Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for September 2010

Published in Online Opinion 30 Sept this is an extended version of the article published in The Chronicle Canberra, Tuesday 28 September  

Notwithstanding that former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is again strutting the political stage, his unexpected political assassination must be subject to a post mortem. His assassins don’t want one because, unfortunately for them, a political post mortem is likely to shed light on a range of political health problems they don’t want brought to light.

Unlike Scarpetta’s criminal forensic skills, my political forensic skills are nil, so in tackling this post mortem I asked the following questions. Why did Kevin Rudd end on the slab of the political mortuary? Was it because his political killers thought him dictatorial, lacking in ideas and competence and thought they could do better? It will be of little consolation to him that because history is unkind to assassins when the history of assassination is written his assassins will not be treated any differently.

However, a brief background of the victim is useful when doing a political post mortem. So what of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? From the time he was sworn in as Australian Prime Minister on December 4, 2007, until June 24, 2010, he seemed happy and content.

But as time went by, some parliamentary colleagues became unhappy because if his and Labor’s standing in the polls continued to slide, particularly in Queensland and New South Wales, some feared they would suffer at the pending federal election as did their State colleague in Penrith when Liberal Stuart Ayres took the seat from Labor with a massive swing of 25.5 per cent.

Unfortunately politics breeds unhappiness in some practitioners, a situation that came to a head on June 24, 2010, when four of Rudd’s unhappy but ambitious colleagues, plus his deputy Julia Gillard, plotted to remove him as Prime Minister in an act reminiscent of mediaeval times.

The reason given for the assassination was that he had taken the government off track. One wouldn’t need to be a cynic to think this a poor excuse for grabbing power and not much different to what happens in democracies where, in their quest for power, leaders of political gangs assassinate elected leaders.

No doubt the assassins thought the people would flock to their banner. Unfortunately for them, the people quickly showed displeasure at their action. And, no matter how hard the gang tried to portray Kevin as leading Australia to disaster if he remained PM, the people didn’t believe them nor pay much heed to their complaint that he had been dictatorial.

That they had little to complain about became clear because, after Kevin’s assassination when in a case of the pot calling the kettle black, PM Gillard donned the Prime Ministerial mantle and displayed her own dictatorial style by changing Labor’s policy of no carbon tax without reference to her colleagues. And if only to emphasise her dictatorial style she announced, again without reference to her colleagues, her foolish idea of a Citizens Committee to discuss a carbon tax.

And just as the people didn’t flock to their banner, the assassination also exposed deep divisions within labor as reported by Michelle Grattan, the authoritative political editor of The Age on July 28: “Julia Gillard now appears to be the victim of a systematic attempt from within her own party to blow her campaign out of the water.”

At the same time, if the gang’s alleged intention was to take power and get government back on track, it has to be said that if it had been off track before, they managed to take it further off track. Under Gillard, the mistakes have mounted. A few examples: her off the cuff election speech that wasn’t off the cuff; the East Timor fiasco; and the cash for clunkers scheme (a big clunker in itself) and others.

The chain of events in this sad tale brought to mind the famous phrase attributed to Abraham Lincoln that, “Government is of the people for the people and by the people”. While those words might once have been true the situation has changed. Today, government is of politicians, for politicians, by politicians – a situation for which we, the people, are to blame because we allow politicians to persuade us that they follow the Lincoln dictum.

And so Australia went to an election. The result of that election showed that many people had deserted Labor and given support to the Coalition parties. At the same time, some put their trust in The Greens and some supported Independents, decisions that helped create a hung parliament and posed difficulties when determining which party, or parties, would gain government.

That it took 17 days to form government shows just how difficult the task was. Indeed we might still be without a government had not Oakeshott (I nearly wrote big shot) and Windsor, two of the five Independents – the others are Crook (a notional National), Katter and Wilkie – decided the bribes offered by Julia Gillard to support her as Prime Minister of a minority government were better than those offered by Tony Abbott leader of the Coalition parties. Let me add that if the bribes don’t get paid, almost certainly the people will go the polls before the minority government’s term expires.

Unfortunately, this will add to the perception that parliament is a Theatre of the Absurd. Readers familiar with the works of Samuel Beckett know that some critics think his Waiting for Godot is not only one of the Theatre of the Absurd’s most prominent works but also a play with a vast number of interpretations, much like the number of interpretations put on the future of the minority government by assorted political journalists.

Although Godot could be described as a drama, voters used to calling a spade a spade think the minority government a farce, because it showed how to gain “government by bribery” a view with which I have some sympathy. Take PM Gillard’s new ministry. With all of the assassins gaining a position I have heard it described as a ministry of the bribed.

For a final comment let me add, that on the basis of Kevin Rudd’s welcome overseas as Foreign Minister (some people say he acts like a PM waiting resurrection) PM Gillard might now regret appointing him to the post.

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

Firts published The Chronicle, Canberra 28 September, 2010

Notwithstanding that former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is strutting the world’s political stage, his unexpected political death at the hands of assassins needs a post mortem. His assassins don’t want one because a political post mortem would likely shed light on a range of political health problems they wouldn’’t want voters to know about.

Unlike Scarpetta’s criminal forensic skills, my political forensic skills are nil, so in tackling this post mortem I asked why did Kevin Rudd end up on the slab of the political mortuary? Was it because the assassins thought him dictatorial, lacking in ideas and competence and thought they could do better? Generally, history is unkind to assassins and I have no good reason to think history will treat Rudd’s assassins any differently although I am in no doubt that some political historians will try to show it in a good light. 

However, a brief background of the victim is useful when doing a political post mortem. So what of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? From when he was sworn in as Australian Prime Minister 4 December 2007 until the events of 24 June, 2010, he seemed happy and content as he had every reason to be as the most popular Prime Minister Australia ever had.

Unfortunately for him, some of his parliamentary colleagues were less than happy and as time went by, the unhappier they became although their unhappiness was not exhibited publicly. Indeed, in public they praised him with laudatory remarks that would have pleased Louis XIV the Sun King. Unfortunately for Mr Rudd he had no Cardinal Mazarin type figure guiding him.    

Even more unfortunately politics breeds unhappiness in some practitioners, a situation that came to a head on 24 June 2010 when a gang of unhappy and ambitious colleagues plotted an act reminiscent of Sun King times when ambitious knights assassinated leaders who stood in their way. The only difference in our allegedly more civilised society is that this assassination would be metaphorical not physical – even if the assassins hoped the effect would be the same.

Did Mr Rudd know of the plotting but, convinced he was invincible, did nothing about it so that when deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her gang of four presented him with an ultimatum that he give up his position in her favour, he was so shocked he agreed? On the other hand as a man trained in diplomacy perhaps he expected an ambush and so had planned a fall back position.

From later events I am inclined to extrapolate that this was the case and that his fall back position was that he would accept the assassins’ ultimatum that he stand down as Prime Minister if they accepted an ultimatum in return. His ultimatum: he would go quietly in return for the post of foreign minister should they win Government at the next election. They agreed. 

And so Australia, in a sense, became a democracy of the kind it decried: a democracy where, in their quest for power, leaders of political gangs depose elected leaders.

No doubt the assassins thought the people would flock to their banner? Unfortunately for them, the people quickly showed displeasure at their action and, no matter how hard the gang and its new leader tried to portray Australia as off track and heading for disaster if Mr Rudd remained PM, they didn’t believe them. And nor did they pay much heed to them saying he had been dictatorial. For many it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black!

At the same time, if the gang’s alleged intention was to take power and get Government back on track, it has to be said that if off track before it soon was well off track. In fact so many mistakes were made that to avoid the danger of being seen as incompetent new PM Julia Gillard called an election early, even though it was clear the people didn’t want one.

Julia Gillard won Government. However in light of the welcome Mr Rudd has received in his first safari as Foreign Minister (some people have described him as a PM awaiting resurrection) she might now be regretting his appointment.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best Community News. Published every Tuesday

First published The Chronicle Canberra, Tuesday 21 August, 2010 

Voters heaved a huge sigh of relief when a government emerged from the series of political gang fights, loosely disguised as an election, which had been brought on early by Labor Prime Minister Gillard, following the political assassination of her predecessor by a gang of her supporters.

Members of criminal gangs would probably take exception to my description because gang warfare seems less dangerous than politics due gang members seeming to know their enemies better than politicians know theirs. I suspect the politicians concerned would take exception also and say there are no gangs in politics.

This would come as no surprise because politicians do their utmost to disguise their gang membership by euphemistically describing themselves as members of factions. And lest you think otherwise, all political parties have factions. In fact a politician without a faction is rare.

No doubt you know of the famous phrase attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that Government is of the people for the people and by the people. A wonderful phrase if only it was true. The fact is: Lincoln got it wrong. Government is of politicians, for politicians, by politicians, a situation for which we, the people are to blame because we allow politicians to persuade us that they are trustworthy and follow the Lincoln dictum.

More unfortunately, the more we see of parliament the more it seems like a Theatre of the Absurd. Readers familiar with the works of playright Samuel Beckett know that some critics think his ‘Waiting for Godot, is not only one of the Theatre of the Absurd’s most prominent works but also a play with a vast number of interpretations, much like the number of interpretations put on the election result by assorted political journalists.

Although ‘Godot’ could be described as a drama, the forming of government after the election was more melodrama. At the same time however, some voters, used to calling a spade a spade, described it as a farce because it showed how to gain ‘Government by bribery’ a view with which I have some sympathy.

That said, it is almost a miracle that it only took seventeen days after the polls closed, to form a minority Government. Indeed we might still be without a Government had not Oakeshott and Windsor, two of the five elected Independents – the others are Crook, Katter and Wilkie –  decided the bribes offered by Julia Gillard to support her as Prime Minister were better than those offered by Abbott. However, if the bribes don’t get paid, then sure as night follows day, voters will again go to the polls before the government’s term expires. 

Let me now ask: did those voters who thought democracy meant electing party politicians or Independents on the basis of what they promised during their election campaigns get what they expected? Did they expect democracy to be restored to the state that existed before the deposing of former Prime Minister Rudd who, while not directly elected by the people at the 2007 election was, nonetheless, the person responsible for attracting most voters to the Labor party. Perhaps the fact that that he was no longer Prime Minister could have had much to do with the collapse of that party’s vote at this election.             

The fact too, that the former PM was given the job of Foreign Minister, the job he wanted, merely adds to the view held by many followers of politics, that this also was a bribe to try and ensure he didn’t rock the new government’s boat.

At the same time had they a need to add to the perception that this minority government was a government of bribery, a look at the new ministry would suffice. Let me put it as politely as I can: the four Labor gang members who deposed the former prime minister for the purpose of installing the current Prime Minister have been looked after, a situation that adds to the perception it was done to help her avoid the same fate as her predecesor.

 Finally. Why no Minister for Education in the new government? Is it because the Prime Minister wants to avoid any detailed scrutiny of her time as Education Minister and her education revolution? 

For the best community news get The Chronicle, published every Tuesday

 First published The Chronicle Canberra, Tuesday 14 September  

Prophets of doom regularly forecast that technology will kill off newspapers. Let me turn prophet and say in return that if these prophets are relying on making a living as doom forecasters they had better start searching for more likely corpses than newspapers. As they search they will join that long queue of doom prophets, some of recent vintage and some who still prophecy that the end of the world is nigh and some who have become corpses and passed into legend, for making prophecies even more curious than that about newspapers.

Today, of course, climate change has spawned greater numbers of doom prophets than a mangy dog’s got fleas; they are also greater in number than the doomsayers spawned by the Y2K bug. The fact is, from time immemorial doomsayers have been prophesying that mans’ actions spelled doom to the earth and man himself. Millenniums from now I suspect that doom prophets will still be making the same forecasts.  

Some of you might not agree with me but nonetheless it’s my belief that although some newspapers might not last, community newspapers like The Chronicle have a long future ahead of them.  However, while saying that it is clearly evident that technology is already revolutionising newspapers while at the same time recognising that in the past, just as revolutions caused death, they also initiated progress.

In the case of newspapers the progress I see is the expansion of the newspaper industry albeit in electronic form. Indeed scientists already are developing tablets with roll-up screens, which means that newspapers and magazines with a common page size, both broadsheet and tabloid, could be produced.

For example, instead of being a newspaper of say 40 pages that combines news, sport, science and business etc with supplements, the Canberra Times will have a number of online papers dedicated to particular subjects: Politics, Business, Environment, Science, Sports etc. People will pay a subscription for whichever sections they want with each paper supported by advertisers keen to target the paper’s particular market.     

I would suggest also that each newspaper would not be tied to a daily issue but a newspaper that would continually update news and events a format, I believe, that would lead to more work for journalists. And the fact that the content could be archived daily basis would also simplify the problem of research. I believe too, that such a format could lead to greater competition, better journalism, happier advertisers and happier readers and am in no doubt that it will also be possible for these papers to be produced is a style that makes it easy for people with disability to enjoy them.

Although these individual papers will cater for particular markets what they won’t do is cater for the general news that interests many in local communities who, not interested in the issues of the broadsheets or perhaps cannot afford the subscription, are interested in the same subjects at a local level. By cherry picking the broadsheets and adding local interest features and stories, community newspapers like The Chronicle, could not only remain free and online, they could become more influential than they are today. 

When this happens, as I am sure it will, one of the common complaints that free community newspapers face of having too much advertising will disappear. You might not agree with me but I think the complaint of too much advertising is a bit like complaining about the weather. Many people complain when there is an extended period of high temperatures then complain when an extended period of wet weather sets in. Like all of us, they would be happy if they could switch the weather on and off like an air conditioner. Well advertising is a much the same, it’s either too much or too little      

However, without advertising, how would people be made aware of special events and special prices at the local supermarket or shops? The fact is, like them or not, local newspapers such as The Chronicle are integral to informing people about their local community.

And that’s the reason, as I said earlier, that I think newspapers like The Chronicle will be around for along time yet.

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

Published The Chronicle, Tuesday 7 September, 2010

Strangely, IPCC scientists (and Lord Nicolas Stern) all of whom say that planet earth is doomed unless CO2 emissions are cut never seem to mention nuclear fusion. Perhaps they’re shy? If so, I’ll say it for them. 

The fact is, energy produced by nuclear fusion is not only limitless and waste free, it will also cut the use of fossil fuels to nil and make redundant the wave energy barrages, solar panels and power windmills currently polluting  the landscape. Geo-thermal power will still be used.

So why aren’t the doomsayers calling for development of fusion energy as a priority? Don’t they care that it will remove the need to use fossil fuel power in housing, hospitals, schools or in the manufacturing and mining industries? And don’t they want clean energy to power cars, trains, ships and planes and so help create the kind of environment they want?

Because demand for their products would be reduced, I can understand coal and oil companies not wishing fusion to become reality. And governments too, would view it with reluctance unless it became politically expedient to do otherwise, because they would lose the tax that the coal and oil industries provide.

At the same time, if coal and oil companies as well as governments really mean what they say when they talk about curbing CO2 they could demonstrate their sincerity by actively and publicly encouraging the accelerated development of fusion. Will they? Well that’s the $64,000 question.

Unless one believe in miracles, it is unlikely they would support such a proposition. And while I don’t find their attitude surprising what I do find surprising in Australia is, that despite Sir Mark Oliphant, famous Australian scientist, former Governor of South Australia and part of an international group which in 1932 saw fusion’s potential, fusion is not a subject to which the Australian media pays much attention. Interestingly Sir Mark created the plasma fusion research program at the Australian National  University in 1952. 

 Many are the voices, scientists included, which claim that fusion is pie in the sky. Let me give  the lie to that by pointing out that China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, America and nations of the European Union, by their membership of ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) group of nations, are now collaboratively spending billions of dollara to make fusion viable.

Let me now reassure people who get frightened at the mention of anything nuclear as a  source of power, that they needn’t be. Nuclear fusion is created by crushing together the nuclei in atoms to create clean energy, while nuclear fission is created by splitting atoms to produce the material necessary for making nuclear weapons.

Although I can understand fossil fuel companies not being excited by fusion I cannot understand why the IPCC and Greenpeace, as evidenced by Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist Greenpeace UK derides it, as reported by Harry de Quetteville in the Daily Telegraph (UK) August 11, 2010.

“We are sceptical on fusion,” said Dr Parr, “It is taking money away from renewables like offshore wind, solar and geo-thermal. We are fiscally constrained and there are screaming short-term needs – like decarbonising our electricity production.”

“The fundamental critique of fusion,” according to Dr Parr, “is that it is 40 years away and always has been. We are continuing to put large quantities of money into something that may not deliver.” Surely Dr Parr is not sceptical of the science that suggests fusion is both practicable and viable? Perhaps his scepticism is based on the fact that Greenpeace wants huge sums to be spent on its favoured technologies, wind farms for example, that could take forty years to develop fully and also might not work?

It is unfortunate that like members of the Spanish Inquisition, many members of climate change groups have become zealots. Indeed nothing would suit many of them better than that non believers in their environmental vision should be expelled from society.   

Finally, fusion scientists are not be compared with the ancient alchemists who tried to change base metals into gold. The fact is, apart from powering the sun and stars, since 1991 fusion has been working on a small scale at the Culham Research Centre outside Oxford.

The Chronicle Canberra for the best community news. Published every Tuesday

Posted 7 September extended version in ‘Online Opinion’ of article with same title posted 7 September, The Chronicle, Canberra.

If the IPCC scientists who predict CO2 emissions cause climate change, and talk of the new technology being developed to combat it, never seem to mention nuclear fusion why should I be surprised that economist Professor Lord Stern, also famous for climate change predictions didn’t mention fusion in his speech to the National Press Club last Wednesday?

During his speech Lord Stern alluded to new technology but not to fusion, nor did journalists raise the question at the end of his speech. Just in case they didn’t ask because they were shy, let me mention it.

Fusion energy is limitless and waste free. But more to the point, when it becomes commercially viable not only will it solve nearly all of earth’s energy problems, it will also combat CO2 emissions and make redundant the wave energy, solar panel and windpower installations that currently pollute the landscape and will do so for years to come. However, geo-thermal energy will be useful.

AdvertisementAnd so I ask: if the IPCC scientists and Lord Stern are really concerned about climate change why aren’t they shouting that the development of fusion energy should be a priority? Don’t they care that fusion energy will make fossil fuels redundant and that housing, hospitals, schools and the equipment used by the manufacturing and mining industries will be powered with clean energy? And don’t they want to see fusion energy powering cars, trains, ships and planes while keeping the environment clean?

I can understand coal and oil companies keeping quiet about fusion because fusion would close down their industries. And the same applies to governments: they would be reluctant to encourage development of fusion because they would lose the tax the oil and coal industries provide. And some Unions wouldn’t be happy about fusion either because it could cause significant job losses.

Strange as it seems, the foregoing entities say they want to curb CO2 emissions. If true, let me suggest that they demonstrate their sincerity by actively and publicly encouraging accelerated development of fusion. Will they? Well that’s the $64,000 question.

While it is said the age of miracles hasn’t yet passed, it is unlikely any of them would support such a proposition. And while I don’t find their attitude surprising, what I do find surprising is that fusion is not a subject to which the Australian media pays much heed, despite the fact that in 1932 Sir Mark Oliphant, famous Australian scientist and former Governor of South Australia, as a founding member of an international group of physicists, saw fusion’s potential.

Vocal opponents of fusion claim it is pie in the sky. But the fact that big polluters – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, America and nations in the European Union – are now collaboratively spending billions of dollars at Cadarache in France, as members of ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) group of nations, to make fusion viable gives the lie to that statement.

(Let me reassure people frightened when the word nuclear is mentioned in conjunction with power: nuclear fusion and nuclear fission are completely different. Fusion is created by crushing together the nuclei in atoms, not splitting them. Fission is created by splitting atoms that produce the material necessary for making nuclear weapons.)

Although easy to understand fossil fuel companies not being excited by fusion I cannot understand the IPCC and Greenpeace, as evidenced by Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist Greenpeace UK, reported by Harry de Quetteville in the Daily Telegraph (UK) August 11, 2010, effectively being fusion deniers.

“We are sceptical on fusion,” said Dr Parr, “It is taking money away from renewables like offshore wind, solar and geo-thermal. We are fiscally constrained and there are screaming short-term needs – like decarbonising our electricity production.”

Parr suggests ITER’s capacity to soak up funds is particularly damaging because there is no guarantee that it will even work. “The fundamental critique of fusion,” he says, “is that it is 40 years away and always has been. We are continuing to put large quantities of money into something that may not deliver.”

Surely Dr Parr is not sceptical of the scientists who suggest that fusion is both practicable and viable? And could his scepticism be based on the fact that Greenpeace wants huge sums to be spent on the technologies it favours, wind farms for example, that could take forty years to develop fully and, also in the end, might not work?

It is unfortunate also, that many pontificators of climate change have become zealots whose attitude could be likened to that of members of the Spanish Inquisition. Indeed nothing would suit many of them better than that climate change sceptics be expelled from society.

Finally, fusion scientists are not be compared with the ancient alchemists who constantly tried to change base metals into gold. The fact is, apart from powering the sun and stars, not only has fusion been achieved on earth, it is working on a small scale at the Culham Research Centre outside Oxford and has been since 1991.




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