David Humphries explains the excruciating boredom of this election campaign, the "Battle of the bland" with some quotes (SMH 24 Jul 10):
Australian National University politics professor John Warhurst who say that both Abbott and Gillard, "Both run the risk of not allowing their instincts to see the light of day." "Each is much more flamboyant and interesting than they are allowed to show. A lot of Labor people don't know what Julia Gillard is about."
Mungo MacCallum: "They haven't got the guts to say anything, they're running so scared."
Campaigns, says MacCallum, are in the hands of the "usual suspects — economists, psephologists, astrologists, personal trainers, homeopaths, absurd reliance on focus groups". These "cut the balls off every known process of politics", says MacCallum, and "you end up with policies intended to offend nobody and therefore do nothing".
Andrew Hughes, a ANU specialist in political marketing says the Prime Minister is keeping the campaign as lacklustre as she can because "she's in the box seat and wants as smooth a race as possible". "Julia Gillard doesn't want you to think about it too much because that might get voters thinking more about 'brand Abbott', and you don't want consumers too interested in rival brands."
"Certainly Gillard doesn't want voters thinking too deeply about some of her assurances," Humphries concludes. Above all the goal is "don't offend, even if being all things to all people risks being nothing to anyone. "
Dealing with hecklers once was part of an astute leader's skills. A woman heckler at working-class Williamstown, in Melbourne in 1954, told Bob Menzies she wouldn't vote for him if he was the archangel Gabriel. "If I were the archangel Gabriel, I'm afraid you wouldn't be in my constituency," Menzies shot back. He was the last PM in office when public meetings and radio broadcasts were the chief means of communication with the electorate.
Gough Whitlam was at Blacktown when another woman heckler interrupted his discussion of a plan to sewer western Sydney by demanding incessantly where he stood on abortion. "In your case, I'd make it retrospective," Whitlam told her. Imagine the furore that would be unleashed by such prime ministerial utterances today.
Sad that weve become so wimpy. No one can make even the slightest mistake. No one can change their mind. Politics is pickled and preserved in blandness. The 24-hour cycle makes risk-taking impossible.
Sixty years ago, Menzies and Ben Chifley did battle over control of the national means of production, over left versus right tensions tearing the world apart. The picture was big. Finding room for differentiation was easy.
We'd be better off with Beazley or Costello, thinks Greg Sheridan in in The Australian (22 Jul 10):
So far this has been a very low-quality election contest. It represents a serious regression in Australian politics, with less genuine policy discussion or commitment than ever before. Neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott has offered more than a thought bubble on national security or foreign affairs. . . . Both Gillard and Abbott are deficient in similar ways as national leaders. Both are running as opposition leaders against the Rudd government, a bizarre position for Gillard, who now seems exempt from all responsibility for the fiascos of the past three years . . . [W]e have two competing national leaders who are just about untutored in the key aspects of modern government. And it shows.
In many contexts Abbott is brave as a lion, but he seems to have a reluctance to do the boring nuts-and-bolts policy work of politics, and in this campaign he is running against his own beliefs and his party's values. Courage in politics mostly means policy courage. Neither Gillard nor Abbott is demonstrating courage, knowledge or competence in the critical areas of national policy. We deserve a better politics than this.
So it's tweedle dum and tweedle dee.
Except for Bob Brown and the Greens, that is. Which is why he's not invited to tonight's debate. He's not bland enough. Too risky. He might win.
Prime Minister Gillard's climate change policy announced today is an excuse for more delay on the climate crisis, the Australian Greens said today.
"Prime Minister Gillard is showing a complete lack of leadership on the climate crisis," Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said. "The Greens stand ready to work with a re-elected Gillard government to deliver a carbon price fast, and the community is clamouring for action, but the Prime Minister is making excuses for more delays instead of embracing the opportunity. Ms Gillard's announcement today does nothing to give certainty to business. Meanwhile, China is moving fast towards a carbon price and India already has a tax on coal, leaving Australia far behind.
What we have heard from the Prime Minister is recycled rhetoric from the past four years, a repeat of Labor's old failed climate approach, not any commitment to real action. Ms Gillard's talkfest is nothing more or less than trying to re-educate the community about the fatally flawed emissions trading scheme. We already have 150 people being elected right now to debate and make decisions on climate change — it's called Parliament, Prime Minister.
Leadership on climate would have seen the Prime Minister saying 'no more coal'. Instead, her promise on emissions standards for coal fired power stations is meaningless. There are 12 coal fired power stations on the books for Australia right now and Prime Minister Gillard's promise will not apply to these. The UK recently dropped its commitment to making new coal fired power stations 'carbon capture ready', acknowledging that it was meaningless. Instead they have committed to building no more coal fired power stations unless and until carbon capture is proven and adopted.
Whilst the Greens welcome the Prime Minister's announcement of $1billion for the renewable energy grid, this is a drop in the ocean over 10 years. Compares it to the $2.5 billion already allocated to carbon capture and storage and it is patently nowhere near what is needed to drive a renewable energy revolution.
For all of this year, the government has argued that it will not move on a carbon price because it does not have the Senate numbers to do so. Prime Minister Gillard is now saying that she will not support the Greens' proposal for a carbon levy even the Greens and Labor have the numbers to deliver one in the new Senate because we have to wait for her talkfest to finish.
The community will not accept that excuse.
It appeasr I'm not alone in agreeing that the PM is doing little or nothing. The Ageeditorial today:
PM evades on climate change
PRIME Minister Julia Gillard hasn't reinvented the wheel. But she's gone as close to that exercise in fatuity as she possibly can, by announcing a "citizens' assembly" made up of "real Australians" to consider proposals for a carbon-emissions trading scheme and other responses to climate change. There already is a representative assembly whose job it is to deliberate on changes in the law. It's called Parliament. And, unlike the assembly Ms Gillard has in mind, it is democratically elected. So why does the Prime Minister want to take from the people's chosen representatives the role of debating and scrutinising measures aimed at dealing with the most serious issue confronting the planet?
Ever since Ms Gillard assumed the Labor leadership, and with it the prime ministership, she has talked evasively on climate policy. In her first news conference, she acknowledged the urgency of the need to reduce carbon emissions, and pledged that she would "reprosecute" the case for setting a carbon price. But this could not be achieved, she said, without first building a national consensus on the issue. As The Age has noted before, however, this approach is as likely to produce more of the present paralysis on climate policy as it is to result in real change. The only matters on which consensus is ever likely to be achieved are those that are uncontentious, which is why democratic politics is not about consensus. It is about building majorities, and if the Prime Minister is as committed to reprosecuting the case for pricing carbon as she purports to be, she should be making that case now, in the election campaign. Instead, however, she has effectively chosen to defer the matter again — and treated this country's elected institutions with contempt in doing so.
Ms Gillard is obviously sensitive to this sort of criticism, because in announcing the new citizens' assembly she said: "It is vital to be clear what I mean by that community consensus — I do not mean that government can take no action until every member of the community is fully convinced." Yes, Prime Minister. But why then speak of consensus? And why, instead of campaigning forthrightly on the need for an emissions trading system, tell voters that anything that might involve unpalatable changes in their way of life will be vetted by what amounts to a glorified focus group?
Details of the citizens' assembly proposal are sketchy, but the Prime Minister has said that assembly members would be representative of the broader population in age ranges and geographic origin, and chosen by an independent authority. She has not said what that authority would be, or how it would make its choices. Nor has she explained who will be on the expert commission that will explain the science of climate change, or how that will be chosen. Worst of all, in her public utterances she is content to appear blithely indifferent to the redundancy of all this new apparatus. The government already has available to it the advice of the CSIRO, and other scientists working in universities and research institutes. The findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are well known, and mischievous attempts to undermine the credibility of those findings, such as the so-called University of East Anglia emails affair, have persuaded only those already disposed to see human-induced climate change as a myth. The great majority of the world's climate scientists think otherwise, and the evidence of successive opinion polls is that most Australian voters do, too. Ms Gillard does not have to build a majority for effective action on climate change. It already exists. She does, however, need to summon up the resolve to take that action.
[. . .] The Prime Minister knows the case for emissions trading. She should be taking a plan of action, not procrastination, to this election.
In her brief but finely crafted address to the United Nations General Assembly on 6 July 2010, the Queen spoke with the authority and wisdom that comes from a lifetime of service as Head of the Commonwealth of 54 countries.
New challenges have also emerged which have tested this organisation as much as its member states. One such is the struggle against terrorism. Another challenge is climate change, where careful account must be taken of the risks facing smaller, more vulnerable nations, many of them from the Commonwealth.
The Queen avoids political controversy. All the more remarkable, therefore, that she should speak of climate change. The Queen, for one, accepts the reality of global warming as beyond political controversy.
Tom Speight, writing for The Commonweal (14 June 10) makes it clearer than I have read anywhere else, that BP was willfully and culpably negligent in bringing about the circumstances that allowed the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Every oil or gas rig ought to be able to anticipate, and prepare for, the kind of problems that led to the spill (gas "burps," equipment malfunctions, operator error). Such an offshore well, drilled at such a depth, obviously posed a big risk, and it should not have been drilled without contingency plans, proven shutoff methods, and back-up equipment sitting on the shelf, ready to be used. After all, blowouts happen even in well-developed and comparatively stable oil and gas fields, and recent years have seen several underwater blowouts off the coasts of Mexico and Australia. Since the oil and gas beneath the seabed are under such intense pressure that oil oozes out of natural seeps against the pressure of five thousand feet of ocean (measured in tons per square inch), this kind of drilling can be like punching a hole in a pressurized propane tank. . . .
BP's entire drilling operation was shoddy. The seals on the blowout preventer—the device designed to keep oil and gas from spurting out of the well—disintegrated a month before the accident and were never repaired. There was no acoustic failsafe switch, a device that could have triggered the blowout preventer and shut the well off even after electrical power was lost and the rig was destroyed (though of course this would have helped only if the blowout preventer was in working order to begin with). There was no backup blowout preventer, and there was no spill-response unit on standby. BP's representative on the rig ordered the Transocean drilling crew to remove some of the drilling mud from the borehole and replace it with seawater, which would have allowed BP to begin producing oil and gas from the well sooner, but which also left the well unable to contain the high-pressure oil and gas. . . .
"No one could have foreseen this" is a shabby excuse. Blowouts do happen. Thousands of books have been written on oil-rig safety, and many of the safety measures or redundancies that could have saved the Deepwater Horizon are mandatory on oil rigs off the coasts of other countries. Acoustic switches used to be mandatory on drill rigs in U.S. waters, until the Bush administration dropped the requirement, and they are still mandatory in most countries that drill.
Speight goes on to mention BP's very bad safety record in the Unites States and to argue for "consistent, legally enforced measures" to manage the risks involved.
As Mark Speeks sets out in The Tablet, the Gulf of Mexico spill highlights ethical concerns about drilling for oil in some of the most fragile ecosystems on earth. There are also serious concerns for pension funds that hold BP shares.
It is arguable whether the major oil companies match the criteria for an ethical investment. With many of the most obvious and easily accessible sites for drilling in production or exhausted, the oil industry is encroaching on remote pristine areas of outstanding beauty worldwide, threatening such areas as the Canadian Arctic tundra, once too difficult to reach.
While the companies promise to behave responsibly, no matter the efforts to minimise risk, the threat to the environment is ever present while the profit motive often places a limit on safety measures. And, of course, as the world gropes for a viable alternative, oil will remain for some time to come the essential lubricant for all our economies.
At least it can be said that oil is essential for transport and the manufacture of our medicines, fertilisers and many other products. There are other products that are more questionably ethically, such as tobacco and alcohol and dubious fanatical instruments.
Ethical investors can perhaps feel like sheep surrounded by wolves, uncertain whether the necessity of investing wisely for the short and long term means surrendering or compromising their most cherished beliefs. Indeed, in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples that he was sending them out in exactly those terms. The remedy Jesus recommended was to be "as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves". . . .
The conundrum of being in the world and yet not of it creates a constant tension. . . . A Christian approach to ethical investment should not seek to withdraw from the world, fearful of contamination, but recognise that there are no pure choices and engage in the battle. . . . Justice, love and the common good are not ideas that should be banished from the boardroom but embraced. Moreover, a profound sense of responsibility for our actions and their effect on the environment is no mere box-ticking exercise but a humble recognition of our stewardship of creation. . . . In practice, it means attending shareholder meetings and asking questions. It means seeking out like-minded shareholders so that resolutions can be placed on the agenda for voting. It means not re-electing directors who don't listen to their shareholders. It means understanding a company's articles of association. It means agitating for meetings with management and boards. It also means using the press. . . .
Only by answering how the world could be different can Christians engage honestly with big business. It isn't enough to be an Elijah denouncing the powers that be when there are few, if any, alternatives. . . . Preferential ethics has no place in the Christian lexicon. Situational ethics have. Risks and bad consequences can—and must be—accepted once it is understood that sin is part and parcel of a world that struggles to become the Kingdom of God. . . . The Christian vocation is to engage in each individual battle: making sure that better decisions are made and more precautions are taken.