Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Forget the spin cycle, Gillard's problems are ones of substance
The weekend media reported that "senior government figures were very happy with the sale of their surplus" and were finally getting "cut-through" without distractions. Of course, that was before the allegations against Labor's hand-picked Speaker, Peter Slipper, blew up.
How the government imagines it is getting "cut-through" over something that has not been announced - let alone delivered - is a mystery. But statements like these do illustrate how delusional things are becoming in Canberra.
The government thinks it is doing an excellent job and making the right decisions. It is just that bad luck always intervenes to muck things up and distractions occur that prevent people from seeing how good it really is. If only it could get clear air to explain itself and put a proper spin on things, its popularity would rise to the level it truly deserves.
In truth, the government is incompetent. Its real problem is not image but substance. It isn't that it failed to sell the carbon tax. It is that it decided to introduce a carbon tax in the first place after promising there would be none. It isn't that the public is ungrateful for all those insulation batts and new school halls. It is that the public can see how money has been thrown away on wasteful projects and does not believe, along with every sane analyst, that this saved Australia from financial collapse. The gulf between reality and spin is badly undermining the credibility of the government.
So now the government bemoans that the public is "distracted" by the Slipper affair. This distraction arises from another very deliberate decision - to take someone under a cloud in his own party and elevate him to the highest parliamentary position as part of a "cunning plan" to neutralise his vote. What tarnished Labor is the decision, not the presentation.
However, I will say one thing for Slipper: at least he appears to think he is innocent of financial impropriety. He is going to give an explanation for his conduct and answer the questions of investigators, which is more than you can say for Craig Thomson.
Thomson says there is an explanation as to how his credit card got used to buy prostitutes. It's just that he refuses to give it and refuses to co-operate with the police, who want to know what it is. Is this an image problem for Julia Gillard? No, this is a substance problem. She could support full exposure of what is, by all accounts, corrupt behaviour by someone in the Health Services Union or she could give her full support to Thomson. She has chosen to do the latter.
So I am going to suggest a new tactic for the government when it comes to selling this year's budget - level with the public and tell the facts rather than weave the spin. This would involve admitting it was costly and unnecessary to ramp up spending by 36 per cent in the past four budgets. It would mean admitting that if a surplus budget will take pressure off interest rates now (as the government is claiming), then more careful budget policy would have helped over the past four years when we returned budget deficits of $27 billion, $55 billion, $48 billion and $37 billion - in total, $166 billion. And it would mean admitting the 2012-13 budget would not be a surplus at all if the government included its actual spending on the national broadband network (up to $43 billion), which it has taken off-budget.
Most of all, it would mean stopping all this nonsense about its problems being the result of bad karma. Last week Gillard, seeking to explain why the forthcoming budget surplus will be so weak, wailed that "the rivers of gold that flowed into Peter Costello's coffers don't exist any more". I have news for her - they never did. There were no rivers of gold or anything else that could compare to the rivers of iron ore and black coal that are now pumping the Australian economy.
Gillard's latest forecast for the coming financial year is $375 billion in receipts, which is more than $100 billion more than the last full financial year of the Coalition government. Over five years, this is an increase of 37 per cent. The problem is that Commonwealth spending has risen even faster.
This government has tried more spin cycles than would be safe for an average washing machine. It should try a rinse cycle to get rid of all the accumulated grime - and a little bit of disinfectant to spruce up the end result.
Public hospital meltdown in S. Australia
Anything out of the routine stumps them
A QUARTER of Adelaide's ambulance fleet was lined up outside Flinders Medical Centre on Monday - and the state's biggest hospital refused to help.
The backlog included life-threatening emergencies, such as one patient aged in their 90s with a suspected heart attack and very low blood pressure, who was left waiting outside the hospital for at least 30 minutes.
A spokesman for the Royal Adelaide Hospital said it "already had a large number of patients in its own ED" and was not accepting diversions at the time.
Ambulance Employees Association secretary Phil Palmer said the bottleneck also meant no ambulances were available between Cross roads and Yankalilla, delaying dispatches to top priority cases across that area.
He said the state's major hospitals must work together to handle the load.
"We need a state health system where people co-operate with each other for the benefit of the patient," Mr Palmer said.
He said members counted 10 ambulances lined up delivering patients at FMC about 4.30pm - a quarter of the roughly 40 ambulances operating across metropolitan Adelaide.
A photo taken around the same time shows nine ambulances held up outside the hospital, while two more were understood to be on the way.
Mr Palmer said patients left waiting included another with a heart condition waiting for 45 minutes, cancer patients in pain and people with fractures.
He said the "intolerable and unacceptable" incident would be taken to the Industrial Relations Commission.
"On busy days like that, the last thing the community needs is ambulance resources tied up outside a hospital when their patient should have been handed over to ED staff," Mr Palmer said.
FMC general manager Roz Hanson said the delays were caused by a sudden influx between about 2.30pm and 3.30pm.
"Within a two-hour period the FMC ED experienced an unexpected surge in ambulance patient demand, with a high number of ambulances arriving at the hospital in two 15-minute time frames," Ms Hanson said.
"At this time, the FMC was also receiving a number of emergency situation presentations from within the hospital which affected the ED's usual ability to receive the high quantity of patients in a timely manner."
The oldest tree
AT least two miracles have saved Tasmania's 10,500-year-old stand of Huon Pine - the world's oldest clonal tree - from destruction.
Located in the sub-alpine heights of Mt Read near Rosebery in northwestern Tasmania, it's miraculous that 100 years of mining has not wrought the sort of havoc that copper smelting has visited on nearby Queenstown, where woodcutting and acid rain have stripped the slopes of vegetation. Second, it's good fortune that when wildfire did strike the Mt Read heights in the early '60s, killing ancient stands of King Billy pines, the flames stopped metres short of the heart of the Huon Pine that has stunned scientists around the world.
Discovered in 1995 by forestry worker Mike Peterson, the ancient Huon Pine has marched its way over more than a hectare, down a hill towards the Lake Johnston glacial lake, reproducing genetically identical male copies - clones - of itself. While the oldest individual tree or stem on the site now may be 1000 to 2000 years old, the organism itself has been living there continuously for 10,500 years.
For the past decade, 72-year-old Kerry Hay has been the gatekeeper of the tree. A bus company operator in Rosebery, Hay first heard about it one day in 1995 when someone from Sydney knocked on his door wanting to see it after reading about its discovery. Hay had to send them away disappointed. It took almost five years of lobbying to get permission to take visitors to the stand, and longer to get access.
Visitors must be accompanied by a registered tour guide and Hay charges $70. But it's not a particularly bountiful enterprise. With snowfalls at any time and an average rainfall of 3.3m a year, the weather is only good enough to see the tree for about three months of every year. "Not too many come for the tour," says Hay. "If it's cloudy you can't see the bloody thing."
But on a clear day it is a breathtaking experience. To get there it's a steep drive up a mining road before branching off onto an unkept 4WD track. Visitors must wear plastic covers over their shoes before stepping onto a boardwalk that winds its way through the skeletons of ancient King Billy pines that were burnt out in the '60s fire.
At 850m elevation it is a craggy environment with low heath covers. The pathway leads to a lookout over Lake Johnston with the stand of Huon Pines about 100m away. To reach the stand it is necessary to scramble over the shale and low ground cover and navigate around thick dead trunks that must be thousands of years old, their roots spread over the ground like pythons, some as thick as a waist.
Inside the stand of Huon there is a thick carpet of moss and a tangle of roots and shoots that explain how the stand has marched its way over the landscape.
By studying the tree rings of the Huon Pines, climatologists have been able to establish a continuous record of climatic change over more than 3700 years. As a consequence, the Lake Johnston Nature Reserve has received one of the highest ranked protections available in the world, reflecting its immense significance to the botanical and scientific communities.
An angry retort to Bettina Arndt from a feminist
But she ends up agreeing that Bettina has got her facts right
If you read this weekend’s Sunday papers, you will have been thrilled by an incredible piece of news: Bettina Arndt is the first human being to have visited an entirely different universe.
The voyage happened during her piece, Why women lose the dating game; Bettina visited the universe - hitherto only speculated about by astronomers - and found an alien entity who, coincidentally, was called Clem Bastow. This alien entity reached the end of the article and found herself nodding in cautious agreement.
FOOLED YOU! The alien was me! And I have been struggling with this strange new sensation for the past day: what does it mean for you when a large part of a Bettina Arndt article rings true?
First things first, in case you think this article is being written by my dog and I’m actually chained up in a basement somewhere: there’s plenty she didn’t get right, namely, women’s role in the dating game. “Many thought they could put off marriage and families until their 30s, having devoted their 20s to education, establishing careers and playing the field,” says Arndt of silly women nationwide. “But was their decade of dating a strategic mistake?”
Sometimes you just gotta wonder if Bettina even likes women. She seems so determined to decry feminism - even when, as she’s done here, she doesn’t expressly say as much - and defend the plight of the poor men left sobbing in the movement’s wake.
However, on the topic of the misogynist cesspool that is the “dating scene”, unfortunately, she’s spot on.
I used to laugh about things like The Game and the idea of “pick-up artists”, dismissing them as little more than a horror story from across the pond, but then I was hypnotised into a relationship by a 38-year-old Darth Vader impersonator who sidelined as a counsellor who helped young men pick up chicks.
He worked as a ‘guest lecturer’ - or something - with a lifestyle coach who taught meek dudes things like “same night lays” and how to avoid “the verbal leakage of power” (no, I don’t know what that is, either).
These blokes weren’t really interested in actual relationships, and they didn’t have to be, because there were always going to be more single women who were willing to step up to the plate if another demurred.
By that token, the census analysis Arndt quotes - “68,000 unattached graduate men in their 30s for 88,000 single graduate women in the same age group” - isn’t surprising.
Likewise, the experience of Gail - who found that men her own age on dating websites were only interested in younger women - rings true. I am still half-heartedly engaging in the sisyphean saga that is “looking for someone nice to go on dates with”, and now that I’m 30 (well, almost), I find I am almost exclusively contacted by men who are 15 to 20 years older. Who’s contacting the women who are 45+?
In short, it’s hell out there. But here’s where I begin to become human once more, and remember what it’s like to disagree with Bettina Arndt: why do we carry on as though these women who have reached their late-30s and early-40s and found themselves (“still”) single have thrown their lives away?
Yes, it’s nice to share your life with someone - all but the most misanthropic or committedly lone-wolf-ish of us know that. However the tone of Arndt’s piece suggests that we should capitulate to the good-enough husband (even trotting out Lori Gottlieb’s Marry Him!, which was listed as a favourite text in the online dating profile of a man I recently encountered who insisted that “[his] crotch!” wanted my phone number).
As Arndt puts it, “many women are missing out on their fairytale ending”. As someone else in the article, Penny, puts it: “We were told we were special, we could do anything and the world was our oyster."
Hate to break it to you, Penny, but all of that is true - provided you don’t need the pearl inside that oyster to be a man.