Where were you when… ?

… Gough Whitlam was deposed as Prime Minister of Australia?

Some of you will be too young to remember the furor the Whitlam sacking caused. Some will not have even been born. But I was there, and I was shocked that such a thing could happen to an elected government. 

We were all shocked again in 2010 when a second Australian Prime Minister was ‘sacked’. The fact he was sacked by his own party just made the betrayal even blacker. 

Last night it happened again, with the sacking of Prime Minister Julia Guillard, but this time there was an element of poetic justice about it. 

For those of you unfamiliar with recent Australian politics, let me give you a quick recap of events.

2007 – Kevin Rudd led Australian Labor to a huge victory in the polls. His Deputy was Julia Guillard.

2010 – Julia Guillard, helped by a faction boss called Bill Shorten, deposed Kevin Rudd as leader of the Labor Party, and hence as Prime Minister.

2013 – Bill Shorten [yes the same man] helped Kevin Rudd to regain leadership of the Labor Party, and become Prime Minister a second time.

Those are the bald facts. Woven in and around those facts are a number of disturbing trends. Foremost amongst them is the power of opinion polls.

A drop in popularity amongst voters, and Kevin Rudd’s abrasive leadership style amongst his colleagues led to his original sacking by the party. Julia Guillard’s plummeting approval rating led directly to her sacking. And all these popularity contests were decided by opinion polls.

In one sense, the rising power of opinion polls can be seen as democracy at work. These polls purport to take the ‘pulse’ of a nation, and as a curiosity they are fine. However I take issue with opinion polls being used as the drivers of political changes such as these.

Why? 

1. Because by their very nature, opinion polls can only sample public opinion. If you know anything about statistics you will know that the smaller the sample size, the less reliable the results. Have you ever been approached by a pollster asking your opinion about politics? No, me neither. The only way anyone can ever know exactly what the voters are thinking is by asking them in an election where every single voter gets to be heard.

2. Because by their very nature, polls are hypotheticals and gauge only how a particular respondent is feeling on that day. Those feelings can be influenced by a number of factors, including the slant of the news media on that day. They are also not indicative of how someone will vote during a real election. I’ve been most unhappy with Labor for a very long time, but even I do not know how I would have voted if Julia Guillard had gone to the election as PM. You see I was not happy with her, but I am and will remain even more unhappy with Tony Abbott.

3. Because I do not believe that off-the-cuff public opinion should be allowed to decide such momentous changes. It’s the equivalent of a husband and wife having a spat about who should take out the rubbish, and then having an outsider forcing them to divorce over it.

In Australia, we do not have Presidential style elections where personality plays a big role in deciding who gets elected. At least, that is not how it’s supposed to work. We are supposed to elect our governments on the basis of party policies. The reality, of course, is never quite so clear cut. 

I believe both Whitlam and Rudd were elected because we saw them as men of vision… and we felt we needed visionaries in the top job. As such, they were both viewed as more than just talking heads. We felt we knew them, and could trust them. And we believed they had a blueprint for a better future instead of just more of the same old same old. In that sense, our relationship to them was much stronger than what we normally feel for our politicians. It was a marriage of sorts, and in both cases, we should have been given the opportunity to decide whether we wanted to end the marriage or not.

At its heart, Julia Guillard’s demise was predicated from the moment she sacked Kevin Rudd. She was a good politician, and under different circumstances she would have made a great Prime Minister, but her every mistake was seen through the prism of what came before. And, of course, Tony Abbott made sure that those mistakes were amplified in the public eye. Sound bites and opinion polls did the rest.

As a Rudd supporter [and Abbott skeptic] I am glad to have him back, but I do wish our first female Prime Minister could have left under better circumstances. I also wish Kevin Rudd had a better chance of leading Labor to victory in the coming election. I think he will drag the Party back from the brink of disaster, but I don’t think he will have the time to forge a victory. 

I don’t have a crystal ball but these are my predictions :

1. Labor will lose at the coming election, but only by a small margin.

2. After the election, Kevin Rudd will be deposed because those within the Party who still hate him will have no further reason to support him.

3. The Abbott government will quickly become very unpopular and will lose the next election. 

4. With luck, Abbott will be replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.

5. For the next three years of opposition I believe Labor will be lead by Bill Shorten. I think he fell on his sword for the good of the Party and that sacrifice will be rewarded, eventually.

6. Somewhere down the track I believe Penny Wong will become the first ethnic, gay, female Prime Minister. She has both charisma and brains. More importantly she is perceived as having integrity. By the time a couple of elections have been and gone, we will need integrity even more than we need vision. 

We live in interesting times, but at least I now have someone to vote for at the coming election. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

p.s. The new pc is up and running beautifully. I can’t say that setting it up was a pleasure, but it was a lot less onerous than I thought it would be. More about that when the dust settles in the political arena.

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

51 responses to “Where were you when… ?

  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    This is why America has such a hard time relating with the world: Even people, like me, who try to know what’s going on are too under-educated about other people’s politics to make heads or tails of it.

    So, here’s my attempt to understand: A political party can boot out your leader while he/she is in office without a vote from the people. Is that what you’re saying?

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    • acflory

      Yup. That’s apparently the Westminster system. It was not ‘done’ in the past for reasons of etiquette/fear of voter backlash, but it is within the rules. And that historical tradition has now been broken. As a voter I am serious displeased.

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      • Stephanie Allen Crist

        Thanks for the confirmation. Yeah, I would be displeased, too. Whether you like the person or not, it seems that the voters (not the party and certainly not the polls) should be able to make the choice.

        I’m not always pleased with President Obama, and I probably wouldn’t vote for him unless there was no better (in my opinion) choice, but nor would I vote to have him impeached (unless he did something a lot more wrong than anything he’s done).

        Removing someone from office seems so extreme. If there’s criminal charges, then yeah, but general dissatisfaction doesn’t seem like a good reason. Sometimes the leaders with the best (historical) legacy pissed off their people during their terms. Look at President Lincoln–very little he did was popular, but most of it was the right thing to do.

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        • acflory

          “Sometimes the leaders with the best (historical) legacy pissed off their people during their terms.”

          Yes! Visionaries are rarely appreciated at the time but history is the true judge. Getting rid of a leader because of personality issues smack of a popularity contest gone wrong. Government should be above such petty and changeable whims.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            I totally and completely agree. The most trying times are unpopular times, and globally we’re experiencing some pretty trying times. Making decisions based on opinion polls doesn’t solve problems.

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          • acflory

            You know I’ve discovered a real paradox within myself. On the one hand I really, truly believe in democracy – both as an ideal and as a way of governing day to day. But… If all these polls and what have you are right, the majority are not necessarily either admirable or right.So where does that leave majority rule?

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Well, as you’ve said, polls are not the same thing as votes. We can be unhappy with someone and still vote for them. So, the polls really don’t mean anything when it comes right down to it.

            As for majority rule…it’s complicated. The majority isn’t always good or right or admirable, otherwise the U.S. would never have tolerated slavery and we wouldn’t need civil rights legislation in any democratic country.

            Human beings are inherently imperfect. So are our governing systems. Some day something better will come along, both for democracy and capitalism, but right now these are our best options available, though neither are practiced in their purest forms (for good reason). Merging the best of multiple systems is the best we can do right now, until some genius somewhere along the way comes up with something better.

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          • acflory

            I agree. I visited relatives in Hungary during the Communist era, and I hated the reality of communism in practice. Secret police in blue uniforms on the streets, an undercurrent of fear all the time, and the very same greed that I hate about Capitalism. Not good. 😦

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Of the three, communism sounds the best on paper but is the worst in practice. Socialism sounds good on paper, too, but doesn’t work on a global scale. Capitalism doesn’t really sound good on paper, but it is the most functional economy on a global scale.

            Unfortunately, Capitalism leads to dramatic disparities and we still haven’t figured out a good way to deal with that.

            Luckily, a lot of people–some of them very welll financed–are exploring social entrepreneurism with the hope that they’ll be able to find truly functional solutions.

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          • acflory

            After what I saw and experienced in Hungary, I’m convinced that small ‘c’ capitalism is hardwired into the human psyche, but whatever Ayn Rand may say, Capitalism as practised by large corporations and multi-nationals is something else. In a sense it can’t avoid it. Competition is what makes capitalism work on a small scale. But when you ramp it up, the natural, inevitable result of competition is that some win, some lose. The winners get bigger and hence more powerful. And so on up the pyramid until to get a monopoly or near monopoly.

            Perhaps that is the life cycle of capitalism. -shrug- Or perhaps governments are not doing what they’re meant to be doing – i.e. providing the competition to keep the corps in check. In theory at least, a triangle of govt. + general public + corps should balance each other and make for a very stable and robust system. The practice is never ideal though.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Ideally, they should. But nothing is so corrupting as money, except perhaps power.

            Part of the inherent problem with capitalism–or any currently devised economic system–is that the system is reliant on artificial forces. Money, for example, is nothing more than an artificial construct.

            Truly pure capitalism would account for everything, including indirect costs. Thus, pollution and poverty would be a cost of doing business a certain way, which would (ideally) make it too expensive to do business that way.

            Our system just isn’t natural enough to function up to any sort of ideal.

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          • acflory

            Oh I like that idea! Clearly very hard to implement, but if we did have such a system the market would regulate itself in a way it definitely doesn’t do now.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            That is the long-term goal of many economists, but, yeah, it’s a difficult idea to even conceptualize, let alone implement.

            We try to improve the artificial system through even more artificial laws. For example, taxing polluters inserts the cost of pollution into the economic process. Taxing corporations and wealthy individuals to off-set poverty is another factor.

            The problem with most of these activities is that they cannot account for natural checks and balances. For example, there are people who accumulate wealth by creating businesses that build up others; yet these businesses are taxed and penalize for their accumulation of wealth the same as businesses that do not. So, you rely on human nature to want to build up others. It still happens, because there are lots of people who really do care, but those who don’t still get away with weaker penalties for victimizing behavior.

            Besides, there’s little in the way of global balance. International corporations will trash “third-world” countries, profit from their lower costs and weaker rules, and take the profits back into wealthier nations. It’s a travesty, but there is not an economic system in existence that can create the necessary balance to prevent it.

            Human beings are still a long, long way off from our best ideals, and who is to say that are best ideals are even close to what would be possible if human nature didn’t have such a dark side.

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          • acflory

            Your reply started me thinking about freedom. When I was a kid, social stigma was still a very powerful thing, and it was linked to our laws. So, for example, divorce was frowned up and required 7 years of pain and anguish to complete. So few people took advantage of the ability to get divorced. Now, about 50% of marriages end in divorce, including mine. Were people ‘better’ people 50 years ago? No. The only real difference is that now we have the freedom to indulge both sides of our nature. For me the lesson is that everything needs a system of checks and balances – starting with humans. 🙂

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Social stigma is still a very powerful thing, it’s just directed differently.

            The legal freedom to divorce is certainly a factor in the changes, but it’s far from the only factor. The more freedom women have to survive without a spouse, the less likely women are to settle for unsatisfying marriages. The more acceptable it is for men to pursue their genetic disposition to spread their seed widely, the less likely they are to stay tied to one person throughout their lives. And that’s just two examples. There are many more factors.

            But social stigma is still a very powerful force. Despite our circumstances, my husband–who doesn’t feel that force as much as many people do–feels the pressure to “go out and work,” because the roles of stay at home parents are so undervalued in U.S. society, and especially the role of stay-at-home dads is undervalued.

            The pressure is there. We’ve just “innoculated” ourselves against divorce stigma. Divorce is the new normal.

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          • acflory

            Very true. I wonder if we will ever have an equitable balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of society as a whole?

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            I suspect we won’t, not without divine, or at the very least alien, intervention.

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          • acflory

            Or some kind of benevolent AI. 😉

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            I suppose it’s possible, but considering our relationships with our machines I have trouble imagining us creating, either on purpose or on accident, an AI that is benevolent.

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          • acflory

            We seem to create everything in our own image – hardly surprising as our imaginations are bound by our own human traits – so any AI we were to create would have to have the potential for the same faults as us… but perhaps on a larger scale. Now that is scary.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            It is. But then again, if it’s truly an AI, then it’s possible that human beings didn’t create it at all–or at least not intentionally. In such a situation, who knows what we might get.

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          • acflory

            Good point. I believe a machine intelligence will arise at some point, but I agree that it will most likely be an accident, with unexpected consequences.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Have you read the Ender’s Quartet by Orson Scott Card?

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          • acflory

            Yeah. I absolutely loved the first book, not so taken with the rest.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Ah, but it’s in the rest where the AI comes into play. Jane is absolutely fascinating to me!

            But, Ender’s Game was definitely more focused and the others kind of wandered about a bit more.

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          • acflory

            lol – yes they did. They were still good but for me they started to edge towards fantasy a wee bit too much.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            lol aw, but fantasy is the good stuff! 😉

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          • acflory

            Yeeees… but I prefer sci-fi!

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            lol 😉 I know. And yet, you are eager for my fiction to be published?

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          • acflory

            There’s fantasy and then there’s fantasy. I adore Robin Hobbs fantasy because it’s somehow ‘realistic’, even though it has lots of magical elements to it.

            I guess it’s all in the implementation. Lasguns and Faster-than-light travel are essentially no more real than magic, it’s how the author deals with these ‘power’ tools that makes the difference, imho.

            The thing that truly annoys the hell our of me with [some] fantasy is that the magic just keeps getting bigger and bigger to solve every problem. It’s as if the magical is the important part of the story instead of how people[or other creatures] work within the constraints of the magic.

            Does that make any sense?

            Anyway, I’m pretty sure you’d be a Robin Hobb kind of fantasy writer. 🙂

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Yes, that makes sense. The way I look at fantasy is that any power system is going to function under “natural” laws. In order to write about it, you have to have a basic understanding of the natural laws and either come up with a fabulous reason for defying them without breaking them–the bumble bee is a good example of that. Or you need to use those laws to complicate things. Preferably the later or both.

            I think I’ll have to get me some Robin Hobbs! 😉

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    • metan

      In our system we don’t vote in the leader, we vote in the party. If they change leaders the party is still the same so they don’t have to ask us if it is ok. We don’t necessarily have to like it though!

      Rudd is making it more of a popularity contest than ever before but it still won’t be K. Rudd on the slip come polling day, it will be the member of that party in our individual electorates.

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      • acflory

        What Metan said. Most elections, we don’t really care that much about who the leaders of the parties are, but sometimes we get fixated on personalities. Sir Robert Menzies was one, Whitlam was another. Even Keating had a certain charisma. And now K.Rudd. 😉

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      • Stephanie Allen Crist

        See, and I wouldn’t like that at all. I always vote for the people, not the party. Political parties are like corporations: soulless, conscienceless, and amoral by nature, not to mention subject to mindless groupthinking. People can choose to do the right thing, even when it’s unpopular or not in their party’s best interests, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

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        • acflory

          lol – we are talking about politicians aren’t we? Seriously though, I agree with you about the personal element. All of our most beloved Prime Ministers have been strong, dynamic people. But I also think it’s important to have that group dynamic to balance things out. Don’t forget, our Prime Ministers are not limited to 8 years in office.

          From memory our longest service PM was Sir Robert Menzies, and he was in for… 26 years? Even the best of people can lose their heads after so long.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Term limits help, so I see your point. I don’t know, though. In the U.S., there are (almost always) two dominant parties. Rarely a third viable one pops up, but they don’t last.

            These parties create an unhealthy dichotomy. They cater to their bases to ensure they win primaries, and then (often) get stuck in positions that are basically untenable for the bigger middle ground. Especially now, compromise is virtually impossible.

            If someone were ever to come up with a truly functional system of government…well, then, human beings would still manage to screw it up.

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          • acflory

            Yup. We would screw it up without blinking an eyelid. 😦 Unfortunately I can’t think of a better way of doing things – unless perhaps we chose our elected politicians at random, sort of the way people are elected for jury duty. No parties, no allegiances and no ambition. Could such a government be fundamentally worse do you think?

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            It would make an interesting story. But, the problem would be that there would still be a strong bureaucracy in place, which is not elected.

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          • acflory

            lol – There’s always a fly in the ointment isn’t there? Maybe in time the bureaucrats can be replaced by AIs.

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          • Stephanie Allen Crist

            Only if they don’t share our flaws or have worse ones of their own–what are the chances?

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  • metan

    I think your predictions might well come true! I am not a Rudd fan but after watching his press conference today I think that small margin that No 1. predicts he will lose by will get smaller and smaller….

    I think Rudd will do well if he manages to keep away from the Kevin of old. I think Shorten won’t be too popular with his crowd for a while but there are many of them who have done things that they probably didn’t want to in the last few days.

    I still have a mental image of Kevin with an old, crumpled, Death List, he just crossed Julia off and now he is after the next name on the list… Look out, Tony….

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    • acflory

      lmao – I was watching ABC 24 and apparently Rudd is already pulling the rug out from under Tony’s feet in Parliament. Abbott is not stupid but he’ll have to lift his game quite a bit if he expects to make some headway against the new-improved K. Rudd. 😉

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  • Candy Korman

    Wow! My head is spinning…
    There’s an old saying in the U.S. that the only poll that counts in the one on election day. But, of course, that is not entirely true. The constant up/down of the polls and the drum beat in the media make every day a popularity contest. Right now, that means almost nothing gets done in Washington. The Congress is deadlocked on “ideological” matters — AKA the need to oppose out weighs the obligation to compromise in order to govern. Here, it’s politics over governing. Sounds like you’ve got an interesting version of the same in Australia.

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    • acflory

      Politics vs government/compromise is very much what we have had for 3 long, miserable years. And yet, thanks to the independents, the government actually managed to get a lot of very good things done. It’s just that the good got lost in all the rhetoric. Sometimes I truly hate politics and politicians. 😦

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  • Jennifer

    What a fantastic over view of the whole sordid (and to me very uninteresting, although i know I should be) mess. I think what Julia did last night was a very brave and strong act. To be so comfortable with who she is to say and do what she did takes a very strong person. Knowing that in a few hours you might be out of a job.

    Regardless of how I might vote today, tomorrow or last week, I have absolute respect for the leader as it is one of those god awful jobs that means you’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. You can’t please everyone, but have to do the best you can in an often bad situation.

    The coming election will be very interesting indeed, new things are a coming for our little country.

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    • acflory

      Must admit I was impressed with her speech as well. And she has left an impressive legacy for her time in office. No one can take that away from her. Interesting times indeed. 🙂

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  • lorddavidprosser

    Your elections sound even more fun than ours.We had a badly discredited Labour party in charge under a disliked Prime Minister who bankrupted the Country ( as Labour always do). At the election the Tories won but not by a margin big enough to give them overall control. In step the Liberal whores willing to sell their body to the highest bidder so they could form a Government. It was the Conservatives who sold out and formed a coalition. Trouble is, they had to backtrack on promises made during their campaign- nothing new there then.
    Over the last couple of years the Tories have managed to betray all the disadvantaged by attacking the benefits system rather than those who abuse it. They have given austerity measures rather than close tax loopholes which allow for offshore tax havens, mainly because so many of them use them. Only now are they pushing companies like Starbucks into paying tax here and that’s because there’s been so much public outrage about it.
    When, when, when will we get our own Penny Wong who might remember she works for the people not against them.?

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    • acflory

      I don’t know David. 😦 Maybe you need a politician with as many perceived things going against him/her as Penny Wong? Or maybe what you need is someone who is incapable of using spin. Fixing what’s wrong with politics would make an angel weep!

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  • EllaDee

    I so much prefer reading your take on it, although I feel over saturated in political events and news reporting, and would be happy to stick my head in a bucket of sand so I don’t have to deal with it any more. I think I need to escape to Taylors Arm where there’s no internet and the radio/TV very rarely goes on.
    Let’s have Penny Wong on the job now… there is scope for what you believe she has to offer… and if the powers that would be, the factions and the Media could leave her the hell alone to get on with the job that would be nice too 😉

    Like

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