My Musings on Visiting Australian Parliament

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit Canberra. The main reason for the visit was to see the exhibition that is currently at the National Gallery of Australia – Gold and the Incas. A word of advice – if you are in Canberra before the 21st of April, do yourself a favour and find 2-3 hours to include it in your itinerary.

One of the days, while doing our touristy thing,  we had few hours to kill and so decided to visit the nerve centre, the brain of our government, the place where the decisions making Australia “The Lucky Country” are made.

Parliament of Australia

Parliament of Australia

I am referring of course to Australian Federal Parliament. The complex is impressive – situated on top of a hill it looks elegant and imposing at the same time. Once inside, it’s still pretty impressive, but it also all business – security staff checking people out, some foreign delegations being escorted in, Parliament staff move around with a purposeful look on their faces… The place positively pulsates with energy; you can almost hear Edmund Barton stressing importance of the strong defence in his 1901 speech, or Gough Whitlam telling the Parliament “Australia needs change. Australia needs reform. Australia needs idealism. Australia does not need socialism” in his speech in 1975.

So you can imagine the feeling of anticipation I had as the door into the visitor’s gallery of a House of Representative opened and we quietly stepped in….only to see an almost empty chamber. The Deputy Speaker was there, as were 1 (one) member of Liberal Party and 1 (one) member of a Labor Party. The bubble popped, the feeling of anticipation got replaced by the one of bewilderment.

After listening to the two of them having a go at each other for a while, we walked out and decided that surely in the Senate there will be more activity. We were right. There was more activity, but only marginally. There was a Deputy Speaker, 3 members of Liberal Party, 2 members of Labor Party and 2 members of Greens. What I found incredible, was the fact that one of the Greens was totally engrossed in checking out Facebook on his iPAD.

I walked out of there in disgust. Instead of a hive of activity all I’ve witnessed were few people pretending to care, and one who didn’t even bother to pretend.

Parliament at night

Parliament at night

Now, I understand that there might be a reason for all the politicians to be absent – some might be busy in subcommittees, some meeting their constituents, others researching something in a Parliament library. But that’s just it – we have no way of actually KNOWING what our elected officials are doing.

What we need is a system that will make them accountable. What we need is a system that will record how many times each of them was present during the sitting of the Parliament, and for how long. We need a system that will record how many times each of them voted and how did he or she cast their vote. I’m not really a whinger, but shouldn’t our elected leaders be accountable to us for everything they do? In my work we have such terms as KPI Key Performance Indicators and OLA Operational Level Agreement. We need something similar introduced for our politicians. If they are missing Parliament without good excuse, they automatically not eligible for re-election. If they vote in a way that contradicts their pre-election promises, they automatically not eligible for re-election.

To put simply, we need a system to keep the bastards honest.

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Your Local School – Rewarding Experience or a Danger Zone?

Our Victorian Government announced extension to nominations and applications for the Victorian Education Excellence Awards.

This award is there to celebrate outstanding achievements of teaches and education support staff in Victorian government schools. What I like about it, is that parents and students are also eligible to nominate. This is a great opportunity for a wider school community to show their appreciation for teachers and other staff who are genially there for one reason, and one reason only – to give their best to our children.

Victorian Education Excellence Awards

Victorian Education Excellence Awards

This award should not limited to a school principal nominating who s/he thinks is a good teacher; or just looking for a way to give “the right person” a $50,000 bonus. It should not be limited to teachers doing favours to each other (you nominate me this year and I’ll nominate you the next).

As parents, we are the ones who ultimately responsible for bringing our kids up, for making sure they get the best education available. Who better than to assess the teaching efforts? Who will only nominate teachers that bring out the best in their children? So take this opportunity, weight all the candidates at your child’s school, think it thru and do your bit to make sure that the winner of this award is a truly Excellent educator.

While looking through internet pages, reading up on this Excellence Award, I’ve noticed quite a bit of excitement around the other bit of school-related issue – plans to install CCTV cameras in government schools. I almost skipped this news, until my eyes stumbled upon the main reason for the cameras…. apparently, it’s to reduce the number of attacks on school principals. Who would’ve thought that being surrounded by a bunch of seven-year-olds can be so dangerous? All jokes aside, being a principle of a Victorian school is a life-threatening occupation. The Australian Principals Federation even has a study from the Monash Uni to back it up. What’s in this study? Well, according to ABC, school principals were five times more likely to face threats of violence than the general population . Not to be outdone, The Age informs us that Australian principals experienced physical violence at more than six times the rate of the general population. I personally prefer the take on the matter by The Australian – they clearly are more serious about this whole issue than the rest. According to them, school principals were seven times more likely to experience physical violence than the general public. Seriously though, why would anyone attack a school principal? I remember a principal of Mordialloc Primary School back in the 90th, and a principal of Parkdale Secondary at the same time – no one would EVER even think of attacking these principals, because everyone in a wider community knew that these men live a breeze their schools.

CCTV in schools

CCTV in schools

So why the sudden fear of attacks? Is it because we are faced with a generation of violent, irresponsible parents? Or is it because the schools today quickly becoming a safe heaven for rejects, people who have this perverted idea of teaching being nothing more than a profession with a really long summer holidays?

Maybe it’s because some teachers don’t know how to spell, and feel intimidated by parents (and children) who do? Or maybe it’s because some teachers feel that they are allowed to bully their students?

Or maybe the real reason is that the principals are scared more of getting in trouble with the Australian Education Union for kicking out under-performing teachers , than they are scared of unruly parents?

Becoming a Lucky Country

A couple of days ago I read an article about a Sydney woman being attacked on a busy street, with not one of the dozens of bystanders coming to her rescue. Luckily for her, the attackers changed their minds when she started shouting and screaming for help.

That got me thinking….why? Why all those people ignored woman’s cry for help? What happened to the notion of helping a “Damsel in distress”? As I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that there is no one simple answer to it. Rather, it is a combination of different ways in which we, as society failed ourselves.

The most obvious reason for people’s non involvement is the most basic of the feelings – fear. Not everyone can be a hero, not everyone is mentally prepared to face off with a car full of aggressive males. However, this is only true if you are alone. There were people in groups, able to match “body for body” the attackers.

I think the next 2 reasons are related to inadequacy of our legal system and the way we are bringing up our youth.

First let me explain my view on the legal side of things…

Good Samaritan

Good Samaritan

In Australia, the law is not geared towards protecting a Good Samaritan or encouraging a person to act as one.  NSW Civil Liability Act 2002 No 22 states that a good samaritan can be liable if he/she “failed to exercise reasonable care and skill in connection with the act…” What it really says is that you can pretend to be a Superman, or a Wonder Woman, only to have the dubious pleasure of being stabbed, or shot at, AND then being sued by the villain, or even the very victim you were trying to protect.

Further, Australia lags behind in introducing a law which would make it a legal requirement for citizens to assist people in distress. There are dozens of countries that have this law in place, some of them are Brazil, Denmark, Greece, Israel, Russia and Spain.

Which brings me to the second reason – the way we educate our young generation.

We are way too accepting, way too tolerant, even when acceptance and tolerance becoming synonyms for apathy and desertion. Our political correctness is going to cost us dearly.

King Hit - Coward Hit

King Hit – Coward Hit

Take recent attack at Canberra night club, which left its victim with a fracture to his eye socket, a fractured cheekbone, and bleeding from his forehead, nose, and lips. His attacker? Sentenced to eight months in jail, fully suspended. Suspended? How about showing that we are serious and locking the bastard up for 2-3 years, making sure he works his ass off?

Or how about our attitude towards drugs? Melbourne drug addicts might be in luck. Needle vending machines could be rolled out in Victoria this year. Because you know, those poor addicts, they need to do drugs outside of business hours too. How about showing that we are serious and locking them up until they are clean, making sure they work their asses off?

Now let’s move onto politics… MP Geoff Shaw investigated over claims he rorted taxpayer entitlements. MP Scott Driscoll  under fire over family business dealings. Former NSW MP Joe Tripodi faces ICAC investigation. Keilor MP George Seitz was under scrutiny as fraud squad investigates allegations that he misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling money. Those are the people who suppose to be our leaders and decision makers?

How possibly can our young understand what’s right and what’s wrong, if we keep sending them these mixed messages?

Now, I am not a whinger, but….why don’t we call things what they are: a bully, a corrupt politician (tautology?), a drug addict, a criminal. Maybe then our children will have at least a small chance to be able to tell right from wrong and maybe, just maybe we will be able to live in a country that once again will deserve the title of the Lucky Country.

Managing your own financial affair isn’t a rocket science.

I finally did it. With only 8 days till the deadline, I have submitted my Tax Return.

It was an intense 2 hours, skimming thru ATO’s regulations, digging out 12-months old receipts, generally trying to do the right thing.

Tax Time is the time to get involved

Tax Time is the time to get involved

All this made me remember doing my very first Tax Return, all those years ago. It used to be a very involved process. First, it required a visit to a Newsagency to pick up a copy of the Return, and to get a pack of smokes (I’ll need them). Then I needed to clean up the dining table, so I can spread all the papers out, next step was realising that I don’t have a black ink pen, so back to the Newsagency I go, getting a bottle of vodka from a bottle shop while I’m out (I’ll need it later too). Finally, about an hour after I’ve started filling in the form, I hopelessly stuffed it up. Stuffed it up to a point that I just knew that no amount of Whiteout would fix it. Which only meant one thing – another visit to the Newsagency, to get another blank form.

Back home with the form, thoroughly frustrated, I spend the next few hours doing my best impersonation of an old accountant. I grumble, I argue with the form I’m filling in, I’m yelling at my pen, I admonishing the receipt for deciding to play hide and seek with me.  At long last, it is done. Two sets of forms and a pack of smokes later, I feel totally exhausted, but my Tax Return is done. Now all that’s left to do is to jump in a car and drive to the local Tax Office branch to make sure my forms are there in time. By the end of the day, the place looked a lot like this:

Paperwork during tax time

Paperwork during tax time

 

Looking back at the way I did my first Tax Return, I suddenly realise that today’s tax affair is rather boring, uneventful, even dull.

After having a late breakfast on a Sunday morning, I downloaded eTax software from the ATO website, “digging out 12-months old receipts” in reality only took a couple of minutes, as most of them are electronically stored in my e-mail. No hunting for forms or for pens. No wasting time going to and from Newsagency. If a mistake is made, all it takes is to hit the Back button and correct the mistake. And once all is done, getting the information to the Tax Office is as easy as pressing the Lodgement button.

All this makes me wonder why would people pay hundreds of dollars to have their basic Tax Returns done by accountants? Unless you have a complex financial portfolio consisting of investment properties, shares, running a couple of small businesses, you don’t really need anyone sticking their nose in our financial affairs. Think about it – a lot of people would pay a few hundred dollars to an accountant, just to have a couple of hundred dollars in tax return. next year, why don’t you give it a go and try doing it yourself. After all, if you were smart enough to have finished high school, you are smart enough to manage your own Tax Return.

Putin’s nomination for Nobel Peace Prize

OK, I admit it. I am a big fan of a current Tsar of Russia, Vladimir Putin. So it would come as no surprise that when I’ve heard about Putin being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, I just jumped at an opportunity to write about this deserving man receiving equally deserving prize.

Putin nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

Russian Tzar is nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

Everyone knows about The Nobel Prize. But what is the criteria to get nominated for such a prestigious award? Here is what it says: The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

It makes sense then, that the latest nominee is the Russia’s darling, Vladimir Putin. After all, supplying weapons to regimes known for their genocidal tendencies is totally in line with “reduction of standing armies” – with enough weapons you can reduce any opposing army, right? It is during Putin’s administration that Syrian rebels received supplies of high-grade weapons. It is also during his administration that the conflict between Russia and Chechnya escalated to its highest form.

So why did he get nominated? Did someone make a mistake? A once-off lapse of judgement? Hardly. Unfortunately, The Nobel Prize became too much of a political tool and not enough of an instrument by which true peace achievements can be recognised.

Lets have a look at a few other Laureates, whose achievements are controversial to say the least…

2009 – Barak Obama. Yes, he is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Deserving choice, some might say. It would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that he got nominated only 12 days after taking office. I wonder what outstanding things he’s done in these first 12 days?

2004 – Wangari Maathai. Wangari is Kenyan environmental and political activist. Controversy? She has been accused of claiming HIV/Aids was spread deliberately in Africa by Western scientists.

Anwar Sadat - Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Anwar Sadat – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

1978 – Anwar Sadat. The President of Egypt received this honour for his part in negotiating the peace agreement with Israel, known as Camp David Agreement. What’s interesting is the reason he got involved in the talks in a first place….Egypt attacked Israel, got their ass kicked by Israelis and had no choice but sit at the table and negotiate.

1973 – Henry Kissinger. Reason? His role in Paris Peace Accords.  What wasn’t mentioned during the nomination is that Kissinger instituted the secret 1969–1975 campaign of bombing against infiltrating NVA in Cambodia.

Putin’s nomination gives him an honor of joining other nominees: Tzar Nicholai II, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. It also proves once again that anyone can be nominated. The Nobel Prize has become nothing more than a popularity award. It makes me think that Nobel Prize these days is just like the Logie Awards… makes the winners feel all warm and fuzzy, but doesn’t really mean anything to anyone else.

Logies Award or Nobel Prize?

Logies Award or Nobel Prize?

 

My Mum Gave me Drugs, or Why Our Athletes Choose to Cheat

Australian sport is going from one drug related scandal to another. In a last few months we’ve heard all about Cronulla Sharks, Essendon Bombers, and now Sydney Roosters looking down the barrel of the ACC’s investigation. I don’t think anyone’s really surprised anymore to hear about yet another drug scandal in sport.

Of course, nothing’s new under the sun. We all remember Ben Cousins’ drug scandal in 2007, Shane Warne’s ‘My mum gave it to me’ saga (did anyone actually believe that one?), Tour de France’s greats Lance Armstrong shocking allegations of 2011, and Floyd Landis before him, back in 2006. One good thing that came out of drugs scandals in Tour de France, is the numerous jokes it generated. Here are just a couple: “Amsterdam is like a Tour de France. Just a lot of people on drugs riding bikes.”

Drugs in sport

Drugs in sport

All this got me thinking. I understand the motive behind the decision to cheat. For some, it’s the ambition to be number one, for others it is the temptation of money, for yet others it’s the promise of fame. So when did it all start? When did the sport lose its purity?

The sad truth is, it all started millennia ago. In ancient Greece, the original Olympians used extracts of mushrooms and certain plants to create performance enhancing mixtures. During Roman period, gladiators were given drugs to make their fights more “spectacular”.

Drugs in sport

Cheat to Win

Once again, I am not a whinger, BUT… Here’s what I don’t get- why would anyone with half a brain risk taking drugs? Forget about the issues of morality, honesty and integrity. I’m talking about the health risks that associated with drug use. It should be obvious to anyone that long-term negative effects of drug use outweigh any dubious short-term “benefits”.

And just to finish it off:

A female athlete is preparing for the Olympics. She goes to the coach and complains about the tablets he is making her take.

“They are causing hair to grow on my breasts.”

“Ah whats the problem, a little bit of downy hair. everyone has a few little hairs’

“They are not downy and they are not little and they are not a few’

“Well exactly how much is there?’

“They grow all the way down to my balls, and that’s something else I want to talk to you about’

Is there such thing as bad publicity?

For me, TV is an endless source of entertainment, amusement, frustration and, surprise, surprise – material for my blog.

The latest “light bulb” idea comes after watching an Old El Paso ad, the one advertising Mexican Rice Kits. Apparently, Mexicans are a backwards people, complete baboons, who just recently discovered what to do with forks.

It got me thinking: do we really need this kind of racist advertising to push a product? And what other ads are out there, playing on our feelings of superiority towards other races?

I found quite a few examples of what can be construed as racist advertising. One of the oldest ones is a Jell-O ad from the 60’s, implying that if it wasn’t for the Western Civilization, Japanese still wouldn’t know what a spoon is. Another one is a South Oak Dodge ad – again having a go at Japanese. All those imported cars must be really pissing that guy off.  Not to be outdone, the Japanese advertising for the Play Station Portable White is pushing the limits of advertising. Italians contribute to the list with the ad for Coloreria Italiana. Closer to home, KFC had to pull down its ad depicting a white Aussie cricket fan, offering fried chicken to West Indies supporters. What’s interesting here, is that this ad was deemed racist over in America, but in Australia we just laughed it off as an example of Australian humour. To be honest, I don’t get what the problem is – the guy is sharing his food with his mates…we’re all mates, aren’t we?

Dick Smith Australia Day

Dick Smith Australia Day ad

And what about the infamous Australia Day ad from an Aussie icon Dick Smith? I mean, seriously, who doesn’t like some dick?

Just to finish it off, here is an ad from Volkswagen, promoting its new model VW Polo. In this commercial German car maker is stereotyping Muslims as terrorists. It’s actually funny coming from Volkswagen, the company with really close ties with Nazis and Hitler.

I’m sure there are plenty more of these ads out there. Some are actually racist, some borderline so, and some are just labelled as racist by bigots or people with no sense of humour.

I am not a whinger, but it is a Politically Correct world we live in, where making fun of other people’s race or religion is frowned upon. Unless you are an Aussie, of course. In Australia, we are allowed, no – expected, to take a piss out of everyone. Anything less would be un-Australian.

As for everyone else – avoid the dangers of being labelled a racist and stick to the good old axiom that “sex sells” and play it safe.

Sex Sells

Sex Sells