Monthly Archives: August 2010

Hello, Radio NZ listeners, and thank you, Ele

Welcome to people coming by In a Strange Land after listening to Radio New Zealand today. Ele very kindly mentioned my dry July star chart during her regular radio discussion with Jim Mora, as an example of interactive social media. If you’re looking for the star chart, you can click on the menu link just below my name, or you can click here for the star chart, and here for my post, On the Efficacy of Star Charts.

Thank you, Ele.

Friday Feminist – Barbara Kingsolver

Cross posted

If the working-class women of my mother’s generation had been born in any other time, they would have led other lives – not necessarily better or worse, but definitely other. A decade earlier, they might have built airplanes and let the devil and Hitler take the daily dusting. Ten years later, they could have had Ph.D.s in aeronautics. Women, unless they were quite wealthy, have always worked: in the house and out of the house, on the farm, in factories, sometimes caring for other people’s kids, often leaving their own with the family herd under grandma’s practiced eye. I’ve read that early in this century, when desperate families flooded into cities seeking work, leaving their rural support systems behind, female factory workers had to bundle their toddlers up on boards and hang them on hooks on the walls. At break time they’d unswaddle the kids and feed them. I like to mention this to anyone who suggests that modern day care is degrading the species.

Barbara Kingsolver, “The Household Zen” in High Tide in Tucson, New York: Harper Collins, 1995

Adventures in parenting #327

Today, the girls walked themselves home from school, let themselves in, and got themselves some afternoon tea. I did not get home until 4.40pm.

The sky did not fall.

The world isn’t ending

My local paper is urging the independents and the big parties to make quick decisions, to get on with working out who is going to run the country. It’s a meme that’s being repeated in papers around the country: gotta move fast, gotta have a government, gotta keep the markets happy, MOVE FAST NOW!

Not so fast would be better. Gotta get this right. And we’ve got plenty of time to do that.

Government in this country is not just the elected pollies who sit in the House of Reps and the Senate. It’s also the public service. As it turns out, the public service will keep things ticking over for quite some time yet. Tax will be collected, services will be funded, the federal police and the High Court will keep on working, roads will be built, the country will be defended, we will continue to trade with other nations, our borders will be protected… the list goes on. And it is public servants who will ensure that all this will happen.

If the editorial writers had taken a little time to look across the Tasman before pounding away at their keyboards, they would have seen an instructive history about how government functions in the absence of pollies. In 1996, following the first MMP election in New Zealand, Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party held the balance of power, with 17 seats in the House. Neither major party held enough seats to govern in their own right – whichever party Peters decided to go into coalition with would be the government.

Peters spun out the coalition negotiations for a very long time. Over a month! So that made for four or five weeks of caretaker government before the election, and then another month when no one knew who the Prime Minister would be, nor which party would be the Government.

And the country just carried on. I have spoken to senior public servants who were there at the time. What happened was that the Cabinet Secretary, and the State Services Commissioner (head of the public service), met every day, and made what decisions needed to be made in order to keep the country functioning. After a few weeks, things started to get a little tricky: they needed some pollies in place to make policy decisions. But by and large, by being loyal servants of New Zealand, they managed to keep the whole place working. Police got paid, roads got built, taxes were collected, social welfare transfers kept on being paid… and so on. The institutions of government all functioned. A government was formed in plenty of time.

Like New Zealand, Australia is a robust liberal democracy, with well established institutions, a solid rule of law, an excellent judiciary, and above all, a highly professional and capable public service. Australia is probably even better placed than New Zealand, because the functions of government are split between the Commonwealth and the states. Things will keep on going quite happily for a long time yet.

There is no rush to form a government. There is no need for speed for the sake of speed. The editorial writers and hack pundits should back off, and stop demanding a speedy resolution. This is not a footy game or a soap opera or reality TV: it is a discussion about who should govern this country for the next three years. The process of working that out should take place calmly, not at a pace dictated by the headline hungry news media.

Cross posted

Wot larks! An election!

11.30pm I’m going to bed now.

11.25pm Clear acknowledgement that caretaker conventions apply. But then into campaigning type mode. His targets are the independents, and he’s making hay on the primary vote favouring the Libs. Doesn’t he understand how the voting system here works?

11.22pm Lib crowd cheers the election of the first ever indigenous representative. He’s a Lib. I wonder if they’ll get around to reflecting that it’s taken a bloody long time. FFS, it’s the twenty-first century.

11.20pm Nice opening – he urges no premature triumphalism.

11.16pm Tony Abbott coming into the Lib venue to make a speech… with his wife and daughters.

10.55pm ABC points out that the first indigenous MP has been elected. The first.

10.50pm Graceful remarks to Tony Abbott. And some very positive words about the functions of government carrying on. It’s all about reassurance. Some campaigning remarks, but it’s mostly thanks and reassurance. Good Prime Ministerial stuff.

10.47pm Congratulated Adam Bandt on his election as a Green to the House of Reps. She’s making an overture to him, and to other independents.

10.45pm Julia Gillard is speaking. Quoted Bill Clinton: The people have spoken. It will just take a little while to work out what they have said.

10.15pm A hung parliament! It’s going to depend on the pre-polls, and then the negotiations. And it will take weeks. Time for a bit of patience. However, if the Aussies take a bit of time to look across the Tasman, they will learn that the functions of government will carry on, that the institutions are sufficiently robust to withstand a caretaker period, that top public servants really can keep it all ticking over for a while. Sooner or later those public servants will need politicians to take policy decisions, but in the meantime, the world won’t come to an end. Or even a temporary halt. As a rule, they are excellent servants of the commonwealth, and in the next few weeks, they will continue to serve to the best of their ability, with all the wisdom that their years of service give them. It ain’t so bad.

9.45pm So is it ageist to worry about Wyatt Roy’s age? No – it’s realistic. He doesn’t stand a chance amongst the hardened men of the Liberal caucus, nor does he have much experience at all to bring to the table. By the time you get to 40 or 50, you’ve had to learn to compromise, to get on with other people, to pick when to stand your ground, and when to give way. He has no such experience. Either he will learn it in a baptism of fire in the next year or two, or he will be crushed. I hope it’s the former.

9.36pm Wyatt Roy has been elected for the Libs. He’s 20 years old, and looks about 14. He’s still got pimples!

9.35pm My goodness. Does Wyatt Roy’s mummy know he’s staying out late tonight?

9.30pm My local MP is on air. A Lib, returned with an increased margin. White man, married with children. All the right appearance… But he’s been in the house for 17 years, and as far as I can tell, he’s done nothing. That’s the leafy suburbs in South Australia for you.

9.25pm Green leader Bob Brown is on the box, looking very wrinkly and creased. He has amazing lines on his face. Mr Strange Land thinks this is because he is 15% tree.

9.17pm Holy shit! Looks like a Family First dinosaur has been elected to the Senate in South Australia. IT WASN’T ME!!! I put them only just above One Nation on my ballot. South Australia Senate result

9.07pm Could be a hung parliament… certainly looks like no result tonight. It could all hinge on the specials, or as they call them her, the “pre-polls”.

9.00pm The Labor bloodletting has started, on national TV, on election night. It’s not a pretty sight.

8.55pm Maxine McKew is bitter. And full of 20/20 hindsight. Seems to me that she might have needed to work a bit harder in her electorate if she wanted to keep her seat.

8.50pm I’m very impressed by Stephen Smith, Labor MP for Perth, who is calling the numbers on the ABC. He’s smart, and honest, giving clear commentary, and reasons, even where those reasons run against the Labor party.

8.37pm I only know one sitting MP in this election, Paul Fletcher (Libs, Bradfield) from long long ago, when we were both around university debating, both trans-Tasman and worlds. He has retained his seat, and increased his margin. He’s smart and able, and even if I don’t agree with his politics, I think that he would be an excellent MP.

8.27pm KRudd speech… very dull, and the ABC has cut away from it, because “it could go on for some time.”

8.20pm Just been talking to my brother, who is in Queensland, ‘though only recently, so he is not a citizen yet. He thinks that Australians are in general very positive people. But… he’s heard nothing but negativity in this campaign, nothing but what is wrong with the other bloke, a campaign of fear and loathing. Another cultural disconnect: I don’t recall campaigns at home being so negative.

8.00pm Dessert

Chocolate cake, bowl of yoghurt, one slice cut out, showing strawberry and jam filling

(Description: Chocolate cake, bowl of yoghurt, one slice cut out, showing strawberry and jam filling)

7.50pm 8% swing to Julia in her seat, 4% swing to Tony in his seat.

7.20pm Dessert break.

7.10pm And the disconnect is starting to kick in. Back in NZ, I know the names of the electorates, I know where they are, I understand the voting patterns. Here, I just don’t know at all. More than that, I don’t understand the pattern that’s showing in the seat count. Right now, the tally is Labor 63, Libs / Nats 49 and other 3, with just 35 in doubt now. But is that a standard pattern? Libs ahead early in the evening when the small booths are counted, then the city seats starting to come in and an apparent swing to Labor? What’s the usual pattern later in the evening? Should I be expecting the Libs to come back?

7.05pm Andrew Lambing (?), a Lib, is talking about his victory, with his blonde trophy wife at his side. She looks like she needs to make an immediate rush for the bathroom…

6.50pm It’s just hit 50 seats each for Labor and the Lib / Nats. Still 3 for others, and 47 undecided.

6.45pm There’s a 4.5% swing in Kevin Rudd’s seat, to the Libs! I thought there would be a big sympathy vote for him there.

6.27pm Mr Strange Land has finally gotten round to reading my blog, and has worked out that we’re having yoghurt chocolate cake for dessert. He is pleased. My friend’s daughter is wondering if this is the usual mode of communication in our house.

6.25pm Last election Labor took John Howard’s seat. But it looks like it’s not going to be held: a 7% swing to the Libs, and the margin is only 1.5%. But that’s based on just one booth.

6.15pm My friend voted in the Boothby electorate, in a Scout Hall. Apparently there was an excellent sausage sizzle. And a picture of the queen on the wall.

6.10pm 16 for Labor, 30 for the Lib/Nats, 3 to others, 100 in doubt, according to ABC TV. The website has it different: the web site is lagging just slightly behind the TV call.

6.05pm ABC is saying 11 to the ALP, 26 to Lib / National Party, 3 to others, 110 undecided. But that’s based on small booths that have reported first. So there’s a heavy rural bias so far.

6.00pm Wine. Cleanskin thus far, but we’ll move onto an Oyster Bay chardonnay soon.

4.30pm Despite having lived here for nearly six years, in two stretches of three years each, this is only the second federal election for which I have been present. Last time round, in 1998, I didn’t take much notice of the results coming in, because I was in labour with our first baby. This time round, we’re getting ready for a serious night of election watching. The yoghurt chocolate cake (dessert) has just come out of the oven, and the roast chickens (free range, stuffed with lemons and thyme) have gone in. I’ll serve them with rosemary roast tatie chips, beans, and roasted brussels sprouts. My friend and her daughter should be here in an hour or so, and we can pour the first glass of wine. People at Larvatus Prodeo have advised me to watch the ABC, but I’ll be keeping an eye on the results at the Australian Electoral Commission’s Virtual Tally Room too.

In another moment of culture shock, Sky News has some exit polls from marginal seats, about an hour before the polling booths close in the eastern states. They’re showing 51 – 49 in favour of the Labor party.

Vote for Pyne (libs), scary Tony Abbott picture

Scary Tony

12.30pm I have voted. It was an exercise in culture shock, because right at the polling booth, there was a whole pile of election advertising. Scary Tony Abbott pictures from the Labor party (I assume), scary Labor spending graphs from the Libs, and scary Senator Joyce pictures, reminding South Australians that Joyce thinks that people should move to where the water is. I think Joyce’s eyes had been photoshopped, to make them bulgy.

Labor debt graph, flanked by scary Tony Abbott, and standard candidate picture for Rick Sarre - local Labor candidate

Scary Labor debt graph

It’s all very different from home, where absolutely all election advertising must be removed before election day, so that voters have a chance to vote in peace. However, everything was very peaceful and well organised inside the polling place. The scrutineer took my name and address, asked me if I had voted already (No!) and handed my my ballot papers. Unlike New Zealand, they don’t record ballot paper numbers against my name, but each paper is initialled by the scrutineer.

Senator Joyce, with eyes photoshopped to make them bulge a little, saying "move to where the water is"

Scary Senator Joyce, Queensland farmer

Back in the state election in March, I was disconcerted to find that I was expected to record my vote in pencil. This time I took a pen, and recorded my votes. I rather like the preferential voting system, because it allows me to think about who I really, really, really don’t like as well as who I vote for. All the same, it was disturbing to realise that I had to express a preference for One Nation, albeit my very last preference of all. I’ve voted below the line for the Senate, expressing my own preferences for how I would like the Senate to be made up, instead of running with the pollies’ preferences.

A stall with a Salvation Army banner, selling jam.

Just jam

Very disappointingly, there was no sausage sizzle. I had promised the strangelings that they could have sausages wrapped in bread to celebrate democracy, but we had to make do with cakes from the local shops instead. All that was available was some home made jam.

Waiting time now.

9.10am One more cup of coffee, to propel me into doing my democratic duty.

9.00am The polling places opened an hour ago, Mr Strange Land has taken Ms Eleven to her netball game, the Misses Nine have a bye, and I’m in bed feeling a little sorry for myself with some sort of fluey illness. The Australian still seems to be trapped in its delusions about the Libs having a chance, even though every poll in the country other than Newspoll is calling it 52 – 48 for Labor. 50 – 50 insists The Oz. What are they smoking?

I’ll update this sporadically during the day, and more in the evening and I’ll tweet when I update it: @beefaerie Updates may depend on the quantity of coffee and wine consumed.