Australia is not ready for a female prime minister

IT IS now five days since Australia went to the polls to elect a new government for the three years to 2013 – and the results are not known. It looks very likely that the end result will be both the major parties – Labor and the Liberal/National coalition – ending up with less than the 76 seats required to rule.

What is remarkable is that in 2010, votes are still being tallied – and this is a country with just 14 million eligible voters (where voting is compulsory). Counting is done in the old way, with people being involved; the type of thinking that permeates the corridors of power and led to this situation is a reflection of why we are in this situation at all.

A couple of months before the election, the Labor party, in what can only be described as a political assassination, dumped its prime minister. Kevin Rudd, and installed a woman, Julia Gilliard, as leader instead. The reason the powerbrokers sent the PM packing was because his poll numbers were dropping; the woman deputy was considered a much better option of retaining power. Australia would have had to go the polls before February 2011 at the latest; the last government was elected in November 2007 and for a period of three years.

But the Labor powerbrokers, who indulge in ruthless culling, with the only criterion being feedback from focus groups, calculated without the conservative Australian population. Exactly how many people would vote for an unmarried red-head who openly declared she was an atheist? A woman who was “living in sin” and flaunting it? A woman who had no children? A woman who had the communication skills to openly taunt the male leader of the Opposition and leave him with egg on his face more often than not?

Strangely, in the post-election analysis, one cannot find even a mention of the female factor; admittedly it wouldn’t look too good if one were to raise this issue as Australia’s much smaller neighbour, New Zealand, has already had two women as prime minister, from either side of politics.

Only one political writer raised the issue and that was three weeks before polling day. He pointed to statistics, showing that among men over 65, only 35 percent approved of having a woman as PM. Fifty-eight percent disapproved. Male voters above the age of 45 strongly approved of her male rival.

Australia is a deeply conservative country. It may not appear that way to those who move around in cosmopolitan cities like Sydney and Melbourne, among educated people, among those who have had the chance to travel and see a little more of the world. The fact that Sydney organises one of the better known Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parades every year probably gives a false idea about the deep-rooted conservative beliefs which a large number of the Australian populace cling to.

In the 1960s and 70s, women came to power because they had famous males behind them. Sirima Bandaranaike, the first woman prime minister of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) built her career on the ashes of her illustrious husband, Solomon, who was assassinated by a Buddhist monk. Indira Gandhi of India traded on her father’s reputation. Golda Meir is the only one who came to power on her own merit – and she was said to have more balls than the average man in her cabinet, which included the dashing Moshe Dayan.

In Asia, this trend continued into the 80s and 90s. Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan traded on the fame of her father; she was a singular failure as prime minister. Khaleda Zia and Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh rode on their respective husbands’ coattails.

Of course, there have been women who have taken power on their own and done a marvellous job; I have provided these examples to show that women often do need a leg-up from a male. It never happens the other way round.

After the Australian election, there have been any number of theories offered to explain the fact that the Labor party did not get a majority – the reaction by the people of the state of Queensland, from where the knifed PM hails, the reaction by the population at large to the dropping of a plan for an emissions trading scheme which Labor made a central plank of its winning 2007 campaign, the lack of any serious policy debate during the campaign and so on. All excuses that painted the Australian masses as a thinking, reasoning lot.

Anyone who has travelled around the country knows better. Ignorance reigns, people are poorly educated, and more prone to accept one-liners as an explanation rather than any detailed, well thought-out reasoning. Australia is run, in the main, by middle-aged and old white men whose thinking harks back to the 1950s. And the wives of these men are also as conservative and one cannot imagine any of them voting for Gillard. That is why a man like John Howard, who made race a central feature of his insidious political campaigns, was able to rule the country from 1996-2007.

In this respect, Australia resembles America – the US gave an idiot like George W. Bush eight years in power but looks unlikely to give his predecessor, Barack Obama, more than one term.

Nominating John Howard to the ICC is a big mistake

WITH the nomination of former Australian prime minister John Howard to the ICC vice-presidency – he will become president in 2012 – the power-brokers in the countries that play the game have ensured that priority will be given to politics, not cricket.

Howard was prime minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007. He was a divisive figure, refusing to apologise to the country’s first people for atrocities committed by white settlers, supporting the US in its crazy Iraq adventure and ensuring that the rich got richer and the poor poorer. Australia’s economy was doing well during his time – due to the boom in resources exports, not due to any financial reforms introduced by Howard’s government – but none of the money was saved; it was spent on buying votes through pork-barrel politics.

Howard is known for his support of apartheid South Africa. He was also quick to brand Sri Lankan spinner Muthiah Muralitharan a chucker, because, in his own words, “they proved it in Perth with that thing”, as stupid a statement as one can find uttered by a politician in any part of the world. His contribution to the game, in other words, is a big zero.

What makes the selection of Howard all the more amazing is that the man who was ranged against him, Sir John Anderson of New Zealand, has impeccable credentials to hold the post. Sir John became chairman of New Zealand Cricket in 1995 and then represented his country on the ICC board.

Sir John was one of the main figures in restructuring the ICC’s internal make-up and he also re-drafted its articles and committee manual. He served for 13 years. And a man like Howard has now been pushed in ahead of him. Australia, a bigger player in world cricket, has once again heavied its smaller Tasman neighbour to promote an unworthy candidate.

Cricket’s world governing body has not exactly covered itself with glory in its administration of the game. In the days when Australia and England were the dominant powers in the game, the MCC was running the show and rarely did it make decisions that ensured the progress of the game. Cricket was confined to a few counties while the officials enjoyed their sinecures.

In 1969, following the omission of a coloured player, Basil D’Oliviera from the England team to tour apartheid South Africa, the MCC had to finally rise from its slumber due to the pressure from the media. It’s worthwhile recalling that after the Gleneagles Agreement was reached, Howard was still keen on visiting South Africa.

It’s not as though politicians have not been appointed to head the ICC. But rarely has there been so much of a gap in quality between candidates and the less qualified one selected. Howard loves sinecures, parading the world stage and free travel. He used to attend the Test matches in Sydney every year but then any Australian prime minister who does not turn up at big sporting events is a fool, given the nation’s obsession with matters sporting.

Some of the most damaging things to happen to world cricket took place during the reign of Jagmohan Dalmiya, a Bengali, as ICC head. It was during his time that Bangladesh was made a Test playing nation. Nearly 13 years later, the folly of such a decision is apparent – unlike Sri Lanka, which has a good cricketing pedigree and an almost fanatical devotion to the game, Bangladesh is more attuned to soccer.

Dalmiya also brought in the infamous future tours programme which has all Test nations constantly playing games. It has ensured that there is too much of Test and one-day cricket. Players perform poorly – they are human and their bodies and minds can only handle so much.

The West Indies, a powerhouse from 1980 to 1995, and not exactly a pushover even before that, has fallen away to become little more than a joke – and the ICC has done nothing to try and prevent this disaster taking place. Now it is too late.

If the ICC wants to keep making money off cricket, it needs to look at the health of the game in all its constituent countries and take measures to ensure that teams remain at their full potential. It is not only the responsibility of the national cricketing bodies. (This is not to say that those who followed Dalmiya were much better than him when it came to looking after the health of the game.)

I think Howard will follow in Dalmiya’s footsteps. And if a situation like that which arose with Darrell Hair comes up again, it is clear in which direction he would go. World cricket is already in trouble and has had to resort to gimmicks like Twenty20 to draw crowds to the game. With Howard, a man who has the imagination of a dead duck, leading the organisation, it may well be time to start writing the game’s obituary.

Another targeted assassination – Mossad at work?

EVER since the former Mossad operative, Victor Ostrovsky, wrote what was then, in 1990, a sensational account of life as a Mossad agent, people have known for a fact that Israel targets people for assassination. The list of those targeted has to be approved at the highest governmental level.

Mossad, which normally carries out these operations, generally does not leave many loose ends lying around. If the agency carried out a hit in Dubai last month on Hamas operative Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, it looks like it made some serious errors and left far too much evidence lying around.

Dubai keeps footage of all visitors, right from the time they arrive at the airport. Hotels also have plenty of surveillance cameras and the faces of the 11 people who took part in killing Mabhouh are now available worldwide after the Dubai Police found out the nationalities which the alleged killers had adopted.

If Israel was involved – and no other nation has an interest in seeing Mahbouh dead – it won’t be getting too much sympathy from the rest of the world over this killing, as the operatives used German, French, British and Irish passports to enter Dubai. These passports have now found to be fakes.

Details of the people who were allegedly involved have also been published. At least one does not exist.

Security camera footage from the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel shows the 11 operatives, 10 men and a woman, from the time they entered the hotel. It’s an interesting tale, no doubt about that.

The tale of the killing, as detailed by the Dubai authorities, reads like a high-grade mystery novel. But then most of the operations which Ostrovsky detailed in his book, By Way of Deception, read much the same.

How governments deceive the public

IT’S interesting indeed when government policy is thrown open to the public, ostensibly for a debate to seek feedback on how the policy in question goes down with the masses. Most people misinterpret this to mean that the government is serious about wanting input from the great unwashed.

This is one of the great myths that is prevalent even today.

It’s something like the various ombusdmen set up in some countries to provide an outlet for the public to complain when they feel shafted by companies in some sectors – telecommunications and banking, for example.

Giving a person a chance to vent their frustrations provides a form of release. The ombudsman makes a pretence of listening – a very good imitation, I may add.

In the end, one gets little or no redress unless there is something really wrong going on and the original decision stands.

The same happens with government policy. Some bright spark decides on some policy to garner votes for the next election from a section of the populace which normally does not vote en masse for the party in government.

The best way to pretend that it is being done in consultation is to ask some other person in the party to invite a discussion – these days, that is done mostly on the internet. In years gone by, it was by issuing a white paper and then inviting people to write in with their suggestions, support or objections.

The original policy always includes a little wiggle room, concessions which the government is willing to give anyway. If the public do demand some concessions, the government then gives in on ground which it never wanted to enforce.

The public feels quite good about its activism and celebrates the ground it has gained. The government laughs all the way to the poll.

If the government is unable to get the policy through parliament because it lacks a majority of its own, then it concedes certain things to the opposition and certain others to the public. The wiggle room is always built in to the original draft.