Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Yes, We Still Need Feminism

"Why is feminism still a thing?", I'm hearing a lot at the moment. "Why should there be special programs/quotas/positions set aside for women? That's not promoting equality, that's saying women are above men".

Well, okay, let's take that as read. Women have equal rights under the law after all, so if women are paid less than men, or are underrepresented in positions of power, or are disproportionately the victims of relationship violence, or are increasingly retiring in poverty, it's not the fault of centuries of structural inequality; it's because women just aren't as good as men. 

Rather a misogynist view, isn't it?

Yes we still need feminism.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Right Wing Teenage Drama Queens

Teenage girls, as a group, have a reputation for being histrionic. Emotional. Drama queens, if you will. For most young women it's an unfounded and unfair stereotype; for a few the cliche rings true. However, teenage girls are amateurs at overblown emotion compared to the biggest drama queens of all - right wingers.

If your main source of news is News Ltd or to talkback radio, you could be forgiven for thinking Australia is in a terrible mess. Right wingers are throwing temper tantrums and slamming doors over the state of the place. This is the worst government ever, the carbon tax will ruin our economy, no wait the economy is already ruined, we're being flooded by boat people, we are living in a stifling neo-socialist tyranny. Julia Gillard's being mean, no one (except the Murdoch press) understands them, they're just going to run away and pay taxes in another country and see how we like it.

At heart conservatives are children. Not adorable children who see the world through eyes filled with wonder, but children who sulk, whinge and constantly demand attention. They know how the world should work, they know what they like and anyone who messes with that is a big meanie. They don't want anyone to have what they don't have - everything is "not fair", from bike lanes though to assistance for asylum seekers. They don't like girl germs, or gay germs. And they've got their cool kids - the mining billionaires, whom they believe are hardworking heroes with the needs of ordinary Australians at heart, with the mean old government trying to stop them being friends. The Queen Bee, however, is Tony Abbott; unable to accept that he lost the election, he is complaining and carrying on, refusing to obey the rules, and telling the Australian system of democracy "you're not the boss of me!" by demanding another election. Conservatives are children, and the current minority government has hit them like a surge of pubertal hormones. All we can do is ride out the storm, the tears and tantrums, and pray for a maturity we hope one day might come.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Father Knows Best

According to a new study (well, it was out last week - I've been busy) fathers are averse to attending parenting courses because they're seen to be stuck in the 1950s. This comes as no surprise. Having recently passed through the public maternity system, it was depressing the extent to which all the literature reinforced an archaic view of parenthood - that fathers are distant, uncomfortable with children, unsure what to do. Returning from an early midwife appointment, I without reading it first handed DH an info booklet I'd been given of information for new fathers. I soon heard him laughing tersely. The booklet actually advised fathers to spend time with their children, make eye contact with them, and talk to them. "Don't they think fathers know that?" DH asked as he tore the brochure up, just a little hurt, I could tell. Why this assumption that men know nothing about kids until they have them, and are dragged reluctantly to parenthood by their partners? DH was even more eager to have a baby than I was; it's the same with several of my friends, with the male partner excited to become a dad as soon as possible and the female wanting to wait a few more years.

You wouldn't know it from a visit to a bookstore. I tried to find DH a good book about becoming a new father, but all I could find were "hilarious" accounts from comedians who unexpectedly became fathers in their late 30s and had apparently never held a child before then. Much asking of "what's a placenta?" and putting on of nappies back-to-front ensues. The alternative were pastel-covered books written by the people who'd produced the brochures, treating potential fathers like reluctant idiots. I could not find a conversational book to give DH some support through the challenges he was about to face, whilst acknowledging that men might already be aware that babies go through lots of nappies.

There are tonnes of active, involved, aware fathers these days. But you wouldn't know it from the media; there still seems to be a perception that at heart, children are the primary responsibility of the mother (witness the practice of telling women how lucky they are that their male partner is spending time with the kids - let alone telling said male how wonderful it is they take responsibility for the care of their own children). There's a lot of deep-seated assumptions to overcome, it's true. But we have to start somewhere, and surely it makes sense to start at the beginning?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Railway to Hell - A Trip on the Shitkansen

I'm a railfan. Trains are one of the abiding passions of my life. But I kept it hidden for many years. It wasn't until recent years with a supportive partner that I was able to come out of the trainspotters closet. Now I'm free to live my passion. I collect train magazines, take photos, go to expos and conventions, watch DVDs, have taken about every scenic rail journey in NSW. Passion collides with reality however, as I am forced to spend much of my time nestled in the metal bosom of a much less salubrious train service - CityRail's "Shitkansen", the Sydney-Newcastle service. It's operated using 1960s era V-Sets (did you know the V stands for vacuum flush toilet? Aren't you glad you read a nerd's review rather than one written by a normal person?) along a track following a meandering 19th century route through bush and along the Hawkesbury. Due to the track and speed restrictions on the line, the timetabled duration for the Newcastle-Sydney trip is now longer than it was in the 1930s, when the service was run using steam engines.

Despite the fact it is metal, fairly round, on wheels, and smells, it is a train and not a garbage bin.

Inside, the carriages are fitted out in a bilious green and yellow colour scheme. Chilled water used to be provided, but was discontinued in 2004 due to fear of diseases breeding in the water tanks. They have however left the toilets in use. I'm currently having to make this journey at depressingly regular intervals, and here's a taste of what I'm going through:

162km (all distances are measured distance from Sydney Central):  Broadmeadow station. Commence my journey. The door is hard to open - how do the elderly manage - and the carriage smells lightly of feet. Pick a fairly quiet-looking carriage.

158km Drop my pen down the side of the seat. Looking at all the dreck and debris down there I think "err...you keep it".

150km Cockle Creek station. It's a little used station with open shelters now, but when I was in my early teens I remember the original grand station buildings were still there. It was once a major transport hub for Lake Macquarie - trains would connect with ferry services to Belmont and Swansea. I could just weep that I was born too late for this.

146km The guard keeps making announcements about the new "quiet carriages" trial. The carriage I'm in seems okay, but there's no guarantee that in future some dubstep-blaring piece of distended monkey rectum won't join us and ruin everything, so I go to have a look. Forget it. The upper deck is filled with a group of elderly Greek people returning from a day out, talking loudly (it could have been worse I suppose - Greek is far more pleasant on the ears than Strine).  Downstairs features the usual assortment of people talking on the phone, listening to music, and in one case ranting to themselves in the corner. Where are the transit police when you really need them? (Hassling commuters who didn't have time to wait for the long line at the ticket machine because all the others were broken at their station that morning). I return to my own carriage.

127km Dora Creek. An assorted group in their thirties, clad in tizzy bogan-night-out clothes, boards the carriage. The leader of the group seems to be a tandoori-tanned woman clad in some oddly draped dress and those open-toed bootie shoes, with her hair braided in a truly bizarre fashion, whose birthday it is. They are heading to Sydney to mark the occasion; specifically the Rocks and Star City. I get to hear all about it over the next ninety minutes, as they get drunker and louder as the journey progresses. But for now they are reasonably quiet, and innocent of what is to come, I doze off.

80km Gosford. I am startled awake by a screech of "Why are there fucking Eels fans everywhere?" from Orange Woman. There's a Central Coast Mariners soccer game at the nearby stadium, and their blue-and-yellow strip bears a resemblance to the colours of the league-playing Parramatta Eels. Orange lady demands all this be explained to her. She then regales the carriage with how she really wants to play OzTag, soon as she learns how.

68km "Why are we in a fucking tunnel?" shouts Orange Lady. They've been drinking since Dora Creek, and it's starting to tell. The group then returns to watching music clips on their (I assume) iPad. Orange Lady explains how "when I'm on the dance floor, I just carve it up. I don't care if I look like a moron" (a good thing, otherwise she's going to feel terrible tomorrow). Apparently she used to be really into shuffling, but now she's into planking, proving with age comes no good sense for some people. At this stage we're passing some truly stunning scenery - the train is passing along the edge of the Hawkesbury River, with the water practically lapping the train, and steep tree-covered embankments rising dramatically from the riverbanks - but Orange Lady and friends just want to know "how do you become a member of You Tube?"

50km Orange Lady still shrieking. One of her friends is calling apparently everyone he knows to tell them "We Are On A Train. To Sydney. Big Night!". I almost feel sorry for them if this is their sphere of reference. Not quite. But almost.

25km Hornsby. As we approach the city thoughts turn to the night ahead. Orange Lady decided she wants to see strippers, and have a lap dance; she's never seen strippers before, though she has seen a fat-o-gram. Anyone who gets kicked out of the clubs gets no sympathy; she will meet you back at Dora tomorrow. She won't be kicked out; the doormen love pretty girls like her.

11km Strathfield. Orange Lady has, for no apparent reason, launched into a graphic description of the use of various types of menstrual protection, and her opinions of those who use them in a sexual and hygienic manner. As I, weak with relief, disembark to switch to the Inner West line, I can't help but sneak a glance at the woman who has so infected by brain space on this trip. It was momentary, but she catches me, and shrieks "that woman looked at me!" (maybe she was under the impression she was invisible?) as her friends calm her down and I beat a hasty retreat. If you're reading this, I just want you to know: I was looking at you, and what I was thinking is you are the worst person it has ever been my misfortune to turn my nose up at. You are so obnoxious that in fact I have to thank you, for helping ensure that by the law of averages all my train journeys are quiet and pleasant from now on.

So that was that, really. I've completed the journey through to Central many times, and it adds not a whole lot of excitement to the experience; you're invariably stopped just passed Redfern for no apparent reason (well, unless they're not telling us about a major problem with cows on the tracks), then are disgorged from your metal womb, aghast, only to be hit up by people just looking for money to get home, and far more obnoxious, charity muggers who pretend to be your friend so they can hit you up for direct debit plans that profit themselves. High speed rail would be great, but there's no reason we couldn't have faster better trains now; I would pay more for a cleaner better premium service (and have done, taking Countrylink when I travel with BabyG). In the meantime though, we're stuck with the Shitkansen, and it seems to drive everyone a little bit insane.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Jolly Snowmen of Climate Change

Today sees the release of a CSIRO report warning of the dire state of our changing climate; atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are the highest in 800,000 years(!), the last decade was the warmest on record in Australia, and the average daily maximum temperature in Australia has risen 0.75 degrees since 1910. If these changes continue, we will be in dire trouble by the middle of this century. This should inspire all of us to take immediate steps to halt such a calamity. It won't though. The climate change deniers are already on the case, spinning the report to suit their purposes. This morning right wing shock jock Ray Hadley opined that, as a CSIRO scientist fumbled his words during an interview, everything said could be disregarded; and anyway, he's noticed the climate is always changing; "some days it gets hot and some days it's bloody cold". Surely this isn't what climate change deniers believe climate change is? Let's take a look at what climate change deniers actually believe. The group behind the carbon tax rallies, the "Consumers and Taxpayers Association" (an AstroTurf organisation with links to the Liberal party and few actual members) publishes this handy guide on its website, including:

Carbon Dioxide CO2 is a clean, clear trace gas essential for plant life, without it mankind would not be able to survive, it is 100% beneficial. 

It is true that CO2 is essential for life. But you can have too much of a good thing. Water is a clear, clean liquid essential for life and I doubt that climate change skeptics would enjoy having their heads held down in buckets of it. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat. The more CO2, the hotter it is. CO2 levels have always fluctuated along with the Earth's temperature. But rises in one are causing rises in the other; it's a delicate mechanism we don't want to screw with.

According to climate scientist David Archibald "we are now in a period of cooling since 1998 and our CO2 levels are too low for prime plant life" Now that makes sense just look at North Korea at the moment, too cold & low CO2= no food, cant grow, so would a carbon tax help them if implemented.[sic]

David Archibald is a former mining company and oil exploration CEO and head of the far right climate skeptics group Lavoisier Society. He promotes the theory that temperature fluctuations are due to solar flares, and is not a climate scientist (his field is geology). The "temperatures have been cooling since 1998" claim come up a lot from skeptics. It's about five years out of date - temperatures have risen since then. It so happens that 1998 was a statistical anomaly, an unusually hot year due to El Nino weather pattern. From a one-eyed and distorted reading of the graphs, it could be argued that temperatures were "falling" since 1998. We have since had hotter years. Today's CSIRO release said that whilst temperatures in Australia were rising, 2010 and 2011 were unusually cool due to the La Nina pattern; I'm sure skeptics will now claim "the last two years showed temperatures are cooling in Australia!".

So it doesn't make any sense. The claims about North Korea are no more sensible. It is true that North Korea has very low CO2 emissions due to their crippled economy. But the carbon emissions of a particular nation don't just hang neatly over that nation's airspace. Air moves. I can't believe that needs explaining to a grown up. It's hard to get an accurate picture of what's happening in North Korea, but it appears as though current crop shortages are due to catastrophic flooding events.

That's just one of the tissue-thin arguments on their page; I won't insult all everyone's intelligence by going through the rest (it's hard enough just to read - couldn't they attempt at least a little copy editing? I'm sure my blog is riddled with typographical errors, but I'm a casual blogger, not asking to be taken seriously on the national stage). Anyway, the CATA's latest protest is a fun "snow-themed" carbon tax protest in Canberra on March 22. The information page suggests booking a bus for you and your friends to attend, which seems rather against the spirit of the thing - surely if you're serious about this you should travel in your own Hummer limo or at least your personal car with very poor petrol consumption? They also advise participant to bring "Wet weather gear, but only if forecast looks like rain" (love that people need to be told this. I imagine attendees anxiously calling the organisers on the morning of the rally and saying in an anxious voice "there are blue patches but clouds on the horizon, now what?"). Talkback radio hosts are busy firing up the troops, ensuring at least a few hundred attendees from the majority of Australians they claim to have on their side. Amongst the festivities, they're planning to cover the lawns outside parliament house with white sheets to represent snow and have an 8ft tall snowman (no word on a jumping castle). I suppose that's the mentality of those who believe carbon dioxide in "100% beneficial" and that climate change means some days it's hot and some days it's cold. The CATA website promises " an uplifting experience and you will meet many like minded people" at the rally. They got that right.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Sikamikanico Show

It's possible to construct a thesis that Kim Kardashian disproves everything right-wingers believe in. Believe same sex marriage is a danger to the institution of marriage? Kim Kardashian was married for 72 days in what may well have been a publicity stunt. Believe that if a person's rich, it's because they've worked hard and deserve it and we shouldn't question them? Kim Kardashian gets paid $6 million a year to be followed around by cameras as she gets pedicures and goes to Bora Bora. But I don't mean to pick on Ms Kardashian. Instead, I'm going to take the right-wingers advice. Anyone can be rich if they put their mind to it, huh? Okay! I'm willing to put the effort in. Our family is willing to do our own reality TV show.

Nico Loves DH can chronicle our lives in all their messy, sexy, fascinating glory. I can see it now:

Intrigue
"Honey, where's the - oh never mind, I found it".

Conflict
"Shouldn't you be getting ready for work"
"I start an hour late today."
"Oh, ok".

Torn Between Two Lovers
"Whenever I pay attention to BabyG, Xander seems to get quite jealous".

Scandal 
"I bought new shoes. I am not throwing a pair of my existing shoes away".

You see? It really wouldn't work would it. I am not going to make a fortune from being a reality TV star. Many of our conversations are barely comprehensible debates on arcane points of leftist political theory, endless boasting to each other about our fabulous kid, and scintillating discussions of Owl Hot-Or-Not. No one is interested in my marriage. Despite the best will in the world, not everyone can get rich the Kim Kardashian way. But it's okay. I'm now going to get back to working really, really hard on waiting to inherit a mining company.

Friday, March 09, 2012

A Very Modern Revolution - Kony 2012

Courtesy of al-Jazeera

In the last few days, the Kony2012 campaign, and the backlash, have exploded across the internet. It began with a video posted on You Tube, detailing the crimes of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, in particular the use of child soldiers and sex slaves. As the world responded to the highly emotive video, the backlash began, with as many posts questioning the claims in the video and the motives of the group, Invisible Children, behind it, as there were supporting the campaign. It's the most modern of revolutions, encompassing viral marketing, citizen journalism, social media and celebrity power, and it should force us all to take a hard look at global geopolitics and our rights and responsibilities as global citizens.

The Kony2012 campaign aims to "make Kony famous", with the eventual goal of having him captured and brought to justice for war crimes. They've achieved the famous part anyway. The video is a fairly polished piece of marketing; I was in tears at times, although some of my tears were watching the birth and childhood of the filmaker's son Gavin, a birth very similar to my own experience with BabyG. Indeed a huge chunk of the film is about Gavin, rather than Uganda. Us parents need to remember that no one gives a shit about this stuff as much as we do. There's then a take on the situation in Uganda, followed by lots of uplifting ideas on "how you can get involved" - the use of Facebook, plastering posters across town, joyous dancing. My generation and the ones that follow have been criticised for our apathy, and this buys right into the stereotype, making the world's problems seem easy and fun to solve. You are a good person, the message runs, you just need to click "like" on Facebook to be a compassionate member of the global community!

There have been many criticisms of the Kony2012 campaign, some based on the facts - Joseph Kony apparently has not been in Uganda for many years, his army has greatly dwindled down to a few hundred members, the Ugandan army he is fighting are complicit in war crimes themselves - and others on the notion of just what is appropriate here; wealthy, mostly white people in safe developed nations thinking they have a right to affect the complicated affairs in nations they'd been barely aware of hours prior. There have been mutterings of Kony2012 being an AstroTurf neocon front for military intervention in Uganda. What right has the West to go intervening in yet another poor nation deemed to need our help? And whilst it is very noble to bring a war criminal to justice, would it not be a better use of resources to aid people in Africa suffering now?

Within hours of Kony2012 going viral, so had the backlash. Links refuting the claims in video were posted, some by people who hadn't seen the original film. There was an element of "look how smart I am - I saw straight through Kony2012!" about some of the nay saying. Does it really matter what small percentage of money achieved from fundraising Invisible Children actually spends in Africa? Their mission was to make Kony famous, they've done it, and in that sense this could be seen as one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever. Isn't it better that rich white teenagers sitting in their bedrooms are at least aware of some of the problems outside their privileged bubbles, than not?

I guess what makes this the most modern of revolutions is all the doubt. Normally I have a firm stance on the issues I post about. But for this...I don't know.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day to all my dear readers. It's an important time to reflect on the achievements made by women and how very far we still have to go to achieve equality. Sadly there are the usual noisy few who question why we need IWD, or feminism - don't we already have equality under law? I'm not sure then how those people explain why women earn less, why female dominated industries are poorly paid (and if it's about how hard one works, please give me one convincing reason why someone doing an eight hour shift as a builder deserves more money than an eight hour shift doing intake interviews at a shelter for victims of domestic violence); why women are overwhelmingly the victims of relationship violence; why an estimated 1 in 100 cases of sexual assault results in a conviction; why women are still underrepresented in parliament and on company boards and university management, if not structural inequality - maybe they think that women just aren't good enough and deserve what happens to them. But it takes more than equal rights to achieve true equality; you need to reddress the inherent issues which have put the oppressed group in a disadvantaged position for so long. Australia's Aboriginal population - racist intervention aside - have equal rights under the law, and any decent person would agree there is many years of very difficult work to be done to attempt to achieve equality for indigenous people.

Saddest of all is the women who knock feminism and IWD. Some seem to think that just because they have been successful in life, then feminism has done it's job and to hell with the other women facing difficulties. Others criticise feminism because of what they perceive to be judgements of their choice to stay at home - no, feminists aren't judging you, we're too concerned about the rising numbers of older, single homeless women whom have been out of the workforce for many years and left in a perilous financial situation after relationship breakdown or a partner's death. (That is why we might ask you are you sure staying out of the workforce for extended periods is a good idea - no one thinks it's going to happen to them - it's got nothing to do with feeling superior). Some argue that men's issues deserve attention, too. It's true that men's mental and physical health is often underfunded - so instead of criticising IWD, why not campaign on those issues, and you'll have our full support?

But there's only so far support can go. Some of the criticism, in the end, does go to show just how misogynistic our society can be. And so the criticism is emboldening. They can knock International Women's Day, but it just proves how much it is needed. Feminism is not going away.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

I Liked The Internet Better...

...Before The Stupid People Got Here

I'm not much of an early adopter, but I have been on the internet for a reasonably long time. I've used Alta Vista, had a Hotmail account when there were under a million, been blogging since blogs were the big new thing, then when blogs were dead, and now blogs are big again. So, she says as she hitches up her pants, I've seen some changes on this here internet. I got online slightly too late to say I remember when the internet was just the domain of geeks, but certainly in my early days it was...different. People online tended to be just a bit smarter, a bit more forward thinking, a bit more literate than the norm.Oh, there were vicious disagreements, sure, but at least they tended to be reasoned disagreements.

No more. Everyone is online. Everyone. All the ill-formed tepid spaghetti which passes for your average Jayms's mind is now online, to be shared, nurtured and fermented with other like-minded souls. I think most prospective parents wonder if they are doing the right thing bringing a child into this world. For me, the closest I came to despair was reading the comments section of the Daily Telegraph website. Ignorance is now something to be cherished and displayed. Facebook crawls with pages where the ignorant can go to share their lack of knowledge. Rumours become fact. What would once have been dismissed as a minor mistake becomes a national outrage. Then there's been backlash against Yumi Stynes.


To reiterate the depressing details, host of morning advertorial show The Circle Yumi Stynes, along with veteran journalist George Negus, made some stupid and mildly offensive remarks about the sexual prowess and intelligence of Ben Roberts-Smith, an Australian soldier who won the VC Cross in Afghanistan. About eight people saw the original incident, Stynes and Negus apologised, Roberts-Smith accepted, and that should have been the end of that. But of course it wasn't. For people who have been around the media as long as Stynes and especially Negus, the dumbest thing perhaps was not realising that unquestioning hero-worship of the Digger ideal in Australian would mean any criticism wouldn't be tolerated. It's on. There is a hate campaign of staggering proportions underway, mostly directed at Stynes (as a female Japanese-Australian, she's the far easier target), with Facebook pages inundated by people using the most abusive, racist language to criticise her far milder remarks, and even making death threats against her young daughters. Companies who ran advertising on The Circle have rushed to cancel their sponsorships in the wake of the campaign. No one - from the defence force, from any of the show's sponsors - have condemned the abuse; they are feeding in to it. Sure, this would have all been possible pre-internet; much of the hatred has been fermented on talkback radio. But the internet ferments, magnifies, allows the lazy and the disinterested to join in with copying, pasting and minimal effort. I'm sure there were some who were genuinely hurt and offended by the original comments. But how much of the hatred is coming from bored people looking for an excuse to be nasty? And any sponsor who self-righteously drops their advertising is condoning the threats.

I recently got a very low-level taste of all this myself, with some anonymous internet troll threatening to stalk me over my belief that some trees shouldn't be cut down (really). The internet sadly becomes a medium to spread ignorance rather than knowledge; people misinterpret what they read, paraphrase without understanding meaning or context, repeat inaccurate assertions without checking the facts. It was without surprise that I read new research showing people are too stupid for democracy. The average citizen rates their own intellectual prowess as much higher than it is and lacks the basic ability to accurately assess which is the best candidate in an election. No matter how much information is provided about the issues surrounding the election, people are simply too dumb to understand them - and don't realise that they are (one of today's Telegraph comments condemned Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore as "under/overeducated" - presumably there is a middle ground level of education which the commentator has reach and feels is the ideal for all others). So we see the phenomenon on the internet of people unable to differentiate between a blog, posts on a blog, and comments on a post - let alone the difference between your and you're - and yet still somehow believing their political opinions are valid and deserving of credence. The internet is an amazing tool, but it seems, sadly, that many people are too stupid for the internet.

Friday, March 02, 2012

On Bob Carr, Foreign Minister

I bet Julia Gillard is really good at organising surprise parties. By all accounts, at a personal level she's a really friendly sort of one, and her friends would never see it coming; even if they got a hint at what was going on, PM Gillard would so successfully convince them that there was not going to be a party as to make the occasion all the more unexpected. And I bet they'd feel the way we all feel after learning today that former NSW Premier Bob Carr has been named as Foreign Minister after days of Ms Gillard convincing us it wouldn't be so. I just hope her friends wouldn't feel so dismayed.

First though we need to abandon the idea that this is somehow a crisis of democracy. In Federal elections, as outlined in the constitution, we can vote below the line for individual senators, which given that the thing is the size of a table cloth and contains hundreds of names, takes bloody ages. So most of us vote above the line, requiring us to number just one box for the party of our choice, who are then free to nominate whoever they like to fill the Senate seat if they win. How many people, after all, would have personally voted for Mark Arbib, whom Carr replaces? Getting all of NSW out to vote for a single senate seat would be a massively expensive exercise with no constitutional basis.

So whilst it may not be an undemocratic decision, it is an alarming one. Bob Carr was premier of NSW for ten years, and in that time, had the state firmly in the pocket of big business. Transport was a shambolic disaster - the Glenbrook and Waterfall train crashes happened on his watch, killing a total of 14 people, and pretty much none of the proposed railway line's from the 1998 Action for Transport 2010 plan went ahead (although funnily enough the metroad links, Eastern distributor, Cross City Tunnel and others all were actually constructed). Delays and derailments on the rails were so frequent that fare-free days were a common occurrence to keep commuters appeased. Despite pre-election promises, hospital waiting lists blew out, schools closed or had their funding slashed, and the state's finances were sold up the creek through crippling Public-Private partnerships (PPPs) that ensured the public would lose money whilst the private sector made profited. But hey - the Sydney Olympics were great, right?

Since leaving office in 2005, Carr has enjoyed a cushy consultancy role with Macquarie Bank, the "private" partner in many of the PPPs his government developed; he's also dabbled in writing and public speaking. I'm wondering what's in this for him, other than upping his speaker's engagement fees when his ministry is done - boredom maybe? What is harder to understand is why on Earth Gillard thought this was a good idea. Maybe she's hoping NSW has forgotten, and the rest of Australia doesn't know, what Carr's reign was like. People don't understand the electoral system though, and it's easy for Labor's enemies to portray this as Labor acting without electoral approval to get a job for one of their own. Gillard can hardly expect either that Carr's performance will dazzle us all so as to reverse Labor's electoral fortunes, judging by his past record. Carr meanwhile is being called Labor's elder statesman, one of the party's leading lights. I guess he is. They are more screwed than you can ever imagine.