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Loving the Aussies slightly less


In August, I spent some time in my native land of Australia visiting family and friends. One Sunday morning I found myself wandering around the inner west of Sydney. I used to live in the area. If certain things in my life had gone slightly differently, I might still live in the area.

That’s life, though. I don’t regret moving to London in 2002. For one thing, if I had not done so, I might not now be writing for this blog.

In any event, I was thirsty. I nipped into a convenience store to buy a Coke. Anyone who has ever lived in a city will know the type of store. A selection groceries for people who have not managed to get to the supermarket. Drinks. Snack foods. Possibly a few pots and pans and other household goods. Cigarettes. In cities full of immigrants such as London and Sydney, these stores are normally owned and run by first generation immigrants. In the UK, this often means south Asians. In Australia, the owners of such shops are more often Chinese people, in some sense. (Often this can mean ethnically Chinese immigrants from Malaysia, Vietnam, or various other places).

People reading carefully may thing I am being careless in leaving alcoholic drinks and newspapers out of the list of things that such stores sell. After all, in London these things would make up a large portion of the business of such a store. Surely this is the same in Australia?

Well, no, actually.  Australian convenience stores do have vast amounts of shelf space devoted to sunscreen and insect repellant, but this hardly makes up for it.

Australia loves to regulate to protect vested interests. Laws vary according to state, but in Sydney an area will have a single newsagent, which will have a monopoly over the sale of newspapers in that area. This newsagent will be free to sub-licence other stores in the area to sell newspapers, but this normally only happens for Sunday papers, as the owner of the local monopoly will (or at least might) take the day off. In theory, the holder of the newsagent monopoly guarantees that he will provide local delivery of newspapers in the morning in return for being granted this monopoly. This may have once made sense, although I doubt it. Now though, most people who read newspapers at home do so over the internet. The monopoly remains, though. It’s about vested interests being protected from competition. This means, amongst other things, that convenience stores run by recent immigrants are not going to be allowed to sell newspapers.

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Ah you gotta love the Aussies

Australia will be represented by a diplomat rather than a senior minister at international climate talks in Poland next week aimed at securing an agreement to cut global carbon emissions. Environment Minister Greg Hunt won’t attend annual United Nations climate change talks in Warsaw, saying he’ll be busy repealing the carbon tax in the first fortnight of parliament. Mr Hunt said through a spokesman that he would be “fully engaged in repealing the carbon tax” while the conference was under way.

Ben Packham

A Song for Australia

With apologies to all those who will be les misérables tomorrow, I give you… One Day More

One day more,
Another day, another destiny,
This never ending road to Calvary.
These men who seem to know my crime
Will surely come a second time,
One day more.

I did not live until today,
How can I live when we are parted?

One day more.

Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away,
And yet with you, my world has started.

One more day all on my own.

Will we ever meet again?

One more day with him not caring.

I was born to be with you!

What a life I might have known…

And I swear I will be true!

…But he never saw me there.

One more day before the storm
At the barricades of freedom
Shall I join my brothers there
When our ranks begin to form?
Do I stay or do I dare?

Will you take your place with me?

The time is now!
The day is here!

One day more!

One more day till revolution,
We will nip it in the bud.
We’ll be ready for these schoolboys,
They will wet themselves with blood.

One day more!

Watch ’em run amuck,
Catch ’em as they fall,
Never know your luck
When there’s a free for all,
Here a little dip
There a little touch,
Most of them are goners
So they won’t miss much.

One day to a new beginning
Raise the flag of freedom high!
Every man will be a king
There’s a new world for the winning
Do you hear the people sing?

My place is here,
I fight with you.

One day more!

I did not live until today…
Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away
And yet with you my world has started

One more day all on my own.

We will join these people’s heroes
We will follow where they go
We will learn their little secrets,
We will know the things they know.

One day more.

Watch ’em run amuck
Catch ’em as they fall
Never know your luck
When there’s a free for all

One more day to revolution
We will nip it in the bud
We’ll be ready for these schoolboys

Tomorrow we’ll be far away.

Tomorrow is the judgement day.

Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!

UPDATE: I should have guessed I would not be the only one to think of it: Old Owl and 2dogs both pointed out in comments that “Bill Glasson, who is standing against Rudd in his seat of Griffith, has used this song in a video thanking his campaign volunteers.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Got it! I have finally settled on which character from Les Mis best represents Kevin Rudd. Gavroche. We are meant to find him loveable but he is an irritating little brat. He endlessly plays up his proletarian origins and faffs on about “what little people can do”. He denounces Inspector Javert and gets him sent off to be murdered by a People’s Court, setting the example for Children of the Revolution ever since. Then on the barricades, when the revolutionaries are offered the chance to leave, what does he do? He hams it up, sings his little song in a halting, childish treble, and basically dooms the lot of them. Go to the top of the class, little Gavroche! Or preferably go prancing out onto the top of the barricade – go on kid, you know you can’t resist an opportunity to show off – and get yourself slaughtered. Oh, you just did. Good show!

A light has gone from my life

I did so enjoy contemplating the coming inevitable defeat of Julia Gillard and the Australian Labor Party. Unimportant in the greater scheme of things, I know, but just to contemplate the ululations of grief and ritual cries of “misogyny” that would have come from the Guardian the morning after the next Australian election was a little thing that gave me a few snatched moments of innocent pleasure in this hard world.

Now, however

Note to the Australian government

If you are a national government wasting spending investing at least A$27.5bn (£18bn) of taxpayers’ money – over $1000 per capita – on building a government owned “National Broadband Network” because you think it is the job of the government do do this kind of stuff, and you then employ civil servants to ghost-write articles that can be published in the media under the bylines of lazy journalits, it is not a terribly good idea to include journals published by libertarian think tanks amongst your target publications.

The ever-annoying Kevin Rudd carbon tax factoid

If it is true that venom has medicinal uses, the leading figures of the Australian Labor Party must be the healthiest people on Earth.

Entertaining stuff, but one thing keeps bugging me. In about half the articles giving background information on Kevin Rudd I read, I see something like this:

When Gillard, then deputy prime minister, moved against him in 2010, she did so against a backdrop of internal disquiet and profound electoral disappointment.

Rudd had back-flipped spectacularly on an important pre-election pledge to introduce a carbon tax and his sky-high popularity with voters had slumped. (One of the major figures who urged him to listen to the mining and business lobby and jettison that promise was the deputy who would later depose him.)

You would think from that that the righteous planet-protective wrath of the Australian people was directed at Rudd for his failure to fulfil his pledge to introduce a tax (actually an emissions trading regime) intended to retard global warming. Cobblers. He had backed out of laying the tax because the voters loathed the idea. In fact so unpopular was the proposed carbon tax that it also resulted in the ousting of the opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, from leadership of the Liberal party, he having offered bipartisan support for the scheme. While it is true that voters do despise retreat and will punish a politician who backs down even when they howled for him to do so, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was only politically attractive in the sense that the song of the siren was attractive to Odysseus. Any Australian political leader who began to find that tune catchy had better hope that his Parliamentary colleagues had tied his bindings firmly and plugged well their own ears.

(Ears. Plugged. Rudd. Don’t think that thought too late.)

Nor has the curse abated since then. One big reason for Julia Gillard’s unpopularity is that she in turn “back-flipped spectacularly on an important pre-election pledge” not to introduce a carbon tax. I studied Australian politics at the University of Tim Blair’s Blog and I know that much. Why doesn’t the Guardian?

Robin Horbury at Biased BBC made a similar observation about a BBC story in July 2010. The link to the BBC story is dead, but, trust me, it was one of many.

Added later: another story from the Guardian exhibiting the same symptoms:

Ms Gillard’s once famously popular predecessor as Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, lost first that popularity and then his leadership partly because he failed to steer through the legislation he had promised to deal with what had earlier been called “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.

Those nice people from Greenpeace

While some of its members may genuinely believe they are doing good by their fellow human beings in protecting health and potentially dangerous things, as they think genetically modified plants to be, the dangers of the Precautionary Principle are highlighted to a stark degree by the activities of Greenpeace activists in Canberra, Australia. According to a report, trials in producing GM wheat have been badly damaged.

The persons who did this will, hopefully, be caught and punished with the full weight of the law. Remember, if these guys had their way, the Agricultural Revolution that took place in the decades leading up to the Industrial Revolution might not have happened, or at least to the same degree.

Here is an article by the excellent Ronald Bailey on the GM crops issue.

Samizdata quote of the day

It is difficult to know how seriously to take China’s red revival. Like the idea of a Cultural Revolution-themed restaurant – could the world imagine an Auschwitz Café? – to Western eyes the campaigns are almost beyond parody.

Peter Foster discussing the nauseating celebrations of the communist party in China

Safety wowsers and health wowsers. Fight! Fight! Fight!

No libertarian purist is going to love London’s new public bike hire scheme but it is nearer to harmless than many other state schemes. Apparently it looks to be quite popular. The same cannot be said for Melbourne’s scheme, launched two months ago with high hopes and high rhetoric about the benefits of cycling for people’s health and the environment. The reason for these “ranks of unused blue bikes” is that another bunch of health-promoting statists had queered the pitch.

Andrew Bolt in the Australian Herald Sun writes:

Most cities around the world with such a scheme – a network of docking stations of hire bikes – have found it works a treat. Take Montreal, a city Melbourne’s size, which in its first five months logged a million rides.

But Melbourne? Two months after parking 600 bikes in 50 docking stations in the city, the Government has sold just 70 rides a day.

The reason is as simple as it was predictable, and Melbourne Bike Share’s own surveys picked it up as the most cited disincentive: it’s having to wear a helmet.

A conversation about the Australian election

My native land of Australia is having a federal election on August 21, in which Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott will challenge Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who came to office in a party coup a mere five weeks ago. For those who are interested, I recently recorded a conversation with Patrick Crozier, in which he attempted to interview me about the issues at hand.

In this conversation, we cover issues such as how the Australian political system differs from the British system (and perhaps more crucially, how Australian political parties differ from British parties), just how and why Kevin Rudd managed to go from having some of the highest opinion poll ratings of any Australian Prime Minister to being tossed by his party in approximately nine months, the issues at hand in the electioin, and The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin.

Overhanging all this, though, is the recent party coup against Kevin Rudd. We spend quite a bit of time attempting to figure out the man’s downfall, and trying to figure out exactly how such a man became PM in the first place.

On the other hand, there are times when a music video is worth a thousand words. People without the time to listen to our conversation might instead consider simply watching this, which I think gets to the bottom of Kevin Rudd fairly quickly.

Unfortunately, although the conversation is timely and should be posted quickly, I have not had the opportunity to give it a great deal of editing. (I am presently in Romania, as part of having a life, and a touch short of editing facilities). As a consequence, the conversation still contains a few ums and ahs and pauses, and I think it is a little slow in starting. However, for those who want to give us a fair shake of the sauce bottle, I think it is pretty coherent once we get going. Enjoy.

Getting your priorities right

Things have been a little odd in Australian politics recently. In the last month, the governing Australian Labor Party has sacked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and appointed Julia Gillard as Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. While this has been going on, former Labor PM Paul Keating has been having a weird slanging match with former Labor PM Bob Hawke and his biographer/wife Blanche d’Alpuget. She was his biographer first. Long and somewhat tawdry story, which is some but not all that the slanging match (which has included a TV mini-series) has been about.

Obviously, the only thing that Ms Gillard could do in such circumstances was to call an early election, and thus Australians will be voting on August 21, even though the election may constitutionally be held as late as April 2011 . If this gamble does not pay off, Ms Gillard will be Australia’s fifth shortest serving Prime Minister. (Three of the shorter serving PMs held office very briefly during the period between when their predecessor either died or went mysteriously missing in the ocean and when their party elected a new leader, so she would be the second shortest Prime Minister ever placed in the job for reasons other than constitutional technicalities.

Australians, however, know what is important. Although televised leaders debates are a relatively new thing in the UK, they have been normal in Australian elections for over 25 years. The convention is that a debate will be held at 7.30pm on the first Sunday evening of the campaign. For this election, this would mean this coming Sunday.

Except, however, if it were held to that schedule this Sunday, the debate would clash with the season finale of the reality TV cooking show Masterchef Australia, and thus nobody would be watching. Therefore, the debate has been shortened from 90 minutes to 60, and has been moved from 7.30pm to 6.30pm. Really.

I am hoping to record a conversation about the personalities and issues behind this Australian election with fellow expatriate James Waterton at some point during this election campaign. Hopefully this should be up soon.

Update: The winner was Adam Liaw, the Japanese-Australian lawyer from Adelaide.

The joys of regulation

The Australian state of Western Australia has a population of 2.2 million people, and occupies an area of just over 2.6 million square kilometres. Just for reference, that is seven and a half times the size of Germany or alternatively ten times the size of Texas.

However, average house prices are amongst the highest in the world, as there is a shortage of land.

It rather boggles the mind.

Correction: Texas is actually slightly more than a quarter of the size of Western Australia. My apologies to Texans.