Thursday, October 11, 2007

The beige dream and the "hobby farm"

Have you ever driven past one of those new housing estates that was once a large empty paddock? One of those beige blankets from hell that is pimpled with identical dwellings which house the beginnings of the great Australian dream? Think the Hills district... Or have you ever heard of one of those middle aged couples from Paddington buying a two acre property in Mudgee, buying a cattle dog and a cow thinking they own a hobby farm. But a year down the track a poisonous weed has sucked the life out of their "farm" (the cow) and the genuine articles around them all because they had no idea about how to maintain their over sized garden?

Back to those housing estates, have you ever driven past and thought "That would have been an ideal location to grow apples or graze some cattle"? No? Well neither had I... until now that is. The Standing Committee of State Development - Inquiry into Aspects of Agriculture in New South Wales discusses these concerns among others. The focus of this posting is the 24 September hearing, commencing at 11:00am. The witness in this hearing was Richard John Pearson - Executive Director, Rural and Regional Planning, Department of Planning.

Clearly agriculture contributes greatly to the economy of NSW, Mr Pearson makes this abundantly clear in his opening address, "It [agriculture] was worth $8.6 billion at 2003-04 and it contributes 87,000 jobs to the workforce...". Hence, the industry is worth protecting if not enhancing - that's why we can't have these huge housing estates being built on fertile soil and these ignorant cashed up 'tree changers' ruining properties by not caring for them properly. A strategic measure to reduce these cases is the local environmental plans (LEPs). My understanding of these LEPs is that councils outline their zoning plans for residential and agriculture land including restrictions and infrastructure. According to Mr Pearson all councils will have to have an LEP in place by March 2011.

The concern of this hearing was the lengthy process of getting approval for these LEPs and the obstacles in making amendments to a proposed LEP. Another concern was that both councils and so-called advisers don't have adequate knowledge of the soil quality and agricultural needs when putting these plans on paper.

From the outset, it was obvious that these committee hearings are vastly different from our old friend Question Time. If only for the fact that old white men in ugly suits aren't yelling at each other and trying to make their counterpart look like a dickhead. Here, the structure was more formalised and hence easier to follow than Question Time. The Chair opened the hearing, allowing Mr Pearson to make his own brief introduction and only once did the Chair have to use his authority to allow Mr Pearson to answer the Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox's question on amalgamated councils.

It was also quite obvious that each of the residing members had their own agenda from the get go and this clearly influenced their line of questioning. The Hon. Michael Veitch says, for example, 'Just so you know, I am also a councillor on Young Shire Council, which is serviced from Queanbeyan'. This fact creeps into Mr Veitch's questioning a number of times during the hearing, especially when asking about the Sydney-Canberra corridor strategy and the state of cherry growing in Young.

For all the formalities though, this hearing did have a couple of similarities to QT. Firstly, there was a lot of departmental buck passing. For the most part, this was from Mr Pearson (representing the DoP) passing some of the questions off to the Department of Primary Industries and at one point to the Department of Environment and Climate Change. Secondly, if only for a brief moment, a couple of the female members tried to get their back up and play it with the big boys. Of note is the Hon. Christine Robertson who questioned the validity of another member's question. I almost got goose bumps! I thought they were going to start throwing chairs and Steve from Jerry Springer would have to pull them apart.. but of course disappointment - this is, after all, the faded pastel political arena and so any tension or resentment is tightly bottled and dealt with diplomatically, only to be unleashed later on some unsuspecting intern....

This hearing was fairly interesting if only for educating me about the growth strategies of the agricultural industry. I mean, with the world entering the red zone last week - which means we have too many mouths to feed and not enough food - we should be trying to save areas of nutrient-rich soil. And these cashed up tree-changers can get stuffed! Move to Dural! Oh, that's right you can't because there's another frigging housing estate going up!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A game of numbers...

Watching Question Time, one of my favourite parts has been the back and forth banter between the two men of numbers, Treasurer Peter Costello and Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan. When I first started to take notice Wayne Swan was jibbing Costello about the dinner he had with some press gallery journalists three years ago (see my previous post)

Yesterday, however, Mr Swan was having a go at the Treasurer for not giving the Prime Minister his public backing. In response, the Treasurer brought up the point that Mr Swan didn't back Mr Rudd when voting for the new Labour leader. I believe there were a few rooster calls in there somewhere as well...

It just became obvious to me that Question Time isn't a space to get any real answers (it's not called Answer Time)... it's more of an arena for politician to try to bring up dirt on their opponent and see how well that opponent can swing it back round on the person who asked the question in the first place.

From my point of view Mr Costello is much better at this than Mr Swan (this is probably due to the fact that the Treasurer has had more experience). It's actually quite a good example for budding PR professionals, to see how the big fish play the game. It reminds me of the film Thank You For Smoking... As Nick Naylor says in the film, "Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk. Everyone has a talent."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

All that meat seems to have gone to his head...

As John Howard introduced George W Bush at this morning's press conference, Mr Bush announced, "I'm looking forward to you buying me lunch... I like meat". Now, is that John Howard buying lunch or the Australian tax payer?? Hmm...

I'm quite sure Mr Bush does like meat - coming from Texas and all. It just seems that all that meat has gone to his head... He seemed quite convincing in his opening address; obviously, it was clearly scripted and pre-rehearsed. The US President actually made sense and I could actually follow his train of thought. Yet when the floor was opened up to questions, a large porterhouse must have plonked itself firmly upon Mr Bush's brain. I couldn't follow anything he was saying! He'd begin to answer the question and then jump to another thought, while in the middle of the previous thought. In answering Mark Riley's question, Mr Bush began to talk about not pre-empting the results of the Federal election by saying, "I don't trust the Australian people", was that meant to be "I don't want to misjudge the Australian people"...?? In responding to claims the Chinese government hacked into the Pentagon, Mr Bush said that the relationship with China was complex, yet open and candid... and then there was tension and mistrust... and that he wanted the Chinese to spend more... but then trade levels with China have increased dramatically.

This kind of meat head dialect seems to be contagious, because as I read my above paragraph I can't even decipher my observations of the US President...

It is quite amusing to note that George Bush brought with him 650 support staff - including a chef! Why? He's staying at one of Sydney's top hotels! The Australian tax payers are paying good money for him to receive 5-Star service and he brings his own bloody chef! Obviously he's a bit picky about how he takes his steak...

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Enough horsing around!

I'll be shifting focus now to the NSW state government, however it will inevitably involve discussion about the Federal government.

Case in point, the NSW Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald has called on the Federal government to launch an extensive inquiry into what he is calling a 'biosecurity breach' regarding some horses imported from Japan.

A fair enough call I'd say - this equine flu is going to have massive consequences in many areas of Australian life. Firstly, the economy and employment. The government makes some serious dosh off Australia's cultural gambling. Also, coming from Newcastle, I've listened to a lot of worried stud farmers concerned about their breeding programs which are due to start at the beginning of September. If there's no horses, there's no work for many people in areas such as Scone.

Another major consequence of this flu is, for some, probably the most important - we can't go to the races! I'm sure every CSU student can appreciate the frivolity and general dizziness of a day at the races. The night before is like Christmas Eve, you can't get to sleep because your mind is in a frenzy of colour and excitement at the day ahead. The drinking, the laughing, the drinking, the hats, the suits, the drinking, the stilettos flung over the shoulder while hair is whisked out of the face making way for a steady stream of vomit, more drinking, oh yeah and the running horses... Those poor people at Birdsville this weekend, I'm sure they'll think of something...

But back to the politics, after all this is a very serious blog! The effects of the equine flu are also extending to APEC with all 32 of the police horses in lock down somewhere in Redfern. What will the riot squad use to trample on protesters now? Maybe they could use the wives of the delegates? I'm sure their faces are just as long, their hooves just as dangerous and their mounters just as vicious...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Taking the Social out of Social Media

Following a previous posting about the censorship affects of the Trade Practices Amendment (Small Business Protection) Bill 2007, another story has emerged regarding the government's manipulation of public information - this time in the form of Wikipedia. Now, we all now that Wikipedia isn't the most reliable source of information - certainly if you referenced it in an assignment you would no doubt have earned that big fat 'F'. But it does serve as a resource for developing a foundational understanding of many topics and with over 1.95 million English entries, it is a resource which is widely used.

The government, now waking up to the power of social media (i.e. John Howard's recent YouTube cameos) has decided to manipulate the very basis with which Wikipedia is based - it's a wiki. The information on this site is completely user created and controlled - a two edged sword; on the one hand users get to have their work published for potentially millions to read, on the other hand as an SMH article pointed out today: "The site has come under fire lately due to the apparent ease with which anyone can add biased, erroneous and libellous information." It's no wonder the site has come under fire with the Australian Prime Minister's staff editing out information on the site which casts the government in a bad light. Articles focused on Peter Costello and the children overboard scandal are but a few which have been altered by government clickers.

Thank God for this new technology WikiScanner which can pinpoint organisations who have edited the information on Wikipedia. This has the potential to uncover astroturfing campaigns as well, as the technology can identify if the editor has worked through an organisation's network or through a ISP for home users.

Check out the article:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

That's so Gay!

Isn't it sad that the only reason politicans like Joe Hockey and Brendan Nelson are only interested in reform to the laws discriminating against homosexuals because they want to secure the gay vote in their electorate. I understand that they have to be conscious of securing as many votes as possible in order to stay in power, yet I feel that in this context politicians should be pushing for reform on the basis that these laws boil down to blatant discriminiation!

"Ministers were also concerned at the expense of reforms, which would cost taxpayers millions of dollars in extra social security payments." Are you serious?! Oh, let's continue to disciminate against gay couples because it'll cost too much to treat them as equals! Being a gay couple doesn't make you an less Australian than a heterosexual couple and all Australians deserve the economic protection of the government.

Recently, singer Darren Hayes has come out (excuse the pun) against the Howard government because on a recent trip to Australia his new husband had to come here on a tourist visa and not a spousal visa. Hayes' husband wasn't recognised as such, just because they are homosexual. It's frustrating that in the 21st century, when science and other revolutionary forms of thinking have been allowed to lead to so many fantastic developments and yet so many people in power are still determined not persecute gays! Being a gay couple in Australia equates to not being officially recognised as such and being forced to pay at least double that of hetero couples to recieve the same benefits on schemes such as the PBS. Why?

I'd really like to know what people think about this highly contentious issue, so feel free to write a comment with any thoughts/feelings/feedback/etc.

The article that inspired this posting can be viewed at:,23599,22292944-2,00.html?from=mostpop

Hear Evil, See Evil... Just don't Speak about it...

The Trade Practices Amendment (Small Business Protection) Bill 2007 has effectively gagged the entire notion of public debate, protest, boycotting and the main focus of this subject (COM318): lobbying. With all the readings so far pointing to lobbying as an essential element in a democratic system, this Bill seems almost counter-democratic.

My understanding of the Bill (and please, correct me if I'm wrong) is that if a someone protests or calls a boycott against an organisation (say for unethical trade practices or unethical treatment of animals), the ACCC can then sue these protesters on behalf of the organisation to recover lost profit resulting from the protest. It sounds like Nazis during WWII! 'We don't like what you're saying, so don't say it or we'll sue you!' This is sentiment echoed by Greens leader Bob Brown in an SMH article today.

So, next time you visit a factory full of pigs, who are cramped together like sardines, chained to the ground and have never seen the light of day - think twice before you speak out to others who may be ignorant of this practice. Because, you might just get sued for all your bacon.

The article which inspired this posting can be read at: