Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Ok. call me sexist, but I’ve always felt that having a woman around the house was more likely to lead to a cleaner house, so when Kevin moved out and Julia moved in, I figured that the house would be just as clean. And – if I’m being honest – I never really noticed much difference.

Wayne and I were aware that the basement did need a good clean out after the Great Flood of 2007, but the sandbagging he and Kevin did protected most of the house even though it didn’t stop the flooding in the basement. (By contrast, my friend’s shop in the next suburb was washed away and he only recently got a job.We just kept on going to work and figured that the levy bank would either save us or not.)

Right from the beginning of the flood, Tony and Joe had been in my ear.

“They’ve built the levy bank too high. You’ve wasted all that time and effort, not to mention the cost of all those sandbags,” they told me.

“You’d be better off with us as housemates,” they assured me.

I nodded politely. At that stage I was just thanking my lucky stars that I still had a job and wasn’t facing bankruptcy like my friend in the neighbouring suburb.

But it was only after Julia’s complaint that I wasn’t treating her fairly because she was a woman, that things changed. Now, I may be a little sexist, but I certainly don’t like it when a woman points it out.

It was then that Tony and Joe told me what a mess the basement was in and that the landlord would probably throw us out; I grew a little bit concerned.

“Look,” said Wayne. “Most households aren’t even aware that they have a basement. And you’ve never even been down there.”

“But what will the landlord say?” I wanted to know.

“I’ve already spoken to him, and he says that so long as we keep the rest of the house clean, we can fix it up in our own time.”

Tony and Joe told me that wasn’t good enough and that I should demand that Wayne set a deadline.

I’ll spare you the long complicated story of how Wayne failed to meet the deadline, why Julia moved out, Kevin’s fleeting visit and why I felt like I’d be better off with Tony and Joe. It’s what’s happening now that concerns me.

You see, Tony and Joe gave me certain undertakings before moving in. They agreed that they wouldn’t touch anything in my room, and the household kitty would stay the same and that we’d be able to clean up the basement.

When they told me a couple of weeks ago that I’d have to put an extra $7 a week into the kitty, because of the mess in the basement, that sort of made sense. Until they told me that the money was going to a fund which was going to look at the reasons for flooding and ways we could prevent it in the future. In spite of my questions, they didn’t have much detail on how the money would be spent.

“Trust us,” said Tony.

“Yeah, our overriding promise was to clean up the mess the others left.”

When I suggested that they could start by doing the dishes or the vacuuming, they scoffed. Besides didn’t I have friends who’d lost their jobs and just sit around doing nothing? Couldn’t they come over and do it?

Last night, I came home to find some of the contents of my room on the lounge room floor. “What are you doing?” I demanded.

“We’re cleaning up the mess,” said Joe.

“But you’ve got all my stuff on the floor.”

“Your previous housemates enabled you to accumulate all this stuff, it’s just getting in the way of our cleaning up the mess. We’re checking through it and throwing out what you don’t need,” said Tony.

“But it’s mine!” I insisted.

“Come on,” said Tony, “we all have to make sacrifices.”

“We’re just going to sell the stuff you don’t really need,” promised Joe.

I nodded and started toward the kitchen to make myself a coffee.

“You can’t go in there,” said Joe.

“Why not?” I asked.

“We’ve made the kitchen more efficient,” said Tony.


“Yes, we sold it to a chef. He’ll cook all the meals, and that way we won’t have people wandering in there all the time, using up electricity and being inefficient with the purchase of food.”

“That’s ridiculous, won’t we have to pay for the chef?”

“No,” said Joe, “just for your meals. Privatisation, it’s the only way to go.”

“Ah well, at least it’s giving someone a job,” I said.

“And Pedro is very grateful for the chance to work in this country. He’s earning far more than he would back home,” said Tony.

“He’s foreign. Shouldn’t we have given the job to someone Australian at least?”

“No, that’s being racist and disgusting, as our Uncle Rupert says.”

“Shouldn’t you have asked me before you did any of this?” I wanted to know.

“We did,” said Tony. “Before we moved in, we told you that we going to clean up the mess and that’s what we’re doing?”

“Right,” I said, “so how much did the chef pay for the kitchen?”

“We can’t tell you that. It’s a confidential arrangement,” said Joe.

“Well, where’s the money going then?”

“Into the basement,” said Tony.

“You’re going to pay someone to clean up the basement?”

“No,” said Joe. “We can’t afford that. We’re just going to put the money into the basement until we find a use for it.”

“But isn’t cleaning up the basement you’re number one priority?”

“Not so much,” said Tony. “Our number one priority is stopping those kids from stealing apples in the backyard. And we’ve done that. If anyone jumps the fence, we have a security guard who grabs them and then locks them in the basement.”

“Isn’t that illegal?”

“Stealing apples is illegal,” insisted Tony.

“Doesn’t it just add to the mess in the basement?”

“The mess in the basement isn’t so bad,” said Joe.

“I thought it was a crisis.”

“Yes, well, it is,” he explained, “but not a very serious one,”

“Ok, I’d like everything put back in my room the way it was. And then I’d like you two out of here,” I told them.

“You can’t mean that,” said Joe.

“Yeah,” said Tony, “we’ve been doing such an excellent job.”

“But you lied to me. You’re doing all these things you promised you wouldn’t do!”

“Who told you that? Have you been talking to Wayne?” asked Joe.

“Yeah, you shouldn’t listen to him. He was one of the people in the house when the basement flooded,” added Tony.

“Look, we promised we’d fix this mess and that’s what we’re doing!” asserted Joe.

I looked around. All I could see was chaos in what used to be one of the neatest rooms in the house.

“And one other thing, from tomorrow, you’ll need to ring the doorbell to get in. We’re having the locks changed,” Joe informed me.


“We don’t want those people who caused all the mess to get back in, do we?” asked Tony.

“But don’t I get a key? I mean, I live here.”

“Yeah,” said Joe, “but it’s not like you own it or anything!”


The ABC of Bias!

Posted: June 25, 2014 in Politics, society


“Brooks found not guilty of hacking charges”

Headline in “The Herald-Sun”

Ok, it seems to go like this. Private media companies are allowed to be biased because they’re private. Fair enough. But the ABC shouldn’t be biased because it’s taxpayer funded. And we know it is biased, because it doesn’t agree with the private media companies. Who we accept are allowed to be biased!

So clearly, the most important thing in the hacking trial was that Rebekah Brooks was found not guilty. The fact that Andy Coulson was found guilty is not all that important. And the fact that the ABC chose to accentuate the negative rather than the positive just shows their bias. Any suggestion that the Murdoch paper tried to spin it to make themselves sound less culpable is just ludicrous. Besides it was in Britain…

The ABC show further bias in that they fail to mention that a large number of Muslims are in Iraq fighting with ISIS. One estimate put the number as high as 150, which is higher to the number of people who think that Tony Abbott hasn’t broken any election promises, but not quite as high as projected public school class sizes, once Christopher Pyne has way.

As Steve Price said on The Project, when telling us that he didn’t buy the argument that young Muslims may feel hated and vilified, “But it’s also they’ve got Australian passports, you don’t leave the country where you were born, if you’ve got an Australian passport and get on a plane and go and start shooting people in other countries. If you want to do that – stay there!” He’s right, of course, only Islamic people would get on a plane and go over to Iraq and start shooting people. No Australian – and clearly these people aren’t Australian, even if they were born here – would ever do anything like that.

There’s no reason for anyone of the Islamic faith to feel disenfranchised. Unless they’re an extremist like the guest on The Project who suggested that we needed to make some effort to understand why young men would want to go and join ISIS. Price found it worrying a man like that was teaching at a university. Anyone who attempts to understand another’s motivation is a dangerous radical.

Similarly, we should worry about moderates like Waheed Aly who – according to Andrew Bolt – should concern us because he doesn’t tell us what a threat to our society Islam is. For a start, they want to build ugly buildings and they don’t support women’s rights and they want to impose strict morals on us all. Which would be fine if they were the Liberal Party, and the buildings they want to build weren’t mosques. And the fact that they don’t approve of drinking, well, its just un-Australian.

As Bolt pointed out, when Aly was talking about Boko Harum:

As so often when Muslim terrorists strike, Aly was brought on by Channel Ten’s The Project to explain away our fears as “an expert in terrorism”.

“So who is this group exactly?” he was asked.

Not once in his answer did “Muslim” or “Islamic” pass Aly’s lips.

“They are a really, really hard group to define because they are so splintered and so diverse,” he said.

“What we do know though is that the broader movement is a terrorist movement and they’ve been wanting to overthrow the Nigerian government and establish a government of their own.

“But beyond that, this particular group, who have done this particular thing, it’s hard to identify who they are and they might just be vigilantes.”

Yes, after all, when Tony Abbott’s mob were bombing London all those years ago, the press always referred to the “Christian IRA”. Similarly, all through World War Two, we had references to the Christian Nazis. Not to identify a group as Muslim is a clear example of double-standards.

Just remember, all Muslims are dangerous. Particularly the ones who try to trick us by being moderate and not advocating Sharia Law. By sounding less extreme than Cory Bernardi, they confuse people as to the inherent danger of tolerance and diversity.

To be absolutely clear: We should not be in any way positive about any muslim and there is absolutely no reason why any of them should feel as though we all hate them. We just want them to go back where they came from even if their family has been here longer than Andrew Bolt’s.

Yeah, I think that’s the unbiased view!

Abbott’s Groan-up Government

Posted: June 5, 2014 in Politics

‘The defence minister, David Johnston, has blamed the previous Labor government after Tony Abbott’s departure for Indonesia was delayed by technical problems with his RAAF jet on Wednesday.

Abbott was due to meet Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Batam Island later in the day to improve relations damaged by spying revelations and asylum seeker policies.

But his departure from Canberra was delayed for several hours and a replacement jet had to be brought in.

Johnston said the Rudd government had given the Coalition a “hospital handball” by renewing the contract on the current fleet of jets just before the 2013 election.

“I was very unhappy about that,” Johnston said.’


The Guardion


God, are there no depths to which Labor will sink to sabotage the Liberals. Making Tony Abbott late. Of course, they should have SPENT MONEY on new jets. I mean, it’s not like anyone was complaining about their SPENDING.

And this is on top of the way they have the Budget blowing out over the next four years. It’s not Joe Hockey’s fault that it’s projected to blow out to three times what it was when Labor left office. There’s nothing he could do to stop that. After all, raising taxes isn’t an option because they specifically ruled that out before the election. (Although Hockey did say that it was nonsense to suggest that they’d promised no new taxes when it was via a new levy that they were going to pay for the PPL, and a levy is clearly a tax unless it’s being temporarily applied to high income earners.)

Then on top of all the things that Labor has done, we have the Fair Work Commission increasing the minimum wage by a whopping $18.70 a week. That’s going to cost jobs, according to Mr Hockey. After all, it’s about four middies and while a visit to the doctor is only two middies and not worth worrying about, four middies is serious money.

I suggested to a Labor voting acquaintance that if we abolished the minimum wage altogether, people would work for half the wage – particularly after the freeze on the dole for under 30s – then we’d be able to employ twice as many. He showed his economic ignorance by asserting that if people were earning less, then they’d spend less and that’d lead to a slump in economic growth, but that just shows how out of touch Labor people are.

“That’s just the sort of woolly logic that led to the recession Australia experienced during the Global Financial Crisis,” I told him.

“There was no recession in Australia,” he argued.

“Well, not technically, but that was only because Labor spent all our money. If they hadn’t done that, we’d have had a recession like the good lord meant us to.”

He attempted to change the subject by arguing that economics has nothing to do with religion.

But I steered him back to the point: How our lack of a balanced budget was Labor’s fault for introducing a carbon tax when Julia Gillard promised in one speech that she wouldn’t.

“She said there’d be no carbon tax,” I told him, “and that speech was replayed over and over again after the election, so it’s not like the Australian people didn’t hear her broken promise!”

“But what about Abbott’s broken promises?”

“He had to break them because of Labor. If Whitlam hadn’t introduced Medicare, the country would have plenty of money.”

“Actually, Whitlam introduced Medibank, then Fraser and Howard trashed it to the point it wasn’t recognisable.”

“That has nothing to with what we’re discussing. We’re discussing ways of getting the lazy, unemployed back to work.”

“Why is that just last year, anyone losing their job was due to Labor incompetence?”

“You mean like when they mandated keeping a log book for leased cars? That nearly caused the death of our car industry.”

“Which Abbott and Hockey finished off by cutting subsidies…”

“Why should unprofitable companies expect to be subsidised by government?”

“Then why do they give such handouts to mining companies?”

“Because mining companies are profitable and they create jobs!”

“Then why do they need subsidies?”

“Oh, so you want to indulge in class warfare and attack the tall poppies. You just hate anyone who’s successful.”

“I give up,” he said, throwing his hands in the air and walking off.

Typical Labor man, I thought, they can’t stand it when you use a logical, consistent argument.


Please Give Generously

Posted: January 11, 2014 in Politics, Uncategorized

The Gonski education proposals released today potentially place all non-government schools on a private school hit-list, said Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education.

“This is bad news for parents already struggling with higher cost of living pressure,” Mr Pyne said.

“The Government wants to pretend that their ideological opposition to non-government education is over, but they are proposing that essentially parents should be means tested to determine funding for their child’s education,” Mr Pyne said.

“If the model is adopted it could result in cuts to non-government school funding in real terms. That is money that will have to come out of parent’s pockets,” he said.

“The only reason why the Government won’t categorically state that non-government schools will receive the same funding in real terms is because they know that there will be cuts under their new model.

“This is a genuine worry for parents who scrimp and save to send their children to a non-government school.

Liberal Media Release, February 21st 2012


Good evening, 

Tonight we’re here to acknowledge that group of people who have been left behind in this rush to assist every Tom, Dick and Harriet. A group that’s rarely mentioned when it comes to Government assistance or charities. A group that is encouraged to feel ashamed by certain sections of the media. A group that struggles to meet its commitments without thanks or hope of reward. 

Private school parents.

So, we are launching a new charity. Centre for Learning And School Support Expanding Needs of Vexed Youth. Or CLASSENVY. 

Now, there are a lot of misconceptions about private school parents. They’re not all wealthy. In fact, at one of the best private schools, many of the parents were paying more in fees than their company made in profits. Some of these parents are so poor that they don’t even pay income tax! 

Take, for example, the story of little Phoebe. Unable to choose between her ballet lessons and the school trip to France, she was forced to sell her horse. Now, if she should wish to take up riding again, she’ll be unable to unless she uses a rented horse.
While the current government are showing no interest in Gonski and his dangerous socialist agenda of educating all people and funding schools according to need, other governments may not understand that poor kids don’t really need as much in order to learn.
So, I ask you all – for as little as $500 a fortnight, you can sponsor a child like Phoebe, giving her the education she so richly deserves.



The trouble with numbers is that most people don’t really think about them.

For example,  Twelve Year Old Reveals All The American Presidents Are Direct Descendants of King John.

This is not as amazing as it sounds. By direct, they don’t mean from the male line, as in the first born son; it just means that King John is somewhere in the family tree. As one traces any family tree backwards, there are so many people in it, that there’s a good chance that any two people will have a common ancestor. It just seems more remarkable when the common ancestor is someone famous like the King of England.In fact, so long as you have at least one English ancestor, there’s a good chance that you’d find King John somewhere in your family tree given how long ago he lived. To do some simple maths, by the time one goes back just twenty generations, you have over a million people in your family tree. Given that all the presidents would have had a least one person with an English ancestor, by the time you go back to the 11th Century, there wouldn’t be enough people in England to have all the members of a family tree without some of them appearing multiple times.

Measure the height of all the basketball players in the NBL. Find out the average. How many players will be below the average height for a NBL? Probably around half. Does that mean that they’re short? Hardly.

Averages, by themselves, don’t tell us much. For some things, the median will be a much better measure. But, when we talk about education, the issue is not a student’s ranking, but what they’re actually capable of doing. When we look at the ranking, people have very little idea what the numbers mean in terms of what the students can actually do. It’s like the basketball players height – it’s no real concern if a player moves from the 12th tallest to the 16th because someone else grew, but it is a concern if the poor guy has started shrinking!

And, unfortunately, people often have a problem with cause and effect.

Let’s take, as an example the number of people going to hospital. I don’t have any figures on this, but I’m pretty sure that if we did a study the mortality rate of people going to hospital in an ambulance would be significantly higher than those who drove themselves. Most of you will immediately see that as self-evident. None of you will argue, when Barry has collapsed at work, “No, don’t get an ambulance – his chances of survival are much better if we leave him there until he’s well enough to drive himself!”

Yet that is precisely what happens in many other areas. People will look at statistics and confuse cause and effect. It’s not always as clear as in the ambulance example, of course, but sometimes one needs to take a step back and think. As I’ve written before, there is a strong correlation between a student’s postcode and their academic achievement. It doesn’t mean that changing the postcode in the poor performing suburb so that it matches the one in the better performing suburb will help. Neither does it mean that simply transporting some of the students from the poorer suburb to the other one will ensure success, although, at least, that might have some effect.

And so we get the latest PISA results for Australia, and we’ve slipped! And suddenly we hear: “Look, all this throwing money at Education hasn’t led to any significant improvement. Throwing money at the problem isn’t the solution! It’s all about teacher quality!”

Well, of course not. “Throwing money at something” would rarely solve anything. Money needs to be put into the right areas and targetted carefully. And one of the areas would be improving teacher quality? The question is how do you it?

Some will argue that a “back to basics” approach is needed, and that if just go back to teaching the way it’s always been done, then it’ll all be ok. A third of our students are practically illiterate we’re told. I wonder at their definition of illiteracy. Do they mean unable to communicate at all, or are they including some kids who are using txt msg lingo 2 write? If we go back to rote learning “My Country” will spelling suddenly improve. This debate has been going on for years, with very little detail from many of the “back to basics” proponents, apart from the fact that students were always taught better in some halcyon days when no-one finished at the bottom of the class and everyone did their homework, brushed their teeth, loved God and their country and cheerfully obeyed the law.

But to me the fundamental thing about the PISA results is that nobody is actually really looking at the numbers that closely. Has anyone in the media been asking how significant a drop from 533 to 504 in the ten years actually is? It’s a decline in the score of about 5%. Is that significant? What are the possible reasons for it? Has it been arrested – for example was the decline bigger in the first five years or the second? Or could the shocking results have anything to do with the fact that “more than 20 per cent of Australian students felt they did not belong, were not happy or were unsatisfied at school”? No, let’s not spend any time on that one.

Out of 65 OECD countries it was also reported:

“The raw mean scores showed Australia was equal 16th in science and equal 13th in reading.”

So in other words, we’re a lot closer to the top than the bottom, but let’s not let that get in the way of headlines about how disastrous everything is.

I’m not for a moment denying that education could be improved or that there aren’t many things that we could do better, but simplistic slogans and solutions won’t do anything. We need intelligent people to look at the problem, to talk to all the stakeholders and to come up with a solution.

Sort of like they did with the Gonski Report!

Framing in the social sciences refers to a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how individuals, groups, and societies organize, perceive, and communicate about reality.  


When you get asked a question, do ever consider how it’s been framed?

If you’re watching one of the tabloid current affairs programs, for example, you may be asked to participate in a poll. Obvious, to most of us, is the fact that the previous story will have affected your terms of reference for that poll. A story about a person committing a violent crime while on parole is likely to lead to a higher figure for the “get tough on crime” options than if the previous story had been about an effective prison drug rehabilitation program.

This is why the Coaltion continually used the phrase “putting it on the credit card” when refering to any of the previous Government spending initiatives. It frames the listener’s attitude to the debt. If Hockey had said that we couldn’t go “extending the mortgage” to pay for things, then there would have still been a negative association, but it wouldn’t have sounded as bad. When the Abbott Government increases our debt above the “disastrous” $300 billion that Labor borrowed, I suspect that no-one on their side of politics will say: “We can pay for some things but for everything else, there’s Mastercard “.

When it comes to the human psyche, the work of  Daniel Kahneman* and Amos Tversky should be of particular interest to politicians. To what extent, political parties are deliberately using their studies, and to what extent the political process is dominated by focus groups, polling and media advisers, I don’t know, but there is an enormous potential for using things such as “framing” for effectively changing the way a political party is perceived by the electorate. The whole asylum seeker debate, for example, is of no importance to most people in Australia, yet it was framed in such a way that it became a hot button election issue. If you’ve just been shocked by my assertion that asylum seeker debate is of no importance, then I suggest that the “framing” has worked extremely well. Were it not for the reporting of boats, most people wouldn’t know that it was even happening. People wouldn’t be able to distinguish between “boat people”, other refugees and people coming here as part of the immigration program. Yet “protecting our borders” was seen as extremely important by a large number of people, as was Australia’s “lack of compassion” for others. Now that the flow of information has been slowed, we don’t have the same level of hysteria about the invading armada  from Indonesia. Has the flow of boats decreased significantly? Is anyone in the MSM reporting the number of arrivals any more?

(In fact, another good example of framing is an article by a columnist where he used a crime committed by a Sudanese refugee – and some dodgy statistics about his community – to argue why it was important to “stop the boats” and the “queue jumpers”. I suspect that most people wouldn’t stop to consider that these particular refugees DIDN’T come by boat – they were the non-“queue jumping” genuine refugees!)

Tversky and Kahneman’s work challenges the Economic Rationalist theory that people behave logically and do what’s in their best interest. Their studies in the field of behavioural economics have three main themes:

  • People frequently make economic decisions based on a vague idea and rather than logically thinking about them.
  • How things are framed, which is often based on things such as stories and stereotypes
  • The Market itself and its ineffeciencies.

To put it simply, when you see the headlines, “Housing Prices to Boom” and “Housing Bubble Risk”, do you put off buying your first home or investment property or do you think that you better get in quickly? Strangely, people warning about the dangers, may itself contribute to the boom.

Likewise, a decision by the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates to stimulate demand because it’s “worried about a looming recession” may make business owners concerned about their profits falling or workers about losing their job. Then, rather than spend, they try to put money away for the future.

When it comes to politics, the Coalition have largely managed to frame the economic agenda on their own terms. “We had a surplus, Labor has deficits” and “We had money in the bank, Labor has debt”. The existence of the GFC is acknowledged, then ignored. It’s been rare that anyone has ever questioned whether Hockey was arguing that there’d be no debt if they were still in charge, or even – in a time when the economy is “struggling” – whether they considern it a good idea to run surpluses sucking further funds out of the system.  Indeed, it’s interesting how they’ve been able to argue that the Carbon Tax is terrible because it takes money off us, while simultaneously asserting that running a surplus budget where you take more in taxes than you give back in services is always a desirable thing.

Perhaps, the most obvious argument against using  the politics of using polling as a way of determining a course action is when you look at the number of areas where the Labor Party’s policies were prefered by the electorate. Education the NDIS, and Gay Marriage were all pluses for Labor, and yet many people still decided against voting for them, in spite of not agreeing with the Opposition on most issues. Labor, they felt, was moving from one disaster to another. When pressed, the issues were either years ago or just part of the normal chaos of government such as when the states disagree with what the federal government intends.

The challenge for the progressive side of politics over the next three years will be to ensure that debate is framed in their terms – that means holding Abbott accountable for his promises and ensuring that important social issues don’t disappear of the agenda entirely.

*(Writer of “Thinking Fast and Slow”)

Interesting short interview with Daniel Kahneman.

Well, of course it’s getting a good run in the press. They have nothing else to write about. Ok, they could write about the “deal” that is being worked out between Australia and Indonesia, but the details are secret. Ministers don’t seem to be saying much, and we only get the “Shipping News” once a week. There’s only so much you can write about a meeting of leaders in Bali. There was a story that Abbott hopes to have a trade deal with China within twelve months, but again we’re still working out the details and there’s only so many ways of re-writing a sentence involving Trade Deal, China, Twelve Months and Abbott.

So that pretty much only leaves stories about travel allowances. The Liberal line seems to be that they’re being repaid, so what’s the problem? They’re “small change”, not significant amounts. And, in the future, if a claim is in the ambiguous column, they’ll be “erring on the side of caution”.

One could ask why they didn’t do that in the past, but that would be petty. Like the thousand of dollars involved.

One could go to “Labor’s Book of Waste” and look at the 60 examples of Labor waste which include such major items as the $660 of extra Carbon Tax at the Lodge (seriously, No. 20), or the ATO hiring a consultant on the mining tax for $30,000. Then one could ask, why waste all that time on a booklet over such “small change”?

See more of these outrageous examples of money being wasted at

Click to access The%20Little%20Book%20of%20Big%20Labor%20Waste.pdf

But it’s Peter Reith’s comments that get to the heart of the matter:

“As a minister, you are 24/7 a minister. This is all part of being a politician. If you get an invitation to go to a private occasion, then the judgment you make as a minister is, is this worth it from a political point of view?”

Of course, I could be pedantic and point out the India 3 were NOT ministers at the time of the trip – they were in Oppostion, but that’s not the main issue.

“This is all part of being a politician” and “from a political point of view” seem to sum it up. As does, “If a shock jock invites you to a wedding,” we’re told, “you’d be a fool not to go.”

Why? How much influence does a “shock jock” have over the way you discharge your Ministerial duties? In what way is this connected to the business of government. 

Yes, as an MP, you’ll be spending a certain amount of time trying to ensure that you’re re-elected, but surely that’s not part of your role as an MP, any more than it would be if I chose to stand at the next election. “I haven’t been elected yet, but attending Bazza’s wedding is part of me networking and trying to ensure that I have enough votes to win,” I say, when trying to claim a travel expense. Travel expenses, of course, only applies to an MP in the course of the role as a Member of Parliament or as a Minister. Is being re-elected part of that role, or should that come from party funds?

I will agree that during an election campaign some things can be more ambiguous. And that when Christopher Pyne goes to a local event, he may be BOTH performing his role as a local member AND trying to ensure his re-election. (Although in his case, staying away may be better for the latter.)

But the idea that going to the wedding of someone who may has some influence and could help you in your quest for power is related to your role as a member of the Government doesn’t seem at all “ambiguous” to me.  

By allowing state curricula to be hijacked by so-called experts pushing experimental learning techniques such as ‘whole language learning’, governments have left many young people with little grounding in spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Christopher Pyne. Press Release. April 4th 2011.

Christopher Pyne knows a lot about the education system. He attended a private school for his entire school career and then obtained a Bachelor of Laws at Adelaide University. This expertise qualifies him to take a more “hands on” role as Minister for Education. He advocates a back to basics approach to Education.

As someone who has taught in secondary schools for a number of years, the phrase “back to basics” disturbs me for a number of reasons. The first is that there seems to be some sort of assumption that the “basics” have been abandoned. The second is the fact that what we mean by basics is never actually defined in any meaningful way, and usually it’s subtext is  that you don’t actually need much in the way of funding, because all you need is a blackboard, some chalk and as many kids as can be squeezed into a room to make a success of it.  And finally, the fact that almost as certainly as night follows day, two years after advocating the “back to basics” approach, the same politicians will be  either lamenting the fact that students don’t do enough sport in school or else they aren’t being taught a number of things, such as values, how our Parliamentary system works, how to apply for a bank loan, or all the Kings and Queens of England.

“You’re just not covering what’s important,” says the man at the barbeque, “I was talking to my nephew the other day and he didn’t know about Simpson and his donkey.”

“Which bit?” I ask, “The bit about him plonking people on the back of his donkey for a couple of weeks before dying in a war to protect British interests? Or the bit about him being an illegal immigrant and a staunch trade unionist?”
End of conversation.

Phonics – it’s a discussion that rares its ugly head every few years, and I’ve discussed this with a number of primary teachers and I’m yet to find one that isn’t using it, along with a range of other strategies when teaching students to read. They all agree that teaching grammar, punctuation and spelling is important. There’s some disagreement on how much formal grammar needs to be taught. All agreed that teaching the concepts of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, as well as sentence structure was necessary, but some didn’t think that the inability to identify an “adjective clause of time” would necessarily prevent a Grade 5 student from being able to write clearly and concisely.

Of course, as a secondary school teacher, my objection to the notion that students just need to be taught phonics and all will be well, stems from the rather obvious objection that ‘phonics’ doesn’t start with an “f”. And I’m not just making a silly point. Most of the poor spelling I come across stems not from the fact that kids don’t spell words the way they sound, but because they do. And they spell the words the way they sound to that kid. “His rely pist and his gonna cum ova get u back.”

My second point = that the “basics” is never actually meaningfully defined – may seem strange to some of you. It’s the 3 R’s, right? (Notice that only one of them actually starts with the letter ‘R’). But for most students these are learned to an adequate level in primary school. Yes, people will cite studies and surveys with shock horror statistics, like nearly half the population are below average, or that the students in China are outperforming ours in PISA tests. But every survey will show you that most students read, write and handle numbers at or above the expected level.

The idea that all students should be spending their school day being drilled in the three “R”s for thirteen years is, of course, absurd and nobody is seriously advocating it. But what then is meant by a “back to basics” approach? More help for students who are below the expected level? Research into students falling behind to discover what they have in common? Or just larger class sizes and more “chalk and talk” instruction? Never mind that explicit lecturing is one of the least effective ways of teaching. (See Pyramid)


As for technology, I’m sure that we’ll have the idea that students don’t need access to computers and that they’re just a way that teachers avoid actually “teaching”  is one that I’m sure that we’ll have pushed from various quarters. No-one, of course, will suggest that politicians or journalists don’t need computers. Back in the nineteenth century, nobody had a computer and everyone learnt to read and write just fine. Not true, but statements nearly as ridiculous will go unchallenged. How technology is being used in schools and how poorly its potential is being realised is a whole discussion in itself. But schools are starting to grasp the possibilities. There needs to be a massive increase, not just in the technology, but in helping teachers use it more effectively.

Finally, I look forward to Christopher Pyne’s pronouncement some time next year that schools are failing to cover a very important area. He’s already announced that the History curriculum is far too “left-wing”,  and that he’ll fix that. But I expect something more. Perhaps, it’ll be a horrified realisation that some students leave school never having studied Shakespeare. Perhaps, it’ll be the shocking knowledge that not all students know where Albania is.  Whatever, I expect that schools will be expected to forget what they see as the priorities, and put more time into something else.

I actually wish I’d voted Liberal! No, really. It would have been nice when someone abuses me as a “commo” or “Labor stooge” to be able to say, “Well, I actually voted for Tony Abbott and I’m very disappointed!” And it woud be one vote that I’d be sure he isn’t getting next time.

As for being a Labor stooge, well, Labor have disappointed me at times, and, at times, I’ve started to wonder if they’re just as bad as the Liberals. And that’s usually how I judge the likelihood of them losing an election. When I start wondering that, I suspect there’s a lot of people wondering the same thing. A number of “left-leaning” people start saying that a Liberal Government would be no worse. Then a Liberal Government IS voted in, and they all go: “Ah, now we remember why we voted Labor at the previous election.”

I found myself thinking in the first week of Abbott, that I was surprised at the lack of gloating. Even the Murdoch Press were more restrained than I expected in their triumphalism. I thought maybe the Liberals approval rating will actually go up, rather than dive after the expected cuts, broken promises and backflips.

But then came the second week.

We’ve had talk of the need for stimulatory spending in the budget, rather than the need to get things “under control” (crisis, what crisis?).

We no longer have a Minister for Science, among other things. The Government start to shut down everything that Labor set up to deal with climate change, in one case, without the proper legislation. Scientific matters are to be dealt with by Industry. Or a council of elder tribesman, including the witch doctor. The final decision hasn’t been made.

You got sick of hearing about boats arriving, well, the Liberals have put a stop to that = the information is no longer available. Of course, this may make it easier for a future Government to treat asylum seekers humanely, by making it harder for the Opposition to whip up “Stop the Boats” hysteria. In the short term, it makes the Liberals look shifty, as though they don’t have faith in their own policy. Imagine if Labor had tried the same thing!

The ACT is planning to legalise Gay Marriage. Abbott is looking at his options for preventing it. He’ll have to give reasons. And I suspect those reasons may be a problem for his new image as Tolerant Tony, who understands that not everyone needs to have his values.

And thanks to those voters in Indi, we only have one woman in Cabinet. It was their fault, according to some – as though TWO women is more than enough, and suggesting Tony has a problem with women is just silly. Didn’t you see his daughters? Besides ALL decisions were made on MERIT.

merit – The quality of being particularly good or worthy, esp. so as to deserve praise or reward.

So we end the week with Abbott as Minister For Women’s Affairs. Now, I know that I’m not the first person to find this ludicrous. (See Poll Results below*). But I just want to you to think about this calmly and rationally.

Tony Abbott was often accused of being a misogynist. His colleagues defended him, saying they didn’t find him to have particularly negative attitudes to women. “He loves them,” said one. And now we find – out of every person in the Coalition = Tony Abbott is the most worthy of representing Women’s Affairs. There is NO-ONE better! Because all decisions were made on merit. So, you can see why the Coalition MPs didn’t have a problem with Abbott’s behaviour. When it comes to women, their attitudes are worse.


*A number of people expressed the view that they wouldn’t vote because the Poll lacked the option of All of the Above. One person even suggesting that this poll was as stupid as asking which of the following events is most unique.

There have been a number of critics of Abbott’s new front bench, with some saying it seems to be an “old boys” club composed of middle class, Anglo Saxon men, while others are expressing amusement that the Party that had the election slogan “Choose Real Change” has produced a ministry almost exclusively composed of recycled Ministers from the Howard era. Supporters, however, argue that this is a ministry appointed on merit, and that if the Liberal Party had any women of merit, they’d be in Cabinet, just like Julie Bishop.

One supporter, Christopher Whine, agreed to this exclusive interview on the condition that I don’t repeat anything he said that was likely to embarrass him.

“Good morning, Mr Whine.”

“It is now that we’ve got that wretched Labor Government.”

“Mr. Whine, you think that there are no problems with Abbott’s Cabinet?”

“That’s right!”

Unfortunately, due to the “no embarrasment” agreement, that’s all of the interview that I can report.

Another supporter assured me that it was out of consideration for the media that Arthur Sinodinos and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells were left out of the Cabinet.

“Can you imagine reporters having to spell names like that? God, they have enough trouble with Matthias Cormann!”

“I thought that this was a Cabinet based on ‘merit,” I suggested.

“Oh, it is. It is. People have got there through sheer hard-work and ability.”

“Barnaby Joyce?”

“He’ll be great as Agriculture Minister. Knows the country like the back of his hand.”

“Exactly how well does Barnaby know his hand?” I wanted to know.

“Quite well, I believe. But that not the point. He’ll be great. Full of ideas.”

“And there’s no minister for Science.”

“Well, it was thought that Science could be subsumed into a number of other portfolios.”

“Which portfolios?”

“Treasury, I think. Or was it Finance.”

“The Ministry for Climate Change.”

“No, definitely wasn’t subsumed into that one. Science and Climate Change have nothing in common. Industry! That’s it, Science became part of the Industry portfolio.  After all, Science is just another Industry, and it’s not even a growing one.”

“I meant that the Climate Change Ministry is also gone.”

“Oh yes, well, we don’t see that you need a special ministry for that now that it’s no longer happening.”

“What makes you think that climate change is no longer happening?”

“Well, the past decade’s been getting colder.”

“I don’t think that’s true, but anyway, doesn’t “getting colder” suggest that change is happening?”

“Whatever, it doesn’t deserve a whole ministry, it can be part of the Industry portfolio.”

“What about the Status Of Women?”

“Pure tokenism. Women don’t need any special treatment. If they work hard and have the ability, they can do just as well as any man. Look at Julie Bishop. She’s shown you can get to be Deputy Leader.”

“But she’s the only one!”

“How many Deputy Leaders do you want?”

“Housing and Homelessness is gone too.”

“That’s because under Tony Abbott nobody will be homeless. Unless they don’t work hard enough. It’ll all be merit based.”

“Finally, what’s happening with Multicultural Affairs?”

“I think that goes under Immigration. No, wait… Border Protection? Or did we just think that it wasn’t worth worrying about? Maybe Industry…”

“Perhaps The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, there’s no such thing.”

“Ah… There is!”

“Oh, sounds like a great place to put it then.”

“Speaking of great places to put things…”


“Never mind, thanks for your time.”

“A pleasure.”