28 December 2015

From Captain Chaos to Captain Sensible

They say 12 months in politics is a lifetime, and the past year has proven to evidently justify that saying.

2015 started with Tony Abbott at the helm of the good ship Australia and finished with a mutiny that left Tony abandoned by his shipmates, and a new captain - one Malcom Turnbull taking control and steering our ship to hopefully calmer waters.

When I thought about writing this blog, I thought that an apt title for it would be "From Captain Chaos to Captain Sensible".  Because it feels like this has genuinely been the case. It is as if the nation has collectively breathed a sigh of relief since the change of leader.  So what went wrong?  and how come the mood of the nation has changed so quickly since Abbott's demise? 

Let's rewind to the beginning of the year when Tony Abbott made one of his 'Captain's Calls' without consulting his cabinet.  I am of course talking about honouring Prince Phillip with a knighthood.  If you search Prince Phillip on Wikipedia you will find that he already has a plethora of honours from many countries within the Commonwealth and outside of it. To most Australians this award to the Queen's husband just didn't make a lot of sense at all.

In the world of politics you have to be careful as to what you say and how you react.  Two examples of Abbott's gaffes came when he laughed at a joke that Peter Dutton had said in Parliament House over a debate on Syrian refugee intakes. In addition, Abbott referred to Bill Shorten as the "Dr Goebbels of economic policy". Quite clearly both of these examples showed a lack of tact on behalf of the Prime Minister and certainly affected the opinion polls.

Probably the incident that sealed Tony Abbott's fate was that known as "choppergate".  In brief, the Speaker of the House of Representatives had hired a helicopter, at tax payer expense, to fly a short distance from Melbourne to a Liberal Party Fundraiser.  Despite the public ire shown at Bronwyn Bishop, the Speaker, Abbott steadfastly remained loyal to his friend, until it was obvious the mistake was a terminal one and Bishop had to be removed from her role.

Then, of course, there was the fear factor that was being delivered by Abbott in respect to terrorism and the troubles in the Middle East.  This was exemplified by the increasing number of Australian flags being displayed during press conferences on these matters. 

All of this time the opinion polls were moving further south for the government.  Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party were so far ahead that a potential whitewash at the next election was looming.  However, there was hope on the horizon for the beleaguered government.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In September Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott and won convincingly to become the new Prime Minister of Australia.  Tony was sent to the backbench to contemplate his next career move. Immediately Turnbull set about rebuilding the governments reputation and removing the fear factor that had become a common theme during the Abbott tenure.

Turnbull's first speech was a positive one and mentioned that this was the best time to be an Australian and that the future ahead was looking good.  Immediately the polls showed a huge rise in support for the government and a rise in unpopularity of the ALP leader Bill Shorten.  Soon after Turnbull removed the 'knights and dames' policy that Abbott had announced earlier in 2015.  Not long after the much maligned Treasurer, Joe Hockey, quit politics and headed to New York as the Ambassador to the US.

So where are we at the present?  Poll speaking, the government command a huge lead over the ALP and should win a 2016 election quite comfortably.  However, there are a few obstacles that might not make it all that easy to get re-elected.  Firstly, two by-elections have shown large swings against the government in what are traditionally safe seats. Whilst this may not impact greatly at the next election it is something that should be kept in mind.

Secondly, the talk of raising the GST, most likely from 10% to 15%, will cause some derision from the electorate. For the less well off this is something that will not be greeted warmly at all.  Tax revenue has to be increased somehow as government debt has grown at a quicker rate under the Abbott/Turnbull regimes than under the previous Labor government.

Recently, there has been talk of removing penalty rates for workers who work on Sundays. Already there has been a backlash to this from even LNP voters. Turnbull will need to handle this issue delicately if he is to keep voter confidence.

Another issue is within the Coalition itself.  Whilst Turnbull is portrayed as a moderate, the true conservatives within the party are not that happy.  On the one hand they will probably retain government but the policies that Turnbull may want to implement might not be agreeable to the Hard Right of the party.

So 2016 is shaping up to be another crazy year in the world of Australian politics.  One thing is certain though. By the end of 2016 we will know exactly who will be captaining the good ship Australia for another three years. As the saying goes 'time will tell'.

17 August 2015

My Rose

The following is a short story entitled 'My Rose' that I recently entered into a writing competition.  Even though I didn't win I am very proud of this effort.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

It’s amazing how things can change so quickly.  It was only a few months ago and I was home and enjoying life with my lovely Rose.  She is my soul mate.  I knew we were meant to be together from when I first set me eyes on her.  I will never forget when the fair came to town.  There I was with my mates having a great time. I was playing Shove Ha’penny when I saw the most gorgeous person I have ever set me eyes on! I will always remember that day until I meet me maker upstairs, which will be soon.  She was with her sisters and had a flower printed umbrella to protect her from the sun.  I caught her smiling at something her sister said.  Her smile was to die for, I tells ya.

Anyways, somehow I had to pluck up the courage to talk to her.  It ain’t easy when you are a country boy working on the farm.  To be truthful I can go days without seeing any sort of female, apart from me mum and my little sis! 

Thankfully the good Lord above must’ve been smiling on me. 

A little later on as the fair was in full swing, Rose had her umbrella snatched by one of those pesky little urchins.  Fortunately I knew it was Old Tom’s son Harold.  Before he could get out of the fairground I had launched into a tackle.  We both hit the ground with a thud.  I remember telling him “Don’t you ever steal anything again, or I will beat you all the way to next week”.  I felt a bit guilty at threatening this little tyke.  So I whispered “thanks” in his ear as he had now given me a chance to talk to Rose.  I gotta admit little Harold had the most puzzling look on his face after that!  To this day I still chuckle as I recall the incident that led me to my Rose.  Not your Rose but MY Rose!

After brushing myself off I wiped my face on me sleeve and made my way to my future love.  Funny thing was I wasn’t nervous as I handed back the umbrella.  Maybe I am a modern guy.  After all it is now 1915! I remember Rose thanking me and gave me the best smile I had ever seen.  Even better than the smile me Dad had when he won 2 pounds on the Melbourne Cup.  Her smile melted me inside.  My throat suddenly became dry.  I somehow plucked up my country courage and asked if she would like to go on a bike ride.  Amazingly she said yes.  If I had died then I could have died a very happy bloke.

It seemed like ages before the day of the picnic. In truth it was just over a week.  So after Church I borrowed two bikes from my uncle and met up with Rose in the town centre. I had packed some bread and meat for a snack for us.  I remember she giggled when I told her that.  I wasn’t sure if she was impressed or amused.  It didn’t matter cos it was Rose time – my time.

We cycled out to the nearest lake.  Rose struggled at first with her long dress but somehow managed to cycle pretty well.  I sometimes deliberately cycled behind her, just so I could get a glimpse of her wonderful legs.  Yes, my Rose is perfect in all respects.  Don’t you worry about that! 

We got to the lake at just after 2 O’clock.  I forgot to bring a picnic rug so I laid down me best jacket that I had been wearing.  I then helped Rose off her bike and we sat down.  There was a deathly silence for a few minutes before Rose suggested we eat the food I had brought.  This was the, what do you call it? Oh yeah the icebreaker.  After that we talked as if we had known each other for all of our lives.  My only regret was that I didn’t get to kiss her on her cheek on the first date.  That would have been too forward of a modern guy even for myself.

It wasn’t too long before I did get my first kiss.  I think it was at the harvest festival 6 weeks later if I remember correctly.  Our time we spent together has been pure happiness.  

I was about to pluck up the courage to ask her father if I could have Rose’s hand in marriage when war broke out.  When Britain declared war on Germany I didn’t think too much about it.  After all, I was besotted with my Rose.  However, Britain is our Motherland even now, so I had to enrol and fight the enemy.   You know the ‘King and Country’ thing.

I remember enlisting with Stan and Arthur.  It was a hoot.  We thought a few months away would be great.  We could experience a new country, or two, and come back to our town knowing that we had done our part in a British Empire victory.  How wrong could we have been?

Anyways, the training wasn’t as hard as I thought.  Stan, Arthur and I had been firing rifles since we were youngsters.  We were fit too.  Playing rugby and working on the farm saw to that.   The hardest part was saying goodbye to our families and my beloved Rose.  I will never forget the tears that streamed down her beautiful cheeks.  She shouted out “I love you!”  I was too choked to reply but nodded and smiled.  That image of her fading into the distance as me ship pulled out of the harbour will never leave me.

Time on the ship was tedious in the extreme but we did meet some great blokes and we formed our own group of friends called ‘The Family’.  Days were taken up with drills, fitness and a smoke or two.  Finally, we were told we were heading to Turkey. Stan quipped that the only Turkey he wanted to see was on a plate on Christmas Day. Even our Captain laughed at that!

Our laughter soon turned to fear and despair when we arrived at our landing spot.  I had never heard of Gallipoli before.  Now I know it well and hate it.  As we were about to get off our boats we could see and hear gun and missile fire.  It was scary and so loud!  The bloke next to me in the landing boat vomited over the side of the boat.  It was a nervy and scary time. 

Somehow we made it to the beachfront and run through smoke and chaos and made it to the nearest hills.  We caught up with other soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. The first thing I noticed was all these trenches. At times it was like looking at a long snake as it made its way across the hill.  The first few days were the hardest as we had to push further up the hill despite the Turks shooting back at us.  Some of us made it, thank God.  Others didn’t.  The members of The Family halved in a week.  Twenty of them died. It was at this stage I cried.  These blokes were like my true brothers.  To be honest, I wanted to leave there and then.  But I couldn’t I am Australian and I pledged to fight for the Empire.

Eight months on and I have become a real hardened and humourless soul.  I received a couple of letters from Rose and they have helped me a lot. I wrote a few letters back but to be truthful I haven’t the spirit to write more.  I have lost too many friends here.  Stan got caught in barbed wire and was mowed down by the Turks.  This happened within feet of me and I couldn’t get to him in time.  Arthur followed a few days later.  A sniper put a bullet into his forehead as he momentarily took his helmet off.   At least neither he nor Stan felt any pain.  God bless their souls.

So that leaves me as the sole survivor from my town.  Aside from battling the enemy I have to ensure that when sleeping the rats do not bite me.  Disease is rife in the trenches let me tells ya.  Then there’s the lice in my hair, lack of food and water and artillery noise.  It’s a Hell on this blessed Earth.

Well there ain’t much more to say really.  We are awaiting orders for one last major push to take the hilltop.  The thing we dread most is the Captain’s whistle.  Once he blows that we go over the top of the trenches and advance towards the Turks. It’s suicide really but we all signed up, and we have our honour.  I’ve been told within the next hour we will push forward.

Well I must stop now and get ready for the next phase of the war for myself.   I honestly think this will be the last moment of my life.  The Grim Reaper is sharpening his axe and my name is engraved on it.

I will miss my parents and sister.  They are the world to me.  One day upstairs I am sure we will all catch up and experience true paradise.  There’s only one person I will miss more and that’s my lovely and beautiful Rose.  She is my life, my soul and my destiny.  Rose, I Iove you so much.  I am sorry that I never got to take you as my wife and for us to raise my two sons on the farm.  I hope that whoever you do marry treats you well.  If they don’t I promise I will haunt your husband!
Whoever finds this final letter can you please deliver it to Rose first. 

This is it.  May God have mercy on my Soul.

Pte Nathaniel Harris, 

01 August 2015

What To Write?

It’s been a long time between drinks, as the saying goes.  Or more to the point, a long time between blogs.  I could use the usual excuse that I have been busy these past few months and as such I have been time poor to write blogs, or I could just ‘fess’ up and say I really didn’t think about writing another one.  Whatever the case may be, the good news is ‘I’m Back’!
There are so many things to write about that I truly do not know where to start.  Indecisiveness kills the blogger. My recent (or not so recent) blogs have been fairly political and there’s plenty of subject matter of that ilk to write about.  Things like Bronwyn Bishop’s ‘Choppergate’ affair and her being put on ‘probation’ by Captain Tony Abbott is something I could get my teeth stuck into.  At times the whole incident is like a Laurel & Hardy sketch. Or maybe the Three Stooges (or Two) is more apt.  
The good point, from a bloggers point of view, is that our Prime Minister is always such a rich outlet of things that can be blogged about (think Captain’s Call and Shirt fronting).  It generally is one gaffe after another.  I’m sure a stand-up comedy show beckons Tony Abbott after he finishes his long and notorious political career.
Another hot topic currently is the Ashes cricket test series.  This is the ultimate Cricket battle.  A battle between England and Australia.  As at the time of writing this blog, the scores are level at one test all.  The Ashes are always keenly contested and there’s normally some controversial moment or two.  However, at the moment both teams are appearing to be behaving themselves.
Or maybe I could write about some music I have been listening to lately.  Recently, I have rediscovered the heavy rock group Saxon and have been listening to some of their most popular opuses.  One thing that struck me is how musically talented Saxon were/are.  There really is a huge chasm between the rock stars of today and those of yesteryear.
Alternately, maybe I should write about the Sydney winter.  July has certainly been one of the coldest winter months for many a year.  It even snowed heavily in the Blue Mountains a few weeks ago.  Mind you, winter in Australia is not like a winter in Europe.  To some it is ‘tropical’.  According to my weather application, tomorrow is going to be 6 degrees above the average close to the Mid 20’s.  Hardly winter weather indeed.

So I still don’t know what to write about.  Hang on a minute.  If I am not mistaken I have just written a blog!  

08 January 2015

Abbott's Year of Failure

Well it was certainly a crazy 2014 here in Australia.  Politically the government is currently more on the nose than prawn shells left in the sun for a few days.
Fifteen months into the stewardship of the Abbott government and it looks that, barring a miracle, it will be a one term government.  However, John Howard was facing decimation prior to the 9/11 attacks – and look what happened to him at the next election! 

Tony Abbott was elected mainly on an anti-labor vote.  The Rudd – Gillard – Rudd debacle had left a lot of voters disillusioned with the ALP.  Abbott fed on this disillusionment by using effectively three word slogans and reminding all and sundry how bad the then government were.  Abbott would fix the budget, stop the boats and would bring stable adult government back to Australia.  Oh, and the sun would shine and lovers would walk hand in hand through corn strewn fields!

However, Abbott and his cohorts did not experience any form of ‘honeymoon period’ that all new governments generally experience.  In fact, the Abbott government never really made it to the bedroom on the wedding night!  The country had already developed a ‘headache’.

Most voters trust their governments to do the right thing.  So if pre-election promises are clearly stated then they must be honoured.  Australians do not like governments to get elected and then to not stick to their promises.  For whatever reason, the Abbott government chose to break theirs thereby potentially cutting ‘their jugular’ with the electorate.  What made things worse was that the 2014 budget had some extreme measures in it that were not ‘hinted’ at before the election, or prior to the budget announcement.

The backlash was immediate and the government was probably surprised at the anger shown by the electorate at large.  The budget was seen as being pro-business and anti-working class.  An example was the proposed lifting of caps on university course fees which meant that some courses would triple in price.

I have always held the view that selling the budget and government policies are akin to selling a second hand car at a dealership.  You have to be able to put across your message simply and succinctly and with no small amount of professionalism.  So how come this government has failed on so many levels to get their policies and messages across?  Let’s take a look.

The Prime Minister is the figurehead of the government and must be stately when required and also empathetic.  John Howard was one of the previous Prime Ministers that could do this effectively.   However, Tony Abbott comes across stiffly and without any real fluency to his speaking.  He looks at times like he has been stunned by the headlights of the oncoming truck heading his way.  I like to call it SMS – Stunned Mullet Syndrome.  The fact also that he has to wear an earpiece to help answer questions doesn’t look good to the average Aussie out there.   I won’t even go into the ‘foot in mouth’ things that our PM has said in the past 15 months.

Our Treasurer has probably had the worst year out of anyone in the government.  Roll back the clock a few years and there was Joe, an amiable and affable type of fellow.  Someone that had a great rapport with the public.  Nowadays that rapport is non-existent.  Joe has sent out so many mixed messages “we must fix the budget”  “the budget is not a problem” that it’s hard to work out what the situation is!  He has looked especially nervous especially after his budget was totally panned by all bar the right wing commentators and obligatory Newscorp journalists.  Nowadays he is looking like a spent force – a parody of his former self.

Aside from Julie Bishop, the Coalition’s only shining star, the general public does not have high opinions of Chris Pyne, Barnaby Joyce, Eric Abetz, Warren Truss and especially Scott Morrison.   The way this government has put the electorate offside so quickly is quite an achievement in itself.  The question is how can they fix it?  In short, it may already be too late. 

A revamp is required aside from the mini cabinet re-shuffle that was announced recently.  For the Coalition to win another term in office, or at least put pressure on the ALP, they must sack Peta Credlin.  Ms Credlin comes across as a total power hungry control freak albeit one who has the full backing of the PM.  However, her stifling of senior ministers means that they are unable to be themselves or put across their message to the country.   If ministers were allowed to be themselves more then maybe, just maybe, the public would warm to them.

Joe Hockey should be axed as Treasurer as he has totally made a complete hash of the job to date.  If this was an office job he would have already been sacked.  It would probably pay the government to appoint a lesser known candidate to this role.  That way there would be less backlash than, say, if Matthias Cormann is appointed to Treasurer.

However, the biggest problem for the government is Tony Abbott himself.  He is clearly not winning over many with his policies and actions.  The Catch 22 is that if he is removed as PM then the Coalition will be deemed to be no better than the previous government.  The only two pretenders to the throne would have to be Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull.  However, Malcom has lost favour with the public due to the cost cutting exercise with the ABC and SBS.

So what can the government do?  Probably not much if the truth is known.  The good ship LNP is floating rudderless into dangerous waters and there doesn’t seem anything that they can do to stop this.  So the next 20 months will see more of the same.  The Senate will continue to be troublesome and the expected economic forecast for Australia isn’t all blue skies and sunshine either.

Given that most of the cabinet are devout Christians then they could always spend more time praying for an upturn in fortunes.  Only One person knows whether this policy will work!