Friday, September 30, 2005

He speaks! Latham hits Melbourne University

During the week Mark Latham made his one (and so far, only) public appearance to promote his book, at the University of Melbourne. Latham spoke in the sterile and lifeless Copland theatre, buried deep within the Economic and Commerce faculty in a way that leads one to conclude that it doubles as a bomb shelter. Latham's speech, on the topic "10 reasons why young idealistic people should forget about organised politics" (which leads to the conclusion that there are plenty of reasons why young narcisstic opportunistic people should enter politics). Anyhow, Latham's speech attracted a fair bit of attention, particularly in The Age. Michael Gordon wrote about it, whilst the Op-Ed page published an extract of the speech itself.

The Age website also published the full text in a Word document on its website, obviously straight from the source, given that one "Janine Lacy" is listed as the author (head to File, then Properties, the Summary). Even more intriguingly, the title listed in this section is "27 December 2004", suggesting that it has been a while in the making.

As has been his want over the past fortnight, Latham was throwing plenty of punches during the speech. Whilst the stated theme of the lecture was a discourse on organised politics, Latham savaged the media for its treatment of him, and seemed to have as much contempt for the press as he has for his former Labor colleagues.

A few snippets of interest that haven't had a run in the mainstream media:

- Latham descibing his successor as Member for Werriwa, Chris Hayes, as "handpicked by the Sussex Street machine", SS being the headquarters of the NSW Labor Party.

- Latham said he had received numerous letters of support from various MPs (presumably they weren't all from Julia Gillard, perhaps with a different coloured pen?). One Labor frontbencher apparently wrote to Latham saying 'Congratulations on the book. It's mold compared to what really goes on.'

- Marky Mark described SMH journo Brad Norrington as a "Sussex Street Press Secretary" and insinuated a relationship between journalists Matt Price (The Oz) and Annabel Crabb (The Age), explaining that "No two friends are closer in Canberra".

- Latham was surrounded by security guards, and left before signing my copy of his book. Bastard.

For what it's worth, my take on the speech itself: Latham seems to miss the point the change can be achieved through both top-down and bottom-up methods, and that there is no need to disregard one in order to achieve the other. He frequently encourages young people to get involved in community and local programs rather than looking to organised politics as a means of achieving change. He does make the point effectively, though, that politics as it is currently practiced is a disfunctional process, and that there is a need for structural changes. His passionate dislike for both the media and the Labor machine is well-founded, though his 'bat, ball, go home' solution is a disappointment. Fundamentally, the problem with Latham's case is that it is so obviously fuelled by his own personal resentment at the rejection he suffered rather than a dispassionate analysis. Whilst there were plenty there to listen, most found Latham registering highly on their bullshit-meter.

Latham: too much hot air
Latham: too much hot air

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1998

It's an even numbered year, it's the Labor Party, it's January... welcome to Hobart!:
Friday, 23 January
One black mark, however. The Conference dinner was held downriver from Hobart and delegates piled into boats to get there. On arrival, we were ordered to stay on board while Princess Cheryl (Kernot) and her two fawning courtiers, Kim and Gareth, disembarked first. The Labor Royal Family. I hate it when we mimic the hierarchy and snobbery of high society. In Australia, socialism has always been a social habit, much more than a political program. We are all equal in our mateship group. Now, unhappily in the ALP at least, some are more equal than others. - Page 71


This idea is almost as scary as Mark Latham, PM:

Tuesday, 24 March
An interesting conversation with Leo McLeay, who reckons that Martin Ferguson will be the next Labor MP: 'Kim will lose twice and then Ferguson will take over - he's got the working-class credentials and the support of the unions, just like Hawke'. I don't see it myself. Marn (that's Martin in Ferguson-speak) has the public appeal of a wet sandshoe and often talks like one. - Page 73


And now the juicy sex and Gough scandal comes into the picture:

Thursday, 9 July
What sort of Party is this? I was the guest speaker at Robert McClelland's fundraiser at Brighton-le-Sands (in the seat of Barton) at lunchtime today and Gough Whitlam took me aside for a word. And the conversation went like this (my recollection from a couple of hours ago):

Whitlam: Comrade, there's something I need to raise with you. Gary Gray called on me and asked me to pass on his concerns that you are coming on too strongly with the women in Canberra. He seems to think there is a sexual harassment claim against you. Now, it sounds unlikely to me, comrade. I've seen you in action and you are quite prolific. If anything, the women come strongly after you. So, as I say, it sounds like bullshit but he asked me to raise it with you and now I have.

Latham: Well, it's bullship. I don't know what to say. I've known you a long time and I can assure you it's rubbish. I've never laid a hand on a women, never. It's true. I haven't been a monk since my marriage broke up, but nothing like this has happened. Sexual harassment? They've got to be kidding.
- Page 77


More on Beazley's supposed six-year vilification campaign:

Sunday, 19 July
Earlier in the week I had a good tip-off from a senior Fairfax journalist (who said I could never use his name anywhere) that Beazley's office was tipping dirt on me around the press gallery. And, right on cue, a snippet appeared in the Sunday papers today. First Gray and now this: the arseholes are really coming after me. I can't help but compare this treatment with the way Bob Hawke supported Beazley when his first marriage broke down circa 1989. - Page 79


Whilst many others on the left are doing their best ostrich impression on the issue of globalisation, Latham shows that he gets it:

Saturday, 1 August
Unfortunately Labor has contributed to the Hansonite surge with its populism on tariffs. We should never have let the protectionist genie out of its bottle. Economic isolationism is the flipside of social racism, encouraging people to think the worst of other nations and people. It also has a domino effect - just look at the special pleading groups that have jumped out of the ground in recent times. - Page 80


Latham on the VCs:

Sunday, 18 October
Politics aside, one of the biggest problems Australia faces is a lack of talent at the top of its institutions. I was generally optimistic about Australia's future until I met its Vice-Chancellors. What a drab lot. I expected a group of dynamic heavy-hitters to lead the nation's universities but the standard is very poor. For all the debate about reseources, 30 top individuals would actually make a bigger difference. - Page 89


Latham... Lachlan... Kettle... Black:

Tuesday, 15 December
I gave a decent speech about future trends in Australian politics and got to meet Lachlan Murdoch for the first time (who doesn't seem like the sharpest tool in the shed, but then again, I'm always hard on inheritance boys). That was yesterday. Today, The Australian's editorial is advising Beazley to put a sock in my mouth. Guest speaker one day, deadshit the next. That's media consistency for you. - Page 93

Call centre blog

Interesting. A blog for those of us in the call centre industry.

Waiting On Hold.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Better than average Bush joke

A decent joke has landed in my inbox, a thankfully it's marginally better than the 'insert hated politician's name here' jokes:

President Bush and Don Rumsfeld are sitting in a bar.

A guy walks in and asks the barman, “Isn’t that Bush and Rumsfeld sitting over there?”

The barman says, “Yep, that’s them.”

So the guy walks over and says, “Wow, this is a real honor! What are you guys doing in here?”

Bush says, “We’re planning WW III.”

And the guy says, “Really? What’s going to happen?”

Bush says, “Well, this time we’re going to kill 140 million Muslims and one blonde with big tits.”

The guy exclaimed, “A blonde with big tits? Why kill a blonde with big tits?”

Bush turns to Rumsfeld and says, “See, I told you no one would care about the 140 million Muslims”.


Not bad.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1997

Gee, that's unusual for Ross Cameron:

Friday, 14 February
Ross Cameron, the brilliant but creepy Liberal Member for Parramatta, has talked me into participating in his youth leadership forum in Canberra. I rather suspect it's a front for mobilising young Christian soldiers, plus some quality box for Ross. Thank goodness I wasn't the only one sucked in. Howard and Beazley addressed the opening session yesterday and gave some interesting insights into their background. - Page 57


And Howard the stinker:

Friday, 14 March
A great day's cricket, playing for the Parliamentary XI against the Crusaders at Albert Mark in Melbourne. Our side was reinforced by (former Australian fast bowler) Merv Hughes and the middle-order batting wizardry of John Howard. Actually, he's hopeless. A real rabbit with the bat and The Man From Unco with the ball, the sort of player who was an automatic selection as scorer in schoolboy teams. I walked away from the ground thinking, there goes John Howard, a man of few obvious talents.

He's also a smelly little bastard. The rest of the boys tubbed up with a group shower after the match, but not the PM. He was last seen heading off for his plane in his full cricket kit. He must have thought Big Merv was a soap catcher.
- Page 60


One thing that comes up as a recurring theme in the diaries is Latham's place on the free-market end of economic thinking. Repeatedly he rejects the interventionist approach of government, and argues against protecting failing industries:

Monday, 2 June
Beazley is the first Labor Leader to take our thinking backwards. A reform party must always look to the future, not the retro-economics of tariff and industry subsidies. Blind Freddy can see that these are no longer effective policy tools in the modern economy. International competitiveness is being determined by workforce skills and the quality of a nation's education system, not the size of its tariff walls. - Page 62

Friday, September 23, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1996

Was Gareth really a no-hoper in his short time as Shadow Treasurer? Latham reckons he was:

Thursday, 18 April
Earlier today, the mighty Gareth told me that 'I want to go back to Foreign Affairs'. He's trying to rote-learn the economy and it's not working. He knows nothing about National Competition Policy and Hilmer. It's really quire scary, shattering the image I had of super-competent Hawke and Keating ministers. The more I see of the frontbench, the more sceptical I become.
- Page 47


The first Howard/Costello budget was delivered in August, and for those who remember it was a grusome slash and burn budget as the incoming administration sought to turn around the massive deficit of Keating/Beazley/Willis (everyone remember the "$8 billion Beazley black-hole", a phrase in the rhetorical spirit of the Beazley flip-flop?). Anyhow, with health, education and just about every other government service having the guts ripped out of it, here's how Latham recalls the Labor response on the day:

Tuesday, 20 August
The first Budget of the Howard Government and they have slashed everything.... Talking of storming the citadel, it was a different topic of conversation at today's meeting of the NSW Right. THe main agenda item was the Government's move to reclaim frequent flyer points from MPs. The complaints went on forever, as if the world were ending. I chipped in facetiously, 'Gee, this must be a bad government'. But the rotten rorters agreed, they thought I was being serious! - Page 50


Was Keating serious?:

Monday, 28 October
Earlier in the day, Duncan (Kerr) told me that during the truck blockade of Parliament House in early 1995, Keating wanted to call in the army to clear them out of the place. Sounds pretty radical. Mind you, it would have fixed up the protestors, watching their logging trucks being blown away by tank-fire! - Page 52


...and later that same day an excellent critique of the role of Parliament:

The House is a chamber of assertion, not explanation. Even with a weak argument, a confident, assertive speech can carry the day. Question Time requires a cool, analytical approach, with the ability to anticipate various scenarios and not to be deterred by the Government's bullshit and bravado. - Page 53

Latham pisstake

Kerry and Mark? Nope, it's John and Bryan:

INTERVIEWER: Gee, you've cut quite a swathe this week.

MARK LATHAM: I don't know about a swathe, Bryan, but I certainly cut a bit of a swathe during the week.

INTERVIEWER: It's a tough business, isn't it, politics?

MARK LATHAM: I don't know about tough, Bryan, but I'll tell you something about this business, it's pretty tough.

INTERVIEWER: Didn't you know it was going to be tough when you went into it, though?

MARK LATHAM: Yeah, yeah. You don't go into a business like this, Bryan, without knowing it's going to be tough. I knew it would be tough. I knew it would be tough. I knew it would be tough.

INTERVIEWER: Did anything surprise you about it, though?

MARK LATHAM: Only the toughness, Bryan, only the toughness.

INTERVIEWER: But you would have expected that, wouldn't you?

MARK LATHAM: I did.

A community service announcement...

For those American Northkoreaphiles comes this interesting snippet of news, courtesy of NKzone:

NK Opens to US tourists (briefly!)
Travel
by Simon Cockerell

I've just heard from Pyongyang that US passport holders will be welcomed to North Korea as tourists until the end of the Arirang Mass Games festival; recently extended to run until October 17th.

Koryo Tours of course and probably others will be running trips to the event for US citizens, during that time.


If you've got $2000 and a week spare, treat yourself to a mindblowing experience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1995

Did Keating know this early that his number was up?:

Wednesday, 8 February
Keating hosts a Caucus BBQ at the Lodge. He is very frank in his remarks, maybe half-tanked at the time: 'I've been here too long, that's the truth of it; 26 years is a long time.' For a moment or two, I thought he was going to pull the pin and resign as PM. Not a bad time to do it, in fact. Twenty-six years is a long time indeed. He's won an unwinnable election for us and become a Labor legend. Why not go out on top? But Paul hates the Tories too much to ever leave them alone. It's the obsession of a lifetime.
- Page 31


Latham nails Graeme Campbell, the then Labor Member for Kalgoolie and a Pauline before there was Pauline, in a way that makes you realise that Latham wasn't the only nutter wandering around Capital Hill:

Wednesday, 10 May
I attend the launch of Graeme Campbell's book by Peter Walsh in one of the committee rooms at Parliament House. It is a sad occasion, with no real purpose, just a small puzzled audience tring to work out why Campbell bothers with his isolationist ideas. His views reflect his own isolated geography within the nation. Knocking around the back blocks of WA would convince anyone that the rest of the world is against us. Campbell is the last remnant of White Australia inside the Federal ALP.
- Page 34


Still, Latham's take on globalisation is right on the money, and it's reassuring to hear it from someone on the left of politics:

Wednesday, 10 May
I see no evidence that internationalism is inconsistent with equity. What is wrong with a world of free trade and investment, a world were people exchnge products, ideas and information on a regular basis? - Page 34


Make of this what you will:

Tuesday, 22 August
Gough once told me the story of an ALP National Executive meeting in the early 1970s when, as they waited for someone to turn up, the conversation at this all-male gathering inevitably turned to dick sizes. As they went around the room, some blokes claimed to be long, others claimed to be thick. Until they got to Hawke, who yelled out 'long and thick'. Whenever Gough was unhappy with the Hawke Government he would say, 'Comrade, neither long nor thick.'
- Page 39


And another Gough story. It sounds like a lively place, the Whitlam household:

Saturday, 11 November
Twenty years since the coup d'etat and a commemorative dinner in the Old Parliament House dining room says it all about the ALP. June and John Kerin arguing that Labor has to lose the next election in order to properly renew itself. Neville Wran going beserk and banging the table in delight at the mention of Lionel Murphy's name. Margaret Whitlam calling out 'This is all crap' as Gough gives an 80-minute speech about everything. That's one of the things everyone likes about her, her honesty about Gough.
- Page 40

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1994

Here's a story the media missed, then and now:

Thursday, 24 March
Graham Richardson's private secretary Marion assures me he was all set to swap places with Bob Carr - Carr for Senate, Richo for the NSW Labor leadership. Something change Richardson's mind the weekend before his resignation from Parliament. A nice little mystery, ass everyone smiles and gives Richo and happy send-off.
- Page 25


If these any truth at all to this story, it's quite incredible. Given the success that Carr went on to enjoy for a decade, this would have had a remarkable effect of contemporary Australian politics. Has anyone done any digging on this story?

Wednesday, 4 May
It also dragged all the major journalists into Canberra, who then kicked on to the pub in Manuka. Ran into an old mate of minte (now working as a researcher in ABC current affairs) who said that his boss (a prominent TV presenter) was keen for everyone to piss on back at his place in Kingston. Sounded great until we jumped into the boss man's van and he started driving the wrong way down Canberra Avenue, blind as a bat. What a madman, a real nut. In a rare display of good sense, I jumped out and caught a cab home.

I'm told the party ended with one of the ABC journalists collapsed in the middle of the floor, her knickers dangling around her ankles. What a great woman. That, I am told, is the cream of Australia's current affairs media.
- Page 26


Not Kerry and Maxine, surely?

And a sign that Keating (and by extention) Latham had the right idea about the merits of governments staying away from corporate welfare:

Monday, 5 December
Keating reckons he was never able to centrally plan five ALP brances in his electorate in Bankstown, let alone complex industries. He describes industry protection as a mug's game: 'We were the bunnies defending the tariff walls but come elction time the industrialists supported the other mob'.
- Page 29

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: Introduction

As promised in an earier post, here are some interesting snippets from TLD.

There has been much criticism about Latham's inability to take responsibility for his own failings, and his role in his party's failure in the 2004 election. Whilst this perception is largely true, it is worth noting that Latham does accept some responsibility for his actions (though it does include the significant caveat 'by the conventional performance measures'):

My aim is not to rewrite my place in Australian political history. This is not possible. I never became a minister in a Labor Government. Under my leadership, the ALP lost seats at the 2004 Federal election. This disappointed many of my supporters, dashing their expectations of what I could achieve in public life. I failed in my mission to advance the cause of Labor, to make Australia a social democracy. By the conventional performance measures of Australian politics, my parliamentary career was unsuccessful. - Page 4


The introduction does serve as an interesting political essay with genuine merit. Latham focuses on the disconnection between ordinary people and their elected representatives, and the seeming inverse relationship between wealth and strong communities:

Escapism is the new religion of middle Australia. This is the sorry state of advanced capitalism: the ruling culture encourages people to reach for four-wheel drives, double-storey homes, reality television and gossip magazines to find meaning and satisfaction in their lives. All of which offer false hope. Marx was wrong in prediction the alientation of labour from the economy as the catalyst of social discontent. It is the alienation of the individual from community life that is the cause of so many social problems. - Page 16


And just who was the Liberal front bencher who was playing nice with Latham earlier this year (my hunch is Brendon Nelson, or perhaps Gary Hargraves... no evidence on my part, but they seem like the kind of ministers with a softer side):

And the last word on my time in politics? I am happy to leave it to my Liberal opponents. One of the nice rituals of Australian politics is that, after you retire, the other side starts telling the truth about you. In February I received the following note form a senior minister in the Howard Governement:

Whilst there will always be some things you and I wil disagree on, I admire the contribution that you have made the public life. At Liverpool Council you changed the Old Guard and put in place a dynamic infrastructure. In Federal Parliament you took risks that gave you opportunities to change the nation from Opposition. I admire that.

Now is the time for you and your family. I genuinely wish you a good life ahead. Enjoy the time you have with family. In a number of ways you have made Australia better.
- Page 21

Kim Jong Il: "Did somebody say Six Party?"

The past 48 hours there was some success in the six party talks aimed at disarming North Korea. Like most, I'm cynical until I see some action, but it does seem like a positive development, and from what I've seen a real shock to most Korea-watchers. I got the feeling that most though that the six party talks were all but dead after a failed round two month back, so this agreement has come out of the blue.

Back at the last talks in July, here was my suggestion for a workable solution:

For what it's worth, here's my solution to the North Korea tensions (you listing George, Hu, Kim?): at the next round of Six Nation talks next week in Beijing, the other five states should do a deal with Kim Jong Il. Give him an absolute assurance that the world will not seek his removal (STEP 1), if - and only if - the DPRK shut down its nuclear plants and give open access to IAEA inspectors (STEP 2). To be sure that he'll do the deal, the quiet threat needs to be made by the Chinese that if Kim doesn't play ball, then the energy pipeline that keeps the fledgling North Korean economy functioning will be progressively shut down. (STEP 3)


And here's the text of the agreement that was reached, which follow my plan (above) remarkably closely:

STEP 1:

The DPRK and the United States undertook to respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral policies.


STEP 2:

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) and to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards.


STEP 3:

China, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia and the U.S. stated their willingness to provide energy assistance to the DPRK. The ROK reaffirmed its proposal of July 12, 2005, concerning the provision of 2 million kilowatts of electric power to the DPRK.


There is, though, still a major stumbling block:

The DPRK stated that it has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The other parties expressed their respect and agreed to discuss at an appropriate time the subject of the provision of light-water reactor to the DPRK.


This sounds remarkably similar to the agreement Clinton reached with North Korea in 1994, an agreement which now stands almost-universally condemned as one that allowed the North Koreans to increase its nuclear capacity.

For more on North Korea, and indeed the entire region, check out a fine blog I've recently discovered, The Asianist.

Vale: Simon Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal: "The Conscience of the Holocaust, Dies in Vienna" at 96

Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi Hunter has died in Vienna at the age of 96, the Simon Wiesenthal Center announced today (September 20th).

"Simon Wiesenthal was the conscience of the Holocaust," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the International Human Rights NGO named in Mr. Wiesenthal’s honor, adding, "When the Holocaust ended in 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember. He did not forget. He became the permanent representative of the victims, determined to bring the perpetrators of the history’s greatest crime to justice. There was no press conference and no president or Prime Minister or world leader announced his appointment. He just took the job. It was a job no one else wanted.
Read more here.

Simon Wiesenthal

Monday, September 19, 2005

Screw Harry Potter... give me Latham

I'm not usually found riding the literary bandwagon. My tastes are a tad obscure and off-beat for the Best Seller lists. This time, though, I just can't resist. After coming on sale this morning, by just after lunch I had my hands on a copy of The Latham Diaries. Asking the friendly sales staff at the Melbourne Uni bookshop whether there'd been much interest in the book, she replied in the affirmative, and explained that they were expecting to have difficulties getting more copies from the publisher, such was the interest. As I grabbed my copy, I noticed there were quite a few browsers, although whether they have the dedication to wade through 429 pages of Latham's ranting is another question.

Though you wouldn't get the impression from the media coverage, The Latham Diaries is about much more than his time as leader. After a lengthy sociological-anaylsis-cum-introduction, the book publishes Latham's diary from his election to parliament in 1994 to his fall from grace in 2005.

As I read the book, I'll be posting the occasional post offering my take, as well as some of the juicy bits which have so far avoided the media radar.

Those of you in Melbourne might be interested in this event coming up next week:

Free Public Lecture

“10 reasons why young idealistic people should forget about organised politics”

Mark Latham, Former Leader of the Labor Party

DETAILS:

Tuesday 27 September 2005, 6.00–7.00pm
Basement Theatre in the Sidney Myer Asia Centre
The University of Melbourne
This lecture is free and open to the public. Bookings are essential
Ph: 8344 3885 or email cchiam@unimelb.edu.au.

Latham: depressed, paranoid and a suicide bomber?

Why go out with a whimper when you can go out with a bang? That's no doubt the approach Mark Latham has taken, and it's one of the bigger bangs ever to hit Australian politics.

My suspicion is that Mark Latham is mentally unwell. When Jeff Kennett brought up this suggestion a few months back he was shouted down, but perhaps Il Duce was on to something. Having seen his appearance on Enough Rope on Monday Thursday at 8:30 10:30, and read his interview with Michael Harvey and Paul Kelly in The Australian on Friday, I get the distinct impression that he is suffering from some form of depression, possibly coupled with paranoia.

For me perhaps the most significant reason to think this is the fact that Latham has not restricted his savage criticism to a few select political opponents, but has lashed out at anyone and everyone whom he encountered in his eleven years in politics. Take Gough Whitlam, Latham's political mentor, first political employer and inspiration in the naming of his first son. Latham has savaged Whitlam, attacking him for his percieved disloyalty in Whitlam privately calling for Latham to resign as leader in January of this year. A mature and balanced person would surely recognise the ultimate wisdom of Gough's words (Latham did resign, after all, within just a couple of days) and maintain the relationship. Not so, Latham.

Latham is clearly in a destructive mood. It would not be unfair to think of his as Australia's first suicide bomber - as well as destroying his own life, he seems determined to destroy the (political) lives of as many other people as possible. He doesn't seem to care how much damage he does or which set of people he harms - it is his own party that will suffer in the process and his staunch political opponents who will win.

Sadly, Mark Latham is reinforcing every negative perception about him that existed during his time as a parliamentarian. He is demonstrating himself to be self-indulgent, narcissistic, selfish, undisciplined and untrustworthy with the truth. Much as he sought to keep these characteristics in check previously, now he has few people to impress and so he can let it all hang out. This is the real Latham.

In a strange way, the mad excess of Latham is to the advantage of the ALP. Had he been more measured and subtle in his criticism, then he might have been taken seriously and the negative effect on Beazley and the current crop would be significant. As it is, Latham is a sad circus act taken seriously by no-body, and so his accusations can be readily dismissed. Beazley, Whitlam and Keating all enjoy a resiliant character and a persona deeply etched in the public mind. The ravings of Mad Mark are going to do little to change them.

As to the question of how someone as unreliable and erratic as Latham managed to rise to the most senior position within the Australian Labor Party, it says much about the appeal of a false Messiah. I quite liked Beazley's spin on this one - it's a case of 'Sliding Doors': who's to say that had Latham become PM he wouldn't have grown into the role and left his erratic nature behind. Besides, were Latham to go troppo whilst in office, he would be merely a caucus vote away from being replaced. Good spin, and it may satisfy the public, but internally the ALP need to address the substance of this question: just how were so many of them duped?

A possible career move for Latham?
A possible career move for Latham?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Review: Not Dead Yet, Theatreworks

A reviewer's ethical dilemma: I've been commissioned to write a review of a new play as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. The play is Not Dead Yet, a collaboration between Born in a Taxi (a well established physical theatre company) and Rawcus, a community theatre group for people with a disability. If the play is great, I'm free to say so. But if it's crap...? Should it be judged by the critical standards that other theatrical productions are judged by, or should it be treated more sympathetically by virtue of its positive social purpose?

Here's what I wrote. Am I a bastard?:

Death. It’s a word that you whisper. Utter, perhaps, with a pained grimace. Never spoken, though, and certainly never performed in a song and dance extravaganza. Until now.

It seems strange that death is a subject that most of us are so unwilling to talk about it. Though it’s something that we’ll all need to confront at one time or another, many of us feel that by remaining silent we can somehow avoid the inevitable. Deep down, most of us have a fear of our own mortality: a fear of being reminded that our existence on this planet is brief and fleeting and our death as natural as the process which brought us to life in the first place.

Not Dead Yet seeks to normalize death. Far from being a sombre portrayal, at many times it’s a happy and upbeat presentation, with moments of wickedly funny black comedy. A pulsating soundtrack is provided courtesy of a large Mikardo-style drum at the back of the stage, and a talented team of musicians play a variety of traditional and not-so-traditional instruments. Credit should go to Tania Bosak and Jethro Woodward for taking such an imaginative and lively approach to sound.

The universal fate that awaits us all is an interesting theme, and although the intention is worthy, the execution is clumsy. The production is desperately crying out for some strong direction rather than the confused and haphazard approach taken. The play consists of poorly defined and oddly confused sketches broadly focused on the theme of death. Whilst a few of the sketches hit the mark – a Catholic Priest delivering the last rites is particularly clever – many of them seem to drag on cumbersomely.

Not Dead Yet is the cheekily titled new experimental theatre production collaboratively produced by Born in a Taxi and Rawcus. The two production companies have an unusual history, and this is the second time they have worked together, after producing Born Rawcus in 2003. Born in a Taxi is a well established physical theatre company who have created a distinctive, outlandish theatrical style for themselves. Rawcus is a community theatre group incorporating several performers with and without disabilities. The two companies seem to work well together, with the professionalism of one combining with the raw enthusiasm of the other.

One thing that makes this production particularly adventurous is its fusion of many media. As well as a creative presentation of live music, the production also includes inventive choreography, biting comedy, touching drama and a postmodern deconstruction of the theatrical form. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it misses, but always it takes a chance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A sign of things to come?

Earlier this week the Israelis concluded the bravest political move in the Middle East in a long time - the withdrawal from Gaza. For Sharon, this was a tough move which may still endanger his political career, though. Now that the withdrawal is complete, the pressure shifts back on the Palestinian Authority to see how it handles the governance of a newly 'liberated' political entity.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

This aint a good start.


For more on the burning of Synagogues, and the international media response, check out HonestReporting.

Monday, September 12, 2005

"If you tolerate this..."

From The Age...

AN AMERICAN environmentalist and peace activist, in Australia to talk about non-violent methods of protest, has been arrested as a security threat.

History teacher Scott Parkin, 35, was arrested by the Australian Federal Police in Melbourne on Saturday as he travelled to a workshop he was conducting on the US peace movement. Last night he was being held at the Melbourne Custody Centre.

An Immigration Department spokesman confirmed he had been arrested on "character grounds" at its request and he would be deported "as soon as practicable".


Whatever you think of his politics, this is a disgrace. It seems fairly transperant because of the government's dislike of Parkin's politics, probably with some pressure from the US. As Julian Burnside pointed out during the day, if he is a genuine security threat (which seems extremely unlikely), how did he get through in the first place, and why did it take so long to arrest him. This is not merely a question of pro- or anti- American attitudes - it is a fundamental question of free speech.

Shame, Amanda, shame.

The DIMIA 'Blokes with Beards' policy claims another victim.
The DIMIA 'Blokes with Beards' policy claims another victim.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Kimchi, anyone?

Spotted in Lygon Street on Friday afternoon: a delegation of half a dozen well-dressed middle-aged North Koreans, complete with Kim Il Sung badges. Unable to resist my curiousity, I started speaking to one in the group who spoke English. They seemed like a friendly bunch, but unfortunately I was unable to find out what brought them to Melbourne (presumably it wasn't the Pong Su). Any ideas?

Shareholder democracy

So far I've been quiet - well, silent, really - on Telstra, and I want to make a quick post about it. Not, as one might imagine, on the issue of privatisation (Ari's solution: split it in two: wholesale and retail; as a monopoly owner of infrastructure, keep wholesale in public ownership; privatise the retail divison. Easy. Next problem, Mr H?), but on something else dear to my wallet heart.

The issue I really want to muse on, though, is corporate democracy. Much as it pains me to say it, I'm a Telstra shareholder, and yesterday an invitation to the company AGM arrived in my email inbox. Not keen to head to Sydney for a morning of boring speeches and cucumber sandwiches, I decided instead to lodge a directed proxy vote. Whilst in the past I've been tempted to do this for the handful of companies lucky enough to have me as a shareholder, in most cases the effort necessary has been sufficiently high for me not to bother. This time around, though, the process is seemless and electronic, and easy enough for me to overcome my indifference. So in a few clicks, I've managed to confirm my identity, vote against a pay rise for directors, vote for some directors and against others (no soup for you, Mr McGauchie).

It seems that Telstra are using the services of ASX Perpetual, an offshoot of the Australian Stock Exchange which facilitate a company's obligations to its shareholders - share registry management. A quick glance at the ASX Perpetual client list reveals plenty of big names, and there are several other companies in this interesting bit of outsourcing. Unquestionably, services like this are good for shareholder democracy. And it's a good little earner for those companies playing the registry management game.

The theory of shareholder democracy is a sounds one, but it's rarely translated into practice. As controllers of a significant amount of (shareholder-owner) wealth, company directors need to be held accountable. Shareholders have a strong interest in maintaining good corporate governance, since it's the value of their shares which will suffer due to poor management. Of course, the theory presumes a few things which are utterly false. Firstly, there are inherent difficulties is actually lodging a vote. Secondly, few shareholders are sufficiently informed to cast a well-considered vote, creating an information asymmetry. Thirdly, many investor treat their shareholding much like the would a bet on a horse, with little interest in its finer details but plenty of interest in its next race.

The reality is that few shareholders will ever bother to attend a company's AGM. Those who do appoint proxies almost always offer their proxies to the chairperson, undirected, and hence doing little to make an active decision. Through the internet, in combination with companies making an active attempt to engage with their shareholders, shareholders can now have a more decisive say in the management of companies. True, this change for the good is not really the initiative of companies themselves - the CLERP9 legislation last year has put the pressure on companies to improve their corporate governance. If shareholders can easily and effectively make themselves heard at an AGM, then company management is more likely to feel the pressure to perform. No longer can fumbling directors presume their own reelection (and a decent pay-rise, to boot) because of a low AGM attendance and undirected proxies.

Perhaps the biggest impedement to shareholder democracy is a fourth problem, which could be added to the list a paragraph back. A large chunk of the shares in most companies are held by major institutions - investment banks, trusts, superannuation - who have traditionally been slack when it comes to exercising their democratic rights as shareholders. Generally, pesky little things like the casting of votes has been a burden rather than an opportunity. Whilst this attitude continues, shareholder democracy is going to be limited in what it can achieve. These institutions owe it to themselves and to other shareholders to be active participants in the process of corporate governance. If the theory is right, an active shareholder body should result in better quality management, and hence a higher share price. Given this, it makes sense for the institutions to get actively involved. What will it take to make it happen?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Passing Time - another great Bangkwang article

Intrepid Canadian freelancer the Virtuous Traveler (a.k.a. Leslie Garrett) has written an interesting piece on foreign prisoners at Bangkwang in Thailand. The author got in touch with me a few weeks back, and has included some of my comments.

Click here for my original first-hand account of visiting Bangkwang...

... and here's the latest, courtesy of American travel site Travel News Today (subscriber only):

Passing Time

Many tourists, eager to find out more about life behind bars or hoping to offer comfort and company, have taken to visiting Third World prisons. This week, Virtuous Traveler Leslie Garrett finds that while some dismiss it as a fad, the experience nonetheless leaves a legacy of gratitude and sorrow for those who’ve been face to face with prisoners doing hard time.

Ari Sharp, a university student from Melbourne, Australia was intrigued by the notice he spotted in a Thai hostel: "Visiting Bangkwan, Klong Prem and other Prisons. " The notice promised that it was possible to visit a prisoner without prior notice and that "These visits allow the visitor to have a conversation with only a fence...between yourself and the prisoner..."

Sharp, who was backpacking around Southeast Asia, viewed the chance to talk with a prisoner as "an experience too exciting to pass up." It turns out he is not alone.

In recent years, prisons have become popular tourist destinations in parts of Asia. Lonely Planet’s guide to Thailand credits the growing interest in “prison tourism” to the 1999 movie, Brokedown Palace, in which two teens find themselves in a Thai prison wrongfully accused of drug smuggling. However, those who have visited say that, fad or not, it’s a sobering, worthwhile experience – for both them and, they firmly believe, the prisoners.

Other travellers aren’t so sure about the ethical implications of visiting someone with whom you have no prior connection. A post on an Internet travel forum poses the question: “How about visiting prisoners you don’t know? Is that a cruel fad or an act of charity?” Another suggests that the whole practice of visiting prisoners might make the prisoners themselves feel like “an attraction” – like animals in a zoo.

But what do prisoners themselves think? Garth Hattan is an American who spent more than seven years in Bangkwang for drug trafficking before being released to the United States on treaty. He generally met with any visitor who requested a visit with him, hoping to offer up his life as a cautionary tale. As he wrote in one of his “Letters from the Inside,” a column he wrote for the Thai-based Farang magazine, he hoped that visiting him might make travelers think twice about "taking the fateful walk from the conventional wild side into something you feel exudes a truly radical allure – like an impulsive jaunt into narco-trafficking, for instance....There’s no-glamour here, no-promise of success, no-proverbial pot of gold to pick up on the other side; just a sweaty, inanimate existence riddled with the futile dreams of what could’ve been, mingled with aching regret of having let so many good people down – especially yourself."
Kay Danes is an Australian mother of two who has become a strong, vocal advocate for those behind bars, calling them "forgotten." Danes herself was imprisoned in Laos in December 2000 for close to a year after she and her husband were accused of stealing sapphires, a charge the two vehemently denied. After extensive diplomatic negotiations, the couple was released and given a Presidential Pardon. But Danes says the experience left deep scars. She has written a book about her time in prison, Deliver Us From Evil, and talks openly of the routine torture she heard being conducted only yards away from her cell. She says that many prisoners are detained for years without trial and would “cherish a mere postcard from the outside,” she says. “They exist on hope.”

Tony Fox, who works with Foreign Prisoner Support Service (FPSS) is heartened by the number of "kind-hearted people" who make a point of visiting prisoners while on vacation or traveling on business. He says FPSS gets two to three hundred "solid enquiries" each year about how to go about visiting a prisoner. These same tourists report back to FPSS on the conditions of the prisons they visit and the prisoners. Danes also volunteers with FPSS and says that, while most prisoners would welcome a visit by tourists, she cautions that tourists need to examine their own motives and ensure that they are “well-intended and not…seeking a cheap thrill.”

Ari Sharp says his intent was to “avoid a hedonistic Bangkok holiday.” He wanted to see how life was for another group of people – foreign prisoners. “These people are as much a part of Bangkok as the tuk-tuk drivers and the market vendors…”

With that motivation, Sharp followed the directions offered in the hostel notice and after a 30-minute boat ride followed by a brief walk he arrived at the Bankwang Prison. In the midst of the noise and chaos of young families and bureaucrats, Sharp spotted some Westerners. He approached them and was introduced to Greet, a Dutch missionary who visits prisoners twice yearly. Greet organized the group of tourists, including Ari Sharp, and helped them navigate the bureaucracy. Sharp requested a visit with Jagnathan Samynathan, a Malaysian imprisoned at Bangkwang, whom he had read about on the hostel’s notice board and thought wouldn’t receive as many visits as western prisoners. While there are more than 7,000 foreign prisoners currently serving time in Thailand according to government stats, the majority are from other countries in Asia. The dozens of American, French and European prisoners are usually held for a period of time that ranges depending on the treaty arrangement countries have made with Thailand but seems to average around eight years. They can then be transferred to prisons in their own countries.

Sharp says that Samynathan “exuded warmth and friendliness”. He spent about two hours with “Jag” as he now refers to him, discussing the prisoner’s background, then moving on to news, politics, sport and family. The tourists seemed more depressed at the prisoners’ plight than those behind bars, says Sharp.

The whole experience, he says, gave him a “much greater appreciation of the everyday freedoms that I am lucky enough to have.” He also considers himself lucky to have gained two penfriends with whom he remains in touch. What’s more, the visits taught him about “the power of forgiveness and the respect for the ability of people to change.”

Kay Danes would be delighted. “People make mistakes and sometimes they do things out of desperation,” she says. “Those who are guilty already know they have done wrong. On the other end of the spectrum, there are prisoners detained for no reasonable explanation, like political prisoners I met in Laos. They live everyday wondering if they will see their loved ones again.”

Prison tourism seems to have its genesis in requests by relatives of foreign inmates who, through tacked up signs in hostels and guesthouses, encouraged travelers to visit their loved ones behind bars since they could visit only infrequently or not at all. But, fad or not, prison tourism seems to have heightened awareness of the conditions under which some people are held, often without even benefit of a fair trial.

And that awareness works to not only help the prisoners, but might even keep a traveler from making a similar mistake. Garth Hattan reported that, more than anything, he missed his nomadic existence and advises travelers to "Enjoy your travels, and never put yourself in a position that would jeopardize your freedom to do so."

If you are a traveler who wants to make a prison visit part of your trip, be sure you behave with consideration and respect. And remember that this is not a photo opportunity—cameras are usually prohibited—but it is a sobering experience opportunity.

If you’re interested in visiting a prisoner, first visit www.foreignprisoners.com. The site offers a list of prisons around the world as well as prisoners’ names and stories. Be sure you follow the rules and never promise anything that you're not prepared to deliver -- from sending a letter to contacting a loved one on the prisoner's behalf.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Clyde Prestowitz interview

A few weeks back I interviewed American economic policy wonk Clyde Prestowitz. The article that arose from the interview has just gone online:

This past fortnight I've become strangely addicted to a thrilling new page-turner. Whilst others on the train are thumbing through the latest Harry Potter instalment or some Dan Brown pulp fiction, I've been reading an epic tale of international intrigue and subterfuge, drama and debt, East and West, all from the pen (or more likely Blackberry) of Clyde Prestowitz. It's an exciting read, but as for the outcome... well, you need to wait a while. Give it another couple of decades.

Clyde Prestowitz's latest book is Three Billion New Capitalists. It comes on the back of several previous books which have contributed much to public debate both in popular and elite circles. He previously wrote Trading Places, about the trade relationship between Japan and the United States , and Rogue Nation, a book about American foreign policy.

When I am given a chance to meet Mr Prestowitz, or Clyde as he announces to me with a firm handshake, I can see instinctively why he has had the ear of so many important decision makers around the world. He exudes old fashioned American charm, with a twinkle in the eye and gives the impression that there's a highly perceptive mind at work. In another life you can imagine Prestowitz as being perhaps a salesman or a preacher, which in an odd way is what he's doing at the moment. Prestowitz can see an impending economic Armageddon (with a bit of poetic licence) and is doing his best to make the world change its ill ways.

Read the rest at Vibewire.