Wednesday, 5 August 2015

There was a $79bn

announcement yesterday. It should have been good news. The government was offering to invest money in the state with the highest unemployment rate - a lot of money. 
I wish we didn't need any sort of navy - indeed armed forces of any sort. The world would probably be a nicer place without such things -  but the reality is we do have such things and money is spent on them. So, we build things like submarines and frigates. 
The Downunder Prime Minister arrived and announced money would be spent - but not before the state newspaper had "leaked" it.
That was yesterday. 
This morning the negative comments rolled in. Some of them were along the lines that the present government has a record of broken promises so it won't happen. Let's ignore the fact that the present government is having a hard time getting the Senate to agree to anything. (Oh yes, both sides of politics can play that game.)
The unions were saying, "So what? This is what we deserve." (Let's ignore the problems with building the submarines.) The Premier of the state was claiming it was all the work of his government and that the federal one hadn't wanted to do it in the state at all. (Let's ignore the fact that the state Minister responsible actually made it much more difficult by betraying his electorate.) The Premier of a neighbouring state was complaining about the way they have been treated because jobs will be lost there. (Let's ignore the problems with industrial action there.)  An "independent" politician who gets plenty of press coverage was sounding off too. (Let's ignore the fact that he never has to put his promises into action.)
And of course everyone but the government is saying "It's political. The government is only doing it to prop up three seats in the state for the next election." 
Mmm...expensive way of maybe winning three seats. Isn't politics lovely?
PS  I forgot to add that one of the candidates for position of Speaker is also in a marginal seat in the same state. If he was given the role then it will be to "prop  up his chances of re-election". 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Oh right, that thing called "cake"

has appeared on the menu in the Clan Cat house. 
I rarely make cake. We eat very little of it. I did not make this cake. 
I went out with Middle Cat yesterday. I needed something from a place inaccessible by tricycle and she was going that way. Offered the opportunity I, unwisely, agreed. I say "unwisely" because travelling with Middle Cat always involves more time than I have to spare and, on this occasion,  it also involved money I should not have spent - the cake.
We did the essential shopping for me. Middle Cat did some essential shopping for the go-kart repairs for my BIL and the Nephew Cats. Then she decided we needed to find a place which was selling macaroons. It was not open. That did not deter her. She wanted a salted-caramel macaroon. Oh, she also needed milk. Right. We headed on to the supermarket. "They have macaroons there - smaller and you have to buy the box but I really, really want one." Yes dear.
And so we go hunting in the supermarket  in the section I usually ignore completely - the cake and biscuit and bun bit. She found the macaroons. 
And there was the cake. "The Senior Cat loves that," she tells me. I eye it off. Yes, I do remember him reminiscing about "Napoleon Cake" - the version of a state wide bakery. I eye it off again. 
It consists of a layer of pastry. This is followed by a thin smear of "jam". (I am not sure whether it is supposed to be strawberry or raspberry.) After that comes a layer of "cake" - of super sweet sponge like taste and consistency. Then there is another layer of "jam", another layer of pastry. The "piece de resistance" is a layer of pink icing topped with coconut.
I am not  sure what all this really is but it does not fit the definition of "cake" in my book. Against my better judgment we buy it. We take it back and present it to the Senior Cat. 
"Ooh Napoleon cake. I haven't had that for years." (This is true.)
No, Middle Cat did not want any. She has her salted caramel macaroon. 
So, we left it until "teatime" and I cut two slices then. It was, as I suspected, overly sweet. It was edible but I did not care for it. The Senior Cat ate his slice even more slowly. He had a far away look on his face. I knew he was remembering other things - things he associated with eating that particular sort of cake. No, he didn't want a second slice right then.
I wrapped the cake up tightly to keep it fresh.
"It was nice of you both to get it but it was rather sweet," the Senior Cat told me, "I think I prefer the sort you make."
Is it any wonder I love the Senior Cat?

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Speaker of the Downunder

Federal Parliament's House of Representatives has just resigned. As there are people who have asked, "Why didn't the Prime Minister just sack her?" I will try and explain.
The Speaker's position is the most important in the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives cannot operate without a Speaker. It is a constitutional requirement for the Speaker (or his or her deputy) to be present. Effectively the Speaker "runs the meeting". The Speaker is answerable to the house rather than the Prime Minister. 
There are only two ways to be rid of the Speaker. One is by a vote in the House for his or her removal. The other is for the Speaker to tender their resignation to the Governor-General. (The question of whether the Governor-General can sack the Speaker would lead to a constitutional crisis similar to that of the sacking of the Whitlam  government because the Governor-General would effectively be sacking the parliament of the day. Nevertheless the Governor-General would have the "right to warn" - and that may even have happened but we will never know about it.)
The Prime Minister of the day cannot sack the Speaker. They can of course pull the Speaker to one side and say, "Go!" but the Speaker does not have to obey that command if he or she believes they still have the confidence of the House.
The Speaker who has just resigned had lost the confidence of the  House and it was a matter of resign or be sacked by the House.  Her resignation however had to go to the Governor-General - not the Prime Minister. 
If we think about it this is the way it should be. It means that the Prime Minister of the day cannot simply decide that the Speaker is not doing the job the way he or she would like and sack the person who is supposed to be running the meetings in an impartial fashion.
The Speaker just gone was considered to be biased - and there is perhaps some evidence of this. She was prone to ejecting members of the opposition far too often. (That said, members of the opposition were also baiting her deliberately as they never liked the choice of her as Speaker.)
One of the Speaker's most difficult tasks is to ensure that everyone is heard, not just those on the front bench and the opposition's front bench. 
And, if the numbers are evenly divided, the Speaker has a casting vote.
The Speaker is also the only person able to continue functioning in some roles once an election is called. Again, that is a necessity.
Normally the Speaker will come from the party in power. The Speaker can continue to be a member of that party and attend party meetings if they so choose. They won't hold any other party office.
The previous government of Downunder had such a slender majority that they asked someone outside the party to act as Speaker. That gave the government one of the extra votes they needed to remain in office.  (They also relied on "independents".)
But in all this the Prime Minister has no power apart from powers of persuasion. He or she cannot simply sack a Speaker. He or she can call in a Minister and sack them but not the Speaker. He can of course express an opinion to the Speaker but nothing more than that. 
The present controversy is said to have damaged the Prime Minister's leadership - and yes it has. The Speaker was the choice of the party in power. She is (or was) a friend of the Prime Minister in the way that any member of the party is. She has let the party down by abusing travel expenses in the most ridiculous way. 
But I have yet to see the media explain the role of the Speaker and the way in which, once someone is elected to that role, the Prime Minister has no control over it except as a member of parliament.  It is of course convenient for the media to fail to explain this. It makes for a much better "story". It is of course convenient fiction that the Prime Minister can be rid of the Speaker. Fiction is more interesting than fact in this instance.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

"Why doesn't he say something?"

The Downunder Prime Minister comes in for a fair bit of criticism. He's not popular . 
I was standing staring out at the relentless rain yesterday and talking with someone who very definitely does not vote for him. She is a card carrying member of the opposition. I  thought she was fairly politically aware. Here she was complaining about him "not saying anything" about the apparently racist row over the footballer I mentioned a couple of days ago.
Actually he has said something. He has condemned the behaviour. The problem is that  he condemned it quietly and without jumping up and down and getting visible angry. If you observed him carefully when he was making the statement it was pretty clear that he was seething with anger underneath. Yes, he was angry. 
He is trying to lead by example. Be calm. Condemn quietly and try to change things for the better. 
Of course it is not what some people want. They want to hear loud protests and massive condemnation. Prime Ministers cannot do that sort of thing. If they got emotional then people would question their capacity to do the job.
I would have thought it was pretty clear that the present Prime Minister was not lacking in compassion. He's been a volunteer for many years - surf life saving, fire fighting, working in indigenous communities. Of course, just now, "it's all just a publicity stunt". Perhaps it is - but he has been doing it for years. The test will be whether he goes on doing it when he leaves public life. 

That's the problem of course. If you are Prime Minister you can't just suddenly hit the air waves and sound furiously angry. You have to try and appear calm whatever is going on.You're running the country. 
In a democracy, however shaky that democracy might appear to some,  you can't do exactly as you would like. Yes, you are there to lead. You are there to lead a team, not to dictate to them. 
One of  his predecessors, a woman, was criticised for "displaying emotion" during her now infamous "misogyny" speech. It was a fine piece of well stage managed political drama. She had her emotions well under control. It suited her opponents to criticise her.
There have been hints of emotion in leaders before now. Gordon Brown showed emotion when David Cameron and his wife lost a child. It was one of those rare occasions on which it was right for a leader to show emotion. It was personal, not political because he is also a father.
Of course yesterday I was accused of supporting the insupportable and not being willing to realise how awful the present Downunder Prime Minister is. I expected that - but I think I read him correctly. He was,  underneath that apparently calm exterior, very angry indeed. And that is the way it should be.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

I am wondering what it would be like

"not to know". 
When the MH370 flight went missing I heard people who must love conspiracy theories claiming that the Chinese wanted someone on board so they had hi-jacked the entire plane load and were holding them hostage in the Himalaya. There were other wild theories as well, some of them aired in the media.
At the same time there were families who kept waiting and waiting and waiting. They hoped. They hoped the conspiracy theories were true and that the plane would miraculously reappear. 
They will probably go on hoping even after the debris which has been washed up on Reunion Island is proven to be one thing or the other. It is human nature to hope for such things.
It is likely that the debris will be the plane but it may never be possible to work out what happened. The plane was so off course that something either went catastrophically wrong with the controls or it was deliberately brought down in an act of suicide or sabotage. At this point it makes little difference. Lives were lost.
But, people want to know. We know what happened to Flight MH17 too but people, understandably, want to know "who". 
There are people unaccounted for in all sorts of natural disasters too. It is something that is rarely talked about. People go missing under a wall of mud or a giant wave washes them out to see or they get buried in rubble that is never fully cleared away. 
And some people simply disappear. A disaster may give them the chance to move away and start life afresh somewhere. Other people simply walk away from everything they have known never to return. Often they do it without saying anything at all, leaving other people, even family, to wonder "what happened to...?"
I wonder what drives people to do this and how those left behind react. I have been wondering all this because someone I don't know very well complained that searching for the aircraft was a "waste of money". His neighbour is distantly related to someone who went missing on that flight. His neighbour is aware of how, in his words, "not knowing is eating the family up".
And then he said, "Knowing is important."
Yes, it is.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Adam Goodes

is an "Aussie Rules" footballer of mixed race heritage.  He has recently been the subject of what can only be described as vile behaviour by some football match attendees. I won't call them "fans" because lovers of the game don't do anything to jeopardise it or those who play it. Their behaviour is, quite simply, unacceptable. It has to stop.
Two years ago Goodes was chosen as "Australian of the Year" for his work in encouraging indigenous youth, especially in the field of sport.  It should have been a moment to celebrate. He was joining the likes of such great indigenous sportspeople as Lionel Rose, Yvonne Goolagong and Cathy Freeman in getting the award.
There have been some other great  indigenous Australians to get the award too. There are two I particularly admire, native title activist Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Senator Bonner. They were outstanding recipients who did great good. Lowitja O'Donoghue and Mick Dodson are also outspoken but respected recipients. 
But, from the time of his acceptance speech, I felt a mistake had been made with Adam Goodes. He was divisive rather than uniting.
The Australian of the Year is that for all Australians, not just some. You can and should speak out about issues of concern to you but, if you are to be effective, then you need to draw people together rather than divide them. From the first Goodes appeared to draw a line between "black" and "white" - and he drew it despite his own mixed heritage. I felt  uneasy as I heard indigenous friends questioning and then criticising his approach.
      "Goodsey is not helping," they told me at the time. 
I don't know what to think. There must be people in the background who advised him about that speech. What was their reasoning behind it? 
The son of my late friend R was in touch yesterday. He's a youth worker with indigenous youth. His mother was a highly respected indigenous elder. Were she alive today I am sure she would be deeply distressed by what is happening. Her son said as much to me. He is distressed too. He told me the issue is having a negative effect on some of the youth he works with. 
I assumed that they would be sympathetic towards Goodes and what has been happening but, while there is well founded resentment towards those who "boo" the player at matches, there is also anger towards Goodes.
"They looked up to him and now they don't. I have had to show them that there are other respected footballers out there." Of course he means respected indigenous footballers. 
And yes, there are. I couldn't care less about football but I know they do. They've told me about it with great enthusiasm. It's their passion. I don't want to see the Goodes issue spoil it for them any more than R's son does. 
R's son and I went through something he is planning and which I have had a very small part in. At the end of it he thanked me and he gave me his now customary bear hug. We parted at the door and I wished him luck. He smiled and said,
"Thanks. It's our responsibility too."
Perhaps it is.  

Thursday, 30 July 2015

We had a small visitor

The Senior Cat came home early from his appointment. I heard him talking to  someone outside the front door and wondered what was wrong. Before I could go and open it though he had the door open and he went on talking. The words didn't quite make sense.
      "No you can't come in. Who do you belong to?"
Then there was a "yip" and the definite sound of toenails skidding on the tiles at the entrance. There was more excited, high pitched barking.
"We seem to have a visitor,"the Senior Cat said. The comment was completely superfluous. We had a visitor and it was letting us know it was there.
It raced around like a dervish. The Senior Cat just stood there. I was frightened it might send him flying too.
I eventually managed to grab the racing bundle of fur as it jumped excitedly on to me in the friendliest possible fashion. It looked at me. I looked at it. 
"It" turned out to be "she"- a miniature dachshund. She was no more than a puppy with wonderful copper brown with ears that flopped at just the right angle for "I am cute and I know it". She wore a blue collar but no identity tag. 
She gave me an adoring, "aren't I lovable and cute and you want to play with me" sort of look. I gave her a stern one and told her to "sit". She sat.
I then persuaded her into the laundry and shut the door. The Senior Cat went out into the street to see if someone was looking for her. No. There was nobody around at all.
"What are we going to do?" he asked, "We can't let her out again."
"I'll ring the council and ask for the dog-catcher to pick her up," I told him.
The girl at the other end was someone I know slightly, "Oh  hello Cat what's wrong?"
I explained. I explained the lack of identifying tag. 
"Hopefully she is chipped," I said.
"I'll send someone round."
I thought we might have to wait for several hours but someone was there about ten minutes later. The little lady had put on a real performance of yips and barks all that time but she greeted him like a long lost friend. 
"You're an easy one," he said as he slipped on the lead. She looked adoringly at him too.
He took her out to his small van and checked her over.
"She's chipped," he told me, "We'll find her owners."
I hope so.
I would have liked them to clean up the mess she left on the laundry floor!