Sunday, 31 May 2009

Intellectual Politicians - Success or Failure

In the last 30 years, we have perhaps had 2 political leaders in Australia possessed with intelligence somewhat higher than that of a normally intelligent person. They are John Hewson and Kevin Rudd.

John Hewson was a leader of outstanding intellect. While his economic credentials were without peer in the Parliament at the time, his intelligence was best illustrated by his ability to be across the detail of a range of other topics and he became a most capable orator particularly on issues of Foreign Affairs.

Kevin Rudd on the other hand has a head start on Foreign Affairs, Health and Education but has managed to turn himself into a competent analyst of matters economic.

Both Men have reputations as work alcoholics and both drive colleagues and staff to distraction with the demands they place upon them, and themselves.

There are some fundamental differences though including that when as Opposition Leaders, Rudd won the un-losable election while Hewson lost the un-losable election.

Hewson was the academic who became an economics policy adviser to John Howard before himself moving into Parliament.

Rudd was the career diplomat who became Chief of Staff to Queensland Premier Wayne Goss before standing for Federal Parliament.

In a politically brave move, Hewson took a detailed radical policy platform to the electorate in March 1993. The policy was a Goods and Services Tax. Then Prime Minister Paul Keating destroyed him and in doing so, ensured it would be a long time before another Prime Ministerial challenger would take detailed policy to an election.

In November 2007, Rudd took a largely “me too” policy along with a great deal of rhetoric to the electorate and achieved a comfortable victory.

John Hewson ignored political reality in a world where politics is unfortunately of equal or sometimes greater significance than policy. He believed he had the weight of “right” on his side and that he could convince the electorate of the “correctness” of his belief of a GST being good for voters personally, and the country as a whole.

Rudd primarily took the concept of the need for change to the election together with creating significant doubt about work choices.

Hewson was all policy and little politics; Rudd was all politics and little policy.

Our three most recent Prime Ministers prior to Kevin Rudd appear to have understood the need to combine both Policy and Politics. Whether or not you agree with their politics, they were all part of major reforms in Australia, be it Keating primarily as the key Minister in the Hawke Government.

The Hawke/Keating years included the de-regulation of the Australian Dollar, massive manufacturing reform, introduction of a retirement savings system envied by much of the rest of the world and a consistent approach to achieving a balance between income growth and productivity improvements.

The achievements of the Howard Prime Ministerial years included firearm reform, an overhaul of the tax system, consistent approach to revenue distribution to the States and work place reform (be it ultimately un-successful).

Hawke, Keating and Howard understood that in addition to the politics, they had a responsibility to lead and govern and in doing so, regularly made un-popular decisions. They all generally respected the Parliament and accepted the reality of traditions such as question time.

My concern is that Kevin Rudd has decision reluctance and lacks the ability or willingness to drive a reform agenda for fear of the impact such reforms may have on short term popularity. He also seems overly sensitive.

Last week during question time he labored for 25 minutes answering a “Dorothy Dix” question .
The Government has initiated Community Cabinet meetings in rural areas where the public attend and participate in the forum. Inevitability only Mr Rudd gets to say much at all and rarely is it about the subject raised.

I don’t know if the following is factual but it does serve to illustrate the problem:

On a recent trip to North America Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was invited to address a major gathering of the American Indian Nations in Kitimat BC due to his experience in handling the indigenous situation in Australia.

He spoke for almost an hour on his ideas for increasing every First Nation's present standard of living.

At the conclusion of his speech, the tribes presented the Prime Minister with a plaque inscribed with his new Indian name Walking Eagle. The proud Rudd then departed with his entourage, waving to the crowd as he left.

A news reporter later asked the chiefs how they came to select the new name given to Rudd.

They explained that Walking Eagle is the name given to a bird so full of shit it can no longer fly.

With a little courage, self belief and leadership, Prime Minister Rudd can be a long term successful Prime Minister who retires from office with a track record of achievement to be proud of and in doing so, leave Australia in a better position than he found it.

Or, he can focus on simply winning the next election, racking up debt and taking us to the brink.

Perhaps he could do worse than study the legacy of the Fraser years. Malcolm Fraser was a Prime Minister seemingly intent on the next election and who achieved very little in real or any other terms. He has arguably achieved more since he left Government than he ever did as Prime Minister.

“ITS TIME” is a famous ALP slogan from the 1972 election and it is now time for Mr Rudd to use his intellect for the good of the country by getting the political balance right. Ultimately, this will guarantee his success and his legacy.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Magical Mushroom, Two Phase Power and Other Memories

Today has been the culmination of several days of built up expectation. The build up has also resulted in an amount of internal reflection and reminiscences, which are not something I often do. I am more an “enjoy the event in its own time, learn and prosper from it, move forward to the next challenge and above all, have no regrets as a result of decisions or actions” sort of person.

My era really took the live music scene in Melbourne in the 1970’s in our stride. We participated, we enjoyed and as far as we knew that was the way it was and would always be.

It is only looking back that we were really living in a period of a live music feast and we would never dine on such ease of access of quality band and performer again.

It was the era the phenomenon of Mushroom Records was established in South Melbourne. The phenomenon that spurned the re-birth of Australian Rock and popular music and brought it access to the commercial radio waves. Mushroom perhaps also established the ground work that led to the establishment of a wonderfully successful broadcaster.

The bands and artists I refer to include:

The early 1970’s:

Daddy Cool
Russell Morris
Captain Matchbox
Spectrum (and Mercepts)

Daddy Cool eventually rolled into the enormously successful and internationally acclaimed Mondo Rock.

Mushroom was established in 1972 and signed and launched such acts as:

Renee Geyer
John-Paul Young
Split Enz
OL 55

And many more.

Other acts of the era include Jon English, Australian Crawl, Men at Work, Kush, Hush, Richard Clapton, Jo Jo Zep, Little River Band (LRB) and Sherbet while the end of the 70’s saw the emergence of local Punk with The Saints and the iconic Nick Cave.

Intertwined in all of this were some wonderful musical experiences via the Rock Opera.

We enjoyed the wonderful and simple Godspell, the controversial Hair, the commercialization of religion via Jesus Christ Superstar and the magical, mysterious, challenging and naughty Rocky Horror Show. I will always remember my 18th birthday and be thankful to a girlfriend of only 3 weeks who saw fit to take me to see Rocky Horror. What a night and thank you Heather.

Colour television also came to Australia and there was nothing more colourful than Rock.

The motivating factor behind the drive to establish Mushroom to get Australian music on the airwaves eventually forced alternative or less commercial music off the airwaves. Popular Rock sold and rated on the radio. And the power of TV and Countdown was such that if a Band or Artist did not appear on Countdown, they could not get airplay and could not sell product.

The ABC established Double J as an alternative music outlet and launched many a band on the road to success and mainstream acceptance. It is a little known fact that Midnight Oil never appeared on Countdown. They got their break on Double J and when they took off, refused requests to appear on the ABC TV Countdown programme. Of course, Double J became Triple J with the advent of FM radio in Australia.

Melbourne of the 1970’s had two primary venues for major concerts.

The first was the magical and totally unsuitable Festival Hall. Built in 1915 by the “Colourful” Business identity John Wren, it was known as the House of Stoush being built for and continuing to be a boxing venue. It’s largely corrugated iron construction meant it was hellishly hot in Summer and freezing cold in Winter. It also had the worst acoustic qualities you can imagine. However a night out seeing an act perform at the “tin shed” was always a night to remember.

Deep Purple is one act that is front of mind and not only for the music experience. That night also was the first time I had ever been asked to “leave a licenced premise”.

A group of us arranged Deep Purple tickets. To get to Festival Hall meant a train trip to Spencer Street Station and a rather long walk up Spencer Street to the Hall. We arrived at Spencer Street with lots of time spare and in very good spirits as it had been the final day of year 11 exams.

It was a warm clear November Melbourne evening and daylight saving meant the sun was still shining. The Spencer Hotel was across the road and we decided a beer was in order.

At the time, Australia was in the grips of a bitter election campaign following a constitutional crisis and the sacking of the Government by the Governor General.

Being a group of (theoretically) intelligent, aware and politically interested 16 and 17 year olds, a political debate soon got underway to go with the beers and wines we were enjoying. UNTIL, Ian stood up and announced seemingly for the entire lounge to hear “What are we all talking about this for. We are all too young to vote anyway”. It was very, very soon after we were all asked to leave the pub.

The evening was also memorable for another reason. I broke my hand but that is another story.(I hastily add, it was not in a fight)

Deep Purple was magnificent; however the night was musically significant for another reason. Little River Band was signed as the support act and it was the first time I saw them live. I subsequently became a long term fan

The second concert venue was the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. An outdoor amphitheatre, it was situated in the wonderful green belt that connects the City of Melbourne to the suburb of St Kilda and includes what to me is the very spiritual Shrine of Remembrance.

In March 1967, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl set a world record for the largest crowd to attend a concert by a single band when over 200,000 people witnessed a performance by The Seekers. This record stood for decades.

As poor students, we liked big concerts at “The Bowl” because we could get a seat in “Scabs Alley” where you could hear but not see and best of all, tickets were free. I heard many an act from “Scabs Alley” but was never all that comfortable asking a girl out to a concert only to go to Scabs Alley. It was a cheap date though and usually acceptable.

However I did often purchase tickets or more correctly acquire tickets and had many wonderful musical experiences at the Bowl including Rick Wakeman (Journey to the Centre of the Earth Tour), Rod Stewart and ABBA.

Acquire Tickets? Well, my Father worked for Ansett Airlines and if they were the airline flying an act in Australia, tickets would often materialize.

Not only would I have never paid for ABBA tickets, I actually kept my attendance at the concert a secret from many friends. In fact, it was only when attending a 50th birthday party in February this year that I revealed to many friends I had attended ABBA. They were not a cool band for people my age at the time. However, along with David Bowie’s Glass Onion Tour, this would be the best international act I have witnessed.

There were also many great Australian acts in concert at the Bowl.

While Festival Hall and the Myer Music Bowl were the major venues for live music, it was the Pub Rock scene that gave us easy access to great acts. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday night were when the big music pubs fired up. Venues such as the Notting Hill, Village Green and The Station Hotel were where us teens fed our rock live music appetites and often free of a cover charge.

Notable Pub Rock Bands and artists included the likes of The Aztecs, Kush, Hush, Stevie Wright, Sherbet, Australian Crawl, Midnight Oil and AC/DC. In fact almost every band or artist honed their performance skills in the Melbourne Live Music Scene. We all have stories of seeing Bands for free playing to small audiences before they became famous. Mine involves Men at Work.

I cannot say for sure in what year one of my most memorable quintessentially Melbourne live music experiences took place. I am reasonably certain it was 1975 and I think it was on the night before Good Friday that year.

With my then Girlfriend, I caught the tram into the Myer Music Bowl where a number of Australian acts were performing. The plan was to enjoy the benefits of Scabs Alley and appreciate some fine local music. The Band that blew me away that night was not the key attraction for me and if it had only been them on the bill, I perhaps would not have spent the tram fare getting there. But I cannot now recall just what the main motivation for me was. As a typically horny 17 year old male, the main attraction may have simply been a degree of optimism about what might “eventuate” later.

Walking to take our “seats” took us past one of the entrance gates to the enclosure. In a split second we noticed it was temporarily unattended and we slipped in. Being an outdoor amphitheatre, the Bowl doesn’t have seating as such so we took up a reasonably elevated position a little to the side of the stage with a great view of the action.

And then they came on. Loud, electric, aggressive, cheeky, fun and harmless. The crowd exploded as they went through the songs in their set and reached a crescendo when the lead singer slipped on a set a bag pipes and let rip with the now well known pipe chords of “It’s a Long Way to the Top if you want to Rock and Roll”. Of course, I am talking about AC/DC.

While we always admired the guitar work of Angus Young, he always looked a bit of a goose on TV. But live, he was Mr. Personality. Bon Scott was the ultimate performer and the band was sensational.

And at the end of the concert on the walk back through the gardens, my optimism was also“rewarded”.

I wonder if my then girlfriend (Zoe) remembers the night AC/DC rocked our world.

Australian Band AC/DC have caused my build-up of expectation this last week and also the motivation for this retrospective and it is AC/DC concert tickets I secured today for their Brisbane performance on 27 February 2010. It cannot come quickly enough.

Lets Rock – One more time at least