Ditch the ALP? Viewpoint from an ex-member

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Photographer: Mark Graham/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Boy…the ALP is copping plenty of flack on twitter because it decided ultimately to vote for the Coalition tax package.  “I’ll never vote for the ALP again!” “They just handed Morrison the next election!”

When I read these tweets I find myself in a common predicament.  On one hand I agree with the sentiment that the ALP could have at least abstain by not attending the division.  On the other hand I also see the realpolitik facing the ALP.  The government killed two stones with a bird (that is my animal-friendly version of that saying)  it got the whole package through and caused damaged to the ALP and Albanese.

I have been an ALP member from 1983 to 2001.  The Tampa thing made me decide not to renew my membership.  But I wasn’t just disillusioned with Labor.  I was disillusioned with Australia as a whole, who I thought left xenophobia behind.  But with that it also came a reality about politics, and that what we would like is often not how a party can win an election.  As I was trying to explain this on twitter I realised that putting forward such a view on Twitter can be fraught with danger as it can be misinterpreted. So for what is worth this is my view.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t

The ALP faced this dilemma after it was clear that the legislation would have passed with crossbench support. Waive it through and get the anger from left voters.  Vote against it and risk (in their view) to give the government a big stick they could have used for the next few years – this aided and abetted by the Murdoch media and as a consequence other media as well.  It is an unfortunate fact that despite I believe that the ABC is not anti Labor (despite some on Twitter that are absolutely convinced on this, but that’s another story) I can envisage Leigh Sales in a couple of years saying ‘…but you did vote against low income earners getting a tax cut’.  Which brings me to the next point.

ALP should explain it better…really?

Some tweeps have stated that the ALP could have voted against it and then explain why to the voters.  Really? What have these people been during the last elections?  The reality is that there is a substantial portion of the Australian media that are hostile to the ALP no matter what.  Not only the Murdoch media.  This channel 9 example labelling Albanese ‘unedifying’ for what it was a mild rebuke shows how difficult selling a message can be.  Especially from opposition.  Add the blatant lies such as the death tax then I can see why the ALP got cold feed at the first hurdle.

Why all this anger now?  The ALP has been ‘disappointing’ lefties for ages.

One thing I was surprised was why of all a sudden this ‘I am done with the ALP’ comment as the ALP was this progressive socialist party.  Lenin himself said in 1913 that “The Australian Labour Party does not even call itself a socialist party. Actually it is a liberal-bourgeois party”.

In the 1980s, when the Hawke government was enjoying its popularity the cartoonist Kaz Cooke did a cartoon with her character ‘Hermoine the Modern Girl’ wearing a T-Shirt stating ‘Join the ALP and develop your sense of irony’.

The ‘three mines policy’ in 1984 which allowed three uranium mines in Australia was a compromise that caused a huge disquiet among the rank and file (and probably was one of the issues that sparked the creation of the Greens federally).  Here in Victoria I was a member of the ALP Conservation Policy Committee and there were furious battles between the left and the government on allowing logging in native forests.

And even with Julia Gillard that has been hailed as a lefty saint.  What was one of the first things she did when she became PM after deposing Rudd? She went up to Darwin with western Sydney MP David Bradbury in tow on a naval patrol boat on a training exercise clearly pitching to voters in outer metropolitan electorates such as Mr Bradbury’s Lindsay, who were perceived to be concerned about rising boat arrivals.

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Personally, I was surprised that there were so many people outraged about a tax,  and not about the policy that still allows TPVs which don’t allow for family reunification and mandatory detention and offshore processing.  These policies were there at the last elections.

The ALP will not carry all our hopes of a progressive Australia – because it needs votes of those who aren’t.

There seems to be still a number of left voters that hope that the ALP will execute all their wishes for a progressive Australia.  But the ALP won’t do this.  This is especially the case after the ALP brought forward a mildly progressive redistributive program at the elections that almost everyone thought they would win and didn’t.  I cannot blame the ALP for thinking that doing so it will condemn them to more years in opposition.

There are some that think the opposite,  That not having an ‘alternative’ by not giving a ‘choice’ this will ensure that the ALP won’t win the next elections.  But how so?  All the talk last election campaign was about Labor policies and how they would affect retirees.  We can blame the ALP for not being able to explain it, but the blame is not all to them.  Stories of retirees who were crying poor on TV, and yes, even on the ABC didn’t give much scope for informative and nuanced debate.  We political tweeps that love politics may get that but many voters don’t.  Their priorities are somewhere else and with good reasons.  How would a continual message that ‘The ALP didn’t want you to get tax cuts’ would play?  Would they  think “Oh in 2029-2030, someone currently earning around $138,000 a year will see the biggest fall in the average tax rate they pay (2.1 per cent), while someone on just less than the full-time minimum wage earning around $37,000 a year will see their average tax rate rise by 5 per cent?” I don’t think so. People are busy with their children, their parents, their work.  Many don’t have the time or energy to get into the nitty-gritty of tax policies.  What’s important is what it is in their pay packet and what bills they need to pay.  Many may decide how to vote in the last few weeks of an electoral campaign.  Any so call ‘unedifying’ behaviour by Albanese won’t really register much three years form an election.  A message in the next three years that ‘Labor voted against your tax cuts’ might.

Labor apologist? No. Just reality.

What I wrote may sound like I am a Labor apologist.  I don’t think I am.  I still think the ALP should have abstained from the vote in the Senate.  What I wrote above that voters may not care what happens three years from an election may also have applied here, but I can also see how the ALP may think at the moment after losing an election they were expected to win.

And the reality is that we may vote for the Greens (as I did in the Senate) which have great lefty policies and may vote mostly with their conscience.  But while we may huff and puff about ‘never voting ALP anymore’ the reality is also that next election the only party that can remove Morrison is the ALP.  Some may think who cares they are the same, which is patently not true  – there are differences. But only the ALP can form an alternative government which on balance is better than a conservative Morrison one.  That’s the reality.

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Italy and the EU – a ‘tragedia annunciata’

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Photo: Luis Diaz Devesa

Overall it was a good European election for pro-Europe parties.  The populist bloc in the European Parliament can count on no more than a quarter of its 751 seats, a goal that the head of the Italian Lega, Mateo Salvini himself set for the grouping that is still in the process of being formed – and now counts less than 60 deputies.

Apart from France (and Hungary that is not a major European power), Italy was the only country to elect a majority of a populist party (the UK Brexit Party is a different case).  The Lega does not necessarily want to get out of the EU, no ‘Italexit’ at this stage, but certainly wants an Europe where national interests override a European one as a whole.

There is now a possibility that Italy will be excluded and isolated from the EU’s top jobs.  And consequently will lose even more influence.  How a foundation European Community euro enthusiastic nation was turned into an euroskeptic one and on the outer could be described in Italian as a ‘tragedia annunciata’ that is an announced tragedy.

As an Australian citizen (who does not have double citizenship) I observe European and Italian politics from a distance.  But I always believed that the European project was a good idea.  But looking at how Italy has been treated I can understand why Italians started to be wary of the EU.

The Euro

One reason is the Euro. There was no popular referendum or plebiscite. It was all planned in Bruxelles especially from the then French and German governments.  Italy sort of followed and many Italians suffered from its introduction and perceive it, right or wrongly, as a  Deutsche Mark in disguise.  While many will attribute the blame to Italy’s poor economic planning, this doesn’t mean that Italians who have lost wealth or jobs may not be angry at how the introduction of the euro has disadvantaged them by taking away measures that helped Italy’s economy when it had its own currency.

2011 military intervention in Libya

While the 2011 military intervention in Lybia was a NATO initiative, many Italians believe that it was initiated by France after consulting with the UK and the USA. Not with Italy who shares a maritime border with it.  This decision is perceived to be one that the French initiated because they saw gains in getting its oil when Italy six months before the raids signed had already contracts worth billions with Lybia. But after the French started bombing, Italy had to follow because of its NATO commitments but felt undermined.

This was the start of Italy turning against Europe.  It understood that a founding EU member could be hit in its interests by a fellow EU member and the rest of the EU standing by.

Subsequent migration crisis

But worse was to come.  The war in Lybia created a power vacuum and political instability that allowed an uncontrolled migration stream to Italy.  The distance between the Libyan coast and the Italian island of Lampedusa is only 300Km.

While Italy had to deal with waves of migrants from Italy, the other EU members did little to help. In fact, in certain cases, they closed their borders with Italy.  In 2017 Austria closed its borders with Italy (which is not in the EU Schengen Agreement) to stop migrants and refugees from entering.  While France in 2018 entered Italian territory to return migrants that entered Europe from Italy.

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Basically Italians felt that re rest of EU washed its hands and left the problem solely to Italy to solve.  Adding to this there have been volunteers ships from other European countries travelling the Mediterranean between Italy and Africa searching for migrants, picking them up and taking them to the closest Italian port.

Merkel welcomed one million Syrian refugees, and she deserved all the credit she got. But many Italians were not enthused by the fact that while Merkel was getting accolades, she was also able to stop migrants coming from the Balkan region by paying Erdogan in Turkey 6 billion Euros to keep its Syrian and other Middle East refugees.  This was Germany money, but also European money.  Italians saw this as the EU favouring its strongest member while leaving countries such as Italy and Greece to fend for themselves.

Italexit? No it won’t happen

Many anti EU proponents would be delighted if Italy was to exit from the European Union. Even if Italy’s economy is in the doldrums it is still the fourth largest in the EU (and will go to third when the UK leaves).  The exit of a foundation member would be a very hard blow to the EU.  But it won’t happen,

Even if Italy is now on the outer,  getting out from the Union would be disastrous for a faltering economy.  Despite everything the damage which would be caused by an Italexit would be much greater than the issues faced by Italy by staying.

Even in his press conference after the European Elections Matteo Salvini talked about reforming the EU from a body looking after the banks to one looking after the people.  Whether that will be achieved is to be seen, but there was no mention of leaving.

So Italians will do what they have done for eons.  Will complain and go on with their lives the best they can.  But ironically the more Italians get angry with the EU and vote for populist parties, the more Italy will be distanced from the EU.

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How did the A-League vote?

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison heads a soccer ball at Manson Park in Bellevue Heights near Adelaide, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

So the election has been run and won.  Some football fans either will feel gutted that their team, which was the favourite, made the opportunity to win slip away, while others will be elated that their team won despite all the pundits were predicting otherwise.

But if we look at the A-League how the electoral pattern looks?  Here is a totally unscientific analysis.  I am a card carrying lefty and yes, my biases will show in this post (What the heck, this is my blog, I am no journalist and I am not getting paid for this.)

I will be going from north to south following the coast.

Brisbane Roar

Brisbane Roar represents the whole metropolitan area of Brisbane.  Let’s start with Suncorp Stadium which is in the seat of Brisbane.  This must be the only seat representing a city centre which is not left, being held by Trevor Evans by the Liberals.  The ALP which got a small swing of less than 1%.

Lilley was a disaster for the ALP with a primary swing against it of -7.73%.  Not sure whether this seat, which was held by the now retired Wayne Swan will be retained by Labor.  Despite GetUp Dutton held Dickson easily (in fact got a sizeable swing towards him)

Fortunately one of my favourite MPs, Terri Butler held Griffith comfortably. If I had to move to Brisbane I want to live in Bulimba.

Ryan was also retained by the ALP comfortably.  While Moreton has a 2% swing against the ALP, but it was retained by Labor.

The map below shows the swings.  Red towards the ALP and Blue towards the Coalition.

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From Nathan Ruser @Nrg8000

Newcastle Jets

The seat of Newcastle remained rock solid ALP where 64% 2PP went to Labor.  Paterson had a strong swing against the ALP of more than 5% (I suspect on UAP preferences) but was able to retain it.  Big swing against the ALP in Shortland as well (again here UAP polled about 4% that would have helped the Coalition, but retained by the ALP.

The unmitigated disaster for the Labor Party was Hunter, the seat held by Joel Fitzgibbon. The ALP had a 2PP -9.71% swing against it and the One Nation had a whopping +21.66 swing towards it with the candidate, Stuart Bond, looking like an MMA fighter.r0_0_2223_1381_w1200_h678_fmax

Central Coast Mariners

Gosford is in the seat of Robertson.  The Liberals retained this seat comfortably with a swing towards it of 3.35%

Sydney FC

Again Sydney is a big place.  So we can start where the Sydney FC offices and Allianz Stadium are in Moore Park which is in the seat of Wentworth.   This of course was Malcolm Turnbull’s seat that was won by the independent Kerryn Phelphs in a by-election but now won back by the Liberals with Dave Sharma.

Apart from that inner Sydney has remained ALP as expected. Sydney, Grayndler (Albo’s seat) stayed with the ALP.  While North Sydney stayed Liberal.  The big shock was Warringah where Tony Abbott lost to the independent Zali Steggall.

Western Sydney Wanderers

Western Sydney has been seen for some time as the place where the elections get won and lost.  Where the battlers are (now called quiet Australians apparently).

In the seat where the stadium is, Parramatta, The ALP retained the seat albeit with a 2PP swing against it of -4.22%.

Then I get into trouble to identify where  ‘Western Sydney; starts or finish.  Mitchell was retained by the Liberals easily. Blaxland stayed Labor.  McMahon held by Chris Bowen stayed Labor but had a substantial swing away of -5.51%.  Disconcertingly One Nation got a swing towards it of 8.22%

Macarthur FC

It is difficult to pinpoint the catchment area of these new teams.  When I hear its proponents it seems to be a bit of a moveable feast.  The new A League team of Macarthur FC is based in Campbelltown which is in the seat of …surprise! Macarthur which was retained by Labor.  Werriwa to the north was also retained by the ALP, while Hume and Hughes by the Liberals. Cunningham stayed with Labor.

Cook, well, of course, is our Prime Minister’s seat.

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The story of this election, especially in Sydney is even the wealthy north Sydney suburb swung to the ALP, while the west and the far south to the Coalition.

Sydney2019From Nathan Ruser @Nrg8000

Melbourne Victory

Again Melbourne is a big place.  But if we take AAMI Park and Marvel Stadium as a base it is the City of Melbourne which is in the seat of Melbourne which was easily retained by Adam Bandt of the Greens.

Melbourne City

Melbourne City is based in the northern suburb of Bundoora which is split into three seats, Cooper, Jagajaga and Scullin. All three comfortably retained by the ALP.

Western United

This new team in the A-League has been dubbed ‘Tarneit United’ because of its plans to build a new stadium in what is now an empty paddock in Tarneit west of Melbourne.

Tarneit is in Lalor, a safe Labor seat.  Although this time it got a 2PP -1.89% against it, probably because Clive Palmer’s UAP got +4.71.

Western United sees its footprint all alongside the west of Melbourne, from the sea to the mountains.  It’s a pretty big area.

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Gorton is another safe Labor seat but also got a swing against it of 2PP -3.13% But the primaries for the sitting member Brendan O’Connor crashed to a -11.25% again probably because votes went to Clive again (+7.72%) and the independent Jarrod Bingham who got a big swing of +9.47 who is a catcher and relocator of local snakes.  Corio is also a safe seat and got a small swing towards it. Similar for Ballarat.  Corangamite was one of the most marginal seats in Australia and was one of the few (if any?) Labor gains, although it will remain extremely marginal.

One feature of safe ALP seats like Lalor, Gorton and Corio is that Clive Palmer’s UAP party got substantial swings between 4 to 5%, what’s happening there!

In any case, Melbourne has remained fairly Labor which at least was a bit of a consolation for me after the elections’ result.

MelbourneElections2019From Nathan Ruser @Nrg8000

Adelaide United

Cooper Stadium is commonly known as Hindmarsh Stadium because of its location and is located in the seat of Adelaide which was easily retained by Labor, but the Greens got a significant primary swing of more than 5%.

Hindmarsh stayed with the ALP. Sturt remained Liberal, Making stayed ALP.  Boothby stayed Liberal but with its redistribution which gained Glenelg probably got more left votes as it swung to the ALP and Greens.

Overall it seems that Adelaide maintained pretty much the status quo.  There swings to the ALP in seats it already held.

Adelaide
From Nathan Ruser @Nrg8000

Perth Glory

HBF Park is situated in the seat of Perth which is a safe ALP seat.  But overall Perth again shows some traditional Liberal strongholds swinging towards Labor, but not enough to make a difference.

Curtin got a big 2PP swing to the ALP of +5.51% but it remains a safe Liberal seat.  This could be because the Julie Bishop wasn’t running and the voters for the independent Louise Stewart must have given their preferences mainly to Labor.

Stirling remains Liberal, as did Swan (pity that Beazley’s daughter, where her father used to hold this seat hardly made any shift) I am personally pleased that Anne Aly retained Cowan for the ALP, considering all the crap islamophobes threw at her in the past three years.  But is a bit of a bittersweet result as while her 2PP went down by only -0.14%  the islamophobic One Nation primary vote went up by not an insignificant +5.54%

Perth

From Nathan Ruser @Nrg8000

 

Not all areas are represented in this football democracy

One thing that comes out of this analysis is that big important area like Wollongong, Northern Queensland, Tasmania, and of course where our parliament is located, Canberra are not represented. But that is another story.

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Canberra United logo by Michael Taylor

 

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A very Australian election result

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Last Saturday I spent the day planting swamp gums and manna gums in the Koala Reserve in Philip Island  to increase their habitat and in an attempt (perhaps futile) to reduce my carbon footprint.

After a hard day of planting our group went to the North Pier pub in Cowes for a meal.  We arrived at ten minutes to six.  The place is huge and was packed.  By the time we got our meals was about ten past six.  We chatted and we waited for dessert.  I was starting to check my phone for early results.  No one else in my group did.  And neither did the 200 patrons or so in that hotel.  The TVs had the Geelong vs Western Bulldogs game on and a Rugby League game I didn’t know who was playing.

Does anyone want to know who was winning?  There were young families, couples on dates, retirees with their parmas and red wine.  It seemed that no one could not care less.  I realised what a politics tragic I was on my twitter, where every poll was eagerly awaited (not anymore probably now) and every raised eyebrow of an ABC journalist invites dozens of comments of anti Labor ABC bias.

I heard the results on the radio on my way home in the car, which made for a depressing car trip.

So now of course there is the usual post election analysis. Labor was too left, the mainstream media was was totally against the ALP, the agenda was too ambitious, no one liked Shorten etc. etc.

So what do I think?

The ALP was good in attack but it left the defence too open

As people here would know I love foottball (aka soccer) and to use a football analogy the players of the ALP team were good, but the tactics were naive.

As an ALP supporter I thought that they had the better team, but they were outnumbered in the sense that they had a very overtly hostile media in the form of News Ltd. and the other media didn’t really challenge this narrative in the fear of looking biased.

So the ALP went to the attack with big policies, thinking that scoring goals were all they had to do. The franking credits, electric cars etc.  This meant that the opposition was able to counterattack easily and they scored the goals instead.

As many said this was similar to 1993 when Hewson went to an election that the Liberals were confident to win so they could put forward a bold agenda and they lost.

Australians haven’t become rabid racist right wingers.

There has been lots of nonsense on twitter that because of the result Australians are some horrible species of people.

This sort of stuff makes me want to disown my side of politics.  I think Australians have a gut feel of who could govern OK for the next three years and the majority thought that this time the status quo was a better options.  Winning government from opposition in Australia is always hard.  Since the Chiefly Labor government in 1946 only three Labor opposition leaders achieved it: Whitlam, Hawke and Rudd.

I know that swinging voters can change quickly, and mostly not because of ideological reasons.  Howard was seen as unassailable, hailed as someone who would govern into the future with his battlers and not only he lost an election but his seat too.

Even in Queensland, this state so maligned by us lefties, in 2012 Campbell Newman won won 78 seats against only seven for Labor. Commentators were thinking that with such massive majority Labor would never see government for decades.  In 2015 Annastacia Palaszczuk formed government.

And lets also stop asserting ‘Australians this…Australians that…’ like every single Australian supported the winning party.  In any elections most voters are split in the middle.  As I write the 2 party preferred vote is 50.92% for the Coalition and 49.08% for Labor. That means that the difference is 1.84%, hardly a figure to state that Australians were enthusiastically behind Scott Morrison and his government.

A very Australian result

Reading twitter I see a lot of ‘I despair of what Australia has become’.  I think that Australia has become nothing.  The result was a very standard typical one.  Where voters were unsure of the ALP financial plans and went for the devil they knew.

This has happened before for both parties.  In 1977 the Liberals ran advertisements with the slogan “fistful of dollars”   And in 1987 the ALP ran the “Whinging Wendy” scare campaign.

So nothing new.  The result was very much based on the hip pocket nerve.  Something both parties have exploited and most likely will continue to do so.

Lesson one.  Don’t rely on auspol twitter, or newspaper polls.

Again twitter is full of speculation and opinions.  I am hesitant to explain my views there.  My frustration with left Twitter (which are the people who are on my side) was that many were in a bubble.  Even if Newspoll constantly had Labor ahead, even a small shift away from the ALP was met with ‘bullshit’ or ‘it’s Murdoch poll’ etc.  The absolute refusal to think that the coalition may win.  I felt irritated by these comments.  Firstly because even if they were from my side I found them arrogant.  But also because (and that may be because of my age) I’ve seen a few ‘dead cert’ elections that were lost. Hewson in 1993 or  Beazley in 2001 (and the trend away from the ALP started before Tampa).  And I fear that the bubble still remains.  Especially regarding the next ALP leader.

What next?

Much soul searching will be done by Labor over the next few months.  Comments say that it has moved too much to the left.  Ans this was echoed by some MPs like Fitzgibbon that should know better.  Last time the ALP had a leader that said things like that was Mark Latham and we have all seen how that has turned out.

Trying to occupy the areas now covered by the Coalition is a sure way to stay in opposition.  Why vote for a copy when they can have the real thing?

Certainly, the ALP needs to go out there and canvas ideas for new policies.  I haven’t been an ALP member for 19 years now, but I remember the ALP had a great network of branches that could organised policy forums open to everyone where ideas could be raised and then recorded to form policy.

Another area that the ALP should do better is in regional areas.  While normally regional voters do not vote ALP this does not mean that they should be disregarded.  I think this is important for three reasons.  Firstly because regional Australia is vital for the country full stop.  Second because even if the ALP may not get votes in the country, looking after regional areas resonate elsewhere, especially in the outer suburban areas. And thirdly becaue being seen to care about regional Australia may (and I stress may) suppress some of the right wing small parties protest vote.

Hawke had a great minister of primary industry in John Kerin. Landcare was a watershed reform where environmental conservation and agricultural sustainability went hand in hand.

The problems are there.The ALP needs to take the initiative

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The ALP used to have ‘Country conferences’. Not sure if they still exist.  But they again would be a really useful resource to hear what people in regional Australia needs and create appropriate policy.

Who’s next?

Talking about auspol left twitter the debate is who should be the next leader.  I am very hesitant to put my views there, because twitter is an awful place to put forward and argument.  So let’s put the cards on the table.  My favourite ALP politician, by far, is Penny Wong, and I believe it would be great for her to be the leader of the opposition.  But I think that she would not be the best leader of the ALP after a loss.  Not because she is gay or an Asian but because we need someone who can come across easily on the media, and I don’t think Wong is there as yet.  The other is Jim Chalmers.  Tick the boxes. Good performer, young, and a Queenslander to boot.  But I really haven’t heard much about him.  And I am sure that if you go to a shopping centre many will say ‘Jim who?’  He is certainly someone for the future.  But not now.

The best is Albanese.  Not because of anything brilliant he has done but he is well known and as far as I know fairly well liked.  He has developed his skills on TV.

I can hear the howls of protest.  “We need a leader with ideas for the country, not someone who is on TV!”.  I bet if we go back to the shopping centre I mentioned before Albo would be the most recognised, and as far as I know well liked.  I know the purist may baulk at this, but we live in this world.

To conclude…

Many Liberals still give Sam Dastyari a hard time, despite he acknowledged that his downfall was totally his fault.  And I think he’s been on the money about the election result:

 

There isn’t a conspiracy. There just isn’t.

The Labor Party lost the election because the Australian public didn’t like our policies and we ran a poor campaign.

It’s that simple.

So let’s start from that and let’s go forward.

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We Need to Talk About the A-League

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Sam Kerr by Jamie Smed https://flic.kr/p/2dEjCRA

We all heard of Samantha Kerr but I suspect not many of us football fans may have heard of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr who stated the famous epigram: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” which translate to “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. If there is one statement characterising what has happened with the FFA in the last few weeks that would pretty much encapsulate it.

Fans that started following football after the advent to the A-League, or after Australia finally started to qualify for the World Cup may be bewildered by what Richard Hinds describes as the ‘Byzantine politics and questionable decision making’ of the FFA.  Some older fans just nod and mumble ‘we know…we know” as we remember the days of Labozzetta and Knopp in the old Soccer Australia.

Football in Australia is in a unique position.  Everyone can see that it is THE global sport but it is not the most popular here.  This creates its own tensions.  There has been a spate of reports about how to deal with this problem child and unleash its potential.

My opinion is that this unique position is what has been hampering its progress for some time.  So if I was going to produce the ‘Tresoldi inquiry into Australian Association Football’ what it would contain?

Institute a reconciliation process

Two very interesting books have come out recently about the history of Association Football in Australia. One was ‘The game that never happened’ by Ian Syson, which detail the struggles soccer had to go through to establish itself as a code in the country against others such as Rugby and Australian Rules.  The other one  was Joe Gorman’s ‘The death and live of Australian Soccer which has a section that deals with the tensions that were created when an influx of migrants came to Australia and in many cases revived soccer but also replaced the predominantly anglo/celtic culture that existed before.

I believe that these tensions, that hark back decades haven’t been resolved, and that football will not progress smoothly until they are.

There are different groups who are discussing how football is located in the Australian sport environment.

Different groups have manoeuvred themselves over the years to grasp control of the sport disregarding others.  The question is, can Australian soccer row the boat together in the same direction?

When I was supporting Carlton SC in the NSL I noticed that there was a hostile attitude from some fans of clubs that originated from NESB  backgrounds.  They saw a club like Carlton as a Trojan horse from the ‘anti-ethnic’ people in Soccer Australia to push their agenda and rejoiced when Carlton disappeared.

In an open system, we need to resolve these scars.  They should not be dismissed, because years of excluding teams which have been created by people who live and breathe football just because they didn’t fit a mainstream ‘Australian’ ideal is hurtful.  But at the same time having this unresolved issue could be toxic in a future open competition.  All football supporters, whether they support a team which was formed with the creation of the A-League, or one built up form the 50’s by European migrants, need to respect each others’ teams and acknowledge their right to play and exist in a new football structure. While the FFA has to openly declare that any lingering ‘old soccer new football’ dictum has to be abandoned and stamped out forever.

Use the ‘Bluestone Lane’ model, not try to be Starbucks

In 2010 ex-AFL footballer Nick Stone moved to New York to work for ANZ.  He noticed that there were no ‘Melbourne style’ cafes.  Cafes that offered the type of coffee we are used in Australia.  He saw a gap in the cafes market. He started ‘Bluestone Lane’ where instead of percolated coffee they served things like piccolo lattes to skinny flat whites together with things like avocado smash – mashed with a touch of feta, and topped with an optional poached egg.

The venture started with one small café in Manhattan in 2013 became a success opening more cafes in New York but also across the USA.

What we see here is that Bluestone Lane has captured a niche that while not as big as the Starbuck at every corner in every USA city is unique, and has been successful.

That could be a model for the A-League.  We don’t need to be the Starbucks of the football codes like the AFL.  We can be the Bluestone Lane, smaller, but successful and offering a product that no one else can offer.  Trying to match the big boys will always be a losing battle in Australia.  Football needs to create its own market space where others would find it difficult to occupy. So how can we do that?

Revisit the PFA’s “5 Pillars” Strategy

Football in Australia has unique advantages that should be utilised.  Back in the dark days of 2002, the PFA put forward a proposal for a new competition called the “Australian Premier League’.  That was made redundant by the advent of the A-League, but there is stuff in there that is relevant today.  One is the ‘5 pillars strategy’ which involves:

  • Quality
  • Atmosphere
  • Community
  • Local brands
  • Visibility

I’ll leave whether the A-League has reached a level of quality to those who are more experts in football than me.  You can only do so much in a very competitive world football environment.  On the issues of atmosphere, community, local brands and visibility are how football in Australia can strategically use its advantages.  While the advent of the A-League has somewhat superceded some of the arguments put forward in the PFA document, some still hold true.  The issue of boutique stadium is currently being raised when it is noticed how much more atmosphere is created when Sydney plays in a venue like Leichhardt Oval.

“It’s promotion and relegation, Jim, but not as we know it”

The big chestnut of Australian football has been the prospect of promotion and relegation in the A-League.

I was unconvinced that it could work in Australia.  But reading arguments for it changed my mind.  The argument that football is after all a pyramid and all the football family should be connected echoes my beliefs in equality and non-discrimination.  But also I came to the conclusion that the only way Australia can reproduce the types of environments which are present in football nations, where kids are introduced to football early is through community teams, and the way these players can achieve is if smaller teams are connected to the top tier.  After all many players from the ‘golden generation’ came from so-called ‘ethnic teams’. That was probably because the culture they grew up in was totally football, like in the country their heritage came from.

However, I do believe that the European model of straight up and down promotion and relegation may not be the most appropriate for Australia for a number of reasons.

The most important one is that we would have to shift from a closed model to an open one, and this needs to be done carefully and gradually.  In many leagues in Europe the promotion and relegation system was established when teams were more or less on a level playing field.  In Australia we have A-League teams which are fully professional and have lots of resources and NPL teams which are semi-professional and don’t have anything like the means of the top tier. That is why there needs to be a process where a promotion and relegation system is more equal.

Advocates of promotion and relegation often mention ‘global standard’ but this standard seems to be achieved by different methods across the world.

The Argentinian model

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One example that Australia could look at is Argentina.  They have a system called Promedios based on the performance over a number of seasons.  Clubs can avoid relegation by having a high coefficient which is calculated by dividing the points achieved in the last four seasons by the number of matches played in the same period.  Teams with the lowest points coefficient at the end of the season are relegated.

Adopting a modified system based on this would be as a way of introducing promotion and relegation in Australia that would initially protect the A-League teams from immediate relegation while still giving the lower teams a shot at it.

Another option, which would be a bit radical is to adopt an ‘Apertura and Clausura’ system.

The A-Aleague and a second division (which would also be subjected to straight promotion and relegation to a lower league) would play each other home and away. At the end the top six teams would play in a final round to eventually reach a grand final.  The bottom six (or whatever) teams would play in playoff rounds with the top 4 teams of the NPL, replacing the current NPL final series.  At the end the top six teams will remain in the A-League and the bottom 4 will remain or be relegated to an NPL.

Going forward

These are some ideas. I am sure there will be better and more experienced heads that can devise a promotion and relegation system that suits the geographical expanse of Australia, the delicate transition from a closed to an open system and having a pyramid that is stable and not prone to topple over.  But as stated before I think we have arrived at a juncture where the benefits an open system in football in Australia will outweigh the risks.

To paraphrase JFK “We choose to have promotion and relegation in Australia not because it is easy, but because it is hard…..because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…”

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Confessions of a Twitter fence sitter

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I usually managed to stay away from twitter stouches.  I am often tempted but the couple of times that I tried to go in hard I came out battered.  I am really bad at twitter wars.

But sometimes being let’s say a bit wishy-washy has not inoculated me from criticism that on twitter I am a fence sitter.  A bit of a ‘run with the hare and hunt with the hounds’ sort of guy.

I sometimes (but rarely get these tweets) like I got one today.

“Guido you sit on so many fences on so many issues I’m surprised your backside isn’t full of splinters.”

How do I react to that?  Well…he’s right and wrong….;)  Just kidding.  But yes.  There can be the impression from Twitter that I may look like someone who agree with both sides.  This impression can be derived from various factors.  Primarily is Twitter itself in the way it is structured tends to disadvantage positions that are not black and white.  Also it is a very bad vehicle to make rational arguments.

The Stajcic sacking – a good example

The tweet above came from the shitstorm that has occurred on SokkahTwitter about the Stajcic sacking.  My position is that:

  • The FFA has fucked up this in a big way
  • If I have to choose between a conspiracy and a stuff up I go for the stuff up every time.

Now this has proven to some people that I don’t take a position on twitter either way.  That’s true. While I think that the FFA handled the Stajcic issue extremely badly I also think that this issue has been used as a vehicle for those that state that EVERYTHING THAT THE FFA IS BAD. Which for me is not a logical position.  The FFA does things badly, and I have said that before and deserve criticism but the fact that it is responsible for every single thing that is bad in Australian football is something I can’t agree with.  What I see is that there is a number of people who are against the FFA, or an axe to grind against them for a variety of reasons that are using this as a great opportunity to give the FFA another kick.  And any journalist who may have the temerity of saying that we may need the whole picture (or even a humble tweeter like yours truly) is immediately labelled as an “FFA stooge”.

The other thing that -at this stage- I don’t agree with is that there is a ‘feminist plot’ to install a female Matildas coach.  I haven’t seen any proof of it and the fact that this was the case apart from some hearsay reported in the media.  This image has been put up on social media as the ‘smoking gun’ but to me it doesn’t prove anything.

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Again any attempt to question this AS A CERTAINTY is seen as being an FFA acolyte.  And the fact that we may not be able to discount this fact entirely (because we can’t) then may be seen as ‘sitting on the fence’.

Retweets

I couldn’t fit the ‘retweets are not endorsements’ in my twitter bio.  But I retweet everything (as long as not racist, xenophobic, misogynist, libellous etc.) even stuff that I disagree with because I think twitter is a great way to exchange ideas.  Again on the Stajcic issue I not only retweeted this controversial Bonita Mersiades article but I paraphrased it by including the twitter handles of the people she was criticising, even if I didn’t agree with it and I agreed more with Lucy Zelic.

Well … if that is fence sitting….guilty as charged!

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Time for football fans to embrace the “S” word.

Words are powerful, and they can carry a lot of emotional impact. Words have meaning, what a word when is used to intend, express or signify? What that word represent, or to stand for? When it is used, what does it refer to? These questions may seem esoteric. They are fundamental to the Philosophy of Language Philosophy of Language but we use these parameters every day unconsciously.

Arguably, one of the most powerful words among the Association Football followers is the word ‘Soccer’.

loi-its-football-not-soccer-tshirt-white

This is an issue in countries such as Australia and the USA where the term ‘football’ is being used for other codes such as gridiron and Australian Rules.

I can’t say when this became an issue. My recollection is that this started around the time when the Crawford Report came out and Association Football pushed the reboot button. I think also that Johnny Warren advocated for this change.

The term was invented in English public schools [1] and it is thought that it was an abbreviation of ‘Association’ as in the early days of codification of the game it was described as “Association Football” So ‘Association’ –> ‘Assoc.’ –> ‘Soccer’.

So at that stage, the word ‘soccer’ had no particular emotional loading. In countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and the United States other codes had usurped the name “football”. In Australia, the situation was similar, with both rugby and Australian rules laying claim to the name. In the United States, it was gridiron.

The word ‘soccer’ can be seen as a template example when an innocuous word becomes emotionally loaded. From being simply a way to differentiate a different code of football, it became (or was perceived to be) a way to marginalise the sport in these countries. I remember reading a letter in The Age when the Football Federation of Australia was formed. The Age at that stage decided to call the round ball code in Australia ‘football’ (something now they have abandoned, calling it soccer again) and one AFL supporters wrote a letter protesting that football should be the preserve of Aussie Rules writing: “remember that whatever you want to call your sport you will always be soccer in this country”.

This was the type of opinion that riled Association Football supporters. The word ‘soccer’ was being used to put the code in its place, and that place was a subservient one to Australian Rules and Rugby League. Added to this was that in most parts of the world the term of the round code is ‘football’, why should Australia be any different? Many Association Football supporters felt that if anything Aussie Rules and Rugby League appropriated something that wasn’t theirs.

football

U/reddripper. (2015, January 26). Football vs Soccer [Map showing use of ‘football’ vs ‘soccer’]. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from https://brilliantmaps.com/football-vs-soccer/

The word became weaponised when the A-League started with the slogan “Old soccer New football” to signify a new era in the sport in Australia. And the successor of Soccer Australia became the Football Federation of Australia.

The football vs soccer debate is still going on. Inevitably if a journalist or even someone writing in social media using soccer will get a rebuke about being football.

My argument is, what about if we use ‘soccer’ powerfully?

Wanting to use ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’ perpetuates disempowerment

For me, the insistence of using football instead of soccer perpetuates the sense of inferiority that Association Football fans have, instead of overcoming it.

As long as we get irritated by a soccerphobe using ‘soccer’, the soccerphobe has the power over Association football fans to rile us. By wanting to eliminate the word soccer we have unwittingly given a weapon to soccerphobe against us.

It is a bit like in the playground. How does a school bully know how to upset their victims? They hone into something they know its powerful. It can be assured that is a bully’s victims asks “Stop calling me fat!” the bully will call the victim fat as much as they can.

By wanting soccer not being used we have given that word a lot of power, a power that really it’s not warranted.

Wanting to use ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’ perpetuates disempowerment

Let’s embrace ‘soccer’

So let’s flip this over. Let’s be proud of the term soccer for Association Football. Don’t allow the anti-soccer people have power by using this word.

Something similar has happened before. For instance, the word wog has now being used by wogs themselves and lost lots of its power as a weapon to offend. Look for instance ‘Wogs out of work’ or ‘Wogboy’ or ‘Superwog’.

 

On a more serious note the word ‘queer’ originally a term used in a derogatory sense by homophobes has now being embraced by some in the LGBTIQ community (that is what the Q stands in the acronym) and has completely changed the meaning. It can be described as a broad umbrella term for anyone who may identify as being either gender, sexually and/or bodily diverse. [2] A word that was used as a weapon against the LGBTIQ community now is used to describe themselves.

So while some football…ehm soccer supporters rile against the S word, I think we should embrace it. By acknowledging it, make it our own we will strip it from any negative connotation and the soccerphobes will lose it as a weapon.

Soccer is ours and refers uniquely to our game. Let the other codes share the word football by themselves.

 

[1]  Syson, I. (2011). Actually Mate, It’s Soccer. [online] The Footy Almanac. Available at: https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/actually-mate-its-soccer/ [Accessed 4 Nov. 2018].

[2]  University of Queensland Student Union (2014) What does LGBTIQ mean?Available at: http://www.uqu.com.au/blog-view/what-does-lgbtiq-mean-29 [Accessed: 4 November 2018].

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