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Lessons Learned From Australian Politics in 2012

As if you didn’t already know, the year is fast coming to a close. A few weeks ago now was the end of a tumultuous year in the federal parliament which saw us experience more noise, more nonsense and more annoying antics than ever before, not to mention many new rules and regulations. As I remarked to someone the other night, politics is a continuous learning curve, even for those of us that observe it closely and perhaps a little to closely.

To that end, I thought I would share with my readers, some lessons that I have learned from Australian politics in 2012. And you, the reader, may have learned these lessons too.

CYNICISM AND POLITICS

Now, I know upon reading the title of this section, that you are probably thinking, but of course we should be cynical about politics. And you are right, we should, unfortunately, be cynical about politics. Politics for many, including seasoned observers, has an uncanny knack of disappointing, of making us feel like we should almost always expect bad things from our elected representatives.

What I have in fact discovered over the last twelve months, is that a little bit of cynicism does not go far enough. It has to be at the front of your mind at all times as you dissect what politicians say and do in the mad scramble to get power or to maintain dominance. And that is a shame, because politicians should always have the mantra of doing the right thing in the forefront of their minds, not how to continue to be politically dominant.

The cause for needing extra cynicism is probably largely down to the tight numbers in Parliament House, though you would have to argue that the starting level of cynicism required to view politics is already too high.

NEGATIVITY AND POLITICS

The year 2012 has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that negative politics works. We have also proved beyond any shadow of a doubt here in Australia, that it is much easier to engage in than positive policy discussion.

The polls have shown though, that there is such thing as too much and that has affected party votes and leader preferences.

But if there is one thing that political pundits are sick of more than anything, it is exactly the ridiculous level of negativity that infects the political debate. The broader population however have largely switched off from politics and did so a long time ago.

THE POLITICS OF PERSONALITIES

This year, above all others, politicians have spent a large amount of time attacking the character of each other and the way that each side of politics conducts themselves in the political debate. Politicians have done this at the expense of policy arguments, though hopefully, with 2013 being an election year, policies will be the order of the day.

The lesson however, is do not be too hopeful.

POLITICAL FATIGUE IS POSSIBLE

Of course the general public experience fatigue from the consumption of politics even after the smallest possible political meal on the nightly news’ bulletins. And the public at large has been subjected to chronic political fatigue syndrome.

But one thing I never thought possible, even at the start of the year after about one and a half years of minority government, was that I, a self-confessed political junkie would at times be too exhausted by our politics and that is a sad indictment on the state of the discourse.

PARTY NAMES AND IDEOLOGIES MEAN A LOT LESS

In 2012 we have seen, from time to time, more than I can ever remember, that party names and the political ideologies behind them are becoming even more redundant. In part this is because of the nature of the 43rd parliament and surely too, because of the increasing appeal of populism to political parties.

We’ve seen the Liberal Party become even less of a Liberal Party than under John Howard and have also seen Labor willing to ditch their core values more often than ever in the last 12 months. Both sides shifting has the potential to alienate people.

AND SO IT GOES…

The year ends in less than two weeks and after that same period of time an election year will be upon us. Soon, the year 2012 in Australian politics will mean very little, as the more important election year choices start being made.

Let’s hope it is a much more edifying spectacle.

Wrestling, Hookers and Fullbacks

There’s just a touch over 48 hours until that other grand final this weekend, the one that comes just a day after the Sydney Swans and the Hawthorn Hawks take to the MCG to battle for AFL honours. The National Rugby League final promises to be an intensely physical encounter between two teams that reached the absolute pinnacle in 2012. The teams finished 1st and 2nd in the minor premiership with the Canterbury Bulldogs taking the honours in the regular season over a Melbourne Storm outfit that have been consistent performers over a number of seasons.

But of course season-winning exploits mean little when it gets to the big one. Generally speaking, the two teams that make the last match of the season are closer on paper and of course in with a 50% shot, theoretically. It’s also the case that, when both teams finished the regular season first and second, they are of course, automatically said to be nearer each other in their chances for glory than not.

Different games and their different team match-ups bring a unique complexion to each game where different players and player combinations are required to excel in order to clock-up a win. In this particular game, it’ll no doubt be a battle of the hookers and fullbacks with some wrestling manoeuvres likely to also play a significant part in the game as has been the norm for a few seasons in the rugby league.

The game on Sunday should pit the experienced and widely regarded world’s best fullback, Billy Slater for the Melbourne Storm up against the barnstorming and youthful up-and-comer Ben Barba for the Bulldogs. This should eventuate despite Billy Slater coming down with a cold, with the team certain he will play.

This is probably a closer match-up than most would admit, with Barba not exactly streets behind Slater in the race to be the best fullback in the world.  Indeed Barba this year has been judged the best fullback in the NRL, effectively claiming the world mantle.

Both Ben Barba and Billy Slater are capable of swiftly moving up the field and breaking tackles. Both are known for their ability to easily streak past weary and unaware players, steaming away to score tries having run the length of the field. These plays alone have the ability to make all the difference on Sunday if playing conditions see the two teams competing on a dry playing field, no rain in sight.

The key to defusing the explosive tendencies of the two number ones will be with the kicking game of both sides. Both are usually strong under the high ball as they need to be, but a vulnerability exists there, especially in the case of Billy Slater who erred under pressure in the Origin series. The pack must be ready to chase after kicks targeting these players with gusto. The probability that one or two might be dropped increases with every opportunity taken.

Sending down a number of high kicks can also work for good defensive field position and can be used in attack for just as much efficacy, as long as the usage of such plays does not become predictable throughout the 80 minutes of the game.

The second key position will be the two hookers, Cameron Smith for Melbourne and Michael Ennis for Canterbury. One of the key players on the field, it will be Smith and Ennis, both class acts, as much as it pains to say about the on-field exploits of the latter, who will be there to get the ball into a good position in attack.

Another high tension element of the battle of the hookers will be the niggle. There is no love lost between Cameron Smith and Michael Ennis. The latter is more than capable of niggling opponents and chooses to do this a little more than most players in the competition. Cameron Smith will usually let his actions do the talking and the key will be him keeping his composure and perhaps forcing a penalty or two from an Ennis indiscretion.

Of course, the halves too, as they always have in rugby league will also be crucial, but in a game where Cronk is streets ahead of his opposing half, that equation doesn’t particularly change things and won’t signal a key two person contest within the broader game.

The final ingredient in the mix that is the Canterbury Bulldogs versus Melbourne Storm grand final will be the use of legal and perhaps sneaky illegal wrestling techniques. Both teams are professional at this with the Storm having pioneered the use of the so-called “chicken wing” tackle.

All NRL sides use wrestling moves, that is true. That is required in order to keep up with the competition. Such moves also act to slow the game down as well as causing a bit of pain. The referees will be on the lookout for the illegal chicken wing tackle, but most other moves are fair game and will be used more and more in the event of a very close contest on Sunday night.

The head says Melbourne will win, they’re big game players and have been there (the grand final) so many times in this decade, though Canterbury have been there more over the last 20 years. The difference is that the Storm have not been around that long. The Storm too, have more big game players than their opponents and this could also prove crucial to the end result. The heart on the other hand? Well, it doesn’t care.

Time to Learn About Sitting Volleyball

With the 2012 London Paralympics getting ever closer by the day and the weekend fast approaching us it’s time to have a look at another sport that will feature at the Paralympics.

This week we take a look at the sport of Sitting Volleyball.

This variation of Volleyball has been a part of the Summer Paralympics since the event in 1980 held in the Netherlands where it was first introduced into the competitive schedule for men. Women’s Sitting Volleyball took a little longer (two decades in fact) before it was introduced at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.

WHO CAN PLAY?

Unlike many other sports for people with a disability, the sport does not classify athletes in a variety of different groupings according to physical disability. Instead, participants in the sport must meet minimal disability requirements as identified by one or more medical practitioners who are sanctioned to determine the level of disability that potential athletes have.

The disability must be permanent and it can include amputees, people with spinal cord injuries, Cerebral Palsy and les autres (‘the others’), that is, people that do not have a disability that fits into other identified categories of impairment.

When classified, participants are either deemed to have one of two levels of disability, either classified as disability (D) or minimal disability (MD). Only two people classified as having minimal disability are allowed in a team.

ON THE COURT

Sitting Volleyball is played between two teams where there are no more than 6 players on the court at any time and no more than 12 are in the entire team.

Each team is only permitted to have one of their two players classed as having minimal disability on the court at any one time.

The players must all sit on the modified Volleyball court where among other things the net is at a lower level (1.15m for men and 1.05m for women), the court is smaller.

The game is commenced like it’s counterpart with a serve.

Front-row players are allowed to block a serve.

Front-row players must have their pelvis in contact with the floor

Defensive players can assist in an attacking move but cannot cross or touch what is known as the attacking line with their pelvis.

Defensive players in attempting to stop a ball from bouncing in their side of the court are allowed to temporarily lift up off the court past the regular pelvis rule.

The ball can only be touched 3 times before it must go over the net into your opponent’s court.

The game at the Paralympic level has an added special player called a ‘libero player’. This team member is a special defensive player who can be “subbed on” during a stop in play to replace a person on the back court. They are identified because they must wear a different coloured uniform to the rest of the team.

HOW TO WIN

The game is best of 5 sets with the first 4 sets requiring 25 points to win and the final set a score of 15 to triumph.

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS

In the men’s competition the defending champion from the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing is Iran and in the women’s draw the winner and defending champion from Beijing was the home team, China.

A VIDEO OF THE GAME

Here is a YouTube link showing the fast-paced game that is Sitting Volleyball:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxp3kIvgT_o

A Look at the Sport of Goalball

With the London Paralympics nearing commencement it’s time to have a look at another of the 21 sports that will be a part of the 2012 Games. After taking a look at the rough and tumble of Wheelchair Rugby, otherwise known as ‘Murderball’ it’s time for a change of pace and time to look at the rather unique sport of Goalball.

THE PARTICIPANTS:

Goalball is a sport for vision-impaired athletes that was developed to help blind World War II veterans in their post-war rehabilitation. It became a Paralympic sport at the 1980 Paralympics after being a demonstration event at the 1976 event.

A game of Goalball consists of two teams of 3 visually impaired athletes, with one centre player and two wingers on each team. Three substitutes are also permitted.

The athletes with a lower level of blindness wear blindfolds when competing in the sport which allows for less visually impaired athletes to compete in the sport with people that have a higher level of blindness.

THE GAME ITSELF:

The game is played by the teams participating taking turns at rolling or throwing a ball that has a bell in it toward their opponents goal with the aim of the defensive team being to block the ball, by listening to where the bell sound is coming, from going into the goal at their respective end of the field.

The players must throw the ball within 1o seconds or an infraction has occurred.

The game has two 10 minute halves.

PENALTIES:

Possession is generally lost if a player throws the ball before the match official has indicated for play to begin, if the ball goes over the sideline, or the ball rebounds off a defending player, crossbar or goalposts and goes back over the centre line.

For more serious rule breaches a penalty throw is awarded if:

  • Players interfere with their eyeshades
  • Excessive noise is created which distracts from the ability to hear the bell in the ball
  • If coaching comes from the benches after the referee has said “quite please”
  • The ball does lands short of the opponents court, too long or too high
  • Not being in team area when defending your goal line
  • Delaying the game in a deliberate manner
  • If the same player throws the ball for a 3rd time in a row
  • For conduct against the spirit of the sport

When a penalty is awarded only one defender is allowed on the court, effectively like a football goalkeeper during a penalty shootout.

THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS:

At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, the women’s Goalball final was won by the United States of America in a very tight match with the USA prevailing over host nation China 6-5.

The men’s gold medal match was won by the Chinese team over Lithuania after being two goals down with less than a minute to go in the game, closing the gap and winning by one in the end.

The bronze medal was won in the men’s competition by the Swedish team and by the Danish team in the women’s event.

The Campaign That’s Almost Over Before it Has Begun Has Now Begun

Ladies and gentlemen of voting age that time once every three years where we rock up to a school or a community centre hoping to get a park and wishing not to be stuck in a cue for half an hour is now here. That’s right, Queensland Votes 2012 has now officially been launched with the Premier paying the Governor of Queensland a visit today to ask that the parliament that copped an earful this week now be dissolved. From this begins the most promising official campaign period for the LNP in many years.

If the last week is anything to go by, the campaign will certainly top the list of dirtiest campaigns in the history of the state and perhaps up there with the dirtiest Australia has seen. This year the attack ads hit many weeks ago, a lot earlier than usual which is clearly an indication of the magnitude of the task for Labor though it seems it would take more than a handful of Olympic sized swimming pools of mud flung to get even close to a reaction that would warrant another 3 year term for Labor. Not only that it goes further to prove that the Bligh Labor Government is tired and has put character assassination above policy creation.

On the policy front it appears from the length of the campaign so far and from the state of the budget, that there may not be too many policies to be revealed during the campaign itself. Rather, there will likely be more detail added to recently launched policies from both sides and perhaps one or two big announcements likewise. This is where other parties, like Katter’s Australian Party and the Greens will find more of their policies being examined as has seemingly occurred, particularly those of Katter’s Australian Party.

This campaign also does have, along with the strong leadership and policy focus an “It’s Time” factor about it which it seemed was the case near the last election, but will almost certainly play out that way this time around.

The leaders will undoubtedly be targetting the marginal seats, including Ashgrove, which while at a margin of over 7% is by the nature of the contest involved a “marginal” seat a and must win for a Campbell Newman LNP Government. The LNP will need to focus on winning many inner and outer suburban Brisbane seats and taking back many of the regional city seats held by MPs of the Bligh Government.

Another focus for the LNP will surely be targetting those seats where defectors have either become Independent MPs  or Katter’s Australian Party MPs and candidates for the party at the March 24 election.

For the Bligh Government the election campaign will almost certainly be about loss limitation, particularly in the key seats around Brisbane and regional cities where even margins considered safe look able to be easily surpassed in many cases if the polls are near an accurate indication of statewide voting intentions.

Now to the party that is getting a lot of attention from the media but probably will not live up to the hype surrounding it and certainly not up to the expectations of its leaders. Yes, I am talking about Katter’s Australian Party.

Bob Katter and his new party are clearly suffering from delusions of grandeur as has been borne out by all polls in recent weeks and months showing the party lucky to achieve single digit poll results. As the campaign bubbles along this may hit closer to 10% but that would be the absolute plateau for voter numbers.

Katter’s Australian Party may cause an upset or two in regional seats, the only real area where they would possibly gain any seats, but the likelihood of a Katter’s Australian Party Government or even a major force are completely and utterly non-existent.

It is the Greens that are likely to end up in third place at the end of this 5 week election campaign with a vote hovering around double digits and it will be interesting to see how this translates into individual seats, but again, like the Katter’s Australian Party, is unlikely to convert into seats.

So the campaign has begun and over the next five weeks we be door-knocked, come across many street stalls and many and various party members waving signs hoping we honk to acknowledge our vote for their candidate. The campaign will be robust and it will be widely reported. The only question left is how exactly will it play out and for that, we have to wait with baited breath until March 24th, somewhere after 8pm one would think.

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