xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: January 2017

Friday, 27 January 2017

Tennis, anyone?

One of the joys of the Australian summer is watching high class tennis being played in the Australian Open Tennis Championships at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.

This world class event is preceded by tennis tournaments in Perth, Brisbane, Hobart and Sydney where we tennis fans get a chance to preview the form of the champions and the up and comers.
In earlier days, the ABC did a splendid job in broadcasting over its radio network the action taking place on the courts. Its broadcasters were world class in painting word pictures that virtually put us at courtside as champions like Sedgman, Rosewall, Hoad, Emmerson, Newcombe, Roche and even the great Rod Laver himself played their way into tennis history.

These days of course the ABC coverage is long gone. Commercial television discovered that sport is popular with Australians and that the necessary stoppages in various sports provide an ideal opportunity to play the commercials that bring in the money.

This was made abundantly clear when the media mogul, Kerry Packer, decided he wanted to show live cricket matches on his Channel Nine. History tells us that he prised cricket coverage away from the ABC by getting most of Australia’s top cricketers to sign contracts to play in Channel Nine’s World Series Cricket. It was hard for them to resist Packer’s very tempting salary offers which were in marked contrast to the low pay that Cricket Australia paid its players. To get its best players back Cricket Australia disposed of the ABC's services and signed a lucrative contract with Packer's Channel Nine.

Having made his World Series concept a reality, one of the first thing Packer did was change the traditional eight ball Australian over to a six ball over. I am not sure why Australian bowlers always bowled eight balls in an over in comparison to bowlers everywhere else who only bowled six. For Packer, the move was elementary. If there were only six balls in an over, he could get his TV commercials played more frequently in a day than if they bowled eight ball overs.

And so, the influence of television on sport and the way that is played had begun. Now, besides Test cricket and Sheffield Shield cricket, we now have One Day Internationals and Twenty/20 cricket. In these two latter forms of the game, players wear coloured clothing, there are American style ground announcements, music and fireballs interspersed with the action. The two TV channels involved, 9 and 10, also now set up a player or two with a microphone so that the commentators can chat to them while the game is on. Like most player/commentator conversations, nothing of any real importance is discussed. Just a lot of breathless "Yes, Maaate." "No, Maaate." "The team played really well, maaate." "Well, we will just take it one game at a time, maaate." Rivetting stuff!

This summer, Channel Seven decided to jolly up its tennis commentary performance. Apart from having three commentators talking about what we all can see with our own eyes on the TV screen, they have also clambered aboard the microphoned player scenario. In fact, they have gone a few steps further.

In the APIA international Tournament in Sydney, many viewers were surprised to suddenly see the coach of French Open Champion, Garbine Marguruza, come and kneel in front of her during a game changeover. Marguruza sat staring fixedly into space as her coach reminded her that she had a great backhand. Then he told her she also had a great forehand. Margaruza continued to stare straight ahead, probably wondering why her coach thought she had forgotten that she had world class forehand and backhand strokes.

Many viewers were also nonplussed. Up until that point it had been an iron cast practice that in major tournaments, unlike the Davis Cup,  there could be no communication whatsoever between a player and coach during a match. Yet, here it was happening right in front of everyone at the game and thousands of home viewers.

And it wasn’t a one off occurrence. In subsequent matches, other coaches sat mouthing unnecessary advice to stony faced players. One of the strangest was when Australia’s rising star, from Russia, Daria Gavrilova, slumped into her chair on a game break. Her coach, no doubt under the direction of the Channel Seven TV Director, quickly came and squatted in front of her.

We all waited with baited breath to hear what words of wisdom and encouragement the coach would offer. He gazed at Gavrilova and said, “Is there any question that you want to ask me? Gavrilova continued to stare straight ahead.

She was probably too surprised or polite to say, “Why are you here, in the middle of my match, asking me stupid questions?”

But the epitome of stupidity went to an unknown Channel Seven reporter who went and sat alongside Australia’s newest tennis rising star, from Samoa, Destanee Aiava, as she took a brief break between sets. 

Destanee, who is only 16 and had just lost the first set, was looking tired and obviously needed to regroup and refocus. What she did not need was the intrusion of a nosey journalist. As Destanee tried to regain her breath, our interruptive, investigative journalist leaned in with his microphone and said to Destanee, “What is your mother saying to you?”

Destanee looked in disbelief at the supposedly intelligent man who had just asked the most inane sporting question of the decade. She replied, “You mean, right now?” 

The implication being that her mother was not there and was not saying anything. Blatantly obvious to everyone but the reporter.

Destanee was too polite to say, “Are you mad? My mother is sitting in the grandstand 80 meters from where I am sitting, where I am trying to refocus in the middle of an important match. Who let you onto the court? Get out of here.”

Well, we could all ask, “Who let you onto the court?” The answer, no doubt about it, is that Tennis Australia did, because Channel Seven pays the bills. If Channel Seven wants it, Channel Seven gets it.

It is a sad reflection on how commercial media is bending our much-loved sporting occasions into something which is often more about the commentators than the contest.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Politicians' perks and more equal pigs.

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 while “All animals are equal. Some animals are more equal than others.” In Animal Farm the pigs were more equal than any other animals.

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 and social inequity, 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 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 overpayments 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 for Health, 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. Oh, and while she was in the gold coast for those two days, Ms Ley purchased an investment apartment for around $800 000. She said this was not the purpose of her visit and she just purchased the property on a whim. How lucky is out Health Minister that she happened to attend the property auction with a lazy $800 grand in her handbag. 

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.

As a reward for his incompetence as federal treasurer, Joe, 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 he 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 has ever done, 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 after 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. On Sunday, me and some mates are goin' to Bazza's for a boozy barbecue. 
Yairs, things are bit crook at present but, no worries, mate, things'll get better bye and bye.
Hoo Roo.”