Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for July 2011

First published The Chronicle Canberra Tuesday 26 July 2011

My home bookshelf is filled with a range of books many of them non academic in content. But some people in Canberra fill their bookshelves with ‘classics,’ hoping that visitors will think them people of learning. Unfortunately I’ve seen these people filled with embarrassment when, on being asked a question about a book, it becomes clear that they hadn’t read it.

Because TWO CANBERRAS is a book of opinions and because it addresses issues in Canberra about which I have expressed strong opinions it is a book I will read again and again, first because it is eminently readable and second because Professor Jenny Stewart, the author, presents her opinions with great lucidity. That being the case, I cannot imagine anyone not being able to understand it.

The TWO CANBERRAS is a book that will appeal to people with a real, not confected, interest in Canberra’s architecture and community. I think too, that Professor Stewart’s opinion that Canberra is two cities not only indicates her involvement in the city’s life, but that it is likely to attract contrary opinions.

That The Canberra Times, The Australian, Online Opinion, Public Sector Informant and the ABC have published and broadcast Professor Stewart’s opinions also shows the importance of what she has to say. Adding to its importance are her comments on national issues and perhaps more important to some people, the state of Australian Cricket. 

The book has eight sections: Beyond growth; On the knowledge; Unplanning the national capital; Governing the city state; The national interest; Meaning well; Preoccupations; and Public Service with articles on population, planning, public education, training, housing, transport, governance, pets, drugs, alcohol regulation, issues that constantly invoke a community’s praise or condemnation. Depending on their personal likes or dislikes it is a book that people will either praise or damn.

I do not agree with all of Professor Stewart’s opinions and nor do I think she expects everyone else will either. Nonetheless I feel sure she hopes that, whether or not readers agree or disagree, the TWO CANBERRAS will set people thinking about how the Canberra community could work better.

That said, I am of the view also, that if our local parliamentarians are really serious about Canberra’s future, not only should they read this book they should be proposing that it become part of the curriculum in Canberra’s public and private high schools and colleges. Who better to read and discuss the issues the book contains than those from whom will come people who will form Canberra’s future governments. 

As an example, take the first article “Resilience.” In this article Professor Stewart gives her opinion on the various interpretations of the word. Not only is the piece worth reading for her opinions it also sets the stage for her opinion on many other issues about which, I have no doubt, readers will either agree or disagree. Two Canberras indeed.                  

Another intriguing article is ‘Unknown Knowns.’ Had former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ever read this article I doubt he would have made the statement in Feb 2002 that gave him fame and made him look foolish: “We know there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Let me add that you won’t be left not knowing what Professor Stewart thinks when you’ve finished reading her ‘Unknown Knowns’ article.

But no opinion book about one or two Canberras would be complete without comments about planning, an issue Professor Stewart opines on in her article ‘Unplanning the national capital.” She also opines on some of its more memorable political fgures such as former Chief Ministers Kate Carnell and Jon Stanhope and perhaps the less than memorable John Hargreaves.  

Professor Stewart’s common sense book is non ideological. However after reading it, and I hope many people do, they may come to form the opinion that Canberra’s current model of government is not one that best suits the Capital.

The TWO CANBERRAS available at the Paper Chain bookshop, Manuka, and Co-op Bookshops: Price $25 (incl. GST) 

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best Community news, published every Tuesday


Online  Opinion, 26 July, 2011 

 The scandal tsunami that struck Rupert Murdoch’s news empire, wiped the tabloid News of the World (NOTW), from the face of the earth. At the same time it hastened people’s disenchantment with the press and gave death to the saying ‘It must be true. It’s in the paper.’

The NOTW will be missed. A unique newspaper, its mix of gossip and sex was risqué but its style appealed both the emotionally inadequate and sexual voyeurs. Better they read about it in the paper than physically act out their fantasies. And that there seemed to be a lot of them was clear because the NOTW had the biggest circulation in Britain.                        .

Every Sunday, its pages were filled with salacious, titillating stories about celebrities, the rich and famous, the rich and infamous and photos of women posing provocatively. But the emotionally inadequate were not the only people who rushed to buy it, people who didn’t wish to be thought readers would buy another paper and use it to cover up the NOTW title.

The NOTW was the equivalent of nudge nudge, wink wink. What it published was often close to reality. It also kept its readers’ tongues hanging out and eyes popping with stories about sexual perversion, celebrities, deviant churchmen and pillars of society who although they constantly exhorted people to avoid the sins of the flesh, clearly seemed to be trying to experience as many of them as they could. In a sense NOTW readers were the ‘Underbelly’ of British life.

Unfortunately for the NOTW its underestimation of the great British public’s tolerance caused the tsunami that wiped it out when in its irreverence went beyond the pale by the hacking the mobile phone of young missing girl Milly Dowler and removing messages left by her parents as they tried to contact her. Sadly, as it turned out, Milly had been murdered.

While its readers tolerated the hacking of celebrities, a young innocent girl was a different matter. And although the NOTW had previously been accused of hacking and had paid substantial compensation, the investigation into the hacking of Milly’s phone brought nearly 4,000 hacking offences to light as well as allegations that, in return for payment, people at the highest level in politics and the police had provided the NOTW with information that in some cases destroyed people’s lives.

It could be argued also that the NOTW by its constant alerting of people to society’s Underbelly did British society a service by sending a message to the community of the need for constant vigilance. Indeed those who think removal of the NOTW means publication of sleaze or pornography will stop are misguided as it might spawn more underground publication of sleaze and pornography.

But the effect of the tsunami that caused the demise of the NOTW, spread to Australia and the US. In this case, however, the hacking in both countries was more political than moral and, in pre mobile phone vernacular the hacking was being done to inflict damage, in this case the targets are News Ltd and Rupert Murdoch, with the leading hackers, media rivals, politicians and commentators who, over the years, had displayed their dislike of Murdoch. Adding grist to their mill was that the scandal tsunami caused Rupert Murdoch to pull out of his bid for BSkyB.

In the US the Democrats and in Australia the Labor Government used the NOTW scandal to kick start campaigns in an attempt to smear Murdoch and his media companies. The Democrats called into question the ethics of Murdoch companies: did they hack into the mobile phones of families involved in the 9/11 terrorist attack or hack into e-mails of Democrat politicians or business rivals to secure information that would discredit them if disclosed?            

The same thing has happened in Australia. Indeed even as Prime Minister Gillard claims the high moral ground for Labor, she is talking about a review of the rules of privacy of in the context of media, using News Ltd as a reference point.

Concomitantly, Senator Bob Brown, leader of The Greens – the unwanted alternative Labor Party which the official Labor Party wishes would go away except when parliamentary votes are being cast – makes no secret of his distaste for News Ltd and Murdoch.

The media organisations Fairfax and the ABC also seem to be finding it difficult to keep their bias against Murdoch in check although, to be fair, some pro Murdoch media have the same problem. And though Australia’s media allegedly reveres free speech, each section only uses the adjective when referring to those who share its particular brand of free speech.

Although I hold no brief for Murdoch it seems to me that jealousy underlies the campaign now being directed at Murdoch and his media empire by politicians and rival media. They envy him his success and so devote time, money and effort excoriating him from their personal altars of hypocrisy hoping their efforts will result in the collapse of his media empire.

Unabridged version  of  article  in The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday, 19 July 2011

When minority Labor Government leader Prime Minister Julia Gillard – with support from powerful mini government Greens leader Senator Bob Brown and so called Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor – revealed details of the carbon (CO2) tax, I decided not comment immediately but wait for things to settle.

Another reason for not commenting immediately, is because I remain sceptical of the doomsday scenarios, prophesied by the IPCC and Canberra’s army of alarmists, that if we do not heed their warnings then future generations are doomed to die either from starvation caused by drought or drowned in the world’s rising seas.

With a week a long time in politics think of what could happen between now and the tax taking effect on July 1, 2012. Will nothing happen to cause a change of mind by the Prime Minister? Remember this is politics we’re talking about. However if she stays true to her word I’ve got a year to consult with Boadicea on how to enjoy spending the extra pension and other money the PM promised.

It will also give me time to be tolerant with Boadicea in case after her weekly visit to the supermarket, she comes home complaining of price increases, reeling them off in a style reminiscent of Wayne Swan delivering the Budget – indeed, Wayne could learn from her. And I will also need to be persuasive when telling her she needn’t worry as the Prime Minister said she would look after us.

Not that I disbelieve the PM, but while waiting for the tax to take effect and better being safe than sorry, I’ll use the year to compile a list of excuses in case the extra cost of her weekly shopping is nearer twenty dollars more than the twenty cents predicted. And much as Boadicea is pro environment, I doubt she will be happy with an excuse that the model used by the Prime Minister to support her predictions turned out to be faulty.

But the package is really not about money but about the clean, renewable energy that, allegedly, the carbon tax is designed to encourage. Indeed, much of the hype surrounding carbon tax has been about innovation and the development of wind energy, wave energy, geo-thermal energy and a raft of other forms of energy some of which you might not have heard about. Strange as it seems I have heard nothing about using clean, renewable nuclear energy that would reduce the need to use energy produced by fossil fuels.

Due to it being demonised by people who should know better, it is clear that some people are concerned about nuclear energy. Let me assuage their fears. First, the nuclear energy I’m talking about is fusion, not fission that unfortunately creates dangerous waste, even though scientists have developed safe systems for its storage.

And while a Fusion also creates waste it is considerably less in volume and less dangerous than fission waste. In fact not only is a fusion reactor a ‘mini sun’ an army of eminent scientists are as sure it is the answer to global warming as climate change scientists are about their various solutions.

Some of the former are at the Australian National University. They participate with a consortium of scientists from various member countries of ITER engaged in building an experimental “tokamak” fusion reactor, expected to be unveiled in 2019 and employed commercially in 2023.

At the same time many scientists are working on fusion’s holy grail, ‘Cold Fusion,’ a safe system that produces minimal waste Italian scientists from Bologna University, have said they will be showing show such a working cold fusion system in October this year.

That said, think for a moment of what cold fusion will mean: an endless supply of safe, waste free, clean renewable energy. That is what the world needs. What it doesn’t need is the variety of solutions proposed by environmentalists that in an effort to curb CO2 will create visual pollution on a grand scale but, unlike fusion, will not have universal use.

However, and perhaps more important to a great many people, Fusion energy will dispense with the need for an escalating carbon tax.

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First published The Chronicle, Tuesday July 12, 2011

 I feel sure I’m not the only columnist who experiences writers’ block and also hopes the old adage ‘wish for something hard enough and you’ll get it,’ is true. Fortunately, I don’t block up often but when I do it’s usually it’s because the subjects that come to mind bore me.

Regular readers will know the subjects I write about usually are political. Indeed of the nearly 900 columns I’ve written for The Chronicle over the years, most were about politics, the Assembly in particular, some of whose elected Members are so boring it seems almost miraculous that voters actually go to a polling booth on election day and vote for them.

But perhaps it wasn’t an interest in politics that took people to the polling booth but the fact that they believed if they didn’t vote they could end up being fined. However, as with many things political, this is not fact but fiction. It is true, of course, that if you don’t get your name crossed of the electoral roll you will be fined unless you have an exemption. However, once your name is crossed off the roll, it isn’t compulsory to vote. On the other hand because the right to vote is one of our most valuable democratic rights it might be instructive to read or listen to what the various candidates have to say before going to the polling booth. But be warned: if, after deciding to exercise your democratic right, simply voting for a party often brings the same result as buying a job lot at a sale: you might be lucky and get one item of value but the remainder is junk.

Last week struck by one of my occasional spells of writers’ block I sat at the computer, looking out the window, wishing for a subject to write about as hard as ever I have wished about winning the lottery. Now I don’t whether it was my wishing hard that was effective but, whatever the cause, my wish came true and brought me two interesting things to write about: one about people with disability; the other about a political party. 

The subject of disability interests me, firstly because my own disability and secondly because my experience in the disability field has made me aware that people with a disability are not usually regarded as people with a positive attitude to life.

But that people with a disability have positive attitudes was exemplified at a morning tea in the Brassey Hotel when $11,000 that the ACT Association for Assisting Disabled Sport and Recreation (ACTAADS) Inc had raised from McDonald’s Canberra Restaurants and the Canberra Labor Club Group, were given as grants to thirteen people with a disability to further aid development of skills to help them participate in the wider community.

Chosen from multiple applicants with various degrees of serious disability, the grace with which recipients acknowledged the grants made me feel humble and inadequate considering the challenges they face that the rest of us can only begin to imagine.

In a political sense the Community Alliance Party (CAP), could be tagged as disabled which is why I was pleased to accept an invitation to be one of a panel of guest speakers at a conference they had organised for 2 July.

At the conference, Malcolm Mackerras spoke about the ACT’s voting system; Ric Hingee, about Government spending practices; Professor Jenny Stewart, about Community Councils, Canberra author Caroline Ambrus about the front row of politics); Damian Hass, on light Rail; Jack Kershaw on planning; Jenny Goldie on population; Stuart Gordon on solar power; Mike Crowther on Law Enforcement; Gerry Gillespie, on ‘Revolve’; Trevor Cobbold on education; and myself on Tourism.

While the speakers were interesting of more interest was that the flame of democracy still burned brightly in the Community Alliance and, despite its failure to win a seat in the 2008 election, it intended to challenge again in 2012.

As for my comparison with the disabled, in preparation for the conference, I researched various media for reports on CAP but could only find reports from 2008. On the basis of the conference alone, it seems to me that CAP deserves to be reported.

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

 First Published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 5 July,2011

 Before the last vote was counted in the 2010 election – the most boring that I can remember – and before it was known which candidates would join the cast of the next comedy to be staged in the theatre of the absurd, better known as Federal parliament, political ‘experts’ (or those who thought they were), were claiming how their advice to candidates had affected the final result. Naturally if the results showed them to have been wrong, their excuses for failure were more imaginative than their original advice.

Over the years, even though the behaviour of the ‘experts’ hasn’t changed much, what has changed is the place where their advice was discussed. Once upon a time the pub would have been the setting for this discussion but now it is carried out in restaurants against the genteel clash of cutlery, crockery and popping corks or, in competition with the avant-garde symphonies in various clubs that emanate from a variety of one – armed bandits.

But perhaps the biggest change is, that when the alleged political experts discussed the election results in the pub, their running commentary about what caused a candidate or party to be beaten was often passionate and, like their advice, incomprehensible.

At times, indeed, the passion would boil over, spread to the audience and provoke reactions so strong that some in the audience would start fighting each other. This usually happened when experts and audience had slaked their thirst so well they forgot what they were supposed to be discussing. Fortunately, due to good luck rather than good fighting skills, few of the fighters were ever seriously injured.

But for me the biggest change in the political scene is that, in my young days, young people seemed more interested in politics. And while some argue that this is because they didn’t have as much to do then as they do today, I believe it’s because candidates were truly passionate and thus able to inspire people and make them believe their ideas were worth listening to.

Today, unfortunately, more often than not this inspiration is missing. Today inspiration has been replaced by events designed to give a calculated effect. And because today, candidates with passion are as scarce as hens’ teeth it is rare to hear a candidate make a passionate speech and rarer still for them to attend meetings where they can speak directly to voters.

Today, campaign managers avoid them attending such meetings but, in cases where such meeting cannot be avoided, they make sure the audience is stacked by people who share their candidate’s views and thus unlikely to ask difficult questions.

But perhaps the biggest change I see is that with but a few exceptions, most candidates spout policy developed by back room boys – few of whom ever seem inclined to put their theories to the test by becoming candidates – as a kind of intellectual exercise. More to the point and because the intellectual backroom boys of parties are interchangeable, it is also be difficult, if not impossible at times, to distinguish between the parties.

 What for instance are the real differences between the Labor Party and Greens or between the Liberal and National Parties? Little I suggest. Perhaps the only difference between Labor and the Greens is that in some policy areas The Greens are more extreme. And the same applies to the Liberal and National Parties with the Nationals the more extreme.

 Indeed from a politically strategic point of view, it would make sense for Labor and the Greens to form one party and the Liberals and Nationals, as they have done in Queensland, form another. Perhaps too, if election funding was truly democratic, Independent candidates and candidates from parties such as the Australian Democrats could get elected and make valuable contributions to Australia’s future.     

That said however, it is my opinion that as the world changes and international borders   disappear and become an historical curiosity, current parties will disappear also and be replaced by new and as yet fledging global parties with new political thinking.

Concomitantly the view that economies should shape humanity will disappear also and be replaced by the view that humanity’s needs should shape economies.          

The   Chronicle for Canberra’s best Community News, published every Tuesday 


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