Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dinosaurs R Us

The week in politics in Australia has been an outrageous outing of the dinosaurs. Now I'm no fan of Malcolm Turnbull, the current leader of the opposition Liberal/ National Party Coalition, but this week he showed himself to be a man of integrity and principle.

Malcolm is loud, rich, immensely intelligent, but an appalling politician. He just can't hide his contempt for those less smart than himself, which unfortunately is most of his colleagues in Parliament House. His supporters have forgiven this flaw in his personality, mainly because there is no one else with his formidable intelligence and wit to counter the "Kevin speak" coming from the Government benches. But this week not only did he go too far, but he upset the dinosaurs within the coalition and they all came out roaring.

The argument is over climate change. Both sides of Parliament went to the last election with a promise to institute some form of carbon trading scheme, but it now appears that the dinosaurs in Malcolm's team don't actually believe that climate change is occurring. Malcolm, on the other hand does, along with quite alot of other people and the majority of scientific evidence, and has staked his leadership on trying to negotiate a workable solution with the government on said trading scheme.

Whatever one thinks of the current bill before the Houses of Parliament (the Greens believe it is a paltry pathetic excuse for a scheme which pays the polluters and has impossibly low targets, and the Liberals think it's just another tax which will cause job losses), it is an attempt to draw a line in the sand. Kev's team, led by the "ice maiden" Penny Wong, want this bit of legislation in hand before they swan off to Copenhagen in a week or so, with exultant cries of 'look at us, we've done something while you lot are still contemplating your navels" or some such pith. Malcolm thought it wasn't a bad idea either: for Australia to present herself on the world stage as a country taking climate change seriously. Poor old Malcolm, he thought this was a bipartisan issue.

Now let me say that I tend to agree with the Greens that the current legislation before the House is more a political exercise in looking to be doing something, than a really serious attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In that light, the reaction of the dinosaurs is even more outrageous.

The dinosaurs are furious because: Malcolm went to his cabinet and they agreed to negotiate with the government on the bill which Penny has spent the last 18 months putting together. Coalition members, led by the gorgeously gravel-voiced "Macca", nutted out over 200 amendments which were then agreed to by Malcolm's shadow cabinet and then discussed over 8 hours in an unholy showdown with the joint party room. Prior to this meeting there had already been serious mutterings of discontent, ever since Malcolm put out the ultimatum that he wouldn't lead a party that didn't take climate change seriously. And for that I take my hat off to him, a man who sticks by his values.

It turns out that a good deal of the mob in the Liberal and National Parties are climate change sceptics. Their anger this week has arisen because in the 8 hour marathon meeting Malcolm misread the numbers supporting the negotiated amendments and declared post meeting to a waiting press phalanx that the coalition would support the amended Bill. Out came the swords....

In interviews with the dissenters, they begin with saying that Malcolm must go because he failed to read the numbers correctly, and that there was not a clear majority of support for the Bill. Of course the Government doesn't need all the Coalition's votes, just enough to get a majority as the Greens aren't voting for it. But because in Australia pollies tend to vote along party lines, a dissent vote will be seen as disloyal to the Party and a career ending move. However, three minutes into any discussion with the angry mob reveals the truth behind the rage: the dinosaurs don't actually BELIEVE in climate change!! It isn't about threats to jobs and industry, they just don't believe it exists!! Go figure!!

My jaunts through the countrysides of Asia has shown me first hand the effects of climate change, where ancient farming communities are experiencing unprecedented floods or droughts. One Vietnamese lady told me that the seasons were so mixed up no-one knew when to plant anymore, the traditional knowledge handed down from generation to generation was no longer reliable. I heard similar stories in Indonesia, both in Sumatra and Sulawesi, that echoed the same sentiments.

Malcolm will probably go down on Tuesday, but I hope to hell they have to forcibly topple him, because it really is refreshing to see a politician standing up for a principle and risking his job for it. Whatever others in the Liberal Party may say, Malcolm is correct in saying that a Party not committed to a policy of greenhouse gas emission reduction is a backward thinking Party and doesn't deserve to be elected. This week has almost certainly put them out in the political wilderness for the next and possibly the following electoral term. Kev must be chuckling with glee.

But my biggest piece of invective goes to that slimy fence sitter Tony Abbott, who last week was a vehement Malcolm supporter and this week has seen where the lie of the land is and has jumped ship into the nay-sayer's camp in order to tip his hat for the top job. Tony, you are a total scumbag!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

As cities go...

Melbourne's not bad I reckon. Living out in the boondocks of regional Western Australia you'd think I have an aversion to big cities, but that's not the case. I actually have a love/hate relationship with big cities: I love large vibrant cities with an inner city vibe and lots to do, and hate large sprawling cities where the car is king. I love New York, I'm sure I'd hate LA. I hate Perth, but I sure reckon Melbourne has something I like. As for Sydney, well that's complicated by me living there for many years : I hated the place when I left, but recent visits see me enjoying the place again. Not sure I'd live there again though...

That's the crux of the matter I suspect. Visiting a big city with lots of stuff to do and a vibrant cultural scene is really attractive when all you've got to do is enjoy it, rather than have to knuckle down to a fulltime job to pay the exorbitant accommodation costs involved in living in said city. After a while I'd probably tire of living in NYC but it wouldn't happen overnight. Whereas Perth?? Like just what has it got going for it??

Anyway, back to Melbourne. I had a short visit last weekend in an attempt to catch up on a bit of medical education and had great plans to get a few cultural fixes while I was at it. Or at least go and see a few alternative films which our local redneck cinema is unlikely to screen. I stayed in the city in a nice little apartment and ventured out daily across the river to Southbank, past Crown Casino to attend my classes. And the weather was glorious - a rarity for Melbourne at any time of year - with blue skies and temperatures in the mid 30s, lots of people enjoying alfresco coffees and numerous lycra clad cyclists riding by.

The city skyline is an interesting mix of architectural styles which I personally find not only pleasant on the eye but also thought provoking, as if the burghers in Council have deliberately decided to challenge the residents to some sort of conversation about the built environment. I find that refreshing, regardless of whether I actually like the building or not, the fact that the city allows architects to create something different from the stock standard glasswalled skyscraper is to be applauded. And then there's the older planned streets of the CBD, with their grids of streets, lanes and alleys, where the graffiti is now highly valued "street art", and the boutique shopping is second to none.

But I suffered dreadfully from jetlag, and the intensive classes tired me out, so nary a movie did I make. But I did visit the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition which was well worth the effort, though its interactive life sized models of da Vinci's inventions would bore the socks off any kid more used to the bells and whistles to be had in any Scitech installation. Those of us who can enjoy a history lesson, an art lesson, and a few gory models of dead human beings and their various organs will enjoy the experience.

I'm sure I've been seduced by the weather. Fact is, Melbourne is glorious when it's not overcast and blowing an icy wind straight off the antarctic. Think I'll stick with my beachhouse in the midwest for the time being, even if today we have yet another rainy front lashing the coastline. With all this wacky weather, for all I know in a few years time I might be changing my mind!