Thursday, September 9, 2010

Now it’s ‘game on’, Julia

It was the day she was sworn in as Prime Minister. The ink was barely dry on her commission and Julia Gillard had squared off against Tony Abbott in Parliament with that now-famous challenge: “Game on”. But it was more than two months too soon.

The finest writers in Hollywood could not have imagined the drama that has been playing out in Australia’s capital since we went to the polls. The nation inched forward, leader-less, with only a caretaker government in our first hung parliament of modern times, while the deal of a life-time was being hammered out.

Queensland Independent MP Bob Katter was the first chip to fall. True to form, Katter withdrew from the clique of “three wise monkeys” he’d formed over the past two weeks with fellow independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, to make his own statement. He was siding with the Coalition, bringing them tantalisingly close to their goal—and government—of 75 seats or more.

It was another two hours and two speeches before the nation’s misery was brought to an end. They arrived separately to announce their decisions and it was still possible that they would decide separately, too, delivering the ultimate photo-finish of 75 seats each. Then came the words that brought ecstasy for Julia Gillard and her supporters, and agony for Tony Abbott and his: both Windsor and Oakeshott were going to support Labor.

That’s all history now.

It’s what happens from here on that really counts—Julia Gillard can finally lay claim to being Australia’s first female Prime Minister without caveat. There was an election. She secured the most seats (or at least the co-operation of those who sit in them). Labor is back in government.

Gillard says she’s “learned some lessons” during her nail-biting ride to The Lodge, offering “a new style of leadership” and accountability. Using language better suited to a 1970s hippie ballad than the massive challenge of running the country, she’s promised to “draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in”.

Let’s hope she remembers that no-one really won this election—both the major parties lost it. Every day that passes will mean a fresh victory for Gillard and increase her hold on power—conversely, the sooner another election is held, the greater the Coalition’s chances of being returned to government. In the words of Senator Nick Xenophon, a new election is only a heart attack away.

Now, Julia, it really is “game on”.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waiting for Gillard

The women of this country have waited a long time for a fellow female to ascend the throne of Australian politics. We’ve had female premiers a-plenty, some of our top cops have been female and women are even running AFL clubs these days. But with the swearing-in of a female Governor-General, the only prime job left ungraced by the owner of a double set of X chromosomes was that of PM.

The sad part is, in the ways that matter, some of us are still waiting. It’s not that she’s been rolled in some super-secret party spill. It’s just that some time after becoming Prime Minister, the Julia Gillard we knew and loved went AWOL and hasn’t returned.

She admitted as much when she said the “real Julia” would no longer be subjugated by pollie-spin and election-speak. She would get out there and talk to the real people, she said. Well, she’s out there, alright, but in the dying days of the election campaign, I’m not buying what she’s got to sell.

First, there’s the kissing of babies. I know it’s a campaign and all but do we really have to have such clich├ęd clinches? Much has been made in the past of Gillard’s single and childless status. I’ve got no problems with that—I don’t have kids either. But every time I see Julia cooing over a baby I want to throw something at the telly. It all seems more than a touch contrived, as if she’s suddenly uncomfortable with the fact that she’s not having any kids of her own. Perhaps it’s really the ALP spin doctors who are uncomfortable—they’re probably the same ones who advised Kevin Rudd to trot his wife and kids out every chance he could get.

While Julia Gillard is about as far from Sarah Palin as red is from blue, one of Palin’s most “sellable” qualities was her disarming authenticity. Cheesy it may have been, but Palin excelled at being herself. And Middle America loved her for it. We used to love Julia for the same reason, ocker accent and all.

Though I don’t claim to be a feminist, I did get a lump in my throat watching that very first prime-ministerial speech and maiden media conference. Gillard’s poise, confidence and sheer statesmanlike command of the room were awesome (in the original sense of the word). But where are those intelligent, impassioned and inspirational speeches now? Silenced, by the cacophony of campaigning.

In her defence, Gillard has copped criticism from all sides since she took on the big gig. Too much makeup, over-sized ear lobes, more talk about her polish than her policies—but that’s all the external stuff.

What women really want is to see the first woman to take over The Lodge in her own right, be the woman she made us believe she could be.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Something to talk about

If a week is a long time in politics, I betcha Mike Rann can't wait for this one to be over. Our Premier has been in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and it's not a good look in the long lead-up to an election. Aside from the question of "did he or didn't he?" spring a whole load of others.

Firstly, do we care? Yes, we do. Let's be honest. It's the sort of thing we all can't help thinking about, talking about and listening about. We in this country like to think we're above all that tawdry stuff--it's so sensationalist--but when push comes to shove, we're as interested as the next person. Maybe more.

Why do we care? Seeing someone else go through something we'd hate to go through always takes our attention. Much to the Government's discomfort, this issue is likely to be the subject of many a water cooler conversation today and for some time to come. Why is that? Prurient interest aside, I think it's the train-wreck factor. It's not pretty and we're not proud to admit it, but we just can't seem to tear our eyes away.

What does it mean? Us Aussies are fond of our egalitarian image of being slow to judge others, but the concept isn't a new one. At a basic level, there's an element of "there but for the grace of God go I", so instinctively we shy away from it. Why's that? I'll be bold and say most of us have a skeleton in our closet or at the very least stuff we're not proud of, and we simply don't like being reminded of that. Disclosures of flawed humanity make us all uncomfortable because they force us to admit we could be next. It was Jesus who challenged the Pharisees (and the rest of us without sin) to cast the first stone. But merely discussing the issue isn't the same as passing judgement. Who knows? Maybe it's something we can even learn from.

What does it matter? There have been plenty of talk-back protestations that none of this matters because it's not directly relevant to Mike Rann's premiership, but if that were true, this issue wouldn't be making news to start with. While no-one's perfect (except for you and I, of course), whether we like it or not we do hold those in the public eye to a higher standard of accountability. Footballers are among those to protest long and loudly whenever an indiscretion by one of their brethren is made public, but it's a simple fact that if you are a part of public life there will be those who will emulate you. Whether that carries a sense of responsibility as a result is open for debate. But the difference here is that our State politicians have a code of conduct their political parties require them to abide by. The fact this conduct is spelt out in such a fashion means there is a higher standard of behaviour at play here, and that this group of people are willing to be held to it.

Simply put, what our politicians do and how they do it affects the entire State, and talking and thinking about what that means for us isn't a sin. If we're eligible to vote and we say we're not interested, we're either not being responsible or we're just kidding ourselves.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stop messing with my delirium. And my Pageant.

Scary the things you see on Facebook these days. Someone I know had written something so outrageous, so totally shocking and... well, shocking, I had just had to reply. If I didn't I was afraid the world as we know it would be ruined for ever.

Someone dissed the Christmas Pageant. Heinous, I know, but it happened, people.

We have to forgive him, though--after all, he's a Victorian and cannot possibly be expected to comprehend the gravity of his words. Thanks to the glory of Facebook I disabused him of the notion that it was merely tradition that kept this venerated institution going even when the temperature would be 39 degrees in the shade. (Bet the organisers wish they had really stuck with tradition and ran it last week instead of holding it over until today!)

I reminded this poor soul it was more than tradition that kept the Pageant alive. Even though his Victorian-ness was showing, those of us in the know had the grace and patience to explain that it is sooooooo much more than tradition that makes us care about the Christmas pageant.

I told him that it's the biggest pageant in the southern hemisphere (don't you dare call it a "parade"!), bigger than Sydney's mardi gra and one of the biggest of its type in the world. I also let him know that it's the subject of books, movies and the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of little kids. Who could forget that literary classic "Tissi and the Pageant"? I'm sure they made a movie of it... didn't they?

Now I know I'm showing my age when I confess that I secretly still refer to it as the "Johnnies' Christmas Pageant". But I know that I am not alone when I confess that I still harbour an irrational desire to be one of the chosen to walk through the city on that special day. I remember gazing adoringly at Nipper and Nimble as they passed me by, and longing to be the little girl who rode them.

That was last year. Now I'd be happy to be one of the grown up fairies that helps Father Christmas on his way to the Magic Cave.

It's free entertainment for cash-strapped families. It embodies the hopes and dreams of generations. It's part of our culture.

Messing with the Christmas Pageant--is nothing sacred? Next they'll be telling me there is no Father Christmas!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I tried procrastinating, but I couldn't be bothered

Arnold Schwarzenegger was the Terminator. Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator. Well, move aside, fellas--here comes the Great Procrastinator.

Well, I would be if I could be bothered.

I have been working on this blog all day. Yep, it's taken me 1o hours to write 41 words. Not to much to show for all my sweat (we've officially cracked that heatwave record I wrote about the other day).

But in the meantime I've done all sorts of worthy things like going to out to lunch (relationships are important), checking my Facebook page (relationships are important), checking my Twitter account (all relationships are important).

That's not all. I've checked my emails many times (good communication is important), made a couple of phone calls when my email stopped working (see, good communication is important!) and even managed to fix a problem with email on my iPhone (you know what I'm going to say here).

These are all acceptable things to do, especially because I've been putting off doing a couple of them for a while. But they're nothing compared to what I should have been doing today: writing a magazine article, starting a script and working on my book...

So here I am writing about what I'm not writing.

P. J. O'Rourke was right when he said writers will do anything to avoid writing (thanks Michael Hyatt!

So I'm going to stop. Now. After all, the dishes are waiting.

A blog about nothing? Seinfeld ain't got nothing on me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We Shall Remember Them

It's Remembrance Day.

A day to remember the fallen in conflicts past--those who gave their lives to make Australia and the Commonwealth what it is today. I'm not sure why, but I can never hear the Last Post without getting a lump in my throat.

In my career I've had the chance to meet some incredible people and witness some amazing sights for Remembrance Day. One of the first was when I was a student journalist interviewing one of the original Diggers (from World War One) in a soldiers' home at Kensington. He couldn't remember what he had for breakfast, nor what he had done the week before, but he could remember all too well the battles that had been lost and the mates around him who had fallen. He was brave and sweet and noble. He was very old then, and I was very young. But I'll always remember him.

I also remember working as a radio journalist for a top-rating FM station and interviewing the then boss of the RSL. He'd fought in Vietnam and had his own tales of war. I wish I'd kept a copy of the package I put together for that day, using songs our listeners would have known well, interspersed with stories they wouldn't. When I heard his voice reading the Ode of Remembrance going to air at 11:01, I cried like I was hearing it for the first time--like that sacrifice had just been made for me. I'll always remember that.

One of the sweetest Remembrance Day memories was as a TV chief of staff on a lean and quiet Sunday. A 21-year-old sports reporter by the name of Tom Rehn asked if it was okay to head to an RSL club so he could play the Last Post for them. He was allowed to go on one condition: that he play it for us in the newsroom as well. I vividly remember watching the amusement and fascination on the faces of my workmates turn sober with respect and deference. They came from all over the building, summoned just as though he'd been playing Reveille. It was eerie and haunting and beautiful. The performance became a bit of a newsroom tradition until Tom headed east to greener sporting pastures. But I'll always remember it.

Today I remember the 102,000 Diggers and ANZACs killed, as well as those still serving in conflicts, wars and other arenas across the world. I am grateful they were willing to do what cost them so much. In my prayers I'll remember them.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dipping My Toe In

As I sit here on my couch in the middle of the first heatwave of the summer, I'm going to resist the temptation to say something clever for my first blog. I could blame the heat for melting it away, like a big block of ice in the searing Adelaide sun, but I'd hate to mislead you. I'm not that profound to begin with. Having said that, it's time to move on from the baby steps of Facebook and Twitter updates and dip my toes into the larger pool of blogging. I really wanted to say it's time to take the floaties off and plunge into the grown ups' pool of blogging, but that really would be the heat talking! Did I mention how hot it was here? 38 degrees and rising. Day 2 of what's expected to be the hottest November heatwave on record...

Yep, it's hot. And now I'm off and running...