Another world

Hey, we’ve made the mainstream! The Australian media section, via journalist Tim Blair, says the following about webdiary.


“The Sydney Morning Herald’s site, for example, is elegant, easy to negotiate, and carries most of the information contained in the print edition. But scroll down to the bottom right of the SMH website and you’ll find the gateway to Margo Kingston’s otherworldly Web Diary.


Margo, a noted political journalist and author, is allowed absolute freedom in her diary including, it seems, the freedom to run what would pass as her own PR campaign for Pauline Hanson. If you are suddenly struck by the need to hear the One Nation theme song (“a real pub stomp”, according to Margo) it’s just a click away at Margo’s diary. Margo recently described Hanson as “a breath of fresh air”, which shows what can happen to an agile mind when it spends too long in Canberra.


Actually, despite its name, Margo’s diary mainly consists of pieces written by a hardcore regiment of four or five regular reader/contributors, most of whom are obsessed with dairy deregulation. There is a whole archive of dairy deregulation pieces at the site, featuring this style of direct, searing argument:


“So, as with, say, the quantum theory of physics, throughout its evolution economic theory macro and micro was refined in the light of repeated observation, the results of tangible experimentation (unlike in natural science, mostly unintended, indirect and arm’s-length, but sometimes as in the case of Keynes deliberate, direct and even nail-biting), and re-evaluation of models.”

Forget dairies; it’s this diary that needs regulating. Incidentally, does Margo pay her writers? Is she running some kind of online sweatshop? Why didn’t the M1 demonstrators burn her effigy?”


Our Meeja Watch writer Jack Robertson was quick to respond to Tim Blair in the Australian online.


“Dear Tim,


Pretty cheap shot to dismiss Margo’s Web Diary as a ‘PR campaign for Hanson’, mate. You and I both know that she has done more than any journalist in this country to investigate, attempt to understand, and thus expose the emptiness at the heart of One Nation. Where were you when she was getting spat at by right-wing maniacs, physically assaulted by ON mobs, defamed across the country, and even abused by fellow journos for getting – of all things! – too ‘close’ to her subject?


Just where was Tim Blair when Margo was one of the few journalists who bothered to investigate One Nation where it really matters – on the ground in the rural and outer suburban electorates?


Can’t quite figure out why you would want to slag her off in such a self-evidently stupid way, mate. She’s actually, er…one of the more serious, independent and committed journos in this country. Don’t you think so?

Yes, I am one of her contributors. No, I’m not obsessed with dairy dereg. And no, we don’t get paid for our Webdiary contributions. Instead, we get to contribute to public debate without having to toe any editorial or proprietorial line. That’s what we get. Sound good to you, Tim?”


I’ve had my say on the budget online and on radio, so today it’s all yours, and to end, a sorry day idea from Fiona Katauskas – Reconciliation week is next week – and calls for radical action by ABC supporters fromPeter Dyce.


A couple of readers have asked for the figures on the joke funding in what was obviously a bogus innovation statement called “Backing Australia’s Ability” released in January.


Of the $2.9 billion to be spent over five years to merely lessen the rate of decline in research and development funding since the election of the Howard government, a miniscule $86 million will be spent in the whole of next financial year. The Herald’s higher education writer Aban Contractor calculated from the budget papers that:


* of the $736 million to the Australian Research Council, $19 million will be given in 2001/2

*$337 million for project specific infrastructure, $27 million in 2001/2

* $246 million to upgrade research infrastructure, $26 million in 2001/2

* $151 million for 2000 new university places, $14 million in 2001/2


And just to rub the bruised and battered nose of what’s left of our university sector into the government’s contempt, the sector will get a funding increase of 1.7 percent, a real cut given the projected 2 percent inflation rate.


Because we’ve focused on R&D a lot lately, here’s an edited budget press release from the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (if you’re interested in the group, call its executive director Toss Gascoigne on (02) 6257 2891, 0408 704 442).





“The science community welcomed Backing Australia’s Ability, but as a first step, the beginning of a process,” Dr David Denham said. “It was a partial solution to the issue of how Australia should invest in our national future.


“This Budget needed to deal with the outstanding issues, like the funding of our university system and CSIRO. At first glance, the Budget has failed to do so.


“Science and research are too important to be decided in the hurly-burly of daily politics. We face the constant danger of the important issues being swamped by urgent but less important matters.”


Dr Denham said that Australia is well below the average OECD investment in R&D, and trending downwards.


“The most dismaying fact is the gap is growing larger every day. Other countries see where the future is – why can’t Australia?” he said. “We will pay a heavy national price if we continue to neglect science, research and higher education.”


Dr Denham said science groups estimated Australia needs to invest an extra $13 billion over the next five years to reach the OECD average. The $13 billion would be split almost equally between the Federal Government, and industry and the State Governments.


The average spend in this area by the world’s leading economies is just over two percent of GDP, where Australia is currently spending about 1.5 per cent. It is measured by GERD (Gross Expenditure on R&D) as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).


“To reach this target, the Federal Government would have to make an announcement of the size of Backing Australia’s Ability ($2.9 billion) every year for the next four years,” he said. It would take a conscious effort to change national priorities if Australia wants to become a competitive modern economy.


“It will require a shift of national resources into areas that will pay the best dividends for Australia. Australians need to agree, as a nation, that this is where our future lies.


“The low Aussie dollar, the steady drain of our best talent overseas, our slide down international rankings – to a significant extent, all of these can be blamed at Australia’s failure to recognise the world has changed.”






Well done on being the sole voice pointing out the smoke and mirrors of Costello’s latest budget. All the big headline grabbing items, eg $1.7 billion for this or that over four years, only have miniscule amounts for the next financial year.


As a public servant of 9 years, the usual operation for new money is that it is equally divided up over the number of years. At our post budget briefing today, I asked if these generous amount for future expenditure could be cut and the answer was a definite yes.


So the stage is set for the next budget to cut all these programmes back if the Liberals get back in office. Or for the Labour to try and find the funds for the programmes as they start to blow out the bottom line. I’d like to see a consolidated breakdown by financial year of the items announced in the budget.


Another point is that not all the money announced is new money, but reordering of priorities.


On the media, I wonder to what extent you feel you are tilting at windmills. (MARGO: That’s exactly what I do.) I really enjoyed your comments on the media and the need for diverse ownership (MARGO: They’re in Webdiary MAy 21 – I’m saving up most of your comments on this till tomorrow.)


I’d like to raise a different point, and that is the depressing irrelevance of the quality press. I have a friend who works for Media Monitors. Like me, before getting his job there he would have looked at a Daily Telegraphabout six times in his life. Now it is his bible. The stories that make the news are not those covered by the Herald, except in rare circumstances, or those covered by TV, but those stories run by the Tele. The line that is run by the Tele is picked up by Alan Jones and his ilk which in turn is picked up by TV. My friend’s view was that TV put the story to bed but rarely kept the story going or introduced new material. Depressing isn’t it?


But perhaps the influence of the quality press is more subtle. The bankrupt solicitors who continued to practice but paid no tax was a story broken by the Herald. It was taken up by other papers later. So you influence the agenda, but don’t get the credit.


LINDA PETRIE in Capalaba, Queensland


This Prime Minister is more divisive than any other I can recall in my 53 years.


I am a disability support pensioner only 2 years off the aged pension, but I am outraged at the assumption that self-funded retirees have contributed to the ‘building of our nation’ while all other types of pensioners have not. This is classism at its worst.


In my active working 28 years of adult life I owned a nursing home employing 70 people for nine years.Virtually every single day of the balance of the 19 years of my working life I was employed in a variety of highly responsible jobs and paying tax nonstop before being thrown on to the scrap heap of humanity.


Since then I have worked as a volunteer for my community while continuing to look for work.


How dare this pompous man arrogantly engage in such inaccurate and destructive value judgements to execute the personal political policy agendas of an elitist and out-of-touch few!


S’all I can stand, I can’t stand no more.




I listened to your views on the budget on Late Night Live and absolutely agree with you. It is indeed highway robbery when a powerful body like the Government uses its muscle to take from the people over many years (and continue to take from ordinary people) and then give these takings to the people who can afford not to need them.


I am also concerned at the way money is been spent on education – one of the most important aspects of nation building next to family enrichment. By this I mean if we look around at the nature of family situations we find devastation all around – broken homes – drugs – homeless kids – violence.


We need a Government to work for the people. This is a long time coming – and we need the media to pursue that line of philosophical thought – what does it mean to work for the people?





The plight of one group of self-funded retirees – permanent invalidity pensioners – has, if anything, worsened as a consequence of Tuesday’s budget.


Two factors make life extremely difficult. The first is their very high medical costs. A huge wallop of income goes on pharmaceuticals, prostheses, vital occupational therapy items like grab rails for the toilet and shower or bath (to add insult to injury, the latter are ruled inadmissible for rebate by the Tax Office, are no longer subject to sales tax exemption and have full GST applied) and all bar bulk-billed medical visits.


The second is the cost of feeding, clothing, sheltering and educating often very young families. Invalidity retirees themselves may be quite young, albeit with reduced life expectancy. Their kids bear a very unlovely financial and emotional brunt. Spouses are often job-disadvantaged because they are single-handedly caring for partners and/or kids. Overwhelmingly they are ineligible for caring assistance.


As well, invalidity retirees usually find themselves with substantial fortnightly PAYE income tax obligations. A pension plus any kind of combined spouse income altogether totalling $48,880 wipes out any kind of Centalink medical assistance. A modest pension plus a very small spouse paypacket will easily do this and was at the crux of the “grey power” senior’s card push.


Medical costs, no matter how vast, don’t affect income assessment, although they may be partially rebated after spending thresholds have been reached. A spouse who may be trying to juggle care and work with a prudent eye to a future which may well involve the premature death of an invalid partner, can forget either a decent career or any kind of assistance. Many invalid pensioners will never live long enough to get within cooee of a senior’s card, which must be contributing to considerable savings. Let’s hope the money markets are happy with such rectitude.


The federal government has very good excuses for letting invalidity retirees, every one of whom is a fully fledged “self-funded retiree”, fall through the cracks on Tuesday night. The reasons are similar to those used for kicking around aged and other Commonwealth pensioners. The latter once didn’t count because government members felt no affinity with them and, up until recently, no need for their votes.


Invalid retirees are, let’s face it, unsightly sick people who are best kept tucked away in their suburban hideyholes or in hospital and medical waiting rooms. We are invisible and inaudible. We discomfort people with our pain and feebleness, our gait, our impaired speech, our smelly wounds and all the rest of it.


People in nice Country Road outfits out to enjoy themselves don’t want to be confronted by those who, as Ian “Spasticus” Drury would have put it, “wobble when they hobble and dribble when they nibble”. Ian knew only too well that the worst regarded were those disabled and invalid who didn’t cave in and, instead, attempted some kind of self-assertion.


Australia is an egalitarian society, but there are real votes in keeping invalids down, if you have the right touch. A good way of locking people away is to cut them off at the knees financially. That way, they tend not to go out much. Not as much as Ian Drury, anyway.


But as well, APRA, the body which collects statistics on the self-funded retirees of the 3,000-odd larger superannuation funds, openly admits that it has no idea how many Australians receive self-funded invalidity retirement benefits. That practice must be damned convenient, politically, but it is neither prudent nor authoritative.


It is, in fact, extraordinarily remiss of the agency neither to collate this data properly, nor to relay any kind of epidemiological, regional, environmental or even fraudulent trends to government and other interested parties.


Maybe this is why Mr Costello has signally failed to tackle the issue, and why his colleagues can affect so little interest in it. Setting aside common decency, which is hardly a paying horse in any kind of political race, public interest should demand that the numbers be made known.


If, for example, for epidemiological reasons, there was a jump in invalidity retirement among a few funds and it was misinterpreted as a mere blip but turned into a groundswell, the regulatory agency could another bushfire on its hands. Surely the risk of a few uncomfortable headlines about invalidity retirement gripes (and trends) would be easier borne than that. The figures would also give a disparate group of often quite ill people some idea of their standing in the community and tell them they were not alone.


But you don’t have to be a crack epidemiologist to work out the effect on the health and life expectancy of Australians facing the daily issue of how to spend very limited income on drugs, medical services, surgical aids and similar luxuries, or on feeding their kids.


And don’t forget, these blockheads will vote before they cash in their chips. Somebody should let the Treasurer know before it’s too late.







DISCLOSURE: PS: I’m a cartoonist who used to work mainly for the SMH on Stay In touch. I met you when I was flu-addled at the last National Young Writers’ Festival in Newcastle last year.


About a month ago, I was thinking about how the word “sorry” has become such a political tool, poisoned by those who seek to portray it as a word of blame and exclusion. It is, in effect, a prisoner of John Howard.


However as reconciliation activities like the Sea of Hands and the walk over the bridge have shown, many Australians believe in an apology and would like to say sorry themselves but don’t know how. They see the word as a symbol of hope and of the start of a better future for Australia- an expression of optimism, not negativity.


Anyway, after a long, drunken dinner party, a bunch of mates and I got together and started the “No Regrets” campaign, to reclaim the word “sorry”. The gist of it is this- we basically want the word to get as broad exposure as possible, spontaneously and nationwide on the day of the 26th. I designed a graphic for “Sorry” in the same font style as “Eternity”, written on the streets of Sydney for so many years.


With the help of the Nik Bueret of Octapod/Newcastle Young Writers’ Fest) we set up a website with our manifesto, some stencils and print-outs and simple instructions. We’re encouraging people to take to the streets on the night of the 25th and spread the word- chalk it, spray it, print it off and stick it to telegraph poles and make stickers to hand out to people.


I’ve distributed several hundred to shopkeepers on Oxford and King Sts in Sydney so that supporters of Reconciliation can stick them in their windows on the day of the 26th. Hopefully we’ll also get some bands playing on that night to hang up A3 versions of the “sorry” behind them on stage.


I ran the idea past the National Sorry Day Committee who gave it their thumbs up, and have contacted many community organisations, activist groups and unions. However it’s a non-partisan campaign and the more mainstream it is, the

better. If the young liberals took it on board, I’d be over the moon.


The website for the campaign is – It’s a symbol, but an important one, and I think that real reconciliation needs a blend of both symbolic and practical action.


Sorry is a start.







Mass demos, forums, trying to visit the local member, letters to the editor – I have started to think it’s time for a change of tack.


These pollies and other enemies of an independent media aren’t interested in engaging in debates. They don’t want to be reasonable or rational. They don’t want the ABC because it keeps showing them up for the pack of greedy shonks they are.


When we try to engage them in discussions all we end up doing is talking to ourselves. The other side really don’t want to know. We have had some big rallies and that is important but massive demos are a hell of a lot of work and last about ten nanoseconds in the average punter’s mind after the news clip is played.


It’s about time we started taking a few leaves out of the books of other political activists. Let’s use the 5 second sound bite; the 10 second news clip. The Pollies don’t want to talk or listen so let us get go out and embarrass the hell out of our so called leaders.


It’s time to start thinking of guerilla tactics. I am thinking of the young men who who got into the papers during the Ryan by-election by wearing Banana suits and just getting out there and in the news. Lets do the same thing NATIONALLY. We have to be in the public eye, not taking to each other.


We have to make the pollies know that we aren’t going to lie down. We have to make them look foolish in the eyes of the electorate.


I reckon that with a little effort and a few Banana suits we could make these pollies a laughing stock. Every time they stop in front of a doorway or get out of a car somewhere there is a Banana in Pajamas in the back ground. If there is one thing I know, it is pollies hate being laughed at.


The great thing is it only needs to be one or two people! each time. Bs in PJs could pop up and harass pollies anywhere, anytime. We need banner headlines. THE LONE BANANA STRIKES AGAIN. Get the student unions around the country involved. WE NEED BANANA HIT SQUADS. Hell we could make the banana a symbol of national dissent or rebellion!


Send bunches of Bananas to your least favourite polly. Write messages in each banana. Get greengrocers and shops to sell labelled bananas. Pelt pollies with rotten Bananas. Send bad Bananas through the mail to J Shier. I will leave the rest to your imagination.

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