Saturday, May 28, 2011

Can we have our balls back please?


Heavy Weather, Kodakotype by Pants


The reason I mostly don't write about Australian politics is that there are only so many ways one can ask, 'what kind of ghastly, unedifying spectacle is this then?' We have become stupid-rich, like Texan-rich. And we've developed the politics to match.

And we don't care about anyone but ourselves. We have such a wealth of natural resources that it hardly matters if we squander most of the money it generates on crackpot schemes. There will, it seems, always be enough for a fourth giant flat-screen TV and a third SUV. Gosh, even I've got one each of those and I'm poorer than a church mouse's charlady. (In my own defence, I would like to plead that the TV was a present).

There's nothing to play for here, except of course, power itself. But here's an interesting rule of thumb for you, the more mineral wealth a country has, the more morally and culturally backward it is. Case in point - Saudi Arabia.

Why are our politicians so thick that they can't oversee the paperwork for a few thousand desperate refugees or settle on a price for taxing carbon emissions? One is tempted to conclude that it's because they can neither write nor count.

Retiring Labor minister Lindsay Tanner cashes in on this supposed mystery in his recent book Sideshow, the dumbing down of democracy. He says it's all the fault of the media for hounding politicians to the point of exhaustion only to ask daft, rhetorical questions. That does seem true, at least in part. It's not uncommon to hear, even on the ABC, our national broadcaster, a bulletin that leads with a 'so and so says whoseamecallit is a nasty, smelly snot' sort of a statement. Australia is, it seems, a microcosm in which all the foolishness of modern politics can be viewed.

We are in the perfect position to take meaningful action on climate change. We have vast resources of every kind and a tiny population - although they all seem to want to cram into one outer-Sydney suburb like elephants into a telephone box. So what's that all about then? And we have the lowest electricity prices of any OECD country. Yet, all I have heard for the last three years is, 'why should we be the first to do something about it?'

Well, yes, let's do ignore the fact that the European Union has had an Emissions Trading Scheme since 2005. It may be a fairly crappy one, but at least a great big swag of countries got together and made an effort. Let's also conveniently forget that China, the world's biggest polluter, has set a target for a 40-45% reduction on carbon-dioxide output per unit of GDP to be achieved by 2020. Maybe it is bogus because, you know, China is like that, but it's at least a token gesture further than we are prepared to go.

People in Australia don't want nuclear power. Fine. I don't want it either. But there's never been a serious chance of us having it because nuclear power is not cost-effective for tiny populations scattered over huge areas, even when they're supplying their own uranium. The only population concentrations we have that could feasibly support a need for nuclear power are in major coastal cities, which is exactly were you don't want a nuclear power plant to be located.

Why are we even still talking about it? Mmm, let me take a wild stab - because it's intellectual tic-tac-toe. It makes us feel good to appear to be considering something deeply important without having to go to the bother of contributing actual cogency and pertinence.

Australians think that the only other option to the non-option of nuclear is wind power and that wind turbines are ugly and kill the birds. Well, yes and yes. But we don't necessarily need to put them smack-bang in the middle of pristine wilderness areas or bird migration routes. And is it too pie-in-the-sky to imagine that someone, someday might come up with a more aesthetically pleasing design for a wind turbine given the right sort of incentive?

We never talk about cogeneration, the process by which the heat created by the generation of electricity is harnessed for district heating. Cogeneration is widely used in northern Europe and also heats over 100,000 buildings in Manhattan, the biggest 'steam' district in the world. It's perfect for high density areas like cities and big towns. It's especially good for places with long, cold winters, like we have right here in Victoria for example - where we also have rather a lot of dirty brown-coal power stations. But instead of using all that by-product hot air to heat our houses, we give it to our politicians to blow back at is with interminable regularity.

We have actually heard of solar power - in fact we're pretty sure we invented that and that our technology in the area is 'world class'. So, how many solar power stations have we got? Er, none. You go to Greece and there are photovoltaic cells on every single house in some parts. Even brain-dead Greece managed to build more than a dozen solar power plants in 2009 before it went broke. The Greeks may not have anything to eat soon but at least they won't die of hypothermia. Here in Australia, we think it's a wonderful idea and will certainly get solar panels on our house if the government sends a man around to do it for us for free.

We leave one of the biggest carbon footprints per capita in the world and enjoy one of the highest standards of living in said world and yet we really are so selfish that we think we should be the only country to be exempted from doing anything about climate change. So, that's basically why I don't write much about Australian politics. It's just too embarrassing to think about most of the time. Happily, I live close enough to sand to just go down to the beach and stick my head in it.

But all of that might be about to change. Our indomitable Barney is on the very cusp of entering the stupid game himself. If you think, as I do, that the bar is already dangerously low, let me tell you that you have not seen anything until you've experienced Barney doing the limbo.

Today there is to be a by-election in Larrikin Shire and Barney has put himself up as a candidate. The ballot was occasioned by the recent tragic death of Councillor Doolittle Furphy Larrikin, the great-great-grandson of Larrikin's End's founding father, Sir Joseph Furphy Larrikin. Cllr Larrikin was found face-down in a barrel of our local delicacy shark'n'neeps, while gallantly attempting to better his own Guinness World Record for the 81st time. Everyone agreed it was the way he would have wanted to go. It is said that 67% of Australians are either overweight or obese. If that is true, Doolittle would most certainly have been in the top one per cent. Barney says he won't even try to fill Cllr Larrikin's shoes. If he wins the election, he'll have them made into jet-skis.

Barney had set his sights on the Republican nomination for the US presidency. He is eligible because, like Bruce Springsteen, he was born in the USA. And he's certainly rich enough to pay off anyone that needs paying off. Then I reminded him of how unpleasant the presidential process can be in America, especially if one is 'differently equal' in the ethnic diversity department. I think it could be argued that whilst Barney most certainly hails from the USA, his claim to being 'born' could be challenged. It could just as easily be said that he was 'crafted'.

If Barney wins his council seat today, I will be taken on as his full-time assistant. Barney says, 'why be in politics if you can't seriously practise nepotism?' Besides, as I know all his darkest secrets, it's better to have me inside the tent.

Well, I'm off now to vote now...