xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Some pigs are still more equal

I found this story on a little used USB memory stick that had hidden itself on my rather cluttered desk. Obviously, I wrote it some time ago when Sussan Ley was in trouble for improper use of her parliamentary allowances. On reading it I find that it is still quite relevant to the Australia that we are living in today.

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm in 1945. A classic tale of woe, demonstrating that, eventually, in any society, those with the power will exploit the less powerful. Even in a society that says all citizens are equal before the law, Orwell pointed out that “All pigs are equal. Some pigs are more equal than others.”

Just at present, Australia appears to be a facsimile of Animal Farm.
In fact, it is all beginning to resemble the world of Charles Dicken’s, A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens, writing about a time of great political upheaval, started his powerful novel about the struggle between good and evil and the rich and the poor by saying, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

In Australia’s case, we can say it is the best of times for politicians, millionaires and very profitable corporations. Politicians can access generous pensions without any restrictions as to age, assets or current income. Many millionaires and rich corporations can accrue great wealth while paying no income tax whatsoever. Nobody, least of all our pampered political legislators. seems very anxious to close the legal loopholes which enables the very rich to have a tax-free ride in our society.

On the other side of this social divide are the many, many people on welfare, stressed out and suicidal, because Centrelink is sending them letters saying that they have received welfare payments that they were not entitled to, and that the Federal Police will be after them unless they sign up to a repayment plan forthwith.

It has been shown that 20% of these letters were sent out in error to people who do not owe the federal government anything. This unfortunate situation has arisen because the LNP government has sacked many Centrelink employees and replaced them with a computer system that is using a faulty algorithm, erroneously crediting people with more annual income than they earned.

Of course, we need to have checks and balances and to make sure that welfare recipients are deserving of the benefits that they receive and that any over payments are swiftly refunded.
Apparently, the sacked, former employees of Centrelink, were expert at doing this in an efficient and caring way. The computer, using an incorrect template, is not so obliging. To think that Centrelink is sending bogus and threatening messages to one in every five people is appalling.

However, when the Minister for Social Service, Mr (un)Christian Porter, was told of this massive bureaucratic blunder and the great stress it was causing, he showed no sympathy whatsoever. He praised the scheme because it was raising much need money for the government. He blamed the welfare recipients for the problem. Then, assuming the well-practised default position of all LNP politicians when facing criticism, he blamed the Labor Party for the problem.

At the same time, another well fed and well looked after politician, Senator Leyonhjelm, said that all people on a pension should be ashamed of themselves for being so poor. Senator Leyonhjelm often shoots his mouth of without first engaging his brain. In fact, he is a champion of the Shooters Party and says every Australian has the right to own a gun.

Like a lot of people, I was incensed recently, to learn that Federal Minister, Sussan Ley, at taxpayers’ expense flew to the Gold Coast with her partner. She and her partner spent two nights in a Gold Coast hotel, again paid for by the good old, long suffering Australian taxpayer. She justified her taxpayer funded two-day trip to the Gold Coast because she went there to announce a funding plan for a Gold Coast based health programme. Of course, she could have made this announcement in Canberra but she felt she needed to be in the Gold Coast, at taxpayers’ expense. In fact, she and her partner stayed two nights in a Gold Coast hotel at around $380 per night. By the way, an unemployed person on the dole receives about $270 per WEEK in comparison with what a politician gets for one night’s accommodation.

Many politicians, of all parties, receive $390 a night whenever they stay overnight in Canberra. Remember former Treasurer, Joe Hockey. Joe, it was, who famously told Australians that The Age of Entitlement is over. He used to sleep in his wife’s house in Canberra and felt fully entitled to claim $390 for doing so. Joe failed as treasurer so he resigned from Parliament on a huge pension.
He was subsequently appointed as Australian Ambassador to the United States. In this position, he is paid many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and receives huge perks in addition to his salary. At the same time, he still collects his parliamentary pension. Unlike the poor old welfare recipient on a pension, there is no means test for Joe Hockey. There is no asset test either. He just takes all the money. Not sure how much tax Joe pays. He may even follow Prime Minister Turnbull’s example and park his tax payer generated wealth in the tax-free Cayman Islands.

Clearly, Orwell was right and some pigs are much more equal than others. What is equally clear is that these privileged politicians are quite happy to let their rich millionaire mates continue to grow their wealth without paying any taxes. At the same time, they have declared war on the very poorest people in our country. It is so true of our country that the rich are getting richer and the poor are being hounded for every penny.

What are we doing about this travesty? Well, apparently not much at all. The pliant Australian media lacks any real will to challenge the iniquitous and corrupt practices of our privilege politicians. The average voter seems to think that Pauline Hanson will fix everything up. All Ms Hanson ever does, however, is vote in favour of the ruling party, the very privileged LNP government.

It seems that Australians are pathetic when it comes to political action. We are too laid back, drinking a stubby, watching the cricket or the tennis or lazing on golden sands beside azure blue waters.
Now, if we were in France and French politicians were living in untrammelled luxury and the rest of the citizens were being shafted, then those free thinking, liberty loving Frenchies would be out on the streets, manning the barricades and letting those in charge know that they are our servants and that Equality is not just a word that comes between Liberty and Fraternity.

In fact, I think I can hear those politically aware and highly active Frenchmen marching along right now. Oh, how great it would be if we Australians could also rouse ourselves from our lassitude and take strong action to redress the social inequities in our political system as those young idealistic  activists did so nobly in Les Miserables.

’Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see.

Unfortunately, our response is “Too right, mate. We all want to see a brighter tomorrow. But today I’m busy watching the Hopman Cup and tomorrow is the final day of the Test match in Sydney.
She'll be right! Hoo Roo.”

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Coffee drinking as a fashion accessory.

On March 3, 2016, I wrote a blog entitled “Anyone for Coffee”. The story subsequently appeared in the LIFE section of The Australian Newspaper on April 4, 2016.

In  this story I said that in the 1940s and 50s most Australians drank tea. Of course, all of that changed dramatically in the second half of the twentieth Century. Coffee lounges sprang up.Then came Instant coffee, which not surprisingly, was an instant success. 

These day people pay quite large sums of money purchasing their very own coffee making machines, and the expensive accessories that go with them. Generally, these days at Morning Tea, the drink of choice is not tea, but coffee.

However, it was not until recently that I realised that drinking coffee in public had become a fashion accessory. Of course, back in the 1950s and 60s it was considered the height of bad manners to be walking and eating and drinking at the same time. If you were eating or drinking anything then you had to be sitting down. Not anymore.
Last Thursday, Lesley and I went to my granddaughter's  school assembly. It was a music assembly and my granddaughter was playing the recorder. Now parking outside any primary school in the mornings is at a premium, especially on assembly days, so we arrived at the school at 8-00am. The street was deserted and we parked right in front of the school gate. As the assembly did not start till 9-00am we decided to wait for a while in our warm car and listened to our own light classical music playlist on a USB inserted into the car’s sound system.

After about ten minutes, I noticed a young lady walking towards the school. She was sipping coffee as she walked, not from a take away coffee cup, but from a bright red, anodised metal coffee container. I call it a container because it held much more than a single cup of coffee.
A few minutes later, a huge 4-wheel drive parked in front of our car. The driver’s door opened. The first thing to come out of the car was a fawn coloured coffee container clutched in  a feminine hand which became an arm which eventually became a young mother. She walked around the car with her coffee container, extracted her three children from the car and proceeded into the school grounds. 

Every few minutes, more young mothers came into view, many of them carrying and sipping from brightly coloured coffee containers.
Lesley and I decided it was time to move to the undercover assembly area to ensure that we got a good seat. 

As I moved into the undercover area, I observed  a gentleman sitting and sipping from an ordinary garden variety coffee cup. “How very twentieth century,” I thought.

 He obviously purchased his coffee at a take-away place en-route to his child’s assembly. It was in stark contrast to the coloured coffee containers that I observed in the hands of many of the mothers and grandmothers in the audience. I even noticed one woman who had a thermos of coffee in the bulky bag she had placed on the seat beside hers, no doubt to save it for a friend or family member. This thermos was not like the usual picnic thermos. It was iridescent pink. It had a stylish brown plastic top that featured a press down button for dispensing coffee into a smaller, but equally tastefully designed coffee container.

For many years I have been used to seeing people, mainly women, sipping water from plastic bottles. Even at symphony concerts  at the Perth Concert Hall I have seen Mosman Park matrons and social dashers from Dalkeith taking a swig from a bottle while keeping their eyes fixed on the orchestra. 

The bottles were like replacement pacifiers, or babies’ dummies, from which they sipped every five minutes or so in fear that they would dehydrate and shrivel up like dried prunes unless they kept flooding their poor, overworked kidneys. Well, incessant water sipping still exists, but sipping coffee from exquiste, fashionable, anodised containers is rapidly overtaking it as the de riguer choice of public drinking.

In the meantime, the music assembly was fantastic. It featured animated dancing, enthusiastic choirs, a skilled string ensemble my granddaughter's tuneful recorder group. Lesley and I were delighted with her performance and thrilled that, at her school, at least, NAPLAN has not killed off the joy that music in schools can bring to even the coldest June morning.

We complimented our granddaughter on her performance and then drove home to enjoy a cup of instant coffee. It may not have been too flash in the fashion accessory stakes, but it was truly refreshing.

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Long Good Bye

Well, hello again, Reader. I have been absent from these pages for well over a month. I hope that you did not think that I’d left you forever without saying “Good bye.”

I would never do that. Well, not  intentionally, at least. At my age you never know if that last and unexpected “Good bye” is just lurking around the corner.

Shakespeare’s Juliet told us, and Romeo, that “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Well, I suppose it is sometimes. It depends who you are saying good bye to. Some people seem to take ages and ages to say good bye. Dame Nellie Melba spent years travelling around saying good bye to everyone…and being paid handsomely to do so. John Farnham has had about three “Good Bye Tours” and no doubt will have a few more.

Some retail outlets are always saying goodbye, but they never do. In 1962, I arrived in London at Charring Cross railway station. It was cold day in February. One of the first things I did was buy a green woollen overcoat from a menswear shop next to Charring Cross. I thought I had purchased a bargain because across the two front windows were signs saying, Closing Down Sale.
In 1983, I was back in London with the beautiful Lesley, and daughters Jane, Sarah and Emily. I took them for a walk down The Strand. There was that menswear shop. It had two big signs saying, Closing Down Sale.

In 1996 Lesley and returned to London and those Closing Down Sales were still there. Now that is a Long Goodbye.

Of course, “good bye” derives from “God be with ye/you (until we meet again).”  In France they say Adieu. I am not good at French. Apart from Oui, Merci, Bridget Bardot, Follies Bergere and Champs Elysee, I am not too strong in the  Parlez vous Francais department. But Adieu means “To God.” So, I guess the French are saying, “I will see again when you/we are with God.” Or maybe, in colloquial French it translates as “Drop dead”. Of course, the French also say, “Au Revoir”, which I am told means “In the future.” So, it is a bit like the Yankee farewell of “See you later” or “I’ll be seeing you”.

Some people take ages to say good bye. In my family it is mainly the ladies who are at fault. If a fault it be, because they seem to quite  enjoy their long good byes. What usually happens is that after an enjoyable social occasion somebody will say, “Oh, well, I suppose we had better  be going.” But nobody moves. They all continue on talking. After a while, someone will stand up causing everyone to rise. Usually, it’s me. Then they start saying goodbye to one another. But they do not go way. They stay, chatting and laughing. By this time, I have said good bye to everybody and make my way to the car. Generally, other males in the gathering do the same. The ladies all stay chatting. Eventually, they wander towards the door and start saying goodbye to each other again. After more goodbyes, the hostess will accompany individual ladies to their cars where they will exchange more good byes before driving off. It is a very protracted business.

Now, I am pretty good at saying good bye, which, as I have noted is quite unusual. When I want to leave, I leave quickly. I usually just say good bye and then I go. I can be even quicker than that. Some years ago, I was the General Manager of the Donnybrook Football Club. Often, I would find myself at the bar at the end of a game or at the end of a meeting. When I indicated that I was going to leave, I would be met with a chorus of “Don’t go, Noel. Have another drink.” Soon a middy of beer would be thrust in my hand and I was trapped into another round of drinking. So, in the finish, I would not say good bye at all. After I had paid for my round of drinks I would just say to my mates that I was going to the toilet. Off I would go. Unlike General MacArthur, I did not return.

I continued this strategy when I was Principal at Three Springs School. One afternoon, as school principal, I was invited to attend the opening of a new bulk handling grain facility between the railway station and the three huge wheat silos that dominate the Three Springs skyline. It was a big affair with some federal and state politicians, all the local Shire Council representatives, several big wigs from Commonwealth Bulk Handling and assorted locals, like me, from the WA Railways, the Agricultural Department, The Public Works Department, senior police officers and various other government departments. 
After the many speeches, that extended into the evening, we enjoyed a splendid buffet meal and refreshments. After the meal we all stood around on the well-lit train station, drinking and talking. At some stage of the drinking and talking I employed my strategy of taking an unannounced toilet break and wended my unsteady way home across the railway tracks.

The next day my neighbour informed me that my sudden unannounced good bye had caused  quite a stir. When he noted that I was no longer standing around drinking and talking, he made enquiries of others. It was feared that I had wandered into the darker recesses of the station and had fallen on the railway line or come to some other unfortunate end in the dark and deep recesses of the new bulk handling facility.

 A search was instituted and people set off in all directions to find me. There was about fifteen minutes of searching and the yelling out of my name. After that time, as I had not replied to the yelling and nobody had found my prostrate body anywhere, they started back into the talking and drinking.   
In the meantime, I was safely home in bed, asleep.