectability, thanks to his being able to use his sexuality as a shield.

No dice, Andrew, at least not from me. If you’ve never brandished your poofter-ness as a sword, you’ve got a lot of nerve to now be drawing down the shutters.

At least one good thing can come out of the whole sorry tale. There does need to be a word/phrase for a gay “Uncle Tom”, and now we’ve got one: “Andrew Olexander”.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Filthy mood

I dare not look in a mirror at the moment – it would surely crack, but only after going all concave on me first. Out of the last two days’ worth of multiple shitful developments, probably the main one is that my computer has seized-up; barring access to some (key) documents and doing sundry other weird stuff besides, all on a seemingly random, doc-by-doc basis. Franz Kafka anticipated computers perfectly –alongside a secret-police ruled legal system, they are paranoia incarnate.

But it’s best not to dwell on my own troubles for now. (And especially so when the beast I’m criticising is digesting and noting every keystroke as soon as I type it).

On the bright side, then – There’s definitely something about Bryce Courtenay, when you look at this photo, that is.

Also on the bright side is that Clive Hamilton – whom I welcomed as the first resident of my perma-rotisserie almost two months ago, only to have nothing to bag him out about ever since – has finally now put his foot freshly in it:

[Y]oung people are spending much more money on having fun, in a hyper-consumerist society created by baby boomers . And having fun is more expensive these days. It's going to bars and coffee houses and communicating by mobile phone and travel - all of those things are very expensive.

Err Clive, while I could spend days addressing how and why you are so wrong here, I’ll confine myself to a few illustrative points. For starters, when you refer to young people and their “coffee houses” – you seem to be thinking of those places where a generation who wore desert boots and duffel coats used to go, c. 1970. If so, what with the price of backwards time travel, yes, I’m sure getting one of those new-fangled cups of coffee in glasses (!) is going to be very expensive for today’s yoof.

Apart from the cost of time travel, Clive is talking out of his arse, as far as the comparative cost of things today goes. Bars/clubs have roughly followed the CPI as far as drink prices go, but door charges have deflated big-time in real terms (about ten bucks fifteen years ago, the same today). Ditto travel, at least of the international variety; a basic airfare to Europe has been a headline $2,000 for the last two decades.

Most deflationary of all, though, has been the oft-cited-as-luxury-WE-didn’t-(and still don’t)-have – the mobile phone. The simple fact is, Clive, that a mobile phone used sparingly (i.e. mainly for incoming calls, and for outgoing calls only up to the monthly call credit) is just over half the monthly price of landline phone rental. So what does that make landline phones, Clive – especially considering that for thirty bucks line “rental” a month, you get nufff-ing; no included calls, and no outright-owned handset even after years of paying line “rental”? Well, here’s a suggested phrase for you, Clive: if a product costs 50% more than “very expensive” mobile phones, then it might be called a fucking almighty rip-off. So before you dare open your jaundiced trap again, Clive, go forth and bust-up Telstra to smithereens. After then – and only then – you have my permission to speak again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Unofficial bipartisanship in Australian politics

Ever since the Hawke/Keating Labor government of the mid-80s pulled a volte-face by turning to Reagan/Thatcher-nomics for inspiration, it has been trite to observe that there is now little difference between Australia’s two main political parties.

What is new – well, sort of – is that the political process somehow continues on regardless, as if it matters which party is going to win the upcoming election. Is it just me, or does it seem that the media are already way too worked-up over a mere shadowplay (and I’m not referring to the fact that the election is yet to be officially called)?

If you don’t believe me that just about every major policy issue is, or will be, bi-partisan, here’s some food for thought:

Unemployment – both parties agree on 5% being a dream target unemployment rate (despite this figure corresponding to about six jobless persons for every vacancy).

Housing affordability – neither party (nor the CIS’s Peter Saunders) sees this as an issue of winners and losers.

Oversize four-wheel-drive cars in regular suburban use – in early 2001, there were some glimmerings that Labor would differentiate itself from Liberal policy here*. Since Mark Latham’s elevation to the leadership, however, such a prospect has gone from unknown-but-unlikely to hell-would-freeze-over-first (but still guessing), and finally, to today’s all-but-official confirmation.

“[T]here are no votes in” taxing 4WDs off the road, writes Gabriella Coslovich. Quite – I see no point in voting at all, when an important issue is electorally blanketly off-limits. And when – as this year – all the important issues appear to be off the agenda, courtesy of unofficial bipartisan arrangements, the smell of democracy in the air has never been sweeter, yeah?

Wiser minds, however, might reflect that a polished and agreeable democracy can only mean a sham facade, behind which rests a can of dangerously-disenfranchised worms.

* Alastair Doak, “'Toorak tractors' in Labor's sights” Age 3 February 2001

Monday, July 12, 2004

Andrew Olexander

What is this man’s crime, exactly? Is drink (and/or other forms of intoxication) driving worse if one does it after (i) a dance party, (ii) an inner-city dance party, or only (iii) an all-night inner-city dance party? (The Australian's report definitely suggests the latter, but also appears open to the former two adding to one’s culpability otherwise.)

Now if Olexander has been wearing PVC hotpants at the time, that would go to culpability. For the record, though, he was wearing a suit. Also for the record, I’m pretty sure that I was the last Australian poof in captivity to be recorded wearing PVC hotpants (yellow; Melbourne Docks; NYE 1996).

Curiously enough, while most of today’s newspaper reports do make specific mention of Olexander’s sexuality – apropos of nothing, as far as I can see, unless he was driving “on the job” (which he clearly wasn’t) – the tabloid Herald-Sun is quite shy about this colourful detail. In its five separate stories on Olexander’s smash’n’pile-up, there is a only a single reference to the guy’s “flamboyant lifestyle”.

All I can say is that if Olexander’s being suited and drving home alone at 5 a.m. after an unspecified social event/function, amounts to a “flamboyant lifestyle”, then it’s about time I brought my yellow hotpants out of retirement. Be afraid, Melbourne, be very afraid – when fashion crimes are commited under the influence, no one and nothing is safe.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

When the medical terminology is worse than the cure

Fact: I’m super-squeamish about all things blod, guts, and medical. One thing I know, though, is that I couldn’t possibly have got through my childhood at all, had the well-intentioned Dr Michael Carr-Gregg been espousing his stuff back then.

So fluoro lighting is especially awful for boys? Dunno about the science behind this, but I’d personally always thought that schools introduced fluoro lighting so as to give even 20-something teachers that haggard look of “I’m so over this job already – it’s just as well I’ve got the exercise of unlimited capricious authority up my sleeve”.

Meanwhile, hard plastic seats for boys are also apparently part of the problem. Now, as one who rode the tail-end of the trad two-seater school desk wave, to land on plastic classroom chairs c.1977, I’ve gotta say that the plastic chair era was a vast improvement on that which went before it. Not only were/are plastic chairs hugely slouch-able, their wooden desk precursors were spookily Miss-Havisham-esque, so riddled with ancient engravings as to deeply trouble the mind of a delicate young angel such as myself.

Nothing could have so vexed or disturbed me as a twelve-year-old, however, than the news that boys of my age “don't have a lot of fat over their pelvic girdle”. What is a “pelvic girdle”? For chrissake, at 40, the sudden fact that I have a bit that I’ve never heard of – a bit with a name that sounds like it’s a disease affecting only elderly women – creeps me out. I don’t think that, at 12, I could have possibly coped. So thanks for you and your big mouth, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. While I’m sure that the words “pelvic girdle” would have many twelve-year-old boys rolling on the floor in hysterics, some more-sensitive male pre-pubescents would be simply mortified at the biology lesson.

I’m just grateful that I had three-and-a-half good decades between finding out about Santa: The Truth and the Finding Out the Real Name For Your Bum. With this my last illusion shattered, I'm never going to sit/dance/fuck comfortably again, pelvic girdles ain't got no mojo.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Government’s $130m ad campaign hits follow-through stage

If you spend enough buying media ad space, the unwritten rule seems to be that you get dibs on any follow-ups to be run as news. Not that the big-spending Howard Government really cares about getting freebies as such; rather, party advertising disguised as news can’t even be bought, carrying with it, as it does, the all-important element of third-party endorsement

Medicare to open Saturdays. Who’s the genius who just realised, in mid-2004, that "Most people are in their shopping centres on a Saturday morning”? While pensioners are presumably unlikely to remember and digest the fact of Medicare’s new opening hours – not without the aid of high-rotation TV ads, that is – they will be left with an indelible, if vague, feeling of Howard Government largesse when it comes to voting on election day.

PM laments culture of aggression. Translation: PM says "I bet that the tens of millions of dollars we have just spent suggesting that violence against women is only perpetrated by men under 40 has been wasted on the young men themselves. Which is so very typical of them – and if bigger-than-big ad campaigns haven’t instantly worked to retrospectively lower young men’s violence against women, then you can be sure that pensioners are next in line to be on the receiving end of such violence".

Fortunately though, casting a vote for the Howard Government on election day will pre-emptively inoculate a pensioner against such a risk. How? Because “Big government and hyperactivity are not the answer”. Meaning an even bigger-than-Ben-Hur ad campaign deploring young men’s violence against pensioners is the answer. It will run during the next term, with the aim of deflecting young male violence back to being against their female peers - at least until the next election.

Terrorist gay porn comedies – and Shane Crawford

And no, that’s not just a spiced-up headline. Last night, I went to see The Raspberry Reich, a film which improbably (at first blush) combines gay porn, terrorism (both of the 70s German and current-day mid-East varieties), and a conventional screwball comic narrative – albeit of the “Dude, where’s my head job?” sub-genre.

Two things especially surprised me about the film: (i) that it worked aesthetically, and (ii) that it could be legally shown. As for the censorship side of things, there was apparently some last minute (day of screening) dramas involving the OFLC – even though The Raspberry Reich was screening (only) as part of a film festival, the OFLC still held the power to ban it, as I understand things. Perhaps that the screening went unhindered indicates that the last decade of increasingly intrusive censorship has finally reached a high-water mark, which this recent appeal-board decision (PDF) would appear to support.

In terms of the film’s aesthetic merits, my mind boggles how the OFLC would have handled this one. The particular bete noir of the current censorship guidelines – the combination of explicit sex with any level of violence – was certainly trespassed upon; albeit the violence (i) was of the cartoonish variety, and (ii) had nothing to do with the sex scenes. Indeed, a big part of the film’s success was, for me, the gay porn scenes – which were as cheesy, contrived and languid as they come – being central to what might be called (if I may descend to rank FR Leavis-ism for a minute) the film’s “message”.

And in the best tradition of filmic messages, this one was worn – or should that be nuded-up? – on its sleeve. Here’s one synopsis of the narrative:

Gudrun brings attention to her East (sic) German group of anti-capitalist revolutionaries with a kidnapping. She also encourages the breakdown of the bourgeois construct of heterosexual monogamy by making her male apprentices have sex with each other.

What this synopsis doesn’t convey, however, is the comedic, and ontological, “g-spot” touched by the ensuing gay-sex shenanigans. Young middle-class male terrorists, of course, usually do have a homophobic blind-spot, and juxtaposing this blind-spot with passion – here, latent cock-munching desire, as well as “Let’s kidnap a bourgeois pig”-type political enthusiasm – leads to inevitably revealing results.

(Plot spoiler alert!) Far from do-it-for-the-revolution gay sex unshackling the comrades’ egos and turning them into a single, well-oiled machine, it divides them (surprise, surprise), mainly by coupling them off, so causing counter-revolutionary hijinks and mayhem.

One couple turn into the clingy, sex-crazed poofs from central casting – too busy fondling each other to care about anything else. The group’s alpha-male (Gudrun’s boyfriend before she issued her gay sex reverse-fatwa on him and everyone else) secretly betrays the revolution, by letting the group’s kidnapped hostage (himself left-wing, and so “a gay Patty Hearst”) escape into the sunset with, needless to say, his co-captor (and secret) boyfriend. Moral: the two uber-traitors just want to be conventionally hetero/homo (respectively), and if this requires counter-revolutionary betrayal, then so be it.

Is the film therefore unsympathetic to the Left? Yes and no. Writer/director Bruce LaBruce – at the film last night for a Q&A – spoke of the Left’s apparent paralysis in the aftermath of September 11. Which have been my sentiments for the last three years, too.

Whatever is going to bring about a Left renaissance eventually, unburdening oneself of a few sexual hang-ups – and having a good laugh while so doing – sounds like a fair-enough interim strategy to me. Ultimately, I think that the reason The Raspberry Reich has got such a relatively smooth run censorship-wise (and not just in Australia) is that it is a spot-on film for its time. In a fractured, deeply-compartmentalised world, the film shows some real courage in joining together some of the smashed-up pieces of our lives. That it goes to extremes in so doing – by showing explicit sex – amply shows the rawness of the nerve, the post-September 11 Western world’s almost unbearably sensitive, exposed and ticklish tummy.

Finally, the Shane Crawford factor. Wednesday’s TV doco on/by him could well be described as gay-porn lite. Again though, the titillation here can be seen to have considerable serious intent – although I doubt that Crawford’s aesthetic intentions are all that similar to LaBruce’s. Repeated motif: Shane Crawford sexually horseplays – a lot – with men. Cliffhanger: Is he therefore gay or bisexual? Resolution: Go back to square one; aka “You’re looking at your own prurience in the mirror I’m holding up, sunshine”.

Fact (well, I learnt it from “Big Brother”): straight women can kiss – as in tongue kiss, not nanna kiss – other women, and probably do more besides, without any agonising over their sexual identity. Hetero men can do the same, but only in circumstances of great secrecy or jocularity. Shane Crawford has therefore done the boofy blokes of Australia a big favour – there’s no need or point in making Big, Humourless Revolutionary Statements like “We’re all bisexual, really”. The only thing we really all are is exposed, vulnerable and ticklish. Now more than ever, it’s the small steps that count, and things don’t get any more folksily at-home than a personal commitment to banish one’s homophobic blind-spot.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

"Mature-age job-seekers not receiving the assistance they’re entitled to"

When I read reports like this (also here), I’m reassured that GenX’s (and mine) stereotype of boomers and old-age pensioners as greedy little fucks is based on considerable hard evidence.

About two-thirds of job seekers aged over 50 are on unemployment benefits for more than a year, and half in that age group are still out of work after receiving the maximum level of assistance.

Well, where are the comparison figures for younger job-seekers, COTA/National Seniors? I, for one, am “still out of work after receiving the maximum level of assistance”. More generally, I doubt that the statistical differences based on age would amount to much, particularly for my cohort (born mid-60s). The real difference is that no lobby group gets taxpayer (DEWR) funds to cry boo-hoo on behalf my generation. As to why a retirees’ lobby group is crying boo-hoo on behalf of still-of-working-age boomers underscores the artifice of the whole exercise. Oh, and I’ll run nude through the Bourke Street Mall if only 60 per cent of GenX have had negative experiences with Job Network.

For most of us, Job Network is a compulsory pain in the bum, period. Only a boomer – correction, senior lobbying on behalf of a boomer – could possibly see Job Network as some kind of potentially useful service, if only they weren’t so age discriminatory. Enter then, a new irregular verb for boomers: “I’m entitled, he/she/they has/have to”.

Should I here shatter the comforting, silver-service illusion that goes with the concept of “entitlement”? Point out that there’s seven or so unemployed for every job vacancy, and Job Network well might not magically be able to fairy-wand-away this fact?

The real subtext, of course, is that the more-recent of the older unemployed are looking jealously over their shoulders over their peers who got-on in the good old days, onto the disability support pension, that is. Until a few years ago, was de riguer for an over-50 unemployed person to “graduate” to the DSP. Nowadays, we have this, and yesterday, this from the mouth of Employment Services Misister Mal Brough:

[Job Network has] already helped tens of thousands, of people with disability, but seeking further improvement is a worthy objective and quite the opposite of the previous government that simply put hundreds of thousands of people on the disability support pension to get them off the unemployment queues.*

Translation: you’re in the laundry now, older-unemployed. But, from the looks of it, you’re going to get to jump the ordinary queue, and go straight into the expensive hand-wash pile-to-nowhere. For Job Network, it’s a boon all over again, after the last year or so’s “shaking the tree” debacle/nice-little-earner [take your pick] – after all, why face the grim facts of job supply and demand when you can be running glossy ad campaigns:

Job Network providers were offered funding for advertising campaigns to promote the scheme and to employ staff, contact disability pension recipients and get them actively looking for work.*

* Patricia Karvelas, “New push for disabled jobs” The Australian 7 July 2004 (no URL)


As the SMH predicted, Labor released its policy on mature-age job seekers today.

Its money-shot:

"With an ageing population and growing skills shortages in key industries, wasting the skills and experience of mature age Australians is not an option."

While wasting the skills and experience of GenX Australians is an option, apparently. Perhaps because unemployed GenX graduates don’t exactly need training in information technology, or “literacy and numeracy assessment”, then we don’t exist, eh, Mark Latham?

OTOH, specialist “career centres to help mature-aged jobseekers find work” and a
$47 million “rapid assistance service” – again for the mature-aged only – sounds like the first draft of the old, age-segregated graduate-onto-the-DSP “wink wink” arrangement; only a more expensive version, that is.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The spread of university "paper mills"

Demonstrating capitalism’s ingenuity at creating new market niches, an apparently-profitable line of trade has sprung up in ghost-writing uni student essays. These "paper mills" have an important distinction from the buy-your-essay-here! websites of a few years ago – the customised element of the current product makes it search-string-based plagiarism detection-proof.

As an academic currently living on $230/week, I wonder at who actually does the grunt work at the paper mills. Personally, I would rather die in ditch than participate in what I see as a noxious fraud, but probably not all displaced academics would be as choosy or foolish [take your pick] as me.

OTOH, it is possible that the essay-production work is a case of the blind ghost-writing for the blind – the barely- or un-qualified writing for those who hardly have grounds of consumer redress if their expensively-bought essay is not of merchantable quality; i.e. fails. One paper mill can’t even spell its own product:

The centre promises to provide "a custom assignment ... catered exactly to a particular students [sic] wants and needs".

Somewhat perversely, there is an additional reason for paper mills recruiting only marginally-able ghost-writers – to fool manual plagiarism detection, i.e. the marker smelling a rat.

Having just taught in two subjects with very high numbers of international, NESB students, I was amused to read this 2000 conference paper by a well-meaning Australian National University academic skills adviser, who says:

But whatever confusion exists, it is compounded when the student learns to successfully mask his/her actual linguistic proficiency with covering/coping strategies, and the academic marker and the academic skills adviser unwittingly contribute to and become complicit in that masking.

I don’t know, and don’t really care about academic skills advisers – as I see it, these are part of the post-Dawkins university managerial class; put there solely to fiddle while Rome burns, or Beijing plagiarises, at any rate. Which is probably too harsh on conference paper-giver Annie Bartlett, but ANU’s problem with of international NESB student plagiarism is probably one of the (proportionately) smallest in the land, from what I understand of its student make-up.

Nonetheless, at least one did non-English literate student did apparently slip through the cracks, and into ANU. About one of this student’s essays, which turned out to have been translated from Chinese texts, academic skills adviser Bartlett writes:

I was very uneasy because my initial analysis was so wrong , because the student was confident and because the student’s practice had not been picked up by the marker. Further, I was uneasy because, judging by her needs both in terms of linguistic and academic proficiency, the decision to admit her to the university was unethical.

That the student’s "practice" [i.e. plagiarism] had not been picked up by the marker sounds incredibly unlikely to me. As a marker, I often encounter complete discord of writing “voice” – where, for grammatical and other reasons, it is plainly impossible that the essay was written by one person. I’m not stupid. And what do/did I do about it? Nothing, of course – I’m not stupid.

If this makes me “complicit”, in Annie Bartlett’s words, then so be it. From where I sit, Annie, your (relatively) cushy job makes you much more part of the problem than I am. And while I admire your frankness, above, that the root cause of the problem you describe is the “unethical” decision to have admitted that particular student to the university, shouldn’t/couldn’t you be shouting this fact from the rooftops a bit more?

Finally, speaking of universities and ethics, the weirdest thing of all about the paper mills is the institutional (one uni, anyway) complicity with them (one “mill”, anyway).

First, some background. A couple of weeks ago, the SMH ran an expose on the mills and some of their operators. One operator named, Mark Thackray, has some kind of visible form in the business, as co-author of How to Succeed at College or University, originally published in 1979. Which makes Thackray almost certainly a baby boomer – he could be older, but the rank opportunism behind his career trajectory suggest not.

In the 25 years between writing How to Succeed at College or University and then putting it into no-nonsense, money-upfront practise (how very noughties of him!), Thackray even managed a near-seamless midway segue. How to Succeed at College or University had a very timely – the Dawkins “reforms” were just commencing – revised edition in 1989. The ground rules had just been fundamentally altered – henceforth, uni graduates could expect to earn less, not more, than the average worker over their lifetime*, and with the additional new privilege of paying for it, as well. Not that this fact was widely-understood at the time, which was fortunate for Thackray – his cheery little chapbook (which is, incidentally, rubbished by Annie Bartlett in her conference paper) thus would have only needed minimal rewriting to give students good counsel in the brave new post-Dawkins world.

If Thackray’s book remains to this day in a 1979, sort-of-revised 1989, time-warp, the man himself has clearly moved on. Not just as in operating a paper mill – this is not, as I’ve already noted, a business where skilled staff are necessarily at a premium. Rather, Thackray’s 50-something moment of career consolidation has come mainly through (and if you’ll forgive the jargon here) forging a public-private partnership. Yes, his paper mill is run – apparently – with and under the full auspices of the University of Wollongong. Which sounds incredible, and indeed the SMH pointedly doubted such a fact in their article a couple of weeks ago. Today though, came a grovelling apology to Thackray, acknowledging his formal ties with the University of Wollongong.

Now, being an academic skills adviser at the University of Wollongong – that must be an interesting job; either very cushy, or verr-ry lucrative is my suspicion.

* The Oz’s story here contains some contradictory figures:

Between 1995 and 2001 bachelor degree graduates earning power compared to average earnings fell from 105.4 per cent to 93.9 per cent for women and from 96.8 per cent to 91.9 per cent for men.

Over a 42-year working life, earnings for people without a degree on an average salary was $1.8 million. For graduates, once HECS debts and other costs were taken into account, it was $2.2 million over 38 years, a difference of $374,883.

The percentage figures presumably refer to graduate starting salaries (if any). As far as the lifetime earnings figures goes, the graduate (still) appears to have a slender margin. However, once you factor in the increase in a typical Sydney/Melbourne house price over the time a recent graduate was at university, this margin evaporates, making the conclusion inescapable – going to university will cost a (recent) graduate more over their lifetime than it earns them.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

History Wars, again

I’ve probably said something to this effect before, but since there’s a prime exhibit in today’s Oz, I’ll say it again. The whole concept of the History Wars is ludicrous: the side opposing the establishment/Left (whatever you want to call them) lacks the basic intelligence to fire a single salvo – on target, at any rate.

Thus Gregory Melleuish’s little rant today. Now, if I were Melleuish’s faculty dean, I’d be scratching my head how I’d ever given such a halfwit a job. Melleuish’s logic is breath-takingly scattered. Look at this:

[For] far too many [high school students], Australian history is a giant turn-off. In conversation with many of these students the word "boring" often crops up. In many cases the experience of the compulsory civics-Australian history subject in Year 10 in NSW is the cause of their disenchantment.

Who would have thought? You take a nasty initiative of the Right – the Howard Youth movement, aka compulsory civics – combine it with Australian history to make it at least semi-palatable to the students (and, it should be said, to the Left-leaning mass of the teaching profession), and the result is "boring". Well, blow me down. As to what academic historians did to “own” this little mess is left unexplained by Melleuish, of course.

Or even worse, there is the story of the lecturer in Australian history who simply placed a copy of "Who Weekly" in front of her students and stated that this would form the basis of that week's lecture.

Even worse for Melleuish, that is. What’s his point – that the academic historian establishment have spent so much time plotting against their lone-crusader exposers that they cannot properly teach their regular classes? That Who Weekly is “boring”, too? Or is it that Who Weekly is “politically correct”, too? Or is it, as Melleuish surely implies, both boring and politically correct? (Which sounds like an improbability, but who knows - maybe the Howard government's not-shy-of-spending-a-dollar (or 130m of them) ad agency bought the rights to a whole issue of Who Weekly, and then proceeded to makeover that week's issue as a feature on civics, civics, school flagpoles, and more civics.)

The unfortunate fact is that Melleuish is not boring, at least not while academic historians give him the courtesy and status of being one of them. I say it’s time to pull the gloves off; as the David Irving imbroglio showed, the normal rules of polite academic exchange can be exploited by someone who has nothing to lose by doing so. Such a person must, by definition, be of mediocre intellect at best, because they [need to] genuinely believe that they need no other authority in their arguments.

In short, the Melleuishes of academia are slow-release suicide-bombers, using their insider position solely to kill and maim* – kill their own careers and mental balance, and to indiscriminately take everything down, that they possibly can, in the process of so doing.

* (and get on the news).

Monday, July 05, 2004

Junketing judges and barristers?

For the last two days, the Oz has been running a campaign against the generous taxpayer subsidising of overseas travel by Australian judges, and to a lesser extent, Australian barristers. To the extent that the Oz really has anything of substance to devote a couple of front page splashes to – and personally I think that the Oz is axe-grinding in the extreme – they have got their priorities reversed. On other words, if there is to be a story here at all, it should be about the illegitimate claiming of ostensibly work-related tax deductions by barristers. (This is not an issue for Australian judges, because they get automatic 100% reimbursement for travel work-related and otherwise).

So – and bearing in mind that I don’t think the issue is even in the top 100 of pressing national concerns – why is it that the barristers and not the judges, who are the main wrongdoers? My answer, in part: because the just-finished Australian Bar Association biennial conference in Florence fails – of should fail – the work-related nexus test of tax law, certainly inasmuch as conference expenses other than registration (travel, accommodation, meals) being 100% deductible goes.

The fact is this: the ABA conference entailed a total of 11 hours of seminars (work-related, one assumes) over four days, with the balance of the period either occupied by social formalities, or left for delegates to do with as they wish. Therefore, the ATO should insist on the apportionment all barristers’ claims for this conference accordingly; I suggest that a 40% work-related component for accommodation and meals over the four days would be a reasonable figure. For travel/airfares, this figure should be lower if there was any before/after-conference touring done by delegates.

Otherwise, it is fair to observe that the stated justifications for holding the conference in palatial (literally) Florence are, to put it kindly, obiter dicta (or, as I prefer, “bullshit”):

Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey . . . said Australian lawyers and judges gained "the company of other like-minded people who are interested in personal and professional development", and the chance to meet foreign colleagues. I think nothing beats being on the spot and being able to ask questions and listen to the way papers are delivered, and to talk during the breaks with lots of people from other jurisdictions."

ABA president Ian Harrison QC said Australian lawyers needed to travel to study foreign legal regimes, "cross-fertilise" with others and avoid becoming insular and isolated. "This is not just some tax-driven perk by wealthy lawyers who choose to come here [Florence] for their own personal benefit”.

Oh yeah? Why then were there only 17 non-Australians among the 271 registered conference delegates? (same URL) I’m not saying that bona-fide, internationally-oriented law conferences aren’t a good thing, nor that they never happen – it’s just that the recent ABA escapade in Florence was plainly not one of them.

As for the judges, I put them in a category of lesser-culpability for three reasons. One is that they get unlimited – work-related or not – global travel as part of the job; therefore there is nothing, other than appearances, which inclines them to attend conferences-lite as opposed to going on holidays simpliciter. Secondly, the judges named by the Oz are very far, IMO, from abusing, as a matter of fact, their admittedly generous first-class global travel “gold passes”. The biggest spender among them racked up a $44,500 bill (including spouse) in the last year. Considering what first-class airfares (and equivalent accommodation) cost, this figure strikes me as being on the parsimonious side, if anything. (Personally, there’s no way I – and friend – would take a four-week globe-trotting holiday on a “gold pass” basis for less than $A1,000 per day, plus airfares – meaning a total bill upwards of $70,000 – and this figure allows only $20,000 each for first-class airfares).

Finally – and probably most importantly – in a democracy, judges should not be flippantly or maliciously criticised; and the Oz’s recent campaign appears to be doing both. So what if Justice Ian Callinan “stayed at the luxurious $350-a-night waterfront Table Bay Hotel” in Cape Town, “which looks out to notorious Robben Island, the maximum-security jail for political prisoners that housed Nelson Mandela during apartheid”? And given the blowtorch that’s been previously applied to the private life of Justice Michael Kirby, the detail that he and partner “spent a night at Hollywood's famous Roosevelt Hotel before flying home to Sydney” (same URL) is prurient, gutter journalism. That “Justice Gleeson declined to respond personally to the figures, but the court's official spokesperson provided a "no comment" answer to questions asking them to justify the cost of such travel” (same URL) brims with sleazy innuendo – as far as I can tell, there is nothing to justify.

Oh, and speaking of the gutter – to Oz High Court reporter, Louise Milligan, it might help you in your job if you had some elementary legal knowledge. Comparing the ABA biennial conference to NSW Bar continuing professional development conferences et al is comparing apples and oranges. I can’t be bothered explaining why – but any practising lawyer will be able to set you straight. Otherwise, if News Ltd flies me to a junket in Florence – just like they apparently flew you (or were you just faking it, and letting base jealousy subsitute for journalism?) – I’m willing to give up the secret.

Correction 11 July 2004

I don’t have the time/inclination to check the veracity of this report in the Oz. Taking it at face value, though, I was wrong to suggest, as I did, that the ABA’s recent Florentine adventure was not to be confused with Continuing Professional Development-type conferences/seminars.

Apparently, they indeed do do things differently in Queensland, and Brisbane barrister/conference-planner Lorenzo Boccabella is complicit in some quite serious rorting – both of tax laws and of the bona fides of professionally-mandatory continuing legal education programs. It is to the discredit of the ABA – and now also, it seems, the International Bar Association – that they should choose to sully their reputations by doing business with such a naked shyster.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Hillary Bray outed, finally

Age journo Susan Brown might like to try using this new-fangled thing called Google one day. Coz her outing of Crikey’s Hillary Bray as Christian Kerr takes sloppy research to a new level.

In August 2003 I wrote that Crikey had all but given Hillary Bray’s identity away. As it turns out, I was dead right on the private school boys’ secret society/in-joke thing – Tim Blair hinted at, and then named Christian Kerr as Hillary in March 2003, but was then content to harrumph in self-satisfaction and let it blow over. Even earlier, in September 2002, Kerr/Hillary coyly* sort of outed himself on Crikey.

More serious discredit goes to Media Watch executive producer Peter McEvoy, who apparently swore to Blair that Christian Kerr hung up his Hillary Bray hat prior to joining "Media Watch" as a researcher, in January 2003. That Susan Brown missed Tim Blair's outing is one thing, but failing to pick up that Christian Kerr was a "Media Watch" staffer at the same time as being “Hillary Bray” is simply inexcusable. She has seemingly taken at face value that Kerr’s unnamed “corporate affairs position” continued from 1999 until recently. Never mind how the holder of such a position could be “[not] doing anything else Sunday afternoons” – Kerr would have to be the only Australian media-employed GenXer who wasn’t expected to regularly work [unpaid] weekend overtime. [Correction – presumably apart from Susan Brown, although I doubt she’s a GenXer]. And hint to Susan: holders of “corporate affairs position[s]” who write letters to Norwegian newspapers - under their own name - criticising their country's behaviour towards the crew of the Tampa, and noting how very glad they are to have left the employ of two Australian government Ministers would be frogmarched out of their offices faster than their divisional boss could say: "We won't be seeing ya Sunday arvo, then?". OTOH, such letter-writers probably have the constitutional right, if not requirement, to work for "Media Watch".

Finally, just to highlight the flipside of Susan Brown’s uber-lazy journalism – unintentionally hilarious breathless prose:

A social drug habit (a bit of ecstasy, a bit of cocaine) had morphed into the beginnings of an alcohol problem.

Oh really? Or is she being all cutesily ironic, as in – just like a PhD award morphs into the beginnings of the capacity to fill out Centrelink forms?

I seriously doubt Brown’s potential for winking irony though, with this end-note:

[Kerr] is doing a masters degree in politics at Adelaide University and, after being described as Australia's most feared columnist, has decided to take a tilt at mainstream journalism. Now that's scary.

I’ll tell you what's scary, Susan Brown – that a person can get paid to write such drivel

* Kerr/Hillary rather more emphatically outed himself in Quadrant late last year; "emphatically" because Kerr has never contributed to Crikey under his own byline. That this self-outing went unnoticed thus proves the point either that: (i) no one at all reads Quadrant, or (ii) that magazine's entire readership consists of harrumphing, smug private-schoolboy Tim Blair-types.


This just keeps getting better! I didn’t have time to Google “Susan Brown” properly this morning. I swear that I didn’t know the following when I wrote the main piece.

Susan Brown is no less than the bullying baby boomer from central casting. But let’s start with her all-important mediocrity first. In her younger days, she did the usual boomer rounds of cushy jobs in the public service before then working for a green group as a springboard into politics, Peter Garrett-style. Her chosen political niche – the Democrats – sounds innocuous enough (for me, anyway) at first, until you see what she actually did while there.

She’s Meg Lees’ #1 supporter – what a Telstra-stooge, saving-the-environment (sic) fuckwit! I’m not making this up – Susan Brown was actively engaged in undermining Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja's Democrats leadership days after it commenced. And fair enough, too: not only was/is Stott-Despoja ridiculously principled, she also lacked Meg Lees’ particular flair for turning the Senate into a chamber of nitpicking-for-its-own sake:

Just weeks later, Senators Lees and Allison negotiated 500 amendments to a 400 clause environment bill (same URL)

[You’ve got your perfect epitaph there, Meg]

Predictably, in mid-2002, just when Senator Stott-Despoja's leadership was swirling in crisis, the vicious one decided that it was time to turn the knife.

Former Democrats Senator Sid Spindler wrote in reply to this a few days later. This man is OLD, but what he wrote about Susan Brown sounds like it was straight out of the Paul Watson Academy of GenX {whingeing/special pleading} [take your pick]:

Susan Brown's article and others of similar ilk are an indication of the problems people encounter when they try to find a way to change society to one we would like to leave to our children and grandchildren.

See also this take on Brown's shameless treachery.

Nowadays, Susan Brown describes herself as a freelance journalist. A once-honorable calling, I would have thought, but no more – Susan Brown’s lack of scruples would make even the worst PR-whore among GenX blush. Add this to her basic journalistic incompetence and you’ve got, as I said, the baby boomer from central casting; a first among fuckwits.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Eulogising Jim Bacon

Are Albert Langer, Michael Hyde and Kerry Miller taking the piss here?

Jim Bacon was not just a student activist at Monash University.

Who cares how Left he once was? The plain fact is that, as premier of Tasmania, he was content to let Paul Lennon and the logging industry run the state for him.

So being a weaselly environmental vandal passes for being Left these days? About the only connection I can see is that had the Chinese subamarine (you know, the Harold Holt one) carted Jim Bacon off before the lung cancer did, he would have flourished as a party functionary back in the motherland - they're big on dams'n'logging over there, I hear.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

How many long-term unemployed are uni graduates?

“Despite Australia's extended prosperity” (well, for home-owners, anyway) long-term (5 years +) unemployment has increased by more than two-thirds since 1999.

As usual, Labor is congenitally incapable of making real political capital out of these shocking stats – it is fair to say, then, that unemployment-for-life (for some) is one of those rare things, a totally bipartisan policy.

Why aren’t the long-term unemployed rattling the gates of the proverbial president’s palace, then? My guess is because we too easily comply with the terms of our own social marginalisation/invisibility. As uni graduates, we are not supposed to be in this situation – most especially not as long-term unemployed – and yet a sample poll from Work for the Dole program I have participated in suggests that a large majority of long-term unemployed (in inner Melbourne, anyway) are uni graduates.

AFAIK, there are no stats published on whether this is the case more generally. If anyone knows of some, please comment/email me.

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