Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Julia Gillard, Australia's New Prime Minister

With startling speed the Labor Party has removed its previous leader, Kevin Rudd, replacing him with Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Politics being what they are - all about pragmatism and winning elections - it's not surprising that they decided he had to go but it is an extraordinary event in Australian political history for several reasons.

Firstly, Prime Ministers do not usually get dumped in their first term. It's an indication of how far Rudd was perceived to be out of favour with the electorate. It's easy to see why his popularity had declined. He came to office promising reforms and, in fact, had delivered on many. For example under his government Australia weathered the financial crisis far better than most other countries. However he fell down on communicating his government's achievements to the voters. Then he failed to deliver on two big issues - the emissions trading scheme and the very emotive issue of taking Japan to the International Court over its so-called scientific whaling program. Added to this the badly planned home insulation program, which was good in theory but, due to inadequate preparation and supervision, resulted in a number of deaths, the rise in illegal asylum seekers (for reasons quite external to Australia and out of the government's control), the mining super tax and a perception (fostered by his wordy, obscure use of language) that the Prime Minister was unwilling to compromise all led to a questioning of his leadership. With the increasing popularity of Tony Abbott in the news polls, the ALP power brokers decided they had to act. The interesting question, from an outside observer's perspective, is if Rudd had shown some of the emotion and sincerity he did in his final press conference would he have retained the support of the party and the electorate? We'll never know, of course, and now we have a new Prime Minister.

This change is an historic one. In Julia Gillard, Australia has its first female Prime Minister. Since Australia was one of the first places to grant women the vote it is astonishing that we have had so few women in political positions of power. There have been a few women State Premiers and the Australian Democrats had several women as their party leader but these have the exceptions. Until the appointment of Quentin Bryce we had never had a female governor General either. There have been women Cabinet ministers in both major parties but they have been a definite minority (although there has been a slow increase in both those and the number of women entering Parliament). With the last election both parties opted for women as their deputy leaders, in itself a step forward, although now we have a female Prime Minister with a male deputy, which makes for a nice change.

Alarmingly, I notice that there is already the usual silly focus on appearance in some of the media. In Friday's edition of The West Australian a photo of the Governor General, Quentin Bryce, and newly appointed Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, sitting opposite one another after her swearing in had the fatuous headline 'Australia's top women get off on the right foot'. Reporter Yuko Narushima followed this by 'Two pairs of black stilettos pointed towards each other under the desk where history was made at Government House in Canberra yesterday'. If it had been two men facing each other would we have told 'two pairs of shiny black dress shoes pointed towards each other'? I don't think so.

As a woman I am delighted to see an intelligent, competent woman as our Prime Minister. I do not care if she has red or blonde hair, whether she wears stilettos or flat shoes, whether she has or doesn't have children. In short, while I'm pleased to see the majority group in the population finally in positions of authority - and think it long overdue - what I want from my Prime Minister is the ability to do the job. Let's hope this silly obsession with a woman's appearance disappears and instead the media focusses instead on what is important whatever the gender of the leader of the country.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What was he thinking?

Posting has been pretty sparse, hasn't it, but I do have a good excuse in surgery with the inevitable messed with brain post anaesthetic. But it's all good now.

At least I had an excuse unlike Representative Joe L. Barton, who, during the US Senate hearing into the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, apologised to BP, describing the establishment of the $20 billion BP liability fund as a 'shakedown' to the horror of all including his own party. He has back pedalled but really - what was he thinking? Go here for more details.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bring Peter Watts to AussieCon

Cat Sparks has set up a campaign to bring Peter Watts to AussieCon in September. Her post is reposted below with her permission.

the bring peter watts to aussiecon campaign

Many of you will be familiar with this story already but for anyone who isn’t:

Last year Canadian marine biologist and science fiction writer Dr Peter Watts underwent a terrifying ordeal at the hands of over zealous border crossing guards in Port Huron, USA. While leaving the United States on December 8, 2009, he was subject to an exit search, then beaten, maced and arrested when he tried to find out what was going on.

A full account of the incident and what was to follow is up on Tor.com

Or hear him interviewed about his experience, podcast at Starship Sofa

Even though all he did was fail to promptly comply with border guards’ instructions, he narrowly escaped a prison sentence and is now officially a convicted felon and therefore no longer able to attend US conventions.

Peter’s short story ‘The Island’ from The New Space Opera 2, edited by Gardner Dozois and our own Jonathan Strahan has been nominated for a Hugo award. What with Worldcon being on Aussie soil in September this year, I thought it would be a good thing if he could fly out here for both the Hugos and Aussiecon itself.

To that end, with Peter’s permission, I’m conducting a raffle to raise money for his airfare and accommodation. First prize is tuckerisation in his next novel State of Grace. Peter says:

“make sure that all entrants realize that their namesakes will most likely come to a really painful and unpleasant end. And they may not be especially cuddly as characters before then…”

The Aussiecon committee has very kindly donated Peter’s membership. The rest is up to us. If you think the guy deserves a break, how about taking part in the raffle or making a donation?

I’ve never met Peter face-to-face but we’ve been email buddies since I sent him a gushing fan letter after reading his first novel Starfish some years back.

He is well known as an excellent value panelist and would be a fantastic asset to the ‘hard science fiction’ end of the con’s literary stream. He has also consented to participating in Dudcon where he will hand out the Ditmars and generally partake of other silliness as required.

To participate in the State of Grace tuckerisation raffle send AUS $10 via Paypal to watts2aussiecon@gmail.com

Email me privately if you’d prefer to buy a ticket via some other medium: cat at catsparks.net

If you’re not into tuckerisation but would like to sling a few bucks into the pot, that’s awesome too.

Any funds raised surplus to requirements will be donated to a reputable charity of Peter’s choice.

Feel free to re-post this message on your own blog if you consider this to be a worthy project

Thank you!