Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Month: November, 2009

An ETS by dinner time

While we wait for the Liberal leadership saga to play out, just a quick reminder, that 7 Liberal Senators acting as a block could end this farce and pass the CPRS by dinner. Indeed the senate isn’t rising until 10pm, so they’ve even got time for some quick dutch courage before such an act. We are so used to party discipline being comprehensive, that even though the Liberal party is utterly divided on the issue, they still are voting as one, both to pass amendments from the McFarlane-Wong deal, and to delay the bill.

Just 7 senators walking into the chamber, with Labors knowledge could vote to roll all amendments into one, end the debate and vote on the final passage of the bill. Rather than worry about deals with Hockey or counting numbers with Abbott, Turnbull just needs to get the following people into the chamber – Birmingham, Simon, Brandis, the Hon George, Coonan, the Hon Helen , Humphries, Gary, Kroger, Helen, Payne, Marise , Ronaldson, the Hon Michael , Troeth, the Hon Judith, Trood, Russell,. It would be one of the most audacious acts in Australian political history, but hey, this is Malcolm Turnbull we are talking about, and he has a lot of free front bench positions to fill… Something to think about.

And just because I’ve been wanting to post this for a while : What possible reason does Joe Hockey have for taking the Liberal leadership job. He knew it was a dodgy deal last month, it is an even worse deal this month. He is being pressured by a lot of people worried about their own seats, to sacrifice his career for them. He needs to think strategically and in the long term interests of the party and his personal principles. Though only 44 if he takes the leadership and loses his career is effectively over in politics (unfair but thems the breaks). If Abbott takes over, and loses as expected (assuming Hockey can hold his own seat), then he will be unopposed in the leadership stakes, and be able to use the electoral drubbing as a mandate to sideline the climate deniers. He will have authority as one of the only former Howard Government ministers left (given that by then Turnbull & Abbott will be discredited or retired), and the time to re-establish the party as suits him.

But if he runs, he will be out of the job by this time next year, probably go down in history as a loser of Latham-esp proportions (without being responsible) and have a miserable time as the current divisions over Climate Change continue to play out. Even if he delay post Copenhagen (which is in 7 days), what will he do in January? February? March? These are the questions the government asks, all set to images of bushfires and dirty polluting coal plants. Indecisive or not across the details? Patsy to the deniers, or one himself? The Labor attack adds write themselves. To run now just sacrifices his talents and skills for no good reason. Don’t run Joe!

The Invention of Lying

No, don’t worry this isn’t another post about the Liberal Party’s trouble (though more on that later). Instead a quick plug for Ricky Gervais’ new move ‘The Invention of Lying’. A fun rom-com, it has some how snuck under the radar but deserves the award for most Atheistic movie of the year. Given the Church’s outrage to Harry Potter or The Golden Compass, it’s rather amazing that this movie has attracted so little attention. In Gervais’ world, people are incapable of telling lies, or saying what isn’t. Meaning a world of no fictional stories, or actors to portray them, and the people seem a mixture of gullible, over-revealing (more a comedic device) and flat out rude (Hi Mr fatty being a common greeting). Gervais makes a rather persuasive case that lying is one of the things that best enables this species to get along, letting us escape the domination of natural selection urges that seek to dominate, destroy and disseminate our genetic material without a care for other outcomes. Though more so it made me wonder how any of the other couples in the movie ever got together if they couldn’t lie just a little.

These day’s lying has become so commonly expected that Joe Hockey is defined as having a “George Washington moment” when he said he had been approached by others to lead the party. It hurt the party momentarily, but in the face of this weeks efforts is forgotten and was interesting to the press more for letting them revive their favorite topic of leadership speculation, and fill their time on air/print than it being anything unusual. Everyone knew he had been approached, to admit it, that was the real sin in todays politics, or at least as our media see it (whilst now also rewarding him with such an over the top moniker for it) Like Flash Forward The Invention of Lying has an absolutely fascinating premise that is then only tangentially relevant to the main plot, but good fun on a rainy day’s escape to the cinema or when it hits DVD. 3/5.

The mundane is the message: Obama in China

Over at The Lowy Institutes Blog, The Interpreter, Raoul Heinrichs makes the case that Obama was rolled in China

President Obama might have bowed in Japan, but it was China where he was really humbled. Beyond the countless diplomatic formalities and expansive, but typically platitudinous communiqué, the most striking thing about Obama’s recent trip was his inability to wrest a single, meaningful concession from Beijing.

Here’s the problem: since at least the mid 1990s, US China policy has been built on the dubious expectation that China, as it became more wealthy and powerful, would become more cooperative and accommodating of US interests, and more reluctant to upset a regional order that accorded, however imperfectly, with China’s national interests. An increasingly prosperous and secure China was expected by many to be indefinitely satisfied with US primacy in Asia.
Although it’s become de rigueur to pay homage to a shifting distribution of world power, leaders in Washington, including Obama, have never actually grappled with the consequences of that process for America’s power and role in the world. Last week in China, however, it could not be avoided.

What began as an exercise intended to restore confidence in American leadership in Asia culminated, over the course of a few days, in the quiet humiliation of an administration that came face-to-face with a competitor over whom it has very little leverage, and with the uncomfortable reality of its own hegemonic decline.

The charge that Obama’s trip was useless (while certainly it wasn’t spectacular) suffers from two problems, first real achievements were made, and secondly it’s also a question of the hyped expectations we seem to have in our time short world.

The Atlantic’s James Fallow’s has been on a bit of a bent about the first point, noting that this trip achieved firming agreements on containing Iran, Climate Change and increased currency flexibility. None of these are game changers, though the worth of the first two are certainly significant, and timely considering Obama’s overall agenda. Fallows argues that while US reporters had an image of a meek Obama, Western reporters living in China saw it very differently, as did the (Republican & Mandarin speaking) US Ambassador John Huntsman:

“I attended all those meetings that President Obama had with Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao,” Huntsman said, referring to the Chinese president and premier. “I’ve got to say some of the reporting I saw afterward was off the mark. I saw sweeping comments about things that apparently weren’t talked about, when they were discussed in great detail in the meetings,” he said.

Ok, so being positive about the president is in Huntsman’s job description, and I’m sure those critical of Obama’s actions could just as easily provide links saying China’s support for censuring Iran and 40-50% targets on climate change are meaningless. The problem however is that we are not really arguing about any of these things.

Instead take a look again at Heinrichs criticism, namely that the US has lost its uni-polar moment and is having to face up to a real challenger. This criticism could however have been made of the US any time over the last decade, what’s more important is how the US deals with it. American (misplaced) triumphalism in 2001 aside, China has been slowly emerging as the biggest threat to the US for a long time. This relationship could very easily (and may still) collapse into rivalry, hostility and even warfare. Instead the US under Clinton, Bush & Obama has carefully tried to position China as a distant but stable number#2 in the world system. This need not be the accommodating/hegemon-supporting image of China that Heinrichs lays at others feet, but instead a clear heirachy of the world system which helps, in the best realist fashion to maintain the peace. Realists love to talk of balance of powers, but clear imbalances often provide far greater peace dividends.
The problem with almost all the analysis thus far of this trip is that these days we expect every single world trip to be a great game changer. Every time a leader sets off overseas it’s supposed to end with the signing of a grand treaty or bargin, guaranteeing wealth, safety or control. But much as our history books focus on and celebrate events like the Congress of Berlin and Nixon’s venture to China mid-cold war, these are the rare exceptions that occur years after these leaders first met. This was Obama’s first trip to china. In all likelyhood he will be President for another 7 years. The Chinese leadership isn’t going anywhere in that time (with future leaders already known to the US). Instead the real worth of this trip was about getting to know, and trust each other. In countries that lack the historical ties of alliances and joint sacrifices of blood for a common cause, the good will and strength of a relationship is intimately tied to the individuals in the leadership. Hu Jintao and others want to learn what Obama is like as a man, and he want’s to try and understand them. For the moment, there are no great crisis’s (certainly not of the type that is usually needed to precede historic deals), so as continuation of the status quo is actually a victory of sorts for both countries. That was the aim of the administration prior to the trip, and seems to have been met.

International Relations attracts a lot of people because it involves the great events of world history. Grand bargains, bitter hostilities, great personalities, war and peace. But much of it is also routine interaction, of the type found in every business deal and human interaction. As IR scholars we may spend our evenings reading about the great events of history, and as commentators we often want to be the ones to first label these great events, but we must remember that much is mundane and that’s ok. Right now the US just needs China to keep on keeping on, and slowly build the links for when it really needs its help. At such a time, if Obama’s check from China bounces we can look back and call such trips as this a failure, but if it succeed’s, then history will record this last weeks effort a critical building block. So for the moment not reading too much into it is wisest reading.

ETS: The Final Countdown – Todays Primer

Here is a quick primer for those of you unsure of what’s happening, or wanting to double check you’ve got the lay of the land down pat. I’ll also be live blogging the days events, so check back regularly to keep up to date.

3:25pm – It’s Over. No vote today.
Labor under Chris Evan’s passionately blames the libs ‘fillibuster’ argues “you have ratted on that agreement”. Cites 295 amendments, with only 34 dealt with. Labor must share some of the blame with its poorly organised chamber and inability to get supportive libs in chamber. Whinging about a ratted on agreement just looks week. This weekend is going to be ugly for all involved in the Liberal Party.

Liberal rebels have sent a letter asking for leadership spill Monday morning (suggestions might occur Tuesday instead), however notables such as Senator Minchin have not signed it.
Talk has now turned to how Labor responds, particularly if they call a Double Dissolution in response early next year. Rudd will have a trigger under section 57 of the Constitution if

the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree

If this happens twice, with a 3 month wait in between, then the Govt has it’s trigger. Deferral is not blocking or failure to pass, but could be left to lawyers. So whilst the test isn’t a full block, it’s also not clear a failure today will be enough for a DD. I’ll follow up on this in a post in a few days when some of the dust has settled.

1:50pm – The deal for Hockey to lead seems to be firming. However I have some doubt if that is the liberals desire, or the press’s. So the ugly side of twitter may be an increase of the press’s power to judge who is a valid candidate (as they universally and negatively did for Andrews). The Senate is finally getting around to debating the Govt-Opposition deal on the CPRS, but time is escaping, and no sign of any liberals willing to stand up and vote today. This sage may well go until monday lunchtime if not next few months…

12:15pm – Confusion if Bishop did or did not ask Turnbull to resign. Deal may be in works for Hockey leader, Dutton deputy. Abbott starting to waiver. May not have numbers, or be content to simply take Turnbull’s scalp and move up to Shadow Treasurer under Hockey. Who knows where this would leave ETS (prob delay to post Copenhagen, but who knows what then? & why would Hockey accept such a bad deal with the mal-contents emboldened)

11:30am – Deputy Julia Bishop has called on Turnbull to resign. Hockey is firming to run against Abbott on Monday. The Senate is crawling in pace. Not looking good for vote by 3:45pm (when Senate is due to rise).

History: Labor passed an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) known as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The Liberals demanded amendments, with Ian McFarlane(Lib) and Penny Wong(Lab) doing the negotiations. These included major new breaks for polluters and households. Details here. After a 10 hour meeting on tuesday, Turnbull claimed he had the support of a majority of the party. Many dissented, claiming he was in minority. Anger at being over-ruled, led to a vote on whether to change leadership, with Kevin Andrews running as the potential replacement. The Vote failed 48-35. Party members pledged to support the bill or hold their tounge. After Question Time on Thursday, two leading dissenters, Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin, both members of the shadow cabinet went to Turnbull and demanded the vote be held off until Copenhagen summit or they would resign. Turnbull refused, and about 10 members of the Liberal Party cabinet resigned, starting with Abbott. Late Thursday night, Turnbull gave a defiant press conference saying he would fight on and try to pass the legislation. The Govt capitalised on this, and has rushed the bill forward to be voted on by 3:45pm today (Friday 27th Nov). Tony Abbott (denier) has declared that he will challenge Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership, with a vote due on Monday morning. Pressure has been applied to Joe Hockey(supporter) to also run. Most MP’s have gone home to their electorates, so are not in canberra to vote on the leadership right away.

The Numbers: To pass a bill you need 39 senators to support the bill
Labor: 32
Coalition: 37 (33 Liberals and 4 Nationals)
Independents: 2 (Xenephon and Fielding)
Greens: 5

Who else supports an ETS

Greens: The Greens opposed the CPRS strongly. Though the most active on the issue and with the strongest supporters, they see the bill as a sell out and refuse to support it. Likely they will continue to make perfect the enemy of the good and vote with the climate deniers against the bill. However, they could also choose to at least vote with labor on procedural issues almost ensuring a vote will occur. With their support the CPRS would be almost guaranteed, without it will be very tough.

Notionally the Liberal Party supports the bill. Malcolm Turnbull has made a very strong claim for it, and is risking his position to support it. This may be stubborn digging in, but it’s also very courageous & principled stuff. Claims have been made that “15 of 32” or “a majority” of liberal senators support the bill. Many have reservations about the nature of the bill, and the push to pass before Copenhagen (Dec7-18 2009) On a vote on tuesday to delay the bill until after Copenhagen only 12 Liberals voted for delay, leaving potentially 20 in support. Only 7 are needed to vote today to support the bill. Of those who seem most likely to vote yes are:

Birmingham, Simon – Senator for South Australia
Brandis, the Hon George – Senator for Queensland
Coonan, the Hon Helen – Senator for New South Wales
Humphries, Gary – Senator for Australian Capital Territory
Kroger, Helen – Senator for Victoria
Payne, Marise – Senator for New South Wales
Ronaldson, the Hon Michael – Senator for Victoria
Troeth, the Hon Judith – Senator for Victoria
Trood, Russell – Senator for Queensland

How does this bill get passed?
1) 7 Liberals vote with Labor to over-ride any procedural motions against and vote by 3:45pm today in favor. For liberals who support the ETS this is their best chance as they are still technically voting with the majority of the party. If on Monday Abbott wins a spill (as expected) then any vote they cast for the ETS would be against the will of the party leadership. Far more extreme pressure could be brought to bear. Passing an ETS today would also take all the wind out of the sails of the deniers (for it would become law with Labors support in the HOR), and so could also guarantee Turnbull’s continued leadership (protecting and indebting those who vote for an ETS today).

2) The Greens come down from the mountain and support Labor, with 1-2 Libs supporting it.

3) ?? (Ie anything could happen. Xenephon has been against it, but could change at last minute if Labor offered a big enough bribe (as they did on Murray-Darling legislation).

4) The bill fails today. Abbott takes over and official Liberal policy becomes to oppose the bill. Labor goes to an election (potential DD if CPRS bill is voted down), and wins additional senate seats. Pass legislation on their own or with greens support.

5) It doesn’t.

Who’s going to be Liberal Leader next week?
Good question.
Malcolm Turnbull: could only remain if he gets an ETS passed before Monday, pre-empting Abbott’s campaign to become leader so as to stop the legislation. He’s been very impressive these last few days, but has about 20% of remaining leader.
Tony Abbott: Most expected him to wait until post election loss. Spurred into action by ETS which he has claimed is just a policy issue, though now will challenge. Likely to win such a challenge on Monday (Turnbull had only a 7 vote buffer, against the non-starter Kevin Andrews. Likely Deputies include Julie Bishop (if she abandons Turnbull), Tony Smith, Andrew Robb, Joe Hockey
Joe Hockey: Supported Turnbull, but seen as next best Pro-ETS, moderate leader. Being pressured to take on Abbott on Monday. Like Abbott doesn’t want leadership before the election (loss). But may have little choice if Turnbull is abandoned/moderates want to stop Abbott.
Andrew Robb: Was considered a serious contender as a caretaker leader till the election. Unlikely now that Abbott has thrown his hat in the ring. Still too early after taking a break for depression to be a serious contender.
Kevin Andrews: …..Just Joking. On a day like this we all need a laugh.

I’ll update this as information comes in. If you have anything to add or challenge, please post a comment or email me could either be a fizzle, or the start of a fundamental re-alignment of Australian politics (with Turnbull type liberals leaving the party for Labor, and the Coalition becoming a far more conservative body). Keep refreshing that webpage, and of course follow me on twitter for all the latest. (Though i also highly recommend adding the following people (Annabel Crabb, David Speers, Samantha Maiden, Latika Bourke, James Massola)

Respect goes both ways: Rudd’s error on White Ribbon

The other day whilst responding to a Dorothy Dixer on White Ribbon Day, the Anti-domestic violence iniative, the Prime Minister began to get rather worked up: (Hansard in PDF. Page 53)

The survey reveals that the two strongest predictors for holding violence-supportive attitudes are being male and having low levels of support for gender equity and equality. This demonstrates very abundantly the significance of White Ribbon Day and the role of White Ribbon Day ambassadors. It is our gender, the Australian male gender, that is responsible; no-one else. It is men who are responsible and we must show leadership in stamping this out in the future.

Any man who hits a woman is scum in my opinion, I’ve never hit a woman, and I hope my girlfriend would dump my sorry ass in a second if I did such a thing. Equally I don’t think anyone could disagree with the intention of the PM’s statement.

But not all domestic violence is just male on female, it also goes the other way

New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics figures show that over the past eight years, the number of women charged with domestic abuse has rocketed by 159 per cent.
In 2007, 2,336 women fronted court on domestic violence charges, compared to around 800 in 1999.
Preconceived ideas of gender roles have led a lot of people to believe it would be virtually impossible for a women to physically abuse a man.
But co-director of Men’s Rights Agency Sue Price says it is exactly this stereotype that leads to battered men hiding in shame, fearful of being ridiculed, or even prosecuted.Despite the many domestic violence support services available to women victims, Ms Price says there is almost no practical and legal outreach for men.

(I can’t find nation wide figures as most states havn’t released detailed breakdowns)

Equally, while 3/4 of domestic violence and especially disgusting sexual violence is against women, men are actually far more likely to experience physical violence than women in our society at all ages. According to the ABS’s 2005 Personal Survey Saftey:

Since the age of 15, there were an estimated 3,065,800 (39.9%) women who experienced
violence compared with 3,744,900 (50.1%) men.

In the 12 months prior to the survey, younger women and men experienced violence at
higher rates than older women and men.
! 12% (117,000) of women aged 18–24 years experienced at least one incident of
violence, compared to 6.5% (97,900) of women aged 35–44 years and 1.7% (42,100)
of women aged 55 years and over
! 31% (304,300) of men aged 18–24 years experienced at least one incident of
violence, compared to 9.4% (138,700) of men aged 35–44 years and 2.8% (62,500) of
men aged 55 years and over

Obviously this trends as well into straight crime (ie aggravated robbery), but it also includes significant cases of physical assault in bullying and social troubles (from cases where people are well known to each other, to violence against random strangers). A related issue is that of suicides where of the 1800 people who took their own life in Australia in 2006, 1400 were male. This number has also dropped over the last decade (however over 20 times that number tried to).

This is not an argument about equivalence, obviously there is none. Rather the problem I have is that the way in which we are dealing with the problem isn’t effective and ignores if not exacerbates other social problems.

In overall statistics violence as a social problem is dropping. We are getting better at dealing with these issues, more people are reporting them to the police. But these social changes come about in response to how each gender is viewed and respected within society. Those who lack any social status, or find it difficult to establish a basis for their own self-respect are going to lash out. Against others, random and well known. Many may present a false display of confidence, or seek to bully and harm those weaker than themselves (such as their partners) as a way of regaining that status. Equally, some also turn inwards and harm themselves.

I shouldn’t even need to say it, but none of this is to excuse or justify those who harm others around them because of insecurities or weaknesses inside themselves. But as a society if we are going to deal with the issue of domestic violence along with other forms of violence, then we also need to recognize that simply insisting on better behavior isn’t going to fix it. Worse, the demand “All Aussie Men Must Swear” seems more akin to having men swear their innocence lest they be judged guilty, with all the likelyhood of binding of an abstinence ring. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments of the White Ribbon campaign, and yet I find myself personally insulted by the PM’s tone (which the Hansard doesn’t quite reproduce) and the quest to have all men swear:

“never to commit violence against women,
never to excuse violence against women, and
never to remain silent about violence against women.
This is my oath.”

I’m all for symbolic actions, but this isn’t like having someone finally take responsibility for past wrongs as Rudd has done. Instead it blames all equally, ignores the causes or reasons, and will be only enacted by those who already reject the problem outright. Equal and tolerant treatment begins and ends with respect. If we want to end violence by men on women, and by women on men, then we need to build up the respect we have for all. Both for women, and for men. The White Ribbon campaign, however well intention seems to betray that.

A victory for Liberty

Very pleasing breaking news:

Commonwealth to allow gay ceremonies: Corbell
Simon Corbell says gay couples will still be able to have legally binding ceremonies under the amendments.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell says the Territory has now reached a compromise with the Commonwealth.
He says gay couples will still be able to hold a legally binding ceremony in front of a civil partnership notary.
But now they will also have to notify the registrar-general of their intention to hold a ceremony

Assuming endorsement from the registrar-general is automatic, this is a great step for civil liberties in Australia. If we are to be a society which is designed for the promotion of general prosperity and liberty, then this is as critical an issue as any step in recent years. For much of the last 30 years the liberal/libertarian movement has focused its concern for expanding liberty purely within the economic sphere. Social liberties were seen as too hard, or many proclaimed supporters of freedom were distinctly uncomfortable with its actual expansion (such as the many conservatives who regularly invoke the cause of freedom, especially in the US, whilst having no time for any social liberalisation in areas such as Marriage, Euthanasia and Drugs). Likewise one of my greatest differences with Libertarians is their almost sole economic focus, as such I’d be surprised if this decision gets noticed on the libertarian blog Cattlaxyfiles (at least now that Jason Soon has left)

Though this is only significant for at most a thousand Australians (ie Homosexual couples in the ACT wishing to marry), it does allows the idea to become a norm. A social practice, with its effects, pro and con measured and noticed. And as with the US, when the ground doesn’t open up to destroy the modern Gomorrah of Canberra, other states may be willing to take the risk, along with the Federal Government noting the general public acceptance. It surely won’t change under Rudd, but it’s now a real possibility for a Gillard Administration.

This is also significant as a signal to those who hold liberal views on matters both economic and social that the ALP is still receptive to such ideas. Rudd disappointed a lot of liberals with his refusal to end parallel import restrictions, so this is a good change to reassure them.

Congratulations federally to Kevin Rudd, Robert McClelland and Gary Humphries (and probably Kate Lundy), and locally to Andrew Barr, Simon Corbell and Jon Stanhope. You have all done your bit for a significant expansion of civil liberty in Australia. That’s something to be proud of, whatever the critics say.

Enter the clowns

So Malcolm ‘Mugabe‘ Turnbull is in trouble, and the brightest lights of the Liberal Party have stepped up to bring down the tyrant. Or maybe not:

Illustration: David Rowe -

Illustration: David Rowe -

Former high-profile Howard government minister Kevin Andrews has confirmed he is prepared to challenge Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership of the federal opposition.”There is growing concern in the electorate that this is going to be a massive tax by Mr Rudd which we will be paying for, not just for years, but for decades to come,” he said.

“There has been no economic debate about the real impact of this on Australians.”Meanwhile, prominent Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott says he wants Mr Turnbull to remain Opposition Leader and that he won’t challenge him for the leadership.

“No, I won’t be challenging for the leadership,” Mr Abbott told the Nine Network.

It’s possible to see Andrew’s claim as a noble act. After all no one in the party wants to sacrifice their best candidates like Abbott and Hockey for what is a guaranteed electoral loss next year (Given that no one is allowed more than one election loss anymore, despite its historical absurdity). So Andrews could be a useful caretaker leader to try and limit the losses, esp to the more capable members left.

Thats perhaps the nicest spin you could put on it, more likely its pure vanity. Andrews might know he can’t be PM, but at a cost of major disunity to his party he is clearly willing to take on the job of opposition leader. Quite a stark comparison to Costello who wouldn’t challenge to be PM, Andrews is willing to challenge to never be PM, but I guess it helps his biography writers find something to talk about. Even Banaby Joyce at the Senator doorstops the moment wasn’t willing to say anything nice about Andrews, so no one is really taking him seriously.

Andrews would be an awful leader, having neither the respect of his colleagues or opponents, and he has a very poor image in the public if known at all. More likely people recall him as the one who has xenophobic views about Sudanese refugees

Andrews was also the minister for Workplace Relations, making him along with Howard a direct author of WorkChoices. So while the Labor party drooled at the thought of pinning Workchoices on Costello as treasurer who introduced it, Andrews would be a golden target to re-run the workchoices campaign. And with Andrews far less able to defend it than Howard was, which was why Howard took away responsibility in early 2007 and handed it to Joe Hockey.

I doubt we will see a spill on Thursday, however Turnbull’s leadership is clearly terminal. Abbott and Hockey are going to stay out of the fight, so he may well survive until the new year, but if Andrews, Tuckey and Jensen can add about 5 more members to their numbers in open rebellion, then he won’t be able to ignore them for too long. (The media will make sure of that!). Still if we discount the ‘elder taking the blows to protect the young’ thesis for Andrews run, this must be seen as one of the most vain and hubristic claims of any politicians in a long time.

One final point about yesterday’s entertainment, twitter really came into it’s own for me during these events. I had to carefully cull my list, but when it was just journalists on the ground who were tweeting, it was the closest thing to being there possible. I’m used to having journalistic friends send me txt’s about what’s going on, but twitter let me and millions others have access to the best people on the ground in just about every situation. So if one person was out for dinner or in a different area, others picked up the slack to ensure total coverage. Congratulations to Annabel Crabb, David Speers, Samantha Maiden, Latika Bourke, James Massola and others for having provided such great reporting during the days events. It’s not yet a substitute for considered reporting, and indulges some of the worst of the 24 hour news cycle, but for those of us stuck on the glass outside trying to peer in, its astounding.

Update: Turnbull called a vote on a spill, allowed a secret ballot, and won 48-35. In an interview immediately after, Joe Hockey said that the votes today were the same as yesterday. A statement he repeated twice.

That is, everyone who opposed the ETS, supported the idea of a leadership spill. So clearly the idea of loyalty to the leader wasn’t worth a single vote. Enter the summer of discontent for the Liberals. Just a matter of time until Hockey, Robb and Abbott decide to run, of which Robb seems most likely.

And thankfully that is as close as Kevin Andrews will ever get to being the leader of the country.

Memo to Turnbull: Politics has its own skill set.

As I type, Malcolm Turnbull is probably sinking back into his office chair after just about the worst day of his leadership. Todays meeting was supposed to go for 4 hours, and sources expected he would get 2/3rds support. Instead it went on for about 10 hours, and he has gotten just half, if not having a majority oppose him in the party room. He has emerged battered and bruised, but at least has a deal. As he was at pains to remind everyone he is still the leader, but does he actually know how to practice politics?

Despite the fact that Turnbull has held the superior hand (the science, the polls, even Govt support) he has been consistently out maneuvered on this issue. He is being out played, if he does escape beyond this week it will have more to do with others lack of interest in his job(for the time being), than a sign of capability. (Word is that Tuckey and Jensen have written to ask for a leadership spill on Thursday morning) So why is it that a man who could outwit the intelligence services before the High Court, take on the Packers and Fairfaxes in the Business world, has crumbled before former real estate agents like Barnaby Joyce and cardigan wearing mofos like Minchin? Indeed only his decision to simply declare the discussion over tonight around 8pm has left him with any credibility, and seems his best move of the entire day.

The press like to think leadership is a beauty contest, with them able to define beauty, and the polls just the public endorsing their narrative. But it’s also about brains and using the system. To lead you need not be older, wealthier, more capable, more sucessful or even better looking, you only need to be able to consistently out politik your opponents.

Howard was a great politician not just because he could be populist and give the media/people what they want, but he also used the rules and settings to his advantage. In the republican convention he set up a fight between direct and indirect electionists to ensure the referendum failed. In 2007 whilst on the nose with the polls, media and colleague, having set up Downer to see if he should quit (the infamous APEC hotel meeting) he then turned and demanded that if he was to go they would have to force him. Though a majority were against him, he knew this would be too hard and he kept his job.

Obama is another one you see who understands the need for rat cunning as the basis of leadership. He won his first Illinois legislature seat by having voting registrations for his opponents tossed out, allowing him to be elected unopposed. It might jar with his rhetoric of hope, but his skills are the best hope progressives have for real change.

The ethics of this form of hardball are always of course debatable though hardball politics needn’t be wrong. More importantly however is that to do it you first need to be able to see it, imagine it. To be able to read the lay of the land, the personalities and circumstances and politik your way into a superior position.

What does this have to do with Turnbull ? Well, constantly we have seen him be out thought and out manouvered by his own party members, who are in many ways still playing soft on him. He faces an opponent in Rudd who knows very well how to play such politics, and there is no way he should be allowed to represent Australia to the world, facing the elite of the Chinese, Americans, or Indonesians if he can’t out think those around him in far easier domestic circumstances. We know he branch stacked like crazy to win his seat in Wentworth, but it must now be doubted how much of that was his own effort.

All this points to the fact that while we decry the lack of plumber/teacher/cafe owner turned politician, politics itself is a profession. It needs to be learnt, it needs to be experienced, it has its own norms, skill sets and oddities that have to become second nature if you are to obtain and weild power. If you cant, then you are just wasting everyones time.

This is why I’m not that concerned about the number of politicians who have never done anything else, and why though I like Turnbull, he has seemed headed for a humiliating defeat ever since thinking about running for the leadership. When Costello baulked on election night Turnbull began challenging for the job, finally rolling Nelson, all for the thankless task of being leader during a first term opposition. Since then, despite numerous government mistakes (groceries, nbn, school stimulus, debt, asylum seekers, utegate, cprs) Turnbull has failed to land a solid punch. All the pain for Rudd has been either self or media inflicted.

Politics is a skill that needs to be learnt, and Turnbull is proving the classic case of a man who didn’t respect this. Like many, esp from the business world he simply presumed that skill in other areas directly translates, or that sheer force of personality will get you through. He is clearly a brilliant man, but political skill has never been about just sheer intelligence, but out thinking those around you and using the circumstances to leverage the best outcome for yourself/your position. Turnbull’s learnt a lot very quickly, but it is not quick enough if he wants to remain.

That could mean he has only 36 hours to find a new way to control his party. It saddens me to say it, but I think it would be best he lost the vote (if it occurs). If he sticks around he could take some time to lick his wounds and re-run in 2012 for the leadership. If not, then best to go out now rather than leading to an election debacle. Its not a fun club to have been leader without ever going to an election (think Crean, Downer), but right now, Nelson seems the smarter (and happier) politician than Turnbull.

Get your hand off it!

From a puff piece on the British Princes William and Harry:

Our next GG? Tell 'im he's dreaming...

Our next GG? Tell 'im he's dreaming...

When Prince William leaves the RAF he will go on secondment to Parliament, probably in the Speaker’s Office….He will also work in one of the Inns of Court alongside barristers, prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges…
There is the possibility of a diplomatic posting such as Governor-General of Australia or Canada for either of the princes.Their father was linked to the Canberra post in the 1970s. There would be advantages to a posting in Australia where Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, is an avowed republican.
It is one reason why Prince William is representing the monarch for the first time overseas next year in New Zealand and Australia, the most far flung parts of her realm.
But diplomatic baubles are not in the gift of Clarence House.
“They are a matter for the Australian and Canadian governments. It would not be appropriate for the Royal family to say Prince William or Prince Harry is up for the job,” an adviser said.
“However, if they were to offer it would be given very serious consideration.”

Well I’m glad they would deign to consider being head of our country!

The piece is a republish from a London Telegraph article, which explains it somewhat as no Australian journalist could write such a stupid claim. Still it is a useful reminded that so long as we remain a constitutional monarchy, others around the world based on birth alone will consider themselves eligible leaders with direct involvement in our political system (the Queen may have disavowed any role, but the Governor-General is still significant).

Those who voted against the republic and continue to insist the status-quo is better, are directly supporting the idea that our head of state should be a mere plaything for bored young men while they wait for grandma and dad to pass on.

It won’t happen, but it should never be possible either. This country has never supported hereditary entitlement for titles and public service roles, we are very cautious about dynasties, and absolutely demand personal merit in character and capability as the requirements for a position, lineage be damned. What an insulting thing to read.

Light posting today, like everyone else i’ve been watching the Liberals self-implode on the ETS and quietly hoping for a leadership spill (Unlikely, my guess is passes Thursday @ 2am, with 10 or so liberal senators voting no, & Turnbull’s leadership limping on)

Email Change

Just a quick housekeeping update: I can now be reached on I thought a email relevant to the site was a better fit for the continued email correspondence. For any comments on my site, please feel free to email me, or post in the comments below.


This can’t be right?

A wire service report from earlier today

Protesters blockade Parliament House
From: AAP November 23, 2009 12:34PM
CLIMATE change protesters have blockaded Parliament House in Canberra.

Security guards have shut the front entrance of the parliament and about a dozen police are at the scene.

Police are blocking the media from speaking with the 200 protesters who are a mix of the elderly, teenagers and mums and dads.

The demonstrators, in a statement, said they came from across Australia and are calling on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to secure a strong, legally binding treaty at the upcoming UN Copenhagen negotiations.

The Sydney Morning Herald is running the same story. I’ll update the post if the story changes, early reports can be wrong or simply mis-communications.

Obviously the right to protest doesn’t extend to blockades of the parliament, but surely the police can’t stop the media talking to the people. While its not too hard to have a protest at Parliament House (I’ve helped with one against the Net Filter), I’ve heard of several groups having issues with the police around parliament house, from the home birth mums to the crestfallen Republicans. Nothing major, but given the importance and specific design of the lawn across the road from Parliament, it would be a great loss if in the name of security or simply overzealousness we lost our freedom to protest outside our parliaments, as seems to have already happened in Tasmania with the arrest of Peter Cundall.

Update: If anything the media has re-enforced the story:

The Australian: “Police have formed a human barricade and are taking protesters out of the sight of the media. The Australian Federal Police have at least one video cameraman filming the protest. In Britain, police have used similar methods to gather intelligence on many left wing organisations.” “Police dragged remaining protesters to an area under parliament, out of sight of reporters and photographers. An Australian Federal Police cameraman filmed the demonstrators. Some police officers involved were not wearing either name tags or identification numbers. One officer, when asked, said his was on his jacket which he had taken off.”

Obviously the decision to race the doors is unacceptable, and I think the police right to break up such a protest as soon as possible. What’s less forgivable is the effort to censor the protesters from the media, and prevent legitimate coverage of the event. No security risk was presented through the media interviewing such people, it was just damage control in the name of their bosses. That’s not a good enough excuse for curtailing freedom of speech and of the press in this country.

The financial benefits of a R18+ rating for games

This is our culture and our economy:

CALL of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has racked up more record sales of $US550 million ($593 million) in its first five days, but the publisher Activision Blizzard is still concerned about weak consumer spending.
The game, a first-person-shooter that lets gamers play as elite soldiers hunting down targets from South America to Afghanistan, beat the record set by last year’s blockbuster Grand Theft Auto IV in its first week.
Last week it said it sold 4.7 million copies for a total of $US310 million ($333.3 million) on its first day in the US and UK alone.
Activision said five-day sales for Modern Warfare 2 topped the $US394 million ($423.6 million) earned at the box office by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in its first five days.
The video game bested Batman film The Dark Knight, which had held the record for the top opening weekend ever by taking in $US158.4 million ($170.3 million) in July 2008.

There is always a lag between capitalism and culture, though inevitably the dollar wins through. However it takes some time for societies to integrate in and accept certain cultural artifacts, regardless of sales. The rise of evangelical literature/music/films (such as the Left Behind series) is one example, another that suffers is video games. While you will see the occasional article in the papers about them, their coverage pales into comparison compared to films, despite computer games being a bigger industry for films, both in Australia and world wide. Indeed according to the Canberra Times (p6 Monday Nov 23 2009) this morning (no online copy) most Australian’s are gamers:

Computer games are set to be an bigger part of Christmas entertainment than ever this year, with strong growth for an industry now worth $2 billion in Australia….“The average age of the gamer in Australia is 30 and another key figure is that almost half (46%) the gamers in Australia are actually female”… Dr Jeffery Brand, the head of Bond University’s communications and media studies school, said most Australian homes had a game device.
“We have roughly seven out of 10 Australian’s playing computer games at some point in the year” he said. “Most of those, the vast majority of that 70 per cent, are playing daily or every other day”.

All this makes it even stranger then that in Australia, we do not have an R18+ rating for computer games. The Federal Classifications ACT was set in 1995, a lifetime ago in the industries view, with only limited consultation since. The biggest hold up it seems is the gentleman’s agreement that Australia has uniform laws on censorship via COAG. Despite the fact that this isn’t the case in videos (The ACT sells X rated videos, whilst other states have banned them), the convention has given South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson an effective veto power over such a large industry. In the last year some of the biggest computer games released including Fallout 3, GTA IV and Left 4 Dead 2 have all been refused classification (ie banned) or major changes forced on the overseas producers. That means lost sales, as people either dont buy, buy overseas, or simply pirate the game. When such contempt for the laws is commonplace, it is the laws that must change.

Yet these loses pale in comparison to the loss and harm the restrictions place on the development of a local Australian computer games industry, one in which Australia has some key niche advantages. The industry requires highly trained professionals which we produce in droves, it is an industry that depends on quality not quantity (meaning it can’t be outsourced to asian factory workers) and it is green and high paying business, returning nice tax benefits to the country. Yet both the Howard and now Rudd governments have ignored the industry, much as they have almost all high-tech industries. Australian governments it seems consider it a core business of theirs to spend billions of tax payer dollars to protect already dead industries (parts of our manafacturing and agricultural fields for instance) whilst not only ignoring but hampering the rise of new industries that seem well suited to our demographics and skills. The loss could already be measured in the billions (I know of 2 ACT games manufacturers that have closed and gone offshore in the last few years) and with video games set to grow, will be worth tens of billions in years to come.

From my reading of the Classification ACT’s it seems it would only require a change in the Federal law, and the compliance of one state or territory for video games to be classified at a R18+ rating by the OFLC and sold only in those states or territories that changed their law to accommodate it. (If there’s something I’m overlooking in my reading of the act, please email me or post a correction below.) For the loss of uniform laws on the issue, each state and territory could choose to encourage or restrict the industry in their territory. South Australian voters could continue to ban the sale of R18+ games, whilst those in the ACT or Victoria allow it. This would be competitive federalism at its best, something the constitution writers were very keen to encourage.

The potential sales revenue for any state which was the first to move would be immense. They would become the only port of call for the sale of these games, dramatically reducing overseas sales of games, and likely enticing video game production companies to consider moving their business to those cities in order to be able to freely develop their products. That reassurance would be a big boost for an industry that thanks to increasing photo-realistic graphics is having to continually re-account for why its material is classifiable as only MA 15+. What was assured of passing 5 years ago, might not today, without any significantly different levels of gore, just a more natural depiction of it thanks to better technology. Equally potential games producers (which need be only a professional working from a home office developing a game for phones as much as the multi-million dollar blockbusters like Bioshock 2 (produced in Australia) could be enticed to start their own businesses once the laws are expanded and clarified.

Despite massive tax payer funded handouts, Australia has lost much of its manufacturing industry and some of its agricultural as well But in high tech and value adding areas, such as the original idea’s, design and marketing, Australian workers and companies are almost impossible to beat. I don’t know who coined the phrase (I suspect Paul Keating), but the claim Australia needs to become the brain to Asia’s brawn has always struck me as very good economic sense. By not having a R18+ rating we are not only continuing with laws that do not reflect community sentiment, but are actively denying Australia billions in lost revenue in both production and sales in what is is fast becoming the largest entertainment industry in the world. We simply can’t afford not to make the necessary changes and get Australia’s computer games industry into action.

Unhelpful cynicism

Over at The Stump Bernard Keane notes Turnbull is again accusing the PM of misleading parliament, this time over whether the 78 on the Oceanic Viking recieved preferential treatment. He then goes on to say what is probably common sense in the press and public:

Who cares anymore about misleading Parliament? Do voters care? Does anyone outside Parliament and the Press Gallery? Given the way in which Question Time has devolved into a cross between a particularly dire amateur theatre performance and your most boring Economics 1 lecturer’s greatest hits, does the whole supposed sanctity of telling the truth in Parliament mean anything any more?John Howard didn’t resign after being forced to admit he misled Parliament about his meetings with Dick Honan in 2002. That was an open-and-shut case of misleading Parliament, but hardly the grounds on which any Prime Minister should have had to end their career.

On the other hand, remove Parliamentary accountability and one of the critical bulwarks of accountable government is ostensibly lost. The right of Parliamentary privilege also surely is accompanied by the responsibility of truth-telling. And yet those notions look curiously old-fashioned in an era when the truth is only one available narrative, and not necessarily to be regarded as any more useful than others that may be available.

The point is, it should matter. Everyone recognises that the public are the true barometer of the PM holding their job, and it would probably do more harm than good for the PM to be forced out over such matters, whether Howard with Refugees and Businessmen or Rudd in 09 over well Businessmen and refugees. (Just what is it about those two topics?) But it should be a matter that draws parliamentary rebuke and it should be a matter of embarassment to the PM and all members of parliament to be caught out. Yet when Australia’s most scathing mainstream outlet Crikey, and indeed perhaps their most Alan-Ramsey-throwback journo Bernard Keane is willing to let the government off the hook, then how are we going to hold politicians to standard. Indeed its misplaced to ask ‘why arn’t the public outraged’ and see that as a sign, when in all likelyhood they don’t even know because the press largely hasn’t covered it.

The days are long gone from the Whitlam era, where even accidental misleading of parliament caused ministers to resign, taking the blame for mistakes of their department. During the Howard years it became a veritable competition for Ministers to see how many times they could mislead or shirk responsibility for their own departments and keep their seats, a history that hasn’t yet been fully accounted (Kelly for instance ignores it). Rudd is somewhat better, but if the press keep giving him a free pass then he’s only going to get worse.

Someone needs to switch Keane’s chai latte for some bitter black coffee and start poking him with a stick untill he gets back into form. He’s one of the nations best political writers when having a go at our politicians, but this is the sort of issue that shouldn’t just be given a free pass.

Twitter’s growing pains

I’ve blogged about twitter before, yet I still find it a valuable service to keep updated of the news, and give me a peak at what journalists & politicians are saying. Only it may not actually be them at the keyboard:

Turnbull sometimes does his own tweets

Turnbull sometimes does his own tweets

It took Barack Obama only 25 characters to shock most of his 2,677, 720 followers to the core. “I have never used Twitter” confessed the leader of the Free World, when pressed on new technology by Chinese students in Shanghai. But, hang on a minute. Wasn’t this the first Social Media Presidency? One of the very first Twitter accounts to be verified? And if Barack says he really is all thumbs, just who is it who is doing all his tweeting?

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull appeared at ease during the Sydney Media 140 conference in discussion with broadcaster Fran Kelly, leaning comfortably back in his chair. But little did he know that only a few days later, he would looking for a new social media advisor, after his chief on-line strategist, Thomas Tudehope, was revealed to be linked to a version of the popular spoof Hitler “Downfall” video lampooning besieged Liberal politician, Alex Hawke.

The admission that “Tommy Tudehope helps with a lot of it” [Turnbull’s tweeting] during the Media140 interview may well have contributed to the startling resignation. But I believe that what these events may reveal is a key danger of the burgeoning use of social media: politicians leaping on the bandwagon and the consequent use of new media tools for more complex political tricks.

To the twitterati, these revalations are a real outrage, and a slightly heartbreaking one at that. Social media has been seen as a way for direct, personal, unhindered contact between the elites and the masses. To find out it’s instead a staff member who is writing up the information seems to them to break the fundamental trust that they invest in the system. Yet whilst it’s unfortunate, it certainly isn’t surprising, at least no more than the use of speech writers or even media spokespeople. Politicians are immensely busy, their job is to both understand, decide and communicate on the issues of the day, and if they outsource the communication part occasionally, that’s not the worst sin in the world.

As a wanna-be speech writer, this has always been an issue that has interested me. Whilst the best remembered and usually most sucessful politicians are the best communicators (such as Lincoln, Churchill, Reagan, Obama), all used some assistance to cover the sheer workload and variety and forms of communications which they are expected to produce. This isn’t too different from sending out supporters or influential figures to help advocate for your case as happened in the ancient greek agora. Everyone would rather be personally visited by the politician and asked for their support, or hear their arguments and have a chance to respond in person, but it was impossible in a city of 30’000 active citizens, and simply laughable in a country of 21 million or 300 million or 1.6 billion.

We are thankfully emerging from the era of one to mass communication, with the decline of TV & Radio as the main communication sources. But we should not expect that the requirements of politicians are any less, even if we want no more than 140 characters out of them from time to time. To the good politician, such resources are simply another media outlet to be used in so far as they advance their cause. I know some federal politicians read this blog, along with their staffers, and taking a quick pulse check on what’s happening online may give them a heads up on issues the media may be looking at, or the way it is generally trending. But all this means more work, and more time spent hearing talk about themselves, and from competitors for the audiences attention.

The Twitterati are a smart bunch and will soon recover from this (in their hearts they probably knew it from the start). They may have lost the dream of reforming politics through their particular technology, but this happens every time a new technology is created. With its acceptance as a mundane addition the discussion can move to the truly important debates such as the social norms of it’s use, and the right and wrong ways to utilise it. Finaly it allows us to begin to measure its actual impact in real data, rather than against idealistic dreams of a new public sphere, dreams that have been floating around under the label of of E-Politics since at least the mid 1990’s if not in similar form for 2500 years.

Monarchist Misanthropes

Last week was 10 years since the failure of the Republican Referendum, an issue I’ve already blogged about. Of course supporters of a Republic arn’t the only ones using this anniversary to discuss the issue, so are the monarchists and misanthropes who are taking a chance to pile on. Here is Gregory Melleuish in The Australian:

If there is a key to what democracy is really about then it is the belief that the ordinary people possess a great deal of common sense and that generally they get things right. Howard expressed this idea with regard to the 1999 republican referendum.
Of course there are other views of democracy.
One is that the people are really not too bright, that they are amenable to manipulation and therefore cannot be trusted to make good decisions.
That is one republican interpretation of why that cause failed so badly in 1999.

This is one reason many republicans fear the idea that the people elect the president in an Australian republic; they are so stupid that they will make a bad choice.

Yet every time a matter that was once considered to be an issue for democracy or politics is handed over to a group of experts it would be true to say that an elite has triumphed over the people. There may be many among those elites who prefer something like Plato’s expert-dominated republic to the messiness of democracy.It is up to the rest of us to ensure that matters of public importance are not appropriated by expert elites and their politics.

This would be one thing if the argument was coming from a Direct Electionist republican. It would indeed be an increase in democracy if we moved to a directly elected presidency. But it is a fundamentally dishonest and ugly slur to come from a supporter of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. (As an aide if anybody “fear’s” the idea of a direct election it is the supporters of hereditary monarchy. But I don’t quite think that is who he means to attack.)

The current system of choosing our Head of State is the definition of elite control. The GG is chosen entirely at the discretion of one man, the Prime Minister, and has been effectively since federation. The Republican model in 1999 was for a two-thirds majority of the parliament to choose the GG/president. That is, even the limited model applied would have substantially increased public control over the process. Note as well how Melleuish uses verbs like ‘handed over’ as if the current system was not already the most undemocratic of the three possible options, (1-Status Quo with PM choice, 2-Republic with 2/3 Parliament choice, 3-Direct election choice).

But this aside, the far worse slur is Melleuish’s charge that Republicans who favour a minimalist change think that “the people are really not too bright…so stupid …cannot be trusted to make good decisions….[and want] something like Plato’s expert-dominated republic“. That is, despite posing a more democratic model Melleuish manages to charge Republicans (and he never mentions or differentiates minimalist with direct electionists) with a desire for an authoritarian society. Melleuish also clearly expects most people havn’t read their Plato and so don’t recognise the true totalitarian slur in invoking him, rather just a vague ‘philosopher kings’ idea. Still you have to admire the balls of someone who plays on public ignorance of a 2300 year dead philosopher as a way of calling his opponents elitist.

Melleuish’s representation of why the Australian Republican Movement and most well known republicans favour a minimalist model is a flat out lie and he knows it (as do the editors of The Australian who approved this ugly piece). Rather than thinking the people stupid or preferring elite control, minimalist republicans rather are making the most conservative argument possible: to retain a political system that works, whilst making formal what occurs in practice and sentiment.

A directly elected President will inevitably come to challenge the Prime Minister for control, and though having no constitutional decided power (and limits) will seek to change the fundamental way Australia’s democracy works. Even if the first few presidents are Steve Waugh and Cathy Freeman, they will eventually come to choose issues to disagree with the PM on, such as Immigration or Climate Change. Soon however, our political parties will begin choosing preferred celebrities, or community and business figures for the position who will follow the party line. Quickly it will become simply another two-party election, only for a constitutionally undefined role, in a way completely rejected by our Federating fathers, and inserted in spite of the historic success and stability of Australia as a democracy in the modern world.

How do I know we shouldn’t tinker with the system too much? Well because Melleuish tells us so:

“We should seek to preserve as many of those checks and balances as possible in our system of government. Democracy and efficiency are fine words but too often in practice they mean riding roughshod over the concerns of those who do not share the majority strikes me that ‘muddling through’ are good words for a Constitutional Monarchist to use. We have inherited a system of government that has evolved out of the British Constitution and that like the British Constitution seeks to combine liberty and power. We need strong government and we need to be free. We need responsible government combined with federalism and a system of checks and balances. That means avoiding extremes, it means keeping to the ‘golden mean’. It may mean at times muddling through rather than adopting radical means that appear to be superficially attractive but in the end have as their major consequence the destruction of the balance of our Constitution.”
– Taken from the home of Australian’s for a Constitutional Monarchy posted in 2003

In 2003 Melleuish rightly argued that the direct electionists were wrong to advocate such a big change. In 2009 however he is mis-using their arguments to push a vague ‘democracy vs the elites’ thesis as a way of smearing the minimalist model republicans. He clearly doesn’t believe what he is saying, (and nor likely do his readers), but they are all willing to put that aside to convince themselves of the fiction that they are standing with the people against the elites. Even whilst backing a hereditary, one person controlled system that is the least democratic of all three options available.

I own and have read Melleuish’s collected writings. In it, he is a good academic, very well read, and sensible with some good insights. The man who appears in these kind of opinion articles for The Australian is however unrecognizable to that author.