Archive for August, 2009

The ongoing debacle of leadership of NSW Labor and Premier’s role is a soap opera, tragi-comedy or facsimile of TV series The Sopranos. Moir’s SMH cartoon (Aug 27) shows a limousine of Mafia-style gangsters driven by a familiar Labor figure and hapless Premier Rees surrounded by goons. A caption reading “He Who Must Be…” is to be completed by ‘Obeid’, the name of the driver, who says “Why don’t we go for a little ride and consider your future…?”

During these undermining manoeuvres for leadership change and number-crunching, press leaks start spouting. ‘Powerbrokers’ of NSW Labor’s Right faction, Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, appear as apparent king-makers and organisers of political assassination. Each was named in dubious property dealings, neither is Premier material.

Media questions are met with hand-on-heart declarations from underminers of undying loyalty to their fearless leader, who remains intransigent about resigning, for the time being. Unfortunately the alternatives are as unattractive as the powerbrokers, and with names like Della Bosca, Sartor et al, any resemblance to characters in The Sopranos is purely coincidental.

Powerbrokers by definition have unelected positions of inordinate influence, even in the so-called Labor machine. Media report the moving & shaking as though its regular democratic business, and ‘powerbroker’ is used as a neutral descriptor in news items as though it’s normal nomenclature.

The whole process of factionalism makes a Labor government look even more rotten, cynical and corrupt, continuing that age-old Labor tradition of ‘faceless men’ except that nowadays they’re powerbrokers and far from anonymous.

Poor NSW’s powerbroken arse! Rome fiddles & burns, and our public hospitals, transport, schools and planning remain political footballs.


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Robert Connolly’s film ‘Balibo’ relates events in 1975 in East Timor around the killing of Australian journalists who were reporting on Indonesia’s invasion. Jill Jolliffe’s book ‘Cover-Up: the Inside Story of the Balibo Five’ was used and David Williamson collaborated on the script. The film has certainly had a desired effect of stirring up debate about that shadowy period. So far Gough Whitlam has kept his silence, despite my call for him to speak out.

Tony Maniaty, journalist & author of ‘Shooting Balibo’ was in Timor at the time and is portrayed in the film. Recently he commented that the saga is complex; responsibility for the tragedy is shared; and that it was not Australia’s finest hour – themes explored vigorously in the film.

Paul Cleary, journalist & author of ‘Shakedown: Australia’s Grab for Timor Oil’ criticises its historical inaccuracy; neglect of political connivance by Australian and US leaders with Indonesia; and the central plot device, a fictional journey to Balibo by journalist Roger East (played by Anthony LaPaglia) to discover the fate of the missing five. Connolly defended his approach by giving credit to his audience “to join the dots themselves”.

The film should not be prefaced ‘true story’, but it’s a compelling tale of the bravado of young Australians; East’s personal journey to martyrdom; the menace of impending Indonesian savagery; Timorese resistance; and the dilemmas of savvy Ramos Horta. An estimated 183,000 Timorese were killed.

The story is told through a witness to the Dili invasion as an 8 year old girl, giving evidence today to a Commission for Truth & Reconciliation.  Luke Davies thinks this device felt slightly stiff, but provides a wider historical and personal context; and use of 70s-style camera lenses to film some scenes created a “washed-out, meditative, elegaic quality”.

For continuity spotters a minor false note is the Polynesian-style tattoo on Anthony’s arm, definitely not in fashion in the 1970s except for Marquesans! One also wonders about LaPaglia’s corpulence, as other actors physically resemble their characters, but he is larger-than-life.

Nitpicking aside, Balibo is a must see film. Criticisms of a Hollywood approach are misplaced as it’s not a documentary. But rather a powerful dramatic insight into a rarely-evoked period – engrossing, tragic and edgy. Athough we know the ending, suspense is held and climactic impact strong. LaPaglia is excellent and also Oscar Isaac as Ramos Horta sharing centre stage.

Your reviewer travelled in Portuguese Timor in 1970 and relished this backward look at my first foreign country, which evoked memories of my youth, another foreign country.

A Tetum-language version of Balibo will be shown in Dili this Sunday, during East Timor’s 10 year celebration of its referendum on independence. And final footnote: the Victorian Government financed restoration of the house where the Balibo Five were murdered and gifted it to the local community: Balibo House Trust.

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Earlier this year Cadbury downsized 250g chocolate blocks to 200g, but changed to cardboard packaging that looked the same size. Retail prices have not fallen accordingly. Removal of a Federal government levy made milk cheaper. Are input costs of cocoa and sugar up? Profits remain chock-a-block.

Trish Hyde, chief executive Confectionery Manufacturers Association, stated: “The entire industry is doing it voluntarily. We are reverse-engineering our portion sizes in order to better align them with how much it is responsible to eat” (SMH July 30). Truly a statement of Orwellian proportions!

Maybe reverse-eating could now be tried to overcome the effects of all that irresponsible over-eating by millions of consumers over previous decades. 

Dream_220g-3D[1]Check here for some visual details.


And tell ’em they really are dreaming!

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Re the Utegate farce: the Auditor-General reported on Treasury’s role and its senior policy wonk & leak Gollum Grechen, uncovering shortfalls in departmental security procedures. Apparently GG’s failing physical and mental health could have been detected by an expired national security clearance (Verona Burgess, AFR August 07). Designated second-top level as ‘secret’, it required the return of a ‘vetting pack’, which GG failed to do for almost a year.

Now, the clever tools of trade used by authors of this ‘pack’, no doubt organisational psychologists, are not to be coughed at, but the thought of a subversive inside agent possiby falsifying his return does exercise the imagination.  This ‘negative vetting’ checks honesty, trustworthiness, maturity, tolerance, loyalty and vulnerabilities in relation to external loyalties, influences and associations; personal relationships and conduct; financial considerations, alcohol and drug usage; criminal history and conduct; security attitudes and violations; and mental health disorders.

Imagine this comprehensive aid to organisational fitness applied to honourable members of our houses of parliament! The colour and character of our legislatures would be irrevocably changed and scary: politicians who are honest, trustworthy, mature and tolerant, not to mention invulnerable to external influences or drug & alcohol usage. The mind boggles!

The A-G’s report also found that Treasury basically mismanaged implementation of the Ozcar $2 billion bail out of car dealers, through poor handling of financial advisers, contracting and documentation. Naturally the government preferred to focus on the opposition and its leader, rather than Treasury’s failings, and the media meekly followed that lead. Let’s hope Treasury secretary Ken Henry applies more diligence to his review of the country’s taxation system.


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Adolescent boys don’t know how to relate to girls, reports Gordon Parker, a psychiatrist who talks to parents at boys schools. Miranda Devine (SMH 13 August) linked this to youth suicide, over-medicalisation of depression, growing social pressures on adolescents. A conference at private boys school Shore on the ‘particular vulnerabilities of boys’ appears to miss the point.

The elephant in the room, so to speak, is the question of single sex schools. How do we expect boys to learn social skills vis a vis the opposite sex when they’re quarantined from normal daily contact during critical adolescent years. Doh, as they would say: being around girls is the best way of getting used to them. It starts with boys and girls relating as equals from an early age, and continuing through life. It’s common sense.

Argument about different learning rates of the sexes is a furphy, and inherited English traditions have a lot to answer for. Europeans do not generally have gender segregation at secondary level these days, except in some religious schools. It’s time for Australia to shake off archaic thinking and reunite the sexes at school. Lessening of boys anxiety and improved social skills will surely follow. Girls will ‘normalise’ too, and maybe society at large.

St Kate’s Kookynie accepted boys from nearby St Kevin’s this year, with the declining population adding logic to an effective merger. Historic St Kate’s is now a happy co-ed school for all denominations, with unanimous community support. St Kevin’s site is up for sale.

St Kate's Kookynie

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Australians have an interest, not necessarily well-read, in episodes of their military history. In recent decades inchoate Aussie tribal urges have conjured up ‘remembrance’ travel to foreign cemeteries, former battlefields, prisoner of war camps, mountainous jungle trails and more. HMAS Sydney ‘mystery’ endured 68 years, and is now finally resolved.

On November 19, 1941 an Indian Ocean naval battle took place 112 nautical miles off Carnarvon. German raider HSK Kormoran caught Australia’s cruiser HMAS Sydney by surprise and attacked. Sydney sank quickly with loss of all 645 crew on board: our greatest single maritime loss of life in WWII. Kormoran also sank with 80 lives lost, but 318 Germans survived and were rescued. 


Testimony of German survivors interrogated about the battle scene were discounted as enemy lies. With no surviving Australian witnesses and Sydney wreckage ‘lost’, theories abounded about irregular German tactics, Japanese submarines, Aussie prisoners taken away or secretly buried. Families of lost seamen and others kept the mystery alive over the decades.


Finally this year an official enquiry by former judge Terence Cole concluded that Australian captain Burnett made serious errors of judgement in approaching Kormoran and conceding a deadly advantage. German gunners were well-trained and effective. Sydney’s wreck was discovered last year 12 miles from Kormoran’s. Cole also found that German accounts had indeed been credible, as different surviving groups all told the same story. The enemy had been telling the truth, a dastardly trick!

In Carnarvon a long avenue of 645 palm trees commemorates lost Australian lives, and memorials stand guard on WA’s coast; the wreck is inaccessible.

palm tree memorial road

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Body surfing at Kookynie goes back to those big rain days of yore when flood waters rushed down the creek into Niagara Dam. Older Kookyniers remember surfing through boulders using kangaroo-skin & wooden flippers. In 1897-98 the dam was built to assure water supply for the new mining metropolis, and named after its US counterpart, inaugurated by WA Premier Forrest. It was an instant ‘white elephant’.

BightPOHFlood creek flows into the dam are rare these days, so surfers have a long drive down to the Great Australian Bight. You can get lucky though – blue skies and waves to yourself and seals. Winter ocean temperature means wetsuit is de rigeur. Send ’em up Huey!



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