Gillard gets what she deserved

A LITTLE over three years after she knifed Kevin Rudd in the back, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has fallen by the wayside. She came to office by the backdoor and has been seen off with a very public blood-letting.

Rudd did not scrape through; the leadership vote, foolishly called for by Gillard a day before Parliament rose for the winter, ended 57-45 in Rudd’s favour, much more than expected. Gillard thought she would ambush Rudd by not giving him enough time to marshal forces but her gambit failed.

There’s a lot of bleating going on about the first female prime minister being knifed and so on, but everyone fails to remember that Gillard was the cause of it all. She agreed to be put in the leadership position by the faceless men of the Labor party at a time when there was no need to change leaders.
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Australia has a leadership problem

WOULD Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, have been in the position she is today if she had become leader of the Labor party in the regular way and not by knifing a sitting prime minister?

Would she be any more popular today if she had challenged for the leadership during a period when Labor was in opposition and won a mandate to lead the country at the polls?

It’s hard to say, but one would incline towards the view that yes, she would not be at the receiving end as she is now if she had ascended to the top by this route.
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In Australia, justice can be black and white

IN February 2010, Andrew Lovett, an Australian rules football player, was charged with one count of rape over an incident in December 2009.

Lovett had been recruited by St Kilda that year after spending six years with, and playing 88 games for, the Essendon football club.

St Kilda immediately sacked Lovett. He never got back to playing in the senior league again, even though he was acquitted of the charge in July 2011.

Lovett is Aboriginal.

Last week, Stephen Milne, also of the St Kilda football club, was charged with four counts of rape. This was over an incident in 2004.

The club stood him down from playing. No sack notice for Milne.

Milne is a white man.

And there lies the difference. Despite all the protestations it might make, the Australian Football League, the body that runs the game, has one standard for indigenous players or officials and one for whites.

This was made evident in May when Eddie McGuire, the president of the Collingwood club, made a racist remark about Sydney indigenous player Adam Goodes.

McGuire got off scot-free. He was asked to go through the AFL’s remediation process and learn about indigenous practices and customs, but got no penalty.

But an indigenous official of the Adelaide club, Matt Rendell, was sacked when he was accused of making a comment about recruiting indigenous players with one white parent. He denied making the statement but got the boot anyway.

McGuire, a white man, got away with blue murder. Rendell, an indigenous person, lost his job.

And now Milne escapes with a lesser penalty than Lovett.

Australians will protest till they are blue in the fact that theirs is not a racist country. In the face of occurrences like this, it’s a little difficult to sustain that illusion.

Pursuing Armstrong: a journo’s tale of triumph

WHEN journalists criticise something repeatedly, those who read their offerings tend to conclude that the journalist in question has a dislike of the person or people at the heart of that issue – and that is the reason for the criticism.

But that is often not the case.

Irish journalist David Walsh was probably the only one of his tribe to be critical of Lance Armstrong when the American, on his return to professional racing after recovering from testicular cancer, won the Tour de France in 1999.

Walsh took the stand he did because he loved the sport. And he hated the idea that it was being ruined by people ingesting this drug or that and winning without deserving it.

The 1999 event was dubbed the “tour of renewal” following the drugs scandal that hit the event in 1998, when the Festina team was caught with something akin to a drugstore in a van.

But Walsh, noting that Armstrong had recorded speeds even faster than those in 1998, and also gained an incredible advantage over the rest during the most difficult climb of the Tour, reasoned that there had to be more to the story. Armstrong was not known as a climber, but even if he had been proficient in this aspect of cycling, the time he recorded was incredible.

In his recent book, Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong, Walsh tells the story of the problems he faced by taking what others saw to be a stance against Armstrong.

The book is written well and shows the depth of love that Walsh has for cycling, and sport in general. He was fortunate to have a highly supportive sports editor who backed him to the hilt and prevented him from going overboard when the Armstrong issue became an obsession.

Armstrong used every tactic in the book to discredit those whom he perceived to be against him; he would threaten, blackball and use lawsuits when he could. He did what he could to tarnish Walsh’s reputation and blacken his name.

Walsh traces the whole affair from its inception, tells of those who stood against Armstrong – people like US cyclist Greg LeMond and Betsy Andreu, the wife of another pro cyclist, Frankie Andreu. Then there was Emma O’Reilly, a masseuse with Armstrong’s team, who was made out to be little more than a whore by Armstrong when she lifted the curtain about his use of drugs.

Walsh is an old-school journalist, a man with principles. Chasing the story took a toll on him and his family, yet he did not give up. As LeMond put it, he knew that Armstrong’s win in 1999 had either to be the comeback of the century or else the fraud of the century.

As we all know, it turned out to be the latter. Earlier this year, some months after he had been stripped of his titles following an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency, a stony-faced Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he had cheated all through his seven wins.

He lied in that he did not confess to using drugs on his comeback in 2009 – when evidence clearly indicates he did. The statute of limits for legal action is five years – and that’s why Armstrong continues to lie about this.

Walsh’s story serves as encouragement to journalists in a world where telling the truth in print, the web or on TV is becoming increasingly more difficult. It is also an uplifting tale for anyone else, a story that reminds us that there are still people of integrity left in a world increasingly filled with frauds.

The death of free-to-air television

A FEW months before Christmas 2005, the UK’s biggest electronics retailer, Currys, announced that it would not be stocking VCRs that year. It was one of the earlier announcements of the approaching death of what was a staple in many households worldwide.

By the end of the 2008, the VCR was well and truly gone. JVC, one of the major brands, made its announcement about shutting down its manufacturing of the gadget at that time.

In its place has come the hard-disk recorder, which also affords the user the option of burning recorded material to DVD or, more recently, to Blu-Ray. Technologies come and go in this manner.

A few years hence, we will be looking at the death of free-to-air TV. That will happen once there is broadband which can support speeds sufficient to stream video of good quality. Broadband of such bandwidth exists in various countries and there are some services which stream films across the internet.

But it has not yet become mass-market. If there is fast internet in a country, the cost puts it out of reach of the majority. Internet costs have to drop; that will happen once more providers are able to offer faster speeds. Competition is the only way prices will drop.

Once that happens, the creators of content for TV will find it much more economical and easy to stream their content across the net. Their market will expand outside geographical boundaries and they will also be able to pull advertising which the TV channels ran along with the content.

Services like Hulu and Netflix which stream films are now confined to a few countries. Some telcos are experimenting with streaming films too, but the services are yet to reach tipping point. Like all digital technologies, costs will be low and the success of a service will depend on attracting big numbers.

Pay TV will take some more time to die than its free-to-air counterpart. Many pay TV services depend on telecasting sport to survive; the sports, in turn, depend on the money that is paid to them by the TV channels.

It is logical to assume that the pay TV channels themselves will start streaming content on the net. The sport authorities, of course, will demand additional rights money.

In some cases, those who administer the sport may experiment with streaming on the net; the Australian Football League allows people to watch matches free after the event right now, with all the footage coming from one of the TV channels which has the rights for broadcasts.

Who knows, one day the AFL might decide to do it on its own. It all depends on how much money can be made.

Countdown to the poll that counts

ONE hundred days from today, Australia will go to the hustings to elect a new federal government. The indications from opinion polls are that the incumbent Labor government will be reduced to a rump in parliament and that the Coalition – a grouping of the Liberal and National parties – will sweep back to power after six years in opposition.

It is not often that opinion polls are wrong these days; the most recent example of pollsters being off the mark that I can recall was in Britain in 1992 when all polls pointed to a Labor return to power. But the Conservatives, under John Major, triumphed and by a pretty big margin too.

But that cannot be counted on. For Labor, about the only thing that can reduce the margin of defeat would be a return to the leadership of Kevin Rudd, a man who is hated by most in the party. Yet polls indicate that the public likes Rudd.

But the Labor party is in suicide mode; the practical thing to do would be for the prime minister Julia Gillard to resign and for the party to elect Rudd as leader. But it appears that Labor politicians would rather lose their seats than take this option; it looks like the self-preservation instinct, that is a natural part of every human being, is not present in those individuals who represent Labor in parliament.

Labor has done a fair number of things while in power that have been good for the country but it appears unable to sell its message to the people. Gillard is not popular and her manner of speaking – strained and preachy, often patronising – does not go down well.

Why is not possible for Labor to hold their collective noses and put Rudd in charge again? After all, what is the point of being a politician who is not in power? Most Labor MPs will lose their seats and the party may be left with between 40 and 50 seats, down from 71 which it has at present.

For Gillard it is a matter of pride now and she is highly unlikely to step down. And Rudd has indicated that he will only take over if he is asked.

Hence the best thing for Australians to do is to get used to saying “Prime Minister Tony Abbott” and holding their noses thereafter.