Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Aussie sports over confident, over zealous, and over amplified

Three stories about this weekend's sport are amusing for different reasons. First, there's the commentary about the Waratahs beating the Brumbies and therefore being in good shape for the final, presumably against the Crusaders. I think they're a little over confident myself. They beat the Brumbies sure, but the Brumbies are past their best and only had Larkham on the field for 12 minutes (injured again). Settle down fellas, you've still got to beat at least two of the Highlanders (away), Chiefs (away) and Hurricanes (home) to secure a home semi-final and then win it.

Then there's Ricky Ponting getting into trouble with the Match Referee (our very on Jeff Crowe) for challenging the umpire's decisions in the test against Bangladesh. Ponting is easily the best test batsman in the world at the moment, and Australia are clearly the best team, but Ponting needs to be calm in his approach to umpires and officials. His class as a player is sadly absent as a captain.

Finally, Adam Gilchrist is in the news for his very odd and very loud statements from behind the stumps. According to the ABC's Media Watch, Gilcrist's bizarre behaviour, where he was overheard frequently endorsing various sponsors of the Australian cricket team, was a clever protest against broadcasters who were not turning down the microphones located in the stumps, as they're required to do, between overs. Broadcasters, presumably trying to catch Australians sledging the opposition, were none to happy with Gilly's free advertising competing with their paid offerings!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Ozpolitic: A new standard in Ministerial Responsibility

So Johnny fronted the Royal Commission yesterday and he too knows bugger all about the AWB rorts even though his staff did.

So was it unusual that his staff didn't tell him that an Australian company was passing dollars to a violent, oppressive and potentially nuclear nation? Nope. What about the fact that in 2003, Howard was well wound up about the oil-for-food rorts? Nope. What about the fact that Downer knew, should he have told the PM? Nope.

So there you go, a new standard in Ministerial responsibility has been established. Ministers don't need to know or act when a company with government backing, participating in a multi-lateral aid scheme, under the aegis of a multi-lateral body, is paying kick-backs to a despot that you're about to engage in military action.

What ever happened to "be alert but not alarmed"? What about the Federal Government's public injuncture to report anything suspicious - a deluge of official cables fellas, that's suspicious!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ozpolitic: Howard at Royal Commission

Will Howard remember anything? Will he claim he was never advised (as he did with the children overboard story)? Will he blame Downer and Vaile or are they now off the hook? Whatever happens we know that Chairman of the Commission Cole can't make any finding that Minister's did anything wrong, can only say whether any actions or omissions may have constituted a breach of Commonwealth laws.

There's an old political saying that such Commission's take minutes to establish and years to determine anything of substance. Howard might be the first PM to face such an inquiry in almost 30 years, and Kevin Rudd's bound to call for his resignation (he's done this every day at least five times a day since the hearings began), but he's likely to escape relatively unscathed. I think the Australian public know something's wrong with this situation but the fact that AWB was indirectly financing the defence of Iraq doesn't appear to worry them much despite the fact that their tax funds are now paying to secure Iraq...

Ozpolitic: VSU

Well it was bound to happen. Students yesterday protested against the federal laws making membership of students' associations voluntary. What was surprising was the number of police at the protest - it looked like a 100 or more from the riot squad! A little over the top perhaps - reports say there was only 400 protesters. Possibly the number of police is related to the fact that the Young Liberals staged a counter protest. 24 arrests were made.

Another odd thing about the protest was that the NSW Police tried to stop it - you'd never have known this if you read the Police media statement which included this statement "Police are respectful of peoples’ right to peaceful protest and their democratic right to free speech." Sure, but only the ones that the courts don't ban?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ozpolitic: IR reform

Significant media attention has been given to the Howard Government's very recent reform of IR. Australia's IR system was, until recently, much more complex and institutionalised that NZ's not least of all because of the federal system which means states and territories, except Victoria, share responsibility for IR with the Feds. Workchoices, the pithy little name given to the reform bought about under the Workplace Relations Act 2005, will change all this without reducing existing entitlements. Yeah right!

This report, from Sydney University, forecasts a grim future for vulnerable workers. The report predicts that in the short-term, there will be a declining numbers of employees in preference for contractors (with lower and less secure conditions), increasing pressure on families (work-life collision), and growing in-equality. Crazy you say, well consider that:
  • within a day of the Act coming into force, there was stories about 29 meat workers in Cowra (Western NSW) sacked so that fewer could be re-hired on lower conditions,
  • the following day a young Juice Bar part-timer was laid-off only to be offered her job back with lower wages and no over-time.
In the Cowra case, the Minister intervened and the meat company backed off - the Minister argued that the company didn't understand the new law and, unbelievably, that the situation proved the effectiveness of the new regime. In the case of the Juice Bar, it was all a misunderstanding and Pulp (now Pow) Juice have offered to increase her pay but the young woman involved is insisting that her colleagues also get the same rate...

Ozpolitic: tax cuts, not reform

The Federal Government is considering a report on taxation which includes recommendations for cuts to company and personal tax. Many lobby groups have been arguing for significant tax reform rather than just cuts. Actually, even the Federal Opposition have been calling for tax reform.

The SMH have said that the report, which may not be released until after the budget in May, does not support the claim that reform is required nor does it apparently support the claim that Australia is a high-tax nation. Importantly for NZ, the report is likely to say that while Australia is higher taxing than the US and Japan, it is lower taxing NZ, Britain, and Canada.

What will be important to consider, when comparing NZ's tax system with Australia's, is how the report treats various levies and surcharges, State and Commonwealth - while not necessarily taxes, the still nevertheless impact on net income.

Ozpolitic: AWB corruption

Yesterday Mark Vaile, Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the federal National party and federal Minister for Trade, gave evidence at the Royal Commission of Inquiry investigating allegations about corruption at the Australian Wheat Board. The major allegation is that under the UN oil-for-food programme (queue the howls of criticisms about multi-lateralism), AWB was exporting wheat to Iraq and that over a number of years, it paid $300 million in kick-backs to a dummy company that siphoned money to Saddam's family.

Vaile appeared because some 21 cables were sent to his office alerting him to concerns about AWB. Vaile's evidence at the Royal Commission was classic stone-walling. According to media reports, Vaile effectively said he didn't recall the content of any of the cables and wasn't aware of concerns. Apparently, he used the terms "I don't know" and "I have no recollection" more than 20 times during his testimony.

Today is Foriegn Minister Alexander Downer's turn. As foolish as Vaile looks, Downer's situation is worse since he's said he did read some of the cables and was aware of the concerns. If Downer does a good job, Howard may not have to appear however he was he already spinning this morning on ABC radio, comparing his potential appearance with Hawke's appearance in the early 80s which occurred in Hawke's first year as PM...

Some are comparing the situation with Nixon's sacking of Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigations.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I'm sorry, what?

Australian's have some amazingly blunt expressions. Mostly, their meaning is unambiguously clear but every now and then you hear a phase that could mean anything. One of my favourites is "died in the arse". As in "Some English bloke had a go at Everest but that died in the arse" or "the Waratahs were looking good, but they'll die in the arse come semi-finals" or even "Schapelle Corby's defence died in the arse". Put simply, something/one dies in the arse when the fail spectacularly and/or unsurprisingly.

Another I heard the other night is "rat-f**k". Some context will help: "Factions rat-f**ked Mark Latham", or "E tu Brutus, you rat-f**k" and "Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you, but don't ever [rat-f**k] the family again". To rat-f**k, is to betray and deceive.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


The Suicide Girls (link not work-safe) did an in-store at a record shop near where I live in Sydney. I'd not really heard of them until recently and even more recently, their arrival made it into the SMH. Burlesque seems be enjoying a major increase in popularity. A few weeks back the Good Weekend section of the weekend SMH had a story on Dita Von Tease (link not work-safe), which was not very titilating but very interesting, and last year the ABC did a series on young Australia dancers going to the Moulin Rouge. There's also a number of Burlesque, or Girlesque, gigs currently doing the clubs in Sydney... Is this all down to Baz Luhrmann?

Technology - Pandora radio

A mate of mine put me onto Pandora an sort of online radio station that allows you to pre-determine the style of music you hear based on either an artist or song you like. The clever thing about Pandora is that it selects songs not based on genre or any other subjective criteria but rather based on other songs that have the same elements as the song or artist you choose. The point of this is that you end up being introduced to lots of artist you might not otherwise have heard of. Clever. I like it 'cause I can set up radio station that plays exclusively angsty-bloke music, a la Ron Sexsmith or Billy Bragg, or mellowed out house music based around Everything But the Girl.

As an aside, Ben Watt - the other member of EBTG - is now doing a lot of solo material under the Buzzin Fly label. Very very gooood with or without disco biscuits.

John Clarke and Sam Neill

Online access to radio has been invaluable in the years I've been in Sydney. I've particularly relied on RNZ for interviews, analysis and commentary to supplement online media. I listened this morning to Kim Hill's interview (pt 1, pt 2, pt 3) with Sam Neill and John Clarke which focused on the television daption of Shane Maloney's books (the shows are great viewing - watch them if you're able) the Brush Off and Stiff.

Both Clarke and Neill are fantastically amusing although in very different ways. Clarke's opening gag about Australia being still in 1974 was amusing but it sets you up for Clarke's patois which is droll and under-stated. He later noted that since he'd left NZ, the weather forecast for the Chathams hadn't changed... Neill, I've always been slightly ambivalent about. He's a superb actor but a few of his other activities have occassionally jarred with me. He made a comment in an interview with Andrew Denton about NZ which, while I don't recall the specifics, seemed unecessarily harsh but perhaps that's my sensitivity? His comments about NZ in his opening speech to Labour's 2005 re-election campaign however were wonderful... if only I could find them online (here is a variation on the speech that he gave at a party gig in Oamaru)

Anyway, in this interview he raves about two NZ movies that I hope get shown here, No. 2 and Sione's Wedding, which he describes as "cinema-at-ease" to contrast with his 1995 documentary, Cinema of Unease. I saw No. 2 (and Fraser's other play, Bare) a few year back (with Madeliene Sami as the lead - outstanding) so am really keen to see how it copes with having more than one actor...

Rugby statistics

I listened to the Crusaders game last night. Not having foxtel, nor an iPod as noted earlier, I usually go to the nearest rugby pub (not always easy in Sydney as NRL is the major sport) but I was looking after the bub which meant I was preoccupied. So I listened, online, to the game on ZB. Listening to rugby isn't nearly as satisfying or informative as is listening to cricket, but I was very pleased to hear Tracey Nelson providing comment and analysis. Tracey's commentary is different from most others because she focuses almost exclusively on the statistics; tackles per player, first three to the breakdown, lineout takes, run/pass/kick stats for the five eigth etc. Usually a few days after a big game, Tracey's has published her analysis on the haka site. Her most recent online piece is an excellent analysis of Richie McCaw which pretty much puts paid to the latest bit of idiocy coming out of the Warratahs.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Australia's Brainiest Football Player*

Sandra Sully recently hosted Australia's Brainiest Football Player and though I don't know who won, I'm certain Matt Dunning won't win any future contest requiring fast synaptic connections. Dunning, who plays prop for the Waratahs, is easily the stupidest rugby player currently playing the game. Whereas it used to be a hotly contested title, I now suspect that the majority of professional rugby players are pretty sharp if not at the begining of their career, then certainly the end. League players I'm less certain of not being much of a follower.

Players like John Kirwan have certainly benefited from their involvement. John's fluent in at least three languages being Japanese, Italian and English, has extensive business connections, speaks well and is a polished television personality to say nothing of his coaching prowess. Likewise, Sean Fitzpatrick, Grant Fox, Peter Fitzsimons, John Eales, Jock Hobbs, Taine Randall (who is also biligual, Maori and English, as well as having a couple of degrees), and Eric Rush.

Andrew Mehrtens has my vote for the funniest NZ rugby player, his wit and vocab make him one of the most unpredictable and intelligent commentators I've seen interviewed although Zinzan Brooke and Frano Botica were both damn funny too.

So why Dunning as the dullest of an otherwise bright bunch? Probably 'cause of his brain explosion a few years back when he attempted a drop goal late in a Super 12 match when NSW were a converted try short of victory. But equally his arrival on the park in the last 20 minutes of a tight tri-nations game which resulted in two and possibly three penalties to NZ and ultimately the match.

Thanks Matt, keep up the good work - you've got another chance on the weekend when I'm certain you'll cost the 'Tahs at least 6 points.

*Apologies to the soccer fans who still insist football is the correct term for soccer only and cannot be used to describe other codes where the ball is anything other than round.

Violence in sport

Two recent events have made me think about the connection between violence and sport. The first was dramatic and frankly scary, the second was just incredibly frustrating. One I saw, the other I was unfortunately part of.

First, anyone who watched the semi-finals of the rugby sevens at the Melbourne Commonwealth games probably saw Scott Fava knocked unconcious in a tackle. With a mate, I was at the game and less than a minute after the tackle, late in the second half, it was obvious that Fava was badly injured. The crowd's reaction was understandable, as was his wife's who was in the crowd and rushed on-field highly distressed by the sight of her husband who was fitting and still unconcious five or more minutes after the tackle. There was nothing wrong with the tackle. It was fair but obviously something about the contact floored Fava. Unsurprisingly, he was rushed to hospital and out for eleven hours. Surprisingly, he recovered fully was back playing for the Super 14's Western Force a week or so later. Still, the event gave me pause to think about what these guys are doing and the risks they take.

We won by the way - gold!

Second, I have played social sport since leaving Uni and this has often include mixed Netball. I played in Hamilton and Wellington with work teams and in Sydney, I play with a group of friends. We play in a competition at Sydney Uni and usually have a great time win, lose or draw. Last night, one of the opposition team members deliberately and aggressively ran at one of our players and, after the whistle, contacted her. The fact that he was six foot+ and she's probably only five foot adds further insult. My team member was no hurt but was upset as was I. This is a social sport and usually a sport where contact is pretty limited, compared with rugby for instance, and so this instance was pretty unusual and I thought sufficiently serious that the offending player should have been sent off; he wasn't. At the time, I had a pretty frank and colourful exchange with the opposition player and then after, spoke with the head referee. Today, I'm sending off a more formal complaint which basically asks the organisers to consider what actions should be taken against the player. My view is that he should apologise and probably miss a game or two. The rest of his team should also think about whether they want to play with him, I wouldn't.

I play sport 'cause I want to stay fit, 'cause I love the social contact and the competition, and because it helps me unwind. I watch sport because, in its purest form, it is close to the most perfect expression of humanity. Anyone who saw Tana Umaga attend to Colin Charvis a few years back will understand what I mean. Compared with Tana's act in a professional and international match of one of the most rigourous games around, the pratt last night should stick to playstation...

Distance and disconnection

There's a point at which, having left a place you either have new insights or you progressively cease to understand it. I left NZ only 3 and a half years ago and remain pretty interested and informed (I think).

Since leaving, my perspective has changed slightly though I won't claim any major insights except one: NZ is a remarkably fair place (ok, this isn't really an insight given that Transparency International rated NZ 2nd= with Finland, only Iceland did better and I don't know that there's anyone left since Bjork left, in it's 2005 report on perceptions of corruption).

I've often wondered if this is partly a function of size. You can't rip too many people off if you expect to end up living with, dining with, socialising with, or working with their mother, aunty, cousin, brother or neighbour. Having only four million people, pretty much all of whom live in one of four cities, means you'll almost always know someone who know's someone etc. In Sydney this is less true and even in my employment, I can't possibly know a tenth of the staff, because they're dispersed across the entire State in some 150 offices. This can and has led to instances of blantant unfairness which have gone without remedy.

But it's not just size, its also attitude; Sydney residents are not just competitive, sometimes they're damn-near mercenary. John Birmingham wrote a fantastic book, Leviathan, in which he traces the current divisions of power back to the rum rebellion in 1808. Birmingham's book is pretty didactic, something he's unfront about, however it made a lot of sense to me in trying to understand the dynamic between local politics, State politics, and the big business (and organised crime). The protracted debate about the redevelopment of Redfern is a good example of how these tensions are playing out today and how, IMHO, the most vulnerable citizens are likely to miss out (despite many genuinely good intentions) to the more powerful development lobby.

There'll be people who disagree of course, this guy is one of the most amusing commentators on the evil that is apparently personified by NZ Labour, but he's so evangelical he's kinda easy to ignore.

Then again, perhaps I no longer gettit?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

'Cause I don't have an Ipod..

I really don't feel part of the zeitgeist when only a year or so, perhaps mistakenly, I did. In this brief period I have become a father again and massively reduced my disposable income, free time, familiarity with bars and cafes, and capacity for original thought. On the other hand, I am now very familiar with the water content of baby food and the desirable metre of a lullabye. So because I don't have an Ipod, I now own a blog. A symbolic but important reclaimation of my place in now.

So backin15 means alternatively: I'm parlously late (again); I used to know what went on around here; and, stick around if you think there might be something worthwhile... or, see you in fifteen years when this latest child might prefer the company of anyone else compared with this tragically unhip father!