January 20, 2014

Subscribers to this blog have probably noticed by now that it’s been a long, long time between posts. I’d like to apologise for that, because goodness knows there’s no shortage of issues that deserve close attention – the Abbott government’s attacks on asylum seekers, action on climate change, welfare recipients, Medicare, the national curriculum, you name it. That’s without even beginning to dig into the rampant cronyism.

Thing is, folks, I’ve been trying to write, but without success. Some of you may be aware I suffer from a bipolar spectrum disorder, which was steadily worsening over the last four months. Between the anxiety, depression and mania, it’s been difficult to string the words together. In particular, the sheer amount of distress I feel at what the Abbott government is doing – or attempting to do – to Australians whose only crime is not to be rich has exacerbated my symptoms to the point where there are days I can’t even attempt to get near this blog. It probably sounds like a cop-out, but my mental health is already under strain, thanks to the illness and personal circumstances; it seems that the state of politics has proved to be the last straw.

And so, the Conscience Vote will be going on indefinite hiatus. I hate to do this, because I feel that every voice holding the government to account, asking hard questions, and digging for answers is necessary. I feel that I’m letting down my subscribers, my readers, everyone who’s shared around my work, and the hundreds of commenters who’ve engaged with the issues and gone on to pose questions and start investigations of their own. No matter what your personal politics may be, you are amazingly articulate and passionate, and Australia needs much, much more of this sort of engagement and commitment.

Thank you all for helping to make the Conscience Vote a labour of love, and I hope to come back to this in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I’ll probably pop up with an essay or two on issues of public interest, which can usually be found at my Dreamwidth journal. Feedback is, as always, love.

Keep up the fight.


Shaving for a cure

March 13, 2012

First up, sorry about the lack of content lately. I haven’t been terribly well. But never fear, I’m sure our esteemed leaders (ahem) will give us something to poke into this week while Parliament sits.

In the meantime …

I’ll be taking part in the World’s Greatest Shave for this year. For those who haven’t heard of it before, it’s a fund-raising initiative to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation. This organisation is dedicated to helping leukaemia sufferers and their families, and furthering research into treatments and – eventually – a cure for this terrible disease.

The Foundation accepts donations year-round, but the World’s Greatest Shave is its most visible event. So what is it?

Simply speaking, volunteers ask people to sponsor them to either dye their hair an outrageous colour – or shave it all off.

Currently, my hair’s nearly waist-length – about where it is in my avatar photo, only red. On Friday, it’s all coming off. And I mean all of it. When I’m done, it’ll be as short as a Marine recruit buzzcut.

So – as you’ve probably already guessed – this is a shameless request for sponsorship from you, faithful readers. I can’t stress enough how worthy a cause this is – it can completely disrupt a family for years, put people through incredible suffering, and worst of all, it takes the most vulnerable – young people and the elderly. My partner’s grandfather died from it. A friend’s younger sister lingered for a long time before finally succumbing. And it goes on.

If you have a few dollars to spare, please visit my sponsorship page. Any donations are gratefully accepted.

And yes … there will be pictures.

2011 in review, or What I Did On My Blog

January 1, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Yours truly on TV

September 16, 2011

Just a quick update for subscribers and general passers-by …

I’ll be appearing on a short segment called ‘Spit the Dummy’ on The Contrarians show, which screens live on Sky News (channel 601 cable) at 4.15 pm today. It will be available online sometime afterwards at Sky’s website.

The segment is pretty much an extended vox pop, but I will be left to the not-so-tender mercies of a panel whose tendency to interrupt and mock is well-established. I’m hoping I can give as good as I get, and at least say something on interest.

Wish me luck!

Hello, new readers

January 27, 2011

Just a quick note to say ‘welcome!’ to new subscribers to The Conscience Vote, and to thank everyone who’s been reading, commenting, and sharing links to the various articles here.

A particular shout-out goes to (name withheld), who sent a message to this effect: damn you, I never used to care about politics before I started reading what you write.

You – and all the rest of you – are why I do this.

And if there’s ever anything you’d like to see covered – not necessarily breaking news, but some aspect of Australian politics – please, leave a comment. I’d love to know what people are interested to read, but aren’t seeing.

Wonkley Award Nominations open

November 2, 2010

Over at the Notion Factory, nominations are open for the Inaugural Wonkley Awards. What are they? You’ve probably heard of the Walkley Awards, right? Where journalists vote on each other’s work to reward excellence in their profession? Well, in the Wonkleys, the votes are cast by you – bloggers, blog readers, tweeters, political tragics and all-round news and politics wonks.

This is a great idea – and I’m not just saying that because I want a shot at the ‘Best Amateur Political Blog/Blogger, either. 🙂

Seriously,the Wonkleys fill a pretty big gap. It’s one thing to get paid for what you do, and find out how other people in your profession view you. It’s quite another to find out what everyone else out there thinks – and in some ways, I think that can be more rewarding. Speaking as someone who blogs for the love of it (yes, sad, I know), there’s nothing like the great feeling when someone gives you feedback. It lets you know that people are reading – and that people care enough to want you to do a better job, and tell you when you get it right. And the Notion Factory has provided a way for us to do that on a grand scale.

Nominations close Saturday, November 13.

Voting begins Sunday, November 14, and will close on Sunday, December 12.

So go, nominate your favourite political journalist, blogger, TV show, news coverage – there’s a whole slew of categories to choose from – tell the world!

It’s all up to us now

August 20, 2010

With less than 24 hours until the polls open, and figures now divided over who will win, the campaign has taken an ugly turn.

Tony Abbott is in the middle of an announced 36 hour campaign bender. Dragging his media pack with him, he is on something of a whirlwind tour of fish markets, media and mining towns, stopping only for the occasional light shandy. Apparently, sleep is for the weak – although it’s an open question as to how many people will turn up for a 3am stump speech. His media pack are leaving a trail of coffee cups and empty V cans behind them, and last night discussed the possibility of pooling their resources and sleeping in shifts.

Julia Gillard, meanwhile, is actually taking time to catch the odd snooze, although she’s kicking off every day by blitzing breakfast radio and TV (including ABC’s Triple J radio – Abbott, following the example of his former leader John Howard, is missing in action with that demographic) before heading off on her own version of a royal progress at warp speed. Factories, shopping centres and schools figure highly on her itinerary.

The Greens are likewise heading out, along with the minor parties and Independents. It’s all systems go for these last precious hours.

Meanwhile the fingers are flying thick and fast to bang out editorial after editorial endorsing the candidates. Unsurprisingly, all News Limited papers (with the notable exception of the Adelaide Advertiser) have backed the Coalition to win, while Fairfax papers are lending qualified support to Labor. The language is strong: ‘negligence’, ‘debacle’, ‘We deserve much better’, and the wonderfully hyperbolic ‘shambolic and tragic’. And that’s without even looking at what Andrew Bolt or Piers Akerman have to say.

Cue Benny Hill chase music and sped-up montage. It’s all very silly, right?

Stop and listen to what’s being said, though. There’s no doubt this campaign has been really negative, but the rhetoric has ramped up to a degree where it borders on hysteria. Now, instead of being used as an unfavourable contrast, the dire warnings are forming the bulk of the speeches. Abbott’s a ‘risk’, says Gillard (over 10 times in her last 15 minute media conference). Gillard is ‘incompetent’, retorts Abbott (and his language is more varied, but boils down to about the same level of saturation). WorkChoices will be back. Our borders won’t be ‘safe’. We’ll be plunged into the digital Dark Ages. We’ll become a third world nation in terms of debt. The sky will fall. The world will end.

Et cetera, ad nauseam.

What’s going on? Take a long, deep breath in. Smell that? It’s desperation.

The candidates are running on empty. After a campaign that leapfrogged the country, debates, pressers, forums, photo opportunities, meet-and-greets (also known as grip-n-grins), they’ve got very little left in the tank. It’s hard to sell yourself when you’re exhausted – but it takes far less energy to condemn your opponent. The leaders also know that there will be saturation media coverage in this last day, and this is their last chance to scare us. The more they repeat ‘risk’, ‘incompetent’, ‘unsafe’, etc., the more chance there is of that sinking into our malleable minds and making us vote based on fear rather than give due consideration to policy. We get rapid-fire summaries of announced policy almost eclipsed by pronouncements of doom, and we start to forget what’s actually on offer.

So I propose we completely undermine that idea with a quick side-by-side recap of the bigger policies from the major parties.

National Broadband Network

Labor’s offering a fibre-to-the-home network with an optimum speed of 1 Gigabit per second to 93% of the country. The remaining 7% will receive wireless and satellite.

The Coalition has proposed a mainly wireless network, offering a peak speed of 12 Megabits per second, supplemented by satellite and fibre-to-the-backbone.

Paid Parental Leave

The Coalition is offering six month’s leave to new mothers, to be paid at their wage (or minimum wage, whichever is greater). A father choosing to stay at home will be paid at the mother’s wage. This will be paid for with a levy on businesses earning over $5 million per year, and will not start until 2013. Until then, they will offer the same scheme as Labor.

Labor’s proposal is for 18 weeks’ leave for primary carers, paid at the minimum wage. In addition, 2 weeks’ leave will be available for secondary carers. This leave is extended to cover fathers as primary carers, same-sex couples, and adoptive parents. This will be funded from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

Climate Change

Labor has promised a citizens’ assembly to investigate a price on carbon, but has confirmed that a price on carbon does form part of their policy.

The Coalition has ruled out any form of carbon price.

Same-sex marriage

Both major parties have ruled out amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Budgetary surplus

Both parties are promising the Budget will return to surplus by the end of the 2012-13 financial year. The Coalition is promising to deliver almost double the amount promised by Labor. Coalition costings are found here, while Labor’s can be found on their website.

Cuts to Services

The Coalition have announced they will cut services including: the computers in schools program, the Renewable Energy Future Fund, Trade Training Centres, a suite of climate change-related programs, the Australian Human Rights Framework and the APS Indigenous Employment Strategy, as well as reduce funding for Solar Homes and Communities, Green Car Innovation Fund and Green Building Fund, among others.

Labor has announced cuts to public service funding for the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Public Service Commission. It has also redirected funds from some renewable energy programs (including large solar power station projects) to fund the green farming and car trade-in policies.

Asylum Seekers

The Coalition will reopen the Nauru detention centre and install a boatphone to make decisions on turning back asylum seeker boats. They will also reintroduce mandatory Temporary Protection Visas and automatic rejection for anyone suspected of deliberately discarding identity papers.

Labor wants to build a regional processing centre in East Timor to be administered by the United Nations.

There’s more, of course, but these are the policies most likely to be subjected to scare-mongering in these last 24 hours.

You can check the respective parties’ websites: Labor, Liberal – which contains the Coalition policy and Greens. For a bit of contrast, try the minor parties as well: The Australian Sex Party, Australian Democrats (rumours of their death were greatly exaggerated – or at least delayed), Liberal Democratic Party and Family First.

To find Independent candidates in your local seat, check the Australian Electoral Commission for names.

Read the policies (you can find analyses of many of them in the archive here), check the costings, and try to keep those in mind when you hear – yet again – the slogans, the spin and the scare-mongering.

And then have a think about what the last three years have been like for you. And the three before that (since the Coalition team is largely unchanged from the Howard years, leaders notwithstanding). There are a number of posts in the archive here that go back to last election campaign. It can be enlightening to see just how much changed – and depressing to see just how much hasn’t.

That’s what matters in this campaign – not the spectre of WorkChoices, the Great Big New Tax boogeymen, changes of leadership on either side or questions of religion, gender or marital status.

Policy and history.

And when you go to the polls tomorrow, don’t – don’t, I beg you – cast an informal vote. If you can’t stand either of the major parties, put your vote where your heart is – and don’t let anyone tell you that it won’t count. Because you can bet that when the figures finally come in from the Electoral Commission, strategists and analysts from both sides will be going over the fine detail. Every vote that bleeds to the Greens or a minor party is a signal of discontent with the status quo.

And you’re not ‘sending a message’, regardless of what Mark Latham tells you. You’re just lumped in with every ballot paper that was incorrectly filled in, illegible or just plain doodled on. If you want to send a message, do it with a valid vote.

Every single vote matters.

I’ve called this blog ‘The Conscience Vote’ because I think that’s the most valuable thing any of us can do with our democratic rights. Vote our consciences – not by party loyalty, not by personality, not informally, and most of all, not mindlessly.

So go to it!

I’ll be tweeting and blogging throughout the day tomorrow. You can follow me here for exit polls, news reports, counting and the all-important announcements. And this blog will continue – getting elected doesn’t mean we can take our eyes off politicians, after all.

Right now, though, I’m going to make myself a cup of tea, toast some crumpets and take some time out to sit in the sun (what little there is of it in Melbourne right now).

I’ve got some thinking to do.

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