Monthly Archives: October 2007

Halloween: is it finally dead in Australia?

Unlike the past couple of years, I was fortunate enough not to get anyone banging on my door demanding food, last night, and I was hoping that this might mean that Halloween in its final death throes, in Australia. Unfortunately, after reading Russell’s comments, I suspect not.

For a society that constantly complains about being annoyed by telemarketers and door-to-door salesman, I can’t quite understand why anyone would encourage children to go cold-calling people. I don’t want strangers knocking on my door at the best of times, and I certainly don’t want their children doing it, too.

This is why I love elections.

It happens, every time. What is it about morals-crusading right-wing parties that attracts them to such amusing incidents?

Of course, it’s not only the creepy political arm of Australia’s pentecostal churches that has, err, interesting candidates. The so-called Liberal Party has this fine fellow running for office in the Victorian seat of Lalor. I don’t think Julia has a lot to worry about:

“I would be very much in favour of intelligent design being taught in public schools,” Mr Curtis said.

Go ahead, but if you try to do that, I will insist that the Bible be studied only in the context of the fantasy and science-fiction part of the literature curriculum.


Poor old George Pell. Apparently he’s not much of a fan of environmentalists:

Cardinal Pell replied that radical environmentalists needed no help from church leaders to impose their agenda by fear, and that church leaders should be allergic to nonsense.

One would think that, as the leader of one of the biggest organisations in Australia that trades in nonsense, he would choose his words a little more carefully.

The debate…

I’m not generally one for watching political debates, because it seems fairly pointless to assess one’s voting intention upon an hour and half of two right-wing politicians answering questions from journalists who can’t ask anything difficult for fear of confusing Channel Nine’s audience, and of being black-banned in the future.

That said, I had nothing else to do at the time… and I noticed two things: one, the (apparently censored) worm dipped noticably every time Peter Costello’s name was mentioned; and secondly, Howard was clearly away with the fairies in his closing speech – teaching conservative-centric history in schools? Does he really think the Australian population cares about the Liberal Party’s Culture Wars?

Buying votes

$34 billion in tax cuts? Across a population of 20 million, that’s $1700 per person. Big deal.

I’ll take the badly needed infrastructure and services, please, rather than your irresponsible trinkets, Mr Costello.

Bring it on. Proportional representation, that is.

[Senate Smackdown]

So, Australia’s process of democracy has now begun once again, and those citizens who are lucky enough to live in a marginal seat will get to determine what government we’re left with, while the rest of us have to make ourselves content with deciding how much obstruction to give them in the Senate. Furthermore, those of us who vote for minor parties are even further disenfranchised in the House of Representatives.

Of course, I realise that there are considerably worse electoral systems around, but still, why should we be content with a system that is only barely passable? New Zealand had the presence of mind to introduce a proportional representation system in 1993 – despite both parties being opposed to it. This was brought about after a number of elections where the National party won government even though the Labour party gained a majority of the vote – as happened in Australia in 1998; Labor gained 51%25 of the two-party preferred vote, but the Coalition still won the majority of the seats, and hence the election.

Proportional representation systems have worked effectively in many European countries, including Germany and The Netherlands (although it is worth noting that Belgium has benn functioning quite well for several months without a government at all). It tends to produce coalition governments and legislation through compromise, reducing the likelihood of extreme laws like Workchoices.

This is the next reform we should be making to our electoral system. Not four -year fixed terms – a brazen attempt by politicians to reduce their accountability. Three-year fixed terms, however, would not be a bad idea at all.

Australia’s unhealthy obsession with sport.

I won’t beat around the bush: I have no interest in watching sport, whatsoever. Living in Melbourne, that can make one feel somewhat like an alien, as the media here is utterly obsessed by it (although, given that only 1.2 million people here watched the grand final on TV, it occurs to me that there are 67.6%25 of people who, like me, couldn’t have given a bugger about it).

Australia likes to project an image of being a country of sports players. I reject this image completely; we are, instead, a country of sports-obsessed couch-potatoes, with a minority of players who are given far more money and admiration than they deserve.

And like all obsessions, it’s getting rather unhealthy. This week, the federal government launched their
Guide to the Teaching of Australian History in Years 9 and 10
, a course that the government is saying must be taught in schools in order to receive federal funding.

So, what important Australian historical events does this 18-page guide document? The Eureka Stockade, which has been often cited as leading to the birth of democracy in Australia, perhaps? Australia’s shameful involvement in the second Boer War? No, on both counts. Cyclone Tracy? The 1999 republic referendum? Nope and nope.

What do we get instead? Cricket. 1868: First Australian cricket tour of England. 1932–33: ‘Bodyline’ cricket controversy. Listings of no less than three cricket players. Why is any of this even notable?

I was subjected to a documentary on the Bodyline “controversy” by my sports-obsessed school, back in the 80s. It was the most deathly dull thing I’ve ever had inflicted upon me and I distinctly remember being more interested in the carpet on which I was sitting than I was in watching the TV. It is of no more relevance to students today than would be an in-depth look at the history of the Russian republic of Ingushetia, and arguably, far less useful.

This booklet has the cricket-tragic fingerprints of the Prime Minister all over it. It’s highly likely that the election will be finally called, this weekend. Is it too much to ask for us to get a leader who, in the same vein as other notable politicians like Paul Keating, Bob Carr or Barry Jones, has more interest in art, science, music, literature or anything, other than sport?

Sydney’s public transport ticketing to get worse.

Every time I’ve been to Sydney, I am reminded how much of a dog’s breakfast the public transport ticketing is there. Some of the many problems include the most confusing zones that I’ve ever seen (and I have travelled on a considerable number of public transport systems), the fact that train and bus zones aren’t even consistent with one another; and that there isn’t an integrated ticketing system for all modes of transport (the light rail, the monorail and certain buses out to the west only accept their own tickets). Even the one ticket that will get you around the city for an entire day is about 50%25 more expensive than the equivalent ticket in Melbourne – it’s aimed at ripping off tourists, rather than making life easy for regular commuters – and it still won’t let you on the light rail.

Successive NSW governments have done nothing about this, despite the other major Australian capital cities having shown how it can be done properly; Melbourne has had a fully multimodal ticketing system since 1981 – the one ticket will let you travel on buses, trains and trams, within the metropolitan system. Even Brisbane, after a long period of having disjoint rail and bus tickets, has now mostly got its act into gear. Adelaide, while having one of the most botched railway systems around – not electrified, and unlikely to be any time soon – still makes it easy for commuters to change modes of transport with just one ticket. And Perth is light-years ahead of everyone, with a functioning smart card system (while Melbourne and Sydney plunge hundreds of millions of dollars into re-inventing the wheel).

Well, it appears that Sydney’s system is to get even worse. According to a report in the Herald, the new T-card system, should it ever see the light of day, might be dumping periodical tickets, such as weeklies, and relying instead on distance based fares. Hardly a good move for a city choked with traffic and desperately needing to get more people onto public transport.