Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Character is destiny, Kevin

SOMETIMES, the most trivial event can have the most volcanic impact in an election campaign.  So it was with the encounter between the Prime Minister and the make-up artist last week.

Kevin Rudd was late to the Broncos Leagues Club in Brisbane on Wednesday night. Late, and anxious, despite the cheesy grin he flashed to demonstrators as his car swung into the driveway.

It was 6.15pm, just 15 minutes until showtime for the People's Forum, where both leaders were to face unscripted questions from an audience of swinging voters.  David Speers was already on stage and the audience were in their seats. Tony Abbott had been in the building for almost an hour.

The Opposition Leader had a room on the lower ground floor, while the PM and his entourage were assigned quarters one level above the ground floor auditorium where the leaders would face off in a contest Rudd had been reluctantly conscripted into.

Lily Fontana was the freelance make-up artist hired by Sky to ensure both men were camera-ready.  Highly regarded, and reportedly apolitical, the mother of a young son told staffers she was excited to be back, three years after working on the debate between Abbott and Julia Gillard.  Abbott remembered her and they chatted companionably as she powdered his nose. She was finished on schedule at 5.45pm.

But there was no sign of Rudd. As she waited for the PM to arrive, Abbott's staffers offered her coffee.

It is not known what state Rudd was in when he burst through the door at 6.15pm, but he appeared jumpy and soon began sculling bottles of Mt Franklin water.

Whatever happened next in that first-floor make-up room is now a matter of debate. But one thing is clear. The PM made such a bad impression on Lily Fontana that, three hours later, at 9.25pm, she opened up Facebook and vented.

"Just finished doing Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott's makeup ... One of them was absolutely lovely, engaged in genuine conversation with me, acknowledged that I had a job to do and was very appreciative. The other did the exact opposite! Oh boy, I have never had anyone treat me so badly.

"Political opinions aside ... from one human being to another … Mr Abbott you win hands down."

It was a bombshell comment, devastating because it was so believable. It crystallised underlying character assessments of both men that have slowly been forming in the electorate.

Despite his genial, cheery persona, here was a glimpse of the other Rudd we have heard about, a nasty, volatile man.

Before Fontana was harassed into deleting her Facebook post on Thursday, fellow Brisbane make-up artist Abigael Johnston added a comment: "I second this Lily. I have had a very similar experience! Must run in the family as Mr Howard and Mr Costello were gentlemen with a capital G. Mr Abbott is following in their footsteps.

"The other, I could not even Facebook how he treated the crew. Just abhorrent!"

We have enough circumstantial evidence to say that Rudd treats people he regards as lower status as insignificant and unworthy of courtesy. This is why Fontana's observations were significant. Kevin Rudd has form.

* The RAAF flight attendant reduced to tears when she brought him sandwiches instead of the vegetarian meal he requested.

* The persistent story of the tantrum over a hairdryer in Afghanistan, which he denies.

* The high-five with a limelight-hogging preschooler that ended with a squeeze that made the child say "Ouch".

* The chip snatched from a reluctant stranger's plate.

And there are untold stories which also go to character.

A former soldier, Arthur, on duty at Kabul International Airport one wintry day in 2007, remembers Rudd's first visit to Afghanistan as PM.

It still hurts to recall the bags of eagerly anticipated Christmas mail due on the plane.

Before Rudd landed, a senior officer warned the troops there would be no mail. Rudd had "insisted his entire entourage fly with him on the same aircraft so they offloaded all the mail", says Arthur.

One of the Diggers broke the silence: ``Johnny would have brought the mail." As in Howard.

When Rudd arrived, he shook hands with Arthur, who was wearing an eye patch because an allergic reaction to a vaccine meant he couldn't close his left eye when firing his weapon.  "What's up with you?" asked Rudd.

Arthur explained.  "So you aren't celebrating International Pirate Day then?" quipped Rudd.

Arthur didn't see the humour in the joke.

Three years later, Arthur was on his way out on leave when his plane was diverted to Tarin Kowt to pick up a VIP whose plane had broken down.  It was Tony Abbott.

Once airborne, the Opposition Leader walked to the back of the plane and told the troops: "I just want to apologise for stealing your aircraft and holding you up. I know you all have somewhere you would rather be."

Arthur remembers Abbott took time to speak to each person in the cargo hold. Reputations are built up bit by bit, through chance encounters, small connections, word of mouth. But once they jell, it is impossible for even the cleverest spin doctor to supplant them.  Character is destiny.


Rush to free government schools in wealthy suburbs

It's the pupils that make the school.  Middle class parents have smarter and better behaved kids

Public schools in northern Sydney are bucking a trend. They are so full the state government has made a commitment to open two new schools and extend five. In the meantime, public school playgrounds are disappearing under the weight of portable classrooms.

Public schools are no longer accepting students who live outside the area.

No one is entirely sure of the reasons. There has probably been a rise in the number of school-age children in north Sydney, but it may also be due to what NAPLAN and other evidence says: it is not a school's ownership that makes the difference, it is the socioeconomic status of the pupils.

Savvy middle-class parents know local public schools are getting just as good results as nearby private schools, and they are wisely hanging on to their money.

Word is that some of these private schools are finding it harder to maintain their enrolments and are recruiting from out of the area.

The most desirable children from less prosperous areas are being bussed in, joining those who have long trekked across town (at public cost) to whatever elite private or selective school they can access.

You will have noticed the effects of this wholesale movement of children across town by train, bus or family car if you commute in any capital city.

Parents who have a choice increasingly want their children to attend schools that are higher up the social ladder. The trouble is, moving students around to different schools is, in the end, a zero-sum game. It may be fine for children whose parents can afford to pay fees, but what does it do to those left behind?

The daily commute of students who have some kind of transactional value - a family that can afford fees, or a child with a special academic, sporting or musical ability - is rapidly residualising the lower socioeconomic schools.

This is what happens when you make schools into a market - you create winners and losers. The tragedy is that the "losing" schools are struggling with children whom society has decided are losers.

Just as MySchool demonstrates the public school boom on the north shore, so too it shows how location and socioeconomic status are affecting the achievements of schools and students everywhere.

The website tells us more about schools' socioeconomic statuses; we also have other measures of students' achievements at the end of year 12 - for example, the HSC in NSW and the VCE in Victoria.

Combine this information and the picture becomes scary.

If we group the 400 or so Victorian schools with year 12 students into four socioeconomic groups, the spread of VCE scores tells us what we might already know: students in the schools in the top socioeconomic status group still achieve consistently high results, and the distribution of high VCE scores falls off as we move down the socioeconomic scale.

However, the gap is widening. In only eight years, the share of high scores in the lower socioeconomic status schools has dropped - by more than 20 per cent in the lowest socioeconomic status schools.

With few exceptions, this trend defies the usual explanations. Is it just Victoria? Unlikely; limited NSW data shows similar trends.

Is it just public schools? No. Is it due to enrolment shift?

We are almost certainly witnessing an inevitable result of the hollowing out of low socioeconomic status schools - and the exact opposite to what is happening in north shore public schools.

Almost 60 per cent of disadvantaged students attend equally disadvantaged schools. We appear to be creating ghettos of privilege and underprivilege. Strugglers sit next to strugglers in some schools and the fortunate next to the fortunate in others.

When you group disadvantaged children in the same schools, it compounds their disadvantage. No surprise, then, that it is becoming harder and harder to improve the achievements of our lowest achieving students.


Must not use slang to refer to breasts

Department store Target appears to be getting bang for its buck by using British reality TV guru Gok Wan in a series of TV commercials, but his use of "bang" has some viewers up in arms.

The Advertising Standards Bureau has been forced to make a determination on Wan's use of the word "bangers" to describe breasts in ads about women not being properly fitted for bras.

"Your bangers will never feel more loved," Wan promises women if they wear a correctly sized bra.

"I find it distasteful that he uses the term 'bangers' to describe women's breasts," one wrote to the bureau. "If a straight man were to use similar language during prime-time TV, there would be a huge outcry by women claiming sexist behaviour. There should be no different standards of acceptable language simply because a man appears to be gay."

"A female body is a beautiful thing, not to be cheapened by a poofter calling breasts "BANGERS"!!!," a third wrote. "I WAS BREAST FED, NOT BANGER FED! It's an insult to sooooo many Aussie men and woman to see poofs on tv but you let it happen

Target countered that the women in the commercials had "a range of normal body shapes" which were not idealised.

It also defended the choice of Wan, saying in its submission that he was a British style icon who was playfully irreverent, colourful and fun.

It said that "bangers" was an "irreverent term of affection" chosen "in wry acceptance" that some women are unhappy with their breasts.

It was not chosen to be derogatory or suggest that breasts were meat, Target said, accepting that the lack of Australian understanding of the word's colloquial British use meant "boobs" may be substituted in later commercials.

The bureau dismissed the complaints, ruling that the ad was positive and light-hearted and its intent was to alert women to the importance of buying a correctly sized bra.


Independent candidate to be rogered by Labor Party preferences

He did support the Gillard governent but not very reliably so they are now shafting him

ANDREW Wilkie says Labor voters could unwittingly elect the Liberal candidate in his seat of Denison because the party is not giving him its preferences.

The polls have Mr Wilkie well in front in the Hobart-based seat, but the Liberals are ahead of him on ALP preferencing.

A ReachTEL poll published in The Mercury has Mr Wilkie with 43.7 per cent of the primary vote, seven points higher than the last poll in June.

He is well ahead of Liberal Tanya Denison (23.1 per cent), Labor's Jane Austin (18) and the Greens' Anna Reynolds (10.5).

But with the ALP preferencing the Liberals ahead of him, Ms Denison has a chance of winning the seat if, as the poll suggests, Labor comes in third.

"I do worry that many Labor voters don't understand that this is the situation," Mr Wilkie told reporters in Hobart.

"A lot of people who will just follow the how-to-vote card without thinking too much about it need to understand that they may well end up helping to elect the Liberal candidate."

Where Labor finishes is likely to be determined by the carve-up of Greens preferences.

Mr Wilkie won the seat from third in 2010 with 21 per cent of the vote after Labor had held it for 23 years.

He is running an open how-to-vote ticket after ruling out any preference deals.


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