The Reality of Voting in Australian Politics

I’m so fed up with the Americanisation (is that a word?) of our voting system.  Why the hell is there so much focus on the leaders of the 2 main parties (the Liberal/National Coalition, and Labor), and to a lesser extent on the “also rans” (e.g., the Greens)??

WE, as voters, do NOT elect the nation’s leader.  All WE do is elect which party we want to govern the country, and that party then elects one of their own to be the Prime Minister.

It’s about time the media (and everyone else) stopped focussing on the leaders and their attributes (or lack thereof), and started focussing on the policy platforms of the political parties.  The “leader” of the respective parties is nothing more than a mouth piece for the party policies.

Use your brains people.  Take a long, hard look at the policies of the various parties, ask the hard questions of your local representatives, and THEN make your decision on how you are going to vote.  Maybe if everyone did this and ignored the focus on what the party figureheads are doing will WE actually vote in the leaders that this country needs and deserves.

Welcome back, iServ

Welcome back to iServ, one of Australia’s pre-eminent web sites on current affairs and political commentary.

iServ has been sorely missed during it’s short absence. Whilst many may not have agreed with the opinions expressed on iServ from time to time (and I am quite ready to acknowledge that I occasionally disagreed with some of the views of the site’s owner, so don’t for one minute think this post is merely a suck up to iServ), I think it is fair to say that the owner was fair in his allowance of freedom of speech to all that cared to make reasoned and considered comment. He always was, and I’m advised that he will continue to be, fair and reasonable in allowing commentary from all comers.

So long as one stays “on topic”, and does not attempt to denigrate the thread into a personal slanging match or some other diatribe that defies the intended aim of the site, then contributors have nothing to fear from the site’s owner.

N.S.W. – Getting grimmer by the hour….

One has to wonder what ever possessed Nathan Rees to take on the role of Premier of New South Wales.  If there was a job that was going to be a thankless task and a burden to one’s spirits and optimism, then I think being Premier of N.S.W. in 2008 has to rank amongst the top few.  I can only wonder at what carrots the Labor Party backroom boys must have dangled in front of Mr Rees to convince him to take on the job.  Talk about “sacrificial lambs being led to the slaughter”.

And in today’s papers comes news that Labor have further deserted their traditional supporters,  workers and their families, by deciding to stop subsidising free school travel for N.S.W. students.

Poor Premier Rees – he really is on a hiding to nothing. The only thing he has on his side at the moment is time. The next election for State politicians is not due until around 24 March, 2011 (the last full election was held on 24 March, 2007), so Premier Rees and the Labor Party at least have time to try to turn things around.

Even so, I think it will take nothing short of an economic miracle to save the Labor Government in NSW. Their past ineptitude has finally caught up with them – N.S.W. is a state in of dire economic circumstances, as evidenced by the cutbacks Premier Rees and his Ministers are having to introduce. On top of this, there is the current world economic crisis that is yet to be fully felt here in Australia. Things are going to get tough for Australians, no matter how much chest beating Prime Minister Rudd and his colleagues at Federal level do about how they’re taking action to mitigate the effects of the crisis on Australians. N.S.W is effectively bankrupt and doesn’t have the war chest of funds available to it that the Federal government has. Premier Rees and N.S.W. are going to keep getting hit, and hit hard, over the next couple of years, and N.S.W voters will continue to be reminded of their State’s dire woes right up to, and most likely beyond, the next State election.

On top of all that is the Australian voter’s penchant for not wanting the same political party at both State and Federal level. I think we will see a number of State governments change political persuasion as voters cast protests based on their perception of both State and Federal government’s handling of the economy.

As a resident of N.S.W. I can only hope we will see a turnaround in the State’s circumstances sooner rather than later, but, despite being an optimist by nature, I really feel it’s going to take a long time before N.S.W. is out of the economic doldrums.

Street Racing – so what’s so new about it?

Over the last week or so the NSW state government, police force and Australian media generally have put under the spotlight the tendency of drivers to “race” their motor vehicles on the streets.  This current focus has been brought on by the recent tragic deaths of an elderly couple quietly returning home after a night out at a local venue.  They were killed when their car was hit by 2 other vehicles travelling at high speed on a public road, allegedly “racing” each other.

There has since been much spoken and written about the incident and other similar incidents.  Many people are asking why it is allowed to continue, what drives people to race their cars on the streets, and how it can be stopped.

It is my belief that such activities can never be wiped out.  Man is, by nature, a competitive beast.  Like the rest of the animal kingdom, we are genetically pre-disposed to strive to out-do our peers to get to the top of the heap and be seen as the strongest and quickest to ensure the “survival of the species”.  This clearly extends to every facet of human endeavour.  Therefore, it will be impossible to stop it without turning the human species into an evolutionary backwater that will stagnate and eventually fade away (we’re probably going to do ourselves in as a species anyway, but that’s a whole different story).

These activities are allowed to continue due to the NSW Government’s inability to maintain adequate police numbers actually on the roads being policeman.  Premier Morris Iemma claims that they are providing additional police, however the problem with that is that his government is merely bringing police numbers back to levels from which they have gradually been allowed to decline.  The government has not increased the numbers of police to keep pace with the growth of the population and many more need to be added to our police force.  A more visible presence of police on the roads will go a long way to reducing traffic infringements in general.

More police on the roads is one piece of the puzzle to reducing this so-called “anti-social” behaviour of street racing.  But more than just police on the roads is needed.  The NSW Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, has suggested seizing the vehicles of people convicted of street racing and crushing them into a small cube and putting the cube in the offenders front yard as a reminder.  This idea simply isn’t workable.  Mr Moroney cites overseas examples, such as in southern California, USA, and in England, of this practice.  But it hasn’t stopped the street racers in either of those places, so clearly it doesn’t work as a way of stopping the practice.

It seems to me that the best way of combatting the situation and reducing the risk to the majority of road users lies in better driver training – something I’ve always been a strong advocate of.  The NSW driver’s licencing regime for motor vehicle drivers is nothing short of a farce.  There needs to be a mandatory requirement for all learner drivers to attend a car control course where they are able to learn, in a controlled environment away from public roads, what an out of control car feels like and how to avoid getting into those situations, or if they do find themselves in situation then they will know what to do and not freeze in panic.  This needs to be extended to a refresher course at the time they graduate from their red “P” to their green “P”, and perhaps again when they graduate to their full licence.  In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for it to be a compulsory requirement that people must attend such a course on a regular basis, say every 5 years.  These courses not only teach people the physical skills, but they also focus on the mental attitude of drivers which I think is a major factor.

There are those that say these courses are a bad thing as they give the trainees a false sense of security and actually increases the risk they will do something dangerous.  To these people I say RUBBISH.  From personal experience I can say that idea is a load of crap.  I have watched family members go from being inexperienced panickers that simply froze if the car or traffic around them did something unexpected, to being confident drivers able to cope with pretty much any situation day to day driving can throw at them.  I’ve seen the evidence first hand that these courses save lives.

As to reducing the incidence of street racing, might I suggest firstly that, as part of their punishment, anyone convicted of such an offence be forced to do community service in a hospital trauma ward helping to tend to those injured in motor vehicle accidents?  Secondly, if the convicted driver is guilty of actually injuring other people, then that driver should be made to face the families of the victims and see the grief and torment their actions have caused.

And to those that ask why we have to have such powerful cars on the roads, the amount of power of a motor vehicle will make no difference (and do you wowsers realise that the more powerful vehicles are safer than the tinny gutless offerings you favour, because of the features built in to cope with the increased power?).  Human beings will pit themselves against their fellow human beings at any opportunity – we can’t help it, it’s our destiny….

P-Plate Gabfest

Will anything of substance come from the current gabfest on what to do about our P-plate drivers?

I’m predicting we’ll simply see a range of draconian rules instituted that will prove of little value.  Why? Because there’s no point having rules if you don’t have the “referees” to see that they are being obeyed.  In this case, I use the term “referee” to mean police.  One of the surest ways of making sure that drivers adhere to the road rules is to have a highly visible police presence actually on the roads.

We don’t need more rules for these new and inexperienced drivers – they’ve already got enough to learn and think about.  What is needed is better education (both in attitude to driving and actual driving skills).  This, combined with a more visible police presence, will do far more than trying to legislate a solution to the problem by creating even more road rules.

The current NSW Government seems to think that by cutting spending and reducing the police force’s manpower and using static speed cameras instead is good management. How wrong they are!  This is a very good example of what happens when a Government tries to do too much with it’s resources and tries to run everything on shoestring budgets.

In my opinion, the NSW Government should make spending money on infrastructure an absolute priority, and put the minority projects back in their rightful places at the bottom of the “have to be done” list.  Public funds should be giving priority to health (hospitals, etc), schools, public transport/roads and our police force.  The NSW police force has been shrinking for a number of years now, and it needs a drastic increase in numbers (i.e., we need hundreds of officers added to the force) just to get back to the level it was 5 years ago, and more still to get it to the appropriate ratio for our population level.

If ever there was a case of “Nero fiddling while Rome burns” one only has to look at what the NSW Government is doing.

Might I suggest that the two Ministers responsible for police, roads and transport issues in NSW (Mr Eric “Bus Lane” Roozendaal, and Mr John Watkins) get together and work out the priorities of their respective Ministries, and then go to their Premier, Mr Morris Iemma with a co-ordinated plan.

In fact, perhaps Mr Iemma, as the Minister for State Development, needs to demonstrate some real leadership by making some hard decisions on spending priorities and then start cracking a few of his Ministers’ heads together to make them wake up to reality.

No rally to support Muslim cleric Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali

The planned rally in Sydney today at the Lakemba mosque as a show of support for the embattled Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali did not proceed.  It is being reported that his followers have heeded his request to call off the rally, and Tom Zreika, the president of the Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA) that administers the mosque, is quoted as saying he believed the furore over the Sheik’s recent comments (where he implied scantily dressed women deserved what they got if they were raped) was now “dead in the water”.

I suppose the fact that it is a cold, blustery, showery day in Sydney today didn’t have anything to do with it either?  What are the odds that the rally would have gone ahead if the weather had been more kind?  It’s also interesting how much people OTHER than the Sheik are back-pedalling on the Sheik’s behalf.  One woman is reported as saying that the Sheik believes the act of rape is one of the worst capital crimes in Islam.  That may be so, but why can’t he say it for himself?  Then again, he has so badly damaged his own credibility that such comments from him would be viewed with extreme cynicism by the rest of the Australian community.

And the furore is “dead in the water”? I think not Mr Zreika.  Sheik Alhilali clearly has offended all woman-kind with his comments, not merely non-Muslim women.  His anachronistic attitudes and comments are not in keeping with the Aussie way of life, and the Sheik would best serve his religion by standing aside and letting a cleric of more modern thinking take his place.

Australia is NOT a strict Muslim nation Sheik Alhilali, and I believe you should be preaching acceptance of others and their beliefs, and perhaps giving consideration as to how your church can adapt itself to modern society rather than trying to drag everyone back to the days of the origin of the Islamic faith.

P-platers copping a raw deal

Is it just me, or does the current media focus on P-plate drivers seem a little unfair?  It’s tough enough being a young, newly licensed driver without adding the pressure of almost constant media scrutiny and attack.  The majority of these drivers are responsible young adults, but driving in Sydney’s hectic traffic is not for the faint-hearted so is it any wonder that drivers with low levels of experience feature more highly in accident statistics?

And there lies part of what I believe is the crux of the matter – experience. 

The other thing that I believe contributes in no small way is the pathetic driver training given to these people.  The licensing system in NSW is pathetic – it simply teaches people how to pass a test.  It does absolutely nothing to teach people how to drive.  The government has attempted to make it look like it is doing something by introducing a longer period between application for a Learner’s Permit and sitting for a driver’s license, and requiring learner drivers to have a certain minimum number of hours behind the wheel and maintain a log book as evidence.  This system is so open to abuse, it’s laughable.  There is too much anecdotal evidence around to say that the stories of parents “fudging” their child’s log book hours are all untrue. 

Another thing that I find amazing is that, in NSW at least, non-english speaking applicants for a driver’s license are able to undertake the exams in their own language, a point I have commented on before.  This is simply appalling!  How are these non-english speaking people supposed to understand road signs, or verbal instructions from police or other officials?

Having watched members of my own family go through the NSW driver’s licensing system and then seen the result on the road, I made sure they received additional driver training of the same type that I did as a newly licensed driver in my teens.  I have always been a great supporter of the “schools” that employ professional drivers to teach responsible attitude, road awareness and crash avoidance skills, and the skills to regain control of a skidding or spinning motor vehicle.  It’s simply not possible to understand the dynamics of a car that is spinning or skidding on a wet or loose surface until you have actually experienced it.  A lot of accidents occur because drivers suddenly find themselves having to make an emergency stop for some reason, and they have never experienced what a skidding car feels like.  The result?  They become just another passenger in the car, frozen into inaction by their lack of knowledge and uselessly holding the steering wheel and waiting for the “ride” to stop.  That stop is invariably a hard one when they hit an immoveable object.

So, how do we improve the situation?  I don’t hold myself out to be a guru here, far from it.  However, I will suggest some steps that I think go a long way to alleviate the problems.

1. Get them early.  Start teaching our children proper attitudes from an early age.  This is a parental responsibility, so all you people with kids better realise that if you have bad habits, your kids are learning it right from the first time they travel in the car with you.  These lessons will stick with them for life.

2. More driver education programs in schools.  It seems to work well in the USA (one of the few good things to come from their education system it appears), so why shouldn’t it be done here?  Part of this education should involve lectures from Police Highway Patrol officers, including pictures of crash scenes with statistics like estimated speed of the vehicles, road conditions, etc, so that students can understand the link between these things, and how easily cars bend at relatively slow speeds.  As gruesome as it may sound, outings to hospital accident wards might also be valuable in providing a wake up call to them that they aren’t “bullet-proof”.

3. The log book system has a lot of merit as evidence of driving in conditions that aren’t ideal, such as in rain, fog, and/or at night, on roads with loose surfaces, etc.  However, it is clearly open to abuse in it’s present form.  Perhaps there could be some sort of electronic “log book” developed that at least provides evidence of time behind the wheel, although I expect this would require the co-operation of the car makers in providing a common interface for the “log-book” to be plugged in to the car.  The device would also require security features to prevent it’s data being falsified, things like bio-identification (a finger print pad or the like).

4. Compulsory attendance at a professional car control course where they learn, in a safe, controlled environment, what an out of control car feels like and what to do and NOT to do to bring the car back under control.  I’m not suggesting an advanced course where they learn high speed manoeuvres, simply a basic course focussed on road awareness and crash avoidance, with a back up of skid control techniques.  In fact, might I go so far as to suggest they do such a course twice before attaining a full license?  Once when on their L-plates prior to obtaining their red P-plates, then again as part of the application for a full license at the end of their green P-plate period.

5. This idea could be used across the board for all drivers, P-plate or full license.  Develop a system of positive reinforcement.  Why not award additional license points to drivers with good driving histories?  I’m sure a suitable formula could be worked out, perhaps half a point for every year without an infringement notice or other driving related penalty?  This would give drivers more reason to aspire to better driving skills and road behaviour.  Taking this one step further, award additional points to drivers that take regular refresher courses at driver training courses and/or that voluntarily re-sit the driving license exams as proof they are keeping up with road rules.

C’mon people, let’s help our kids with positive support, not hinder them with ever more repressive rules and regulations.

Addenda:
This article appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald web site on 4/11/2006:
http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/another-pplater-death-on-roads/2006/11/04/1162340087261.html

The government’s proposals won’t help.  The system needs drastic change, not band-aid solutions.

Ban called to prevent parents from smacking their children

The Australian Childhood Foundation have called for Governments to make laws banning parents from smacking their children.  There are already laws in place to prevent parents hitting their children above the shoulders and I, for one, support that ideal.  However, to suggest taking away from parents what is perhaps one of the most effective tools they have for stopping children getting out of hand seems to lack an understanding of what parents today have to endure.

I do NOT for one minute condone physical abuse of anyone, especially children.  However, using the palm of one’s hand to deliver a bare-handed smack to a child’s posterior is quite often the only effective deterrent available to a parent.  A smack is one thing, delivering a beating is something entirely different and cannot be tolerated.

Mr Joe Tucci, the CEO of the aforementioned Foundation, claims positive behaviour reward techniques are more effective.  Perhaps so, but how do you create the right sort of environment when your child has decided to chuck a tantrum while you’re at the supermarket?  A quick smack brings the child to brook quickly and effectively.  Once the parent and child are home, then the parent can sit the child down and talk with the child about the child’s misbehaviour (assuming the child is old enough to comprehend fully).

I never suffered detrimentally as a child from the occasional smack, and neither have my children who are today well behaved, polite young adults.  Smacks are just one small part of a parent’s armoury of correcting a child’s behaviour, and I grant they should be used sparingly.  But for heaven’s sake, these bloody interfering “welfare” groups should mind their own bloody business.

Terror in our house?

Eighteen people have now been arrested in relation to an alleged plot to commit an act of terrorism in a mainland Australian city.

What gives with these people?  They come to Australia allegedly seeking to escape from the conflict of their homeland, yet they bring their damned arguments, prejudices and hatreds with them.

To these extremists, I say either leave your crap behind, or go back to where you came from.

Indeed, this could be said of any new immigrant coming to Australia to settle.  You’ve come to a new country, so shouldn’t you learn to adopt the ways of your new home?  In the same way that you would expect an Australian to adopt the ways of your homeland if the Australian moved there, then you should be prepared to “Australianise” yourself when you come here.  Certainly, you should respect your origins and religious beliefs – no-one is saying you should forget them or discard them.  However, you should learn to accept the Australian way of life, and to adapt to that.

I’m astounded that the RTA (Roads and Traffic Authority) in NSW allows people to undertake in their own language the test for a driver’s licence.  As English is the official spoken and written language of Australia, then the tests should ONLY be in English.  How are these people to read road signs that are written only in English if they apparently can’t read or write the language?

Memo Mr Howard (Prime Minister of Australia): Multiculturalism is nice in theory, and has brought many new and interesting things to Australian society.  However, it has also brought a lot of undesirable things, and I think it’s about time the policy received a bit of fine tuning.  Perhaps the ability to effectively communicate using the English language should be a pre-requisite for granting an immigration visa?

Memo Mr Iemma (Premier of NSW): Why does your Government let people that have emigrated from overseas undertake important tests, like that for a driving licence, in any language other than English?

John Howard’s Industrial Relations Reforms – is he for real?

Johnny, Johnny, Johnny… what in heaven’s name are you on about?

A few days ago, Australia Prime Minister John Howard was reported as saying that Australian workers must come to terms with the fact that the 5 day working week was dead.

Johnny – I suggest that if you want this concept to gain acceptance in the community, then you better start by getting your own Government department offices to change their habits.

Have you ever tried to deal with a Government office on a weekend?  Try telephone a Federal Government department, for example, the Australian Taxation Office, on a weekend.  You’ll either receive a recorded message advising the office is closed and giving you the “normal” office hours to call back within (and their idea of “normal” seems to be along the lines of 8.30 am to 4.45 pm), or you’ll end up being put on hold and having to listen to that infernal “muzak” noise indefinitely because there is no-one there to answer your call.

Until such times as the Federal Government’s own offices start to work within the boundaries of Mr Howard’s grand vision then I, for one, refuse to take Mr Howard seriously in respect of this issue.

Were I to be cynical, perhaps this ploy is Mr Howard’s first salvo in re-arranging the Government’s own workforce to come into line with arrangements that exist in the private sector?  If so, Mr Howard is overlooking the fact that, traditionally, Government sector employees have always been at the forefront of the changes that have led to the employment scenario we have in Australia today.  Therefore, it will be a very tough battle for Mr Howard to roll back the benefits Government sector employees currently enjoy.  The Government sector trade union is very strong with virtually 100% membership.  I think it would be fair to say that these employees would be quite prepared to undertake industrial action in the fight to retain their working conditions.

I’ll say it again – if Mr Howard wants to be taken seriously on this issue, he MUST first get his own house in order.