Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for June 2010

First PublishedThe Chronicle 22 June  

This week I felt like death and found it difficult to think of a subject for this week’s column. Although it is easy to write about politicians the fact is, I doubt my adding to the reams of rubbish already written about them (and I’m to blame for writing some of it) would be of any great benefit either to readers or voters.

Occasionally, however, readers/voters take an interest in politicians, particularly those who, with what seems deep sincerity, say they are telling the truth. This is because telling the truth is a habit that seems unfamiliar to many politicians. Fortunately for politicians, voters are optimists even if lack of truth leads some of them with the feeling that being compelled to vote is unfortunate. On the other hand it might comfort to them to know that voting is not compulsory. But what is compulsory is not showing up at a polling station and being marked off the electoral role. However, once marked off, whether or not they vote is up to them.

That apart, even if voting was compulsory, it could be argued that first past the post voting is preferable to being forced to cast a vote for people you cannot respect, a practice common in less than democratic countries. It could be argued also, that being forced to vote for people we think dishonest seems contrary to Australia’s claim of being an exemplar of a liberal democracy, particularly when such compulsion results in election to Parliament of people more criminally minded than community minded.

I am not being cynical Sadly, it has to be said that, over recent months, and years, many criminal and corrupt politicians have left voters scandalised when their criminality and corruption was exposed for all to see. 

Not that criminally corrupt politicians are particular to Australia: indeed, one would be hard put to find any country, whether a democracy or a country ruled by an individual dictator or a dictatorship of the proletariat, that did not have corrupt politicians. In the ACT we should count ourselves fortunate and take comfort from the fact that, as yet, the Assembly remains untainted: long may it stay that way.

Let me now move from talking about politicians to something more important: death – my own in particular. Let me make it clear that I have no intention of shuffling off this mortal coil any time soon, unless an angry reader takes exception to something I’ve written and thinks it would benefit Canberra and readers of The Chronicle if they despatched me to eternity, whatever that might be.

Much as I enjoy life however, as I grow older I find the fight against death tougher than any fight about politicians. What helps make it tougher is the plethora of television adverts spruiking to older people the value of insuring against being interred either in a pauper’s grave or visiting the cost of their despatch to eternity on their nearest and dearest. 

The adverts I’m talking about are those with unctuous phrases, designed to make older people rush to take out insurance, because they infer that not leaving enough money for grieving relatives to despatch you in the fashion they think suitable is almost an act of bastardry. More annoyingly, these adverts imply you should be thinking about death even when you’re only fifty years old.

Such codswallop is hard to take. With life span increasing daily, fifty is a young age. People are getting married later in life and women are also bearing children later in life. That apart, it seems to me that not only might this kind of advertising cause more vulnerable older people to focus on death rather than on life but also make them think that paying in anticipation of death is more important than spending their money enjoying life.       

So let me say to people approaching fifty that while fifty is older, it is not old. Indeed Boadicea and I celebrated fifty years of married life earlier this year and on the basis of family longevity, plus the fact that medical care is already prolonging life we both expect to live for a long time yet.

So put death off. Keep enjoying life.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday 


 First published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 14 June 

Although the time has not yet come to get serious about the people we should elect or re-elect to govern the ACT, the political oracles think the day isn’t far awaywhen we should start to get serious about who we want to govern the nation. However, guided by past experience and because the alleged inside knowledge of the oracles has not seemed to invest them with the ability to prophecy with any degree of accuracy as to which individuals or party should be elected, people might be wise to look for answers elsewhere.

Based on my personal philosophy of not asking others to do what you’re not prepared to do yourself, I took my own advice and set off in search of answers. What did I find? I found almost as many answers as there are fleas on a mangy dog and too many for me to include in this column. But not to leave you guessing, here is a selection.

Answer 1. Consult a gypsy with a crystal ball. Answer 2. Find someone who follows the system some of our ancient forebears once thought infallible: read the entrails of chickens. Answer 3. Ask a Druid Priest. Answer 4. Find someone who knows how to cast rune stones.

If you do not find these suggestions satisfactory you might wish to adopt Answer 5, a practice increasingly popular today: write the names of candidates on a piece of paper, then take a pin and with eyes closed move the pin up and down over the names. When your inner sense says stop, the name over which the pin has stopped is your choice. I am given to understand this system is commonly used for picking winners of horse races. If that is so, perhaps this makes it an appropriate system for picking winners of political races.

However, if you decide to use System 1, if the gypsy’s crystal ball is scratched or chipped the image of the person the gypsy thinks you should vote for could be so distorted and inaccurate that instead of voting Liberal, you could end up voting for the candidate representing the Pro Nudist Party whose sole policy is: Bare everything to the voters!

On the other hand if you choose System 2, to avoid a contaminated prophecy make sure the entrails come from a freshly killed chicken. Failure to do this might mean that instead of voting Labor the entrails might suggest you should vote for the Anti Nudity candidate whose sole policy is: Keep everything covered up!

And though consulting a Druid Priest had been suggested to me, because I didn’t meet any during my search made it obvious that trying to find one would be difficult. On the other hand I did meet a lot of people who spent their time casting inscribed stones. Unfortunately the inscriptions on the stones were not written in the Runic alphabet but in English of the kind that the only result the users would get would be a charge for either defamation or obscenity. That apart, no matter which system they chose the risk of prophesying wrongly is high.   

Although the oracles say the election is not far away, people shouldn’t rush to make a decision about how they should vote. They would be wise to remember the adage: marry in haste: repent at leisure. Indeed going on recent polls I think many who voted to elect the present government are now in a state of political repentance.

This also seems to confirm what I found out during my search for answers that peoples’ cynicism about the major parties Labor, Liberal and the Greens – who also claim major party status – is at a very high level. To put it bluntly: few believe any of them.

People are cynical also because they are fed up hearing parties blaming each other for lack of progress in curing the problems of affordable housing, homelessness, mental health, obesity and poverty et al. But perhaps the most bitingly cynical comment was that those who want to become politicians do it to feed their egos. Worse, if elected, quickly they become exemplars of the ‘I’m alright Jack’ school of politicians.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday

Emilio Mola Vidal a nationalist general in the Spanish Civil War coined the phrase fifth column as his army of four columns moved to capture Madrid. Vidal said he had a fifth column inside Madrid who would help him when he got there and in doing so established that a fifth column was a group of subversive but sympathetic agents intent on undermining the authority of a nation’s governing power.  

There have been some famous fifth columnists since the Spanish Civil War; the IRA had many. The USSR and Iraq had many whose subversive exploits enjoyed mixed success. Whilst true that war has always bred fifth columnists, they also exist in political parties, large businesses and religious organisations.

In Australia, no doubt some fifth columnists are active within these groups. One can only hope their activities are motivated by an abhorrence of the lies made by leaders whose main objective of maintaining power contributes to the poverty of society. 

My personal view is that we don’t have enough fifth columnists. Occasionally, and with the tacit support of colleagues some people have been brave enough to face the consequences of being whistleblowers. As it turned out, they needed to be brave because when the time came for that support to be voiced, suddenly their colleagues were struck dumb.

The following is an edited version of the column “Homeless Ambassadors” published in The Chronicle, 17 July 2009 

In July 2009, 220 Sydney CEOs did a “sleep out” for one night in Luna Park to help the St Vincent De Paul Society (Vinnies) raise money for the homeless. Reports say they raised $500,000 and spent an uncomfortable night although how uncomfortable can only be guessed at, considering each had a sleeping bag and a large piece of cardboard with which to cover themselves, plus tea, coffee and soup to help keep discomfort at bay.

By all accounts they also had mobile phones and transistor radios etc. Some said that although their one night – stand wasn’t a hard lesson, it was tough. A question: if the sleep out wasn’t hard how could it be tough? Let me also paraphrase Dick Smith, one of the CEOs involved who said: …if times aren’t good and many people have to live in the streets, I think it’s important we understand that.

I put these and the comments of other participants in a Chronicle column “Homeless Ambassadors” and challenged Canberra CEOs to do the same.  Some took up that challenge on 17 June 2010. Without wishing to diminish the value of their generosity I wonder if a one night lie down in the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Gallery will create that understanding? If it does, one hopes the participants will fraternise with the homeless and give them a home for month and also a job to help prevent their continuing homelessness.

Although well intentioned I think a sleep out would also have been more effective had it lasted for a week during which the participants were denied personal hygiene facilities – a piece of soap and toothbrush excepted. They should also have been left in different suburbs without sleeping bag, money, food, mobile, or any means of contacting family or friends? Had that been the case I think they would have acquired a better understanding of what tough means and how tough it is to be homeless.

Canberra having fewer homeless than Sydney is not something to be proud about: it should have none. An affluent city the Capital is also generous to people in need when required to be. But homelessness and its causes are special and need special treatment.

That said, I’d like to suggest also that Canberra CEOs and some MLAs, help finance and train a corps of homeless people, male and female, to become Ambassadors for Human Dignity.

Perhaps these Ambassadors, who have walked the walk and can talk the talk about homelessness better than anyone else, can also be given regular spots in the press, radio and TV, to say what it really means.

First published in The Chronicle, Tuesday 9 June

I would be surprised if readers don’t know what a Chameleon is. In case they don’t, Chameleons are a distinctive and highly specialized class of lizards distinguished by: parrot-like zygodactylous feet ie. two feet point forward and two point backword; separately mobile and stereoscopic eyes; a very long, highly modified, and rapidly extrudable tongue; a swaying gait; a prehensile tail (possessed by most but not all);  crests or horns on their distinctively shaped heads; and in some cases the ability to change color.

If you’ve lived in Canberra for a long time and because familiarity breeds contempt, perhaps you don’t recognise members of a sub species known as Lizardus Politicus which, although short of some of the above features, has the capacity to change colour. 

In Canberra, the most prolific of this sub species is the red necked Labor Lizard; the next most prolific the blue tailed Liberal Lizard; and the next and even less prolific, the Green Eyed Lizard. But a number of smaller groups also exist. However, at the end of the three or four years breeding cycle of the Lizardus Politicus the number of members in some smaller groups has been known to increase to the extent that often they swamp the larger groups.

The ability of the Lizardus Politicus to change colour is also well known although some seem to get stuck half way. A recent example of this phenomenon is blue tailed Liberal Lizard, Malcolm Fraser, long praised as a prime example of the species,who now seems to be stuck half way to beccoming a red necked Labor Lizard. 

 Not that he would be the first Lizardus Politicus to change colour. Don Chipp a former prominent blue tailed lizard changed colour to become a yellow legged Democrat Lizard. Earlier, Joe Lyons a red necked Labor Lizard, became a blue tailed Liberal Lizard. I suspect also, that many political lizards wish they were a different colour.

Following the change, the yellow legged Democrat lizard seemed to thrive in the political environment but unfortunately a change in the environment helped stifle the birth rate of this new coloured lizard and as a result the species declined. To day, except in a few isolated parts of the country, the yellow legged Democrat lizard is fighting for its survival.

Although one might hope that for the sake of political diversity this lizard will survive, sadly but realistically, its future looks bleak. At the same time, due to rapid changes taking place in the world’s political environments, I think even the red necked Labor, blue tailed Liberal and Green eyed Lizards will also become extinct.      

I say this because if one takes a stroll down the main street of political history you will see what I mean. You will see that, for centuries, political environments in the West have been in a state of permanent change and that many species of political lizards have come and gone.

 Indeed one needs look no further than Australia. Since 2001 Australia’s political environment has become littered with the remains of political lizards, some prominent some not, who changed colour. Some changed colour on what they said was a matter of principle even though many people found it dificult to know which particular principle they were talking about.

Which brings me to the present. Although Malcolm Fraser has not yet indicated that he will become a red necked Lizard, our alleged political insiders think he has made the change already. Wheher or not he has, I doubt it makes much difference to those who seem destined to become the political lizards of tomorrow. As for me: I don’t care.

 Over the past few weeks I have also heard rednecked, blue tailed and even some green eyed lizards talk of Malcolm Fraser as a man who possessed all the virtues of a great man, strong compassionate, just. However, my enduring memory of Malcolm Fraser is his tears when he lost the election in 1983.

He cried, it seems to me, not for others but because he hated losing power. On the other hand people might see his flood of tears as better than the flood of words they’ll get from the current Prime Minister when he loses power.

Published The Chronicle, Canberra. Tuesday 1 June 

Do you think there’s anything wrong with the following advert?  ‘Retired couple wanted to look after large country home while owners abroad. Small salary payable. Married quarters available.’ Well, if you think there’s nothing wrong with it not only would you be wrong, it is likely that any media which published or broadcast it could expect trouble.

Fortunately as Boadicea and I do not own and are unlikely to own a large county house, we will never need to advertise for caretakers when we go on holiday. Unfortunately owners of Canberra’s Super Big MacMansions (SBMs) are not in the same boat.

Being concerned about the SBMs I would advise them that before boarding yacht or plane and heading to the sun soaked island paradise in the Pacific, Caribbean or Aegean where they intend to relax in a beachside shack built of driftwood they should be careful how they phrase the ads they intend to use seeking people to caretake the SBM.

I would further advise checking with their lawyers just to make sure their advert is not in breach of any discrimination laws. No doubt their lawyers will advise that using an advert like the one outlined in the opening paragraph is to be avoided.

Why shouldn’t they use a similar to that in the first paragraph? Australia’s Age Discrimination Act 2004, aims to ensure that ‘all Australians – young and old – and everyone in between are treated equally and have the same opportunities as others.’ (I admit to having problems with this wording in the Act because it suggests discrimination by citizenship). Shouldn’t the Act’s wording be: ‘all residents of Australia regardless of age and gender.’

The Act also says ‘the law protects people across Australia from discrimination on the basis of their age in different areas of public life, such as work, education and buying goods and services. Negative stereotypes often lie at the heart of age discrimination. That’s why an important part of our work is to help foster positive community attitudes towards young and older Australians.’

That said it seems to me that if the SBM’s owners used a similar advert, they would become a target for those people who abandoned common sense for political correctness and now see discrimination where none exists. For example, the SBM owners would be asked what they meant by “retired couple and what were the qualifications they used to make their decision as none were specified in the advert.

Although the 2004 Act is about age discrimination, if retired homosexual, lesbian or couples of other genders were turned down the SBM owners could also find themselves in court being asked as to why the former had been turned down and did the words ‘married quarters’ in the advert mean the position was open only to a married heterosexual couple.

 They might answer that based on their liberty to make choices the couples had been turned down based on strong, deeply held, religious convictions? Unfortunately the Act would seem to suggest they had neither liberty of choice nor the right to decide on the basis of their religious convictions.  

 It is always tempting to simply accept the law. The truth however, is that if a couple had been turned down because of their racial origins the owners of the SBM would rightly have been accused of bigotry. But this case is different. Would it be bigotry if the decision had been made because of religious faith?

If, as a matter of law, the court decided that the owner of the SBM was wrong to decide on the basis of religious belief, it seems to me the decision should be appealed. (Let me discourage those people who think my opinion is based on religious belief. It is not. The fact is: I am agnostic.) 

 That the decision should be appealed is based on the fact that time and again in history people with the courage of their convictions challenged the law and, to the benefit of society showed that parts of some laws were bad and needed changing.

Do you think the latter applies in this case? And do you think the latter also applies to that part of the Age Discrimination Act 2004 with which I found fault?

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