One in a million, or ten

In a slightly unfortunate juxtaposition, LinkedIn sent me a breathless message “John congratulations! You have one of the top 5% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012!”

immediately followed by the news that “linkedIn now has more than 200 million members”. Do the math

Crusader Monckton

Ever since the Brisbane Institute cancelled my invitation to debate Christopher ‘Lord” Monckton a few years ago, I’ve followed his career with more than usual interest. His ‘Loony Lord M’ character, owing a lot to Screaming Lord Sutch, has been a huge hit here in Australia. By contrast, back in the UK, officials of the House of Lords have taken offence at his claims to be a member of that institution[1]. Some sniffy British Tories also seem to be upset by the claim that the UK government, along with Obama, Merkel and Gillard, are plotting to introduce a communist world government through a $20/tonne tax on CO2, and, of course, Agenda 21. Here in Australia, though, the fans love him for his ability to make the most absurd claims with a (sort of) straight face.

Given his obvious similarities to Sacha Baron-Cohen, it seemed reasonable to expect that Monckton would come up with a new character to keep his Antipodean fans amused. That expectation was proved correct when he turned up in Canberra as Crusader Monckton, endorsing pastor Danny Nalliah’s campaign against the oppressive rule of Shariah law in Australia, and the establishment of a new Judaeo-Christian political party. So far he’s getting rave reviews in advance press.

I’m a bit disappointed, though, that he doesn’t seem to be growing as an artist. Instead of making a clean break, he’s playing it safe, maintaining the previous climate delusionist shtick in parallel with the new one. And there isn’t really a lot of distance between the old character and the new one. Existing fans like Abbott, Albrechtsen, Bolt and, of course, Gina Rinehart will welcome the addition of the new Crusader persona, but there’s no way he can reach new audiences with such tired stuff. He really needs something more creative, like a campaign against gravity, or a claim that cancer is good for you.

Still, for those interested here’s the tour schedule

fn1. He ran at the first opportunity, receiving no votes. In emulation of the Monty Python Silly Party, he ran again, getting twice as many.

Eddie, obeyed

As last year drew to a close, it seemed quite possible that the Gillard government could be re-elected. The polls were going the right way, the reality of the carbon price had discredited the apocalyptic scare campaign of the Opposition, and the various real or alleged scandals surrounding the government seemed to be fading. The carbon issue is still going the right way, but everyhing else has turned around severely since then: even before the disasters of the last week, the polls had turned bad, pointing to an uphill struggle.

Last week was bad for the government in all sorts of ways, but the Obeid hearings before ICAC were in a league of their own. I was aware of the scandal, of course, but the evidence of Obeid’s total control over the NSW Right, and therefore of the state government, still surprised me. Even more out of the blue was the involvement of two federal ministers, Conroy and Burke. While taking free accommodation from Eddie Obeid looks a lot worse in retrospect than it would have at the time, his dubious reputation goes back a long way.

It’s hard to see how Gillard can credibly promise to clean up this mess. Her long reliance on Thomson and Slipper, the role of the NSW Right in sustaining her power, and, fairly or otherwise, the old allegations about her own career, all count against her. At this point, as Bernard Keane says (h/t Nancy Wallace)

‘If only Labor had an alternative leader who was fixed in the public mind as someone profoundly at odds with Labor powerbrokers …’

Obviously, he’s talking about Kevin Rudd. While it’s late for a shift, the case has become stronger in many ways. Of the people strongly identified with the personal attacks on Rudd last year, Roxon has gone to the backbench, Conroy and Burke are now liabilities, and Swan’s failed surplus push has greatly weakened him.

A simple change of leader would not be enough. Labor needs to excise the tumour that is the NSW Right. If restored to the leadership, Rudd should immediately push for a full-scale intervention into the NSW Branch removing all the existing officials, and putting someone credible like John Faulkner in charge. The whole faction system needs to be reformed or abolished, starting with the dissolution of the NSW RIght. And those compromised by their association with Obeid, Richardson and similar agents of corruption need to be expelled or permanently removed from any positions of power.

I don’t know if it’s too late to stop the election of an Abbott government. But it’s evident that Gillard is not the right person for the job.

Emergencies and luxuries

The floodwaters have receded[1] and the miserable task of cleaning up is beginning in Bundaberg, Laidley and other communities. Here in Brisbane we were lucky enough to avoid another flood. The remnants of Cyclone Oswald hit us in the form of a summer storm, bigger than usual, but a pretty regular event here. It wasn’t surprising that hundreds of thousands of people (including me) lost electrical power, or that repairs couldn’t start until the wind had subsided. Even so, the restoration of power was very slow – in many places slower than in 2011. It’s become evident that, like all areas of the Queensland public sector, the electricity distributors (Energex in the Brisbane region and Ergon elsewhere) have been subject to staff cuts that have hampered their ability to respond. The union was issuing warnings about this last year, and they have been proved right. In one startling case, workers were delayed from responding to the emergency in Bundaberg, so they could be briefed on their redundancy options.

Ergon and Energex are government-owned corporations, which are normally supposed to make their own commercial decisions. In this case, however, the shareholding ministers, Energy Minister Mark McArdle and Treasurer Tim Nicholls, have actively intervened to push for job cuts. The obvious explanation is that they are trying to boost profitability (at least in the short term) to prepare the enterprises for privatisation. The regulatory system is supposed to require Energex and Ergon to meet reliability standards, but it seems likely that it is vulnerable to gaming, possibly by excluding extreme (but not uncommon or unpredictable) events like this storm from the criteria (I plan to look into this).

The cuts in the electricity sector have been matched or exceeded across the entire public sector, including the services on which we all rely in an emergency. Meanwhile, Campbell and Nicholls are building themselves a brand new office tower, demolishing the aging but serviceable building in which they currently work. They are paying off their supporters with cuts in payroll tax, grants to racing clubs and so on. But if you want a symbol of this government, you can’t go past Jeff Seeney, who tried to get a government plane, currently used for organ transplants and similar emergencies, allocated for his personal use.