Saturday salon 16/4

1. Bill finds his voice

No more zingers for Bill Shorten, and now voice coaching from Dean Frenkel, a throat singer and lecturer in public speaking and communications at Victoria University, who thinks we all need lessons in elocution. After 14 years as a union rabble rouser Bill tried to soften his image. But:

    Shorten’s voice frequently took on a singsong cadence, like a parent telling a bedtime story to a child, especially when delivering the pre-arranged grab for the cameras. He spoke slowly with a high pitch, his intonation rising at the end of sentences. The head tilting unnaturally for emphasis, almost pleading to be liked.

    Rather, he came off variously as nervous, patronising, annoying, fake, ridiculous. As the social researcher Hugh Mackay observed last year, Shorten has came across “weak, evasive and untrustworthy”.

Apparently “voters like deep voices, conveying strength, competence and integrity.” So Bill has dropped his tone half an octave and made all sorts of other changes.

So do we have the “real” Bill, or the carefully made up to look real version?

2. Good news story

Back in 2014 SPC Ardmona, food processor in Shepparton, was on the ropes because of cheap imports. The Federal Government refused to help.

    It was ultimately saved by a $100 million package including $22 million from the Victorian Government and $78 million from parent company Coca-Cola Amatil.

    Now that money is being spent and one of the new major investments is a $30 million tomato line that the company hopes will help it take on cheap dumped imports of tinned tomatoes from Italy.

The production line will double output to 60 tonnes per hour.

Guess what, the machinery came from Italy.

And along the way they won an anti-dumping case against Italian tomato producers.

3. Turnbull’s agile government

The latest management fad seems to be ‘agile management’. Turnbull came to office promising “agile” government. Ben Eltham took a look and found 17 backflips in seven months.

Perhaps that’s why Laura Tingle finds Malcolm Turnbull’s government is in all sorts of shtook.

    It is that at a logistical level, a policy level, even a philosophical level, the government is in all sorts of shtook.

    The normal processes of parliament, the budget process, the election timetable have all been whacked off their normal axes.

    Voters don’t know, in general, what the government stands for and, where they do think they know, it seems to stand for all the wrong things.

    They are confused about a prime minister who seems to stand for things which they don’t think he believes in. More broadly, the Coalition has painted itself into an “unpopulist” corner, largely built on old political ideas and strategies which have not moved with changing times.

4. Labor would renegotiate maritime boundary with East Timor

Tanya Plibersek says a Labor government would reopen talks on the maritime border and if they failed, they would submit to international arbitration.

The Timorese have suggested that Australia has been negotiating in bad faith on the dispute over who controls the massive oil and gas reserves between the two countries. They’ve sent the dispute to the UN for compulsory negotiation, but it’s not clear that the Turnbull government will participate.

5. Vale Bob Ellis

Australian writer, journalist, filmmaker, speech writer and political commentator Bob Ellis died on 3 April 2016.

He was a student at the University of Sydney at the same time as Clive James, Laurie Oakes, Germaine Greer, Les Murray, Bruce Beresford, John Bell, Ken Horler and Mungo McCallum. He wrote film scripts with Paul Cox and Werner Herzog amongst others. He won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Screenplay for Newsfront (1978, with Anne Brooksbank and Phillip Noyce) and for My First Wife (1984, with Paul Cox).

Richard Fidler’s Remembering Bob Ellis, a collection of Bob’s finest and funniest moments, is priceless.

Ellis demonstrated that although not certifiable he was actually nuts when he fled to the Blue Mountains during the Cuban missile crisis with his fiance, Penelope McNicholl, who stole her mother’s car. Penelope’s father was David McNicholl, who looked and acted like Colonel Blimp. The oldies didn’t approve of Bob before he pulled that stunt.

There was no-one like him, at all.

Introduction to Saturday salon

Because of the way the blog currently presents posts on the home page I think it’s better to remove the introductory material to a different place. For new readers, here’s the rationale for this space.


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

    The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

41 thoughts on “Saturday salon 16/4”

  1. I agree with Laura Tingle, the Turnbull government is a mess indeed. I can’t work out if it has too many heads or no head at all.

    Meantime Bill is getting refurbished. Hopefully Labor is too, but I don’t think they need to do much to to win the next election short of letting the LNP implode for them. Their failure to cut the union umbilical cord is a concern because it goes to who is working the levers.

    That said, I don’t think there is a great appetite for a change of government. I suspect a competent and consistent government is what many people want whatever their policies.

    None of this is good for Australia. Neither major party has long term direction beyond winning the next election.
    I expect to see the Greens make an improved showing. They will get votes from both major parties and maybe from those who supported independents. I would not be surprised to see the Greens holding the balance of power.

    I’m also mindful of the role of the Press who have seemingly not missed a chance to dump on Oz politics at every opportunity that might boost their media ratings. And we fall for it every time. We blame governments for low performance levels but I think we bring most of it upon ourselves.

  2. On another matter – coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR)

    There are two stories. One says there is serious bleaching of corals along the GBR. The other is denial by those with commercial interests. Understandably no one wants to see a collapse of their multi billion dollar industry.

    I sought an answer from James Cook University Cairns – what is the truth I asked.

    There is massive bleaching on the GBR especially north of Cairns. But there are many places where the bleaching is minor. It is the existence of these “local” areas that lead to eye witness denials of the bleaching.

    The scientists who are monitoring the bleaching are studying vast areas of the reef from above and below and their evidence is overwhelming.
    So whilst the tourism industry may truthfully offer great reef experiences, they are doing so because there remains sufficient good coral available to them. But the science on the reef is indisputable.

    Bleaching is a function of high temperature and the climate this year has been cruel to coral. Bleaching is not unique to Australia, it is happening across the globe.

    Recovery of some coral types will take about ten years, others decades. That is if there are no more serious el niño events.

    That is a brief overview of my conversation with a senior researcher at James Cook. I was frustrated at the variance of opinion on such an important matter. I hope I have made it clear that the bleaching is serious and very widespread. Further, because bleaching is temperature related it is directly linked to our changing climate.

    My apologies to those who already knew all this. Perhaps you will value that in this instance my info comes first hand from scientists who are currently active on the GBR.

  3. Goodness gracious! I just cannot imagine David McNicholl and Bob Ellis dining together at the same table. Surely you are pulling our legs, aren’t you? 🙂

  4. Graham, in the Fidler interview Ellis says only his parents and hers knew about the engagement. Her parents definitely didn’t approve and maybe they never sat around the same table.

    The Blue Mountains escape episode is mentioned in several accounts.

    The incident had two implications. First, he had been joint editor with Laurie Oakes of the student newspaper, and they were due for re-election two weeks later. Oakes decided Ellis was crazy and found another partner. Ellis did likewise, but Oakes and his new partner won.

    Secondly, Ellis was worried about losing Penelope. He said he did but didn’t explain when. Probably she mentally parted company when they drove past her brother’s school on the way to the Blue Mountains and Ellis refused to call in and pick him up.

  5. The use of given name, surname or full name is really telling as to a commentators bias, ever noticed that ?
    It’s like online body language, for want of a better analogy.

  6. The use of given name, surname or full name is really telling as to a commentators bias, ever noticed that ?

    I know that people sometimes draw false conclusions about it, so I usually use both, or the surname. Recently I’ve used forenames a bit, but it doesn’t mean anything.

  7. Jumpy, if your nose was itchy, it probably doesn’t mean anything. And “Lol” is offensive if I was predisposed to take offence, which I’m not.

    If you are referring to my #1 Bill finds his voice, when I started writing it I’d intended to make an explicit reference to the “real Julia” of Gillard’s 2010 campaign. That’s why I used “Bill”. But I try to keep entries below 150 words, and I’d already gone over.

    Happy now?

  8. Brian as I read your link re Bronnie’s tragic demise, Abbott did back the hard right contender, but it was actually the moderate who won endorsement.
    I allow myself the faint hope that the wheels are falling off Abbott’s gravy train.

  9. Heck ! If, as that ABC news item says, “Mr Falinski, (is) a moderate, and hard-right candidate (is) Walter Villatora”, does that mean Genghis Khan would be seen as a trendy-leftie?

    Given that only ninety people, plus the handful party power-brokers who will automatically sign off on the deal, were involved in the Pre-Selection, then democracy in Australia – or at least the present version of it – is in deep trouble.

  10. ” Bronnie ” is yet another in the list of Turnbull supporting Abbott stabbers to get comeuppance.
    Ruddock, Jensen, Stone, Brough, Macfarlane, Gambaro and more to come,,,,,
    Add the cowards in marginals that used the polls as an excuse to veer left and do the dirty and now face oblivion anyway.

    Serves them right.

  11. Brian

    Happy now?

    Of course, the ” lol ” indicated that.
    And I happy your not ” predisposed to take offence “, there’s far too much of that nonsense around nowadays.

  12. I’m surprised that Bishop’s demise gets so much attention here. I suspect she was being circled before choppergate – after all it is a fair argument that she might want a change of direction given her age. Bishop was hunted by both sides, even though worse offenses had been committed by the other team – Burke I think is an example.
    Falinski’s association with Abbott ought not be a death sentence. The guy might actually be OK and deserves a chance. And anyway he may not even make it to Parliament this year.

  13. Peabody (US) has declared bankruptcy. Australia operations set to continue at this stage. Seem that revenue of $5.6 billion is not enough.
    I’m wondering if this is not a ploy to help shed obligations such as environmental repair after the mine(s) are played out.

    In the meantime Federal and Queensland governments continue to support Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine. Associated with the Carmichael mine was a further development of the Abbott Point coal port. This is curious given the state of the global coal market.
    Also curious is the Fung family latest moves on the proposed Aquis development. The multi billion dollar project has been held out as pivotal to the development of Cairns, but has been stalled for a year or so. Recently Fung announced he had new partners. Can it be a coincidence that one of those partners is the worlds largest builder of ports? I’m wondering if Aquis, Carmichael and Abbott point are being roped together as some sort of mega-project? Given the current coal market that makes the Carmichael mine uneconomic it seems unlikely to work out.

  14. zoot, I was heading to bed when I posted the Bishop link. I didn’t actually read it. I was going on memory. My bad!

    It seems Abbott supported Walter Villatora and that Jason Falinski, the successful candidate, was supported by Turnbull.

  15. Geoff, if you want to go back to Tony Burke, apparently his travel was within the rules but beyond community expectations – not a good look at the time.

    The interest in Bishop goes way beyond the use of helicopters. She was elected to the senate in 1987, switched to the reps in 1994 to have a crack at the leadership. Along the way she has held some interesting views, including supporting tobacco advertising, and the compulsory adoption of children under 5 years of age whose parents were known to use drugs, banning Muslin head coverings in schools, and on her watch we had the oldies taking kerosene baths.

    Malcolm Farr on Insiders today said she was the most incompetent Speaker in 30 years.

    So there is intrinsic interest in her as a public personality.

    It was pretty evident that it was time to bow out gracefully. Wayne Swan should probably go too. But with Bishop, a large part of the interest was in who was supporting the challengers, which I got wrong.

  16. No doubt Bob Ellis had some good moments, but in older age I thought he turned poisonously obnoxious. Australians are said to admire larrikin antics, but then there are the out-and-out twerps like Mr Palmer, Dr Edelstein, and poor, ill, exiled Mr Skase to bring the chuckling to an uncomfortable stop.

    Why do you say Bob Ellis was “nuts” to flee Sydney? Not a nuclear target? Nuclear war unlikely? Easterly winds would have blanketted the Blue Mountains in fatal fallout anyway?

    I remember that ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’. It felt real, it felt threatening. I wasn’t old enough to drive out of Melbourne. I was scared witless.

    Only very recently discovered that a Soviet submarine officer refused to agree to fire nuclear-armed torpedoes at US surface ships that were dropping [conventional] explosives near 4 Soviet subs (eventually forcing them to surface). The Soviet subs had been sent by Krushchev to accompany his ships taking supplies to Cuba that were confronted by Kennedy’s naval blockade. That Soviet officer may well have prevented a large nuclear war.

    The Kennedy brothers played a valuable moderating role during the confrontation; Krushchev eventually did too; USA quietly removed some missiles from Turkey later. Meanwhile Castro and Guevara were urging Krushchev to fight the imperialist gringos, no matter that millions might be evaporated globally.

  17. Ambigulous, I have to use shorthand when I write these short pieces. I said he demonstrated that he was nuts. He told Fidler, from memory, that the incident confirmed to everyone in his circle what they were already inclined to think.

    According to this obit he was a bit of an outsider at Sydney University. He “nurtured an eccentric persona by wandering the campus in a long dark coat.” One woman had a one-night stand with him and was asked whether he took it off. She said, yes, but not his socks, and added that she must have been paralytic at the time.

    You are right, I think, about the Cuban missile crisis. I was in Brisbane and was scared too. I grew up in the shadow of the bomb, and as a young person did not expect to reach old age. At that time I used to think about how I could walk across country over more than 400km to reach our family farm, where one could lead a subsistence existence in the event that civilisation was wiped out but Brisbane was spared.

    Yes, and I had heard about the Soviet officer who probably saved the world. There was another incident in 1983, but as I recall the world was not so aware.

  18. I think Ellis was obnoxious at times, perhaps he was always that way. I thought the Fidler interviews were rather delightful.

  19. Thanks Brian

    Eccentric but not insane, perhaps. I never met him.

    Will now follow up with the Fidler interviews. Thanks again.

  20. Fidler interviews are always interesting to me even though he tend to overdo the arty farty types imho.

    This one with Creswell Eastman ( should be Australian of at least one Year, maybe Nobel. I can’t even find a Wiki page ! ) is a favourite of mine.

  21. Sorry, the ABC audio link from my link doesn’t seem to work.

    Someone is really trying to keep this amazing man a secret 😉

  22. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis well. Although I it was before I went into the Army, I was fairly up with civil defence – and I dreaded putting that knowledge into practice.

    People these days just do not know how very close we all were to nuclear annihilation – everything else in the Cold War after the Cuban Missile Crisis was merely a worry.

    Humanity continues to exist only because the main players had second thoughts about the biggest Mass Extinction since the end of the Cretaceous.

  23. The ABCC legislation has just been voted down in the Senate, so we will have a DD.

    Bill Shorten has admonished Stephen Conroy over his Senate tirade against the Governor-General, as he should. I’ve never been keen on Conroy.

  24. Even while the GG was making his address, you could hear Conroy gobbing off loudly.

    I don’t have the words to describe how lowly I rate that grub.

  25. Well, I think Labor would be better off without him. To make him deputy leader in the Senate and part of the Labor leadership team is a serious own goal IMO.

  26. I think the Governor General was forced by Turnbull to demean himself yesterday. In practice this was the tail wagging the dog, and Turnbull is continuing down Abbott’s ideological path along which any and every tactic can be used to impose LNP’s twisted thinking upon the government processes in Australia.

    If there were some Great Purpose to achieve from this abuse of process then it would be history playing out before our eyes, but, instead, what we have here is “infamistory”, the dark side of progress taking place. One would expect to find blood on the walls after such an evil event, Conroy did his best to provide it.

  27. BilB: Governors and Governors-General are generally appointed because they are certain to be fashionable, dignified, obedient, docile and do not rock the boat.

    One notable exception was Archbishop Peter Hollingsworth, who defended the independence of his office and stood up to the Transpacific Poodle. As punishment, it was rapidly and miraculously discovered that an Anglican priest in his former arch-diocese had committed sexual crimes. Quite apart from the nasty facts of that criminal case, it became a festival of innuendo, suggestion, rumour and character-assassination. Hollingsworth’s status as Governor-General was made untenable.

    As our hero Voltaire put it, “(they) hang an admiral from time to time, so as to encourage the others.”

    Well, our Governors and Governor-Generals certainly have been well-encouraged.

  28. Its not really about Governors General, it is about the fact that we have people in power who are prepared to repeatedly tell bare faced lies with impunity, the next thread being point of case.

    Australia has a Governance issue well ahead of its Governor issue.

  29. BilB to say we have a governance issue is pretty profound.
    If you take the two major parties, each is managed by their respective puppeteers. Either “unions” or “establishment”. Their common goal is to maintain their sociopolitical positions via government. Public interest is served for the main purpose of re-election. That’s why government “planning” is so short term.

    What to do? Well the Greens were emerging as an option but they peaked a bit too soon by their association with Gillard. That cost trust and migratory votes at subsequent elections. Hopefully over time they will regain some electoral confidence.
    Failing that I see two necessary happenings: first, Australian voters need to get mad and start demanding performance from whoever is in power. Aussies are slack and indifferent and allow their pollies to under-perform. Second, the new interest in getting the government to perform needs some serious aggression behind it. Like in Network, the 1976 film that nailed it all pretty well.

  30. Graham, in my view Hollingworth had a real problem in how he dealt with sexual abuse, and has recently apologised for some of his shortcomings.

    I think the GG is obliged to take the advice of the PM unless in exceptional circumstances. I think what Turnbull did was legal, but its justification depends on how you view the ABCC. Turnbull made out it was some sort of national emergency, which in my view it wasn’t.

  31. Senator Conroy went OTT by saying that “the cold dead hand of Sir John Kerr reached out from his grave.”

    No so, Senator.

    In 1975 Sir John Kerr failed to take the advice of the Prime Minister Mr Whitlam. That was the chief ground on which the sacked PM criticised Sir John afterwards.

    In 2016 the Governor General accepted the advice of the Prime Minister Mr Turnbull. A rarely-used, but available and legal, step was taken. Parliament was prorogued.

    In 1975 Sir John had Parliament prorogued against the wishes of the sacked PM, and the Speaker of the HoR, who waited in vain to convey the motion that the HoR had passed, of no confidence in the appointed Prime Minister Mr Fraser. Sir John’s private secretary proclaimed the proroguing on the steps.

    Mr Norman Gunstone was in attendance. Mr Whitlam made some intemperate remarks, but was never prosecuted for them, neither did he reprimand himself.

    I agree that Rev Hollingworth, who had had a good reputation in Melbourne through his work with the Brotherhood of St Laurence and advocacy for the poorest, deserved censure for his actions (or inaction) on sexual abuse; only further muddied by his later remarks.

    I don’t disdain Governors General.
    If Mr Shorten had become PM earlier, I thought GG Quentin Bryce would have needed to resign early.

    Every government system needs some stalemate-breaking mechanisms.

    Double Dissolution?
    High Court challenge?
    Reserve powers of GG?

  32. Ambigulous, I think you’ve got that pretty well sorted. Sir John refusing to see the Speaker was perhaps his most blatantly partisan and self-interested act.

    I don’t think we’ve got a structural governance problem, we are just not well-served by our pollies. We could probably do well with just two layers of government, a better voting system, and obviously a head of state not connected to the Crown.

  33. Brian and Ambigulous: About Hollingsworth: I do suspect his failing, in that sexual abuse matter by one of the many clergy under his authority, was probably known to a select few before he was put forward as Governor-General. However, like so many others in high positions, one or two skeletons in the cupboard was probably seen as quite an acceptable risk – compared with some others in eminent positions who might well have had a whole cemetery stuffed into their wardrobes. Cynical? My oath I am.

    My point was that it was only after Hollingworth stood up to Howard that all the revelations hit the headlines. Post hoc propter hoc? Maybe – but the smell of bully-boy politics and bruised vanity did hang around the circumstances of his departure from the office.

    Geoff Henderson: The Greens – like the Australian Democrats before them – seemed like the people who would rescue us from this anti-democratic morass. However, like the Democrats , they committed the unpardonable sin of attacking the very people who voted for them without bothering to listen to their very real concerns , and, instead became the strident supporters of political manipulators. Anyway, with a bit of luck we will have Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie in the new Senate – and they do have a track-record of listening to their constituents.

  34. Brian

    I don’t think we’ve got a structural governance problem,


    we are just not well-served by our pollies.

    Due to greedy voters that think things are free if Governments promise them.

    We could probably do well with just two layers of government,

    We really have only two, Locals Councils are just an arm of the States. I rather see the boundaries clarified between Fed and State with revenue and spending dictated accordingly.

    a better voting system,

    Don’t know…

    and obviously a head of state not connected to the Crown.

    The GGs only concern should be upholding and promoting the Constitution and cutting ribbons. They’re good at the 2nd but crap at the 1st.

  35. Are you suggesting, Jumpy, that we have a massive conspiracy perpetrated by 97% of voters to get free things from the government? My God, does the corruption ever end???. First it was all of the scientists scamming the government,… its the bloody voters,….all after MY money.

    I can’t take it any more!! I’m going to bed.

  36. I recall Jim Soorley as Brisbane lord mayor when people complained that the rates went up faster then inflation.

    He said that people put me here to do stuff, or words to that effect.

    I’m working on a post on James Hansen’s recent paper, and I’m nowhere near finishing tonight.

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