Joe, the crucial votes were in the mail, but in Australia, 'watch' how you do business!
Well, just when you thought when the weeks could not become even stranger, along came the past seven days! Irony, confusion, chaos and celebration reigned supreme.
Jye McNeil had his first ride in a Melbourne Cup. His steed, Twilight Payment, delivered McNeil the greatest prize, and payment, on the Australian turf at the dawn of the jockey’s career as he led the race from start to finish.
On the Saturday before the first Tuesday, former AFL coach, Dennis Pagan, saw the first horse he has trained, Johnny Get Angry, win a race older than the Melbourne Cup, the VRC Derby. A two-time premiership coach, Pagan is used to claiming his sporting prizes in front of over 100,000 spectators at the MCG. At Flemington, also usually home to 100,000 spectators on Derby Day, Pagan cut a solitary, but no less excited figure.
Both the Derby and the Melbourne Cup were run in front of zero crowds. Sadly, yesterday’s final day of the Carnival was one of zero collects for punters as the nation’s totalisator betting system ‘crashed’. It was not capable of being restored to allow bets and payments to be made, either during the day or at twilight.
However, zero is now Melbourne’s number de jour with the city having recorded nine successive ‘Zero’ days free from new cases of Covid-19 transmissions. Without these zeros, it would not have been possible for crowds to return to outdoor and indoor venues in greater numbers, for people to travel freely within Victoria, and for galleries, cinemas and libraries to re-open as from tomorrow.
Today’s announcements by the Victorian Premier of these further relaxations of Covid-19 restrictions gives hope that the 2021 Australian Open will better resemble a traditional Grand Slam event.
Despite having strict lockdowns, Paris is currently hosting its Masters tournament. Tonight, the final will be a ‘next-Gen’ event with Alex Zverev playing Daniil Medvedev, with Zverev having defeated Nadal in their semi-final. This week, Australia’s John Millman won his first ATP final, defeating France’s Adrian Mannarino, in the final of the Astana Open in the wide sweeping land of Kazakhstan.
After Paris, London will host the end of year ATP championships. Whatever the outcome, Novak Djokovic has been confirmed as the world’s No.1 ranked player for a sixth time, equalling Pete Sampras’ record and moving him ahead of five-time emperors, Nadal and Federer.
The WTA end of year championship was scheduled to culminate in Shenzen this evening, but were cancelled earlier in the year, meaning that Ash Barty will end the year as the world’s No.1 ranked female player.
Last week former High Court Chief Justice, Murray Gleeson, saw his daughter, Jacqueline, appointed to the Court, creating a father-daughter dynasty. Looking on from Ireland this week, horse trainer, Aidan O’Brien, saw his son, Joseph, train his second Melbourne Cup winner with his horse coming second for a second time. A second son-father quinella no less: in 2017 Rekindling beat Johannes Vermeer; in 2020 Twilight Payment beats Tiger Moth. Suitably and curiously Celtic?
Horse racing has long been known as the Sport of Kings. Anthony Van Dyck was the Flemish artist in the court of the ill-fated Charles 1. The horse named in his honour, and trained by Aidan O’Brien, had won the Epsom Derby, before travelling to Australia to seek greater glories. Distressingly, after finishing a brave second in the Caulfield Cup, he too was ill fated. Anthony Van Dyck fractured a fetlock in the Melbourne Cup and had to be euthanised. His death reignited a debate about the safety and ethics of horseracing.
In a week when the integrity of the postal service became a central post-script to America’s Presidential election, the CEO of Australia Post, Christine Holgate resigned from her post amidst mounting perceptions that she had not displayed the integrity required in her position.
Concerns about employee rewards of Cartier watches and generous personal accommodation and grooming expenses being placed on the corporate credit card led to the CEO offering her resignation. She fell on the blunt sword of Australian public opinion, being the much vaunted “pub test.”
My Rechabite leanings rarely see me in an Australian pub. Apparently, it shows. Speaking to dear and respected friends, I am, it appears, isolated in my defence of Christine Holgate. Isolated, perhaps, as Australian women of the 1960s in pubs who sat with their shandies in the Ladies’ Lounge whilst their “better halves” relished consuming the six o’clock swill in neighbouring Public Bars.
There have never been allegations that either Holgate or her company committed malfeasance. She was known as someone who understood and developed a positive company culture. Contra executives at casino companies who have to read what governance and company culture means from “cheat cards” at public inquiries. She took a salary 50% less than her predecessor. She reduced it further at the start of the pandemic.
It seems to me that her greatest sin was to approach leadership of her company in an unorthodox manner. Do I smell the perfume of tall poppies in the spring air? If she had granted her successful Chief Executives, who let’s remember had secured contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, a highly taxed cash bonus, I suspect not even a ripple of outrage would have been generated. If she had worn a less ostentatious watch to the Senate’s Estimates Committee hearing, would she have been subject to such disdain?
Would the Prime Minister prefer that she had given the successful executives thousand-dollar gift cards at Bunnings, so they could all have constructed backyard chicken coops together? Or maybe a year’s membership to the Cronulla Leagues Club? God forbid that a CEO may do something that no-one has done before, especially if it is stylish. Is wearing an elegant watch perceived as a betrayal of what it means to be a true Australian? God help us if it does! Remember the flak that Paul Keating copped for wearing “expensive” Italian suits?
Plans were announced this week to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission to complement similar State bodies to oversee “breaches of integrity standards” in organisations such as ASIC and Australia Post. Let’s hope it can focus on what integrity and standards truly mean, not what they are often quickly judged to be in the pubs of Australia.
In a week when further announcements were made ending interstate border closures-the busy NSW/Victoria border re-opens on November 23rd-the High Court ironically made a ruling about the legality of such closures. Rambunctious businessman, former politician and perennial political activist Clive Palmer had challenged Western Australia’s border closure on the basis that it contravened s.92 of the Constitution which provides that interstate trade and commerce between the States “shall be absolutely free”.
For Palmer, there was not to be a bench of judicial activists willing to create an implied constitutional right of free movement, but rather a bench that upheld previous judicial authority that States can close their borders when it is considered necessary to preserve public health in an emergency. As the Covid-19 emergency diminishes in Australia, but shows no sign of abating elsewhere in the world, only the Western Australian border remains entirely inflexible.
Oh, and this week there was America’s Presidential election.
After all the “sound and fury”, what can we conclude?
In Melbourne Cup week, Joseph Biden has received the greatest Twilight Payment he could have ever dreamt of in his political career! Confirmed at 78 as the oldest President-elect, he will serve with America’s first female Vice-President, Kamala Harris.
Biden has won an election that was his to lose. As predicted, the staggering number of pre-poll ballots favoured Biden by an enormous margin. On election night, it appeared that the result could be desperately close. It is now clear that Biden will clearly, if not decisively, win an election in which a record number of Americans exercised their voting rights.
All we need now is a concession speech from the incumbent. It’s time, to coin an electoral phrase, for someone to remind Trump that, although he is the first one-term President to not be re-elected since George W. Bush in 1992, he is the servant of the people and the Constitution. He did not lose as badly as the polls predicted; indeed, there would be many who would argue that Trump polled far better than he was either entitled or expected to. The Republicans still control the American Senate.
Many people wonder why the American Constitution provides for an election in November but does not see the President elect take office until the following January. Compare this period to the Westminster tradition of London and Canberra. If a party loses government in England or Australia, the new Prime Minister is generally at the desk within 8-10 days. Apparently, the American hiatus was provided to allow time for a new President to travel to Washington DC in “horse and buggy days” and prepare for taking office.
The authors of the American Constitution would be stunned that this interval may now provide a defeated President time to launch various legal challenges to the validity of the election’s result. To use the separation of powers doctrine to contest the result in the courts, will only risk further political separation of America’s body politic.
We all know Trump is a man who does not take kindly to losing anything, let alone the most powerful office in the world. There is also probably no doubt that he curses the Covid-19 pandemic beyond measure. Before its onset, a buoyant American economy was arguably set to strongly underwrite his prospects for re-election.
Yet it was the onset of the pandemic that crystallised fears and concerns about the Trump Presidency: the intemperate language, the bullying and hectoring of opponents, the disregard for expertise; hyperbolic claims about the arrival of cure-all vaccines and his cruel and dismissive regard for the hundreds of thousands affected by the virus. In short, there was too much demagoguery on display from a man whose office is meant to demonstrate the virtues and values of a democracy.
Biden comes to office promising to be the band-aid and salve on the raw wounds of Trump’s America.
A hemisphere away, Australians must have observed the shenanigans in America and, once again, counted their many political advantages. May I list them? Forgive me, but I am preparing my Year 12 students for their final examinations- I am hoping they can write them sans face masks-so revision dot point lists are all around me:
1. Australia has a broad political centre-Left, centre-Right culture that accepts that our State and Federal governments have an important role to play in our collective good;
2. Accordingly, we do not have a political culture that is profoundly suspicious and hostile to the role of government per se. We remain healthily sceptical of our rulers, but no Australian Prime Minister would proclaim a wish to “drain the Lake Burley Griffin swamp”. Trump advocated a hostility towards the very institutions he was presiding over. Ironically, he will now seek their intervention to remain in office;
3. Our broad consensus means that not every political debate ignites a shrill social battle between the “liberty of the individual” and the “tyranny of the majority”; and
4. We have independent organisations- State and Federal Electoral Commissions- that organise every aspect of elections- enrolment, voting, postal voting, boundary redistributions, counting of votes-in a manner that promotes transparency, confidence and accountability.
Never once has an Australian Prime Minister had to call the integrity of our electoral processes into doubt, even if they doubt the wisdom of the voters. The chaos, confusion and lack of clarity in America’s electoral processes is staggering.
As the post-election analysis began in Australia today, there was a moment of breathtaking chutzpah on ABC’s Insiders programme. Former Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull jointly presented their views on the election of President-elect Biden. Despite the result of what many have called the “most consequential election in American history”, the former PMs managed to end their analysis by calling for a Royal Commission into Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which they alleged had conspired to remove them from office.
Malcolm Turnbull all but called on David Speers to publicly renounce his time at Sky News and allow Malcolm to exculpate Speer’s sins for working for what Turnbull clearly sees as a satanic force.
Forget Biden, it is time for Rudd and Turnbull’s battered egos to be restored! Because, after all they were more sinned against than sinners.
Turnbull’s self-belief and assuredness about everything he says is quite pleasant to listen to, but Rudd more and more resembles a rambling melancholy Russian monk.
This is how I remember the Rudd/Turnbull vs. Murdoch history:
-Both received endorsement from the Australian people at general elections- Rudd in 2010 and Turnbull in 2016;
-Both received editorial support from the Murdoch press prior to them winning general elections;
-Both lost their party’s leadership when a majority of their party lost confidence in their leadership and management of their party-Turnbull in December, 2009 and Rudd in June, 2010;
-Both regained the leadership of their parties-Rudd in September, 2013 and Turnbull in September, 2015. In Rudd’s case, he brazenly used the Murdoch press to undermine the leadership of Julia Gillard. Rudd resigned the leadership of his party following losing the 2013 general election and Turnbull lost the Prime Ministership when he did not contest a vote for the leadership of the party in August, 2018;
-I do not believe that Murdoch invented the “Godwin Grech-Utegate” affair that shattered faith in Turnbull’s leadership in 2009;
-I do not believe that Murdoch conspired to make Kevin Rudd walk away from the ”greatest moral challenge of mankind” and not seek a double dissolution election to endorse his climate change legislation and then introduce the ham-fisted “super-profits tax”; and
-I do not believe that Murdoch made Turnbull perform unimpressively in four by-elections in 2018 or, without notice, call for a spill of the party’s leadership, that precipitated his downfall.
In America last week the people spoke, and we wait for the President to listen. The Australian people spoke years ago regarding the Rudd and Turnbull governments. I would suggest that Kevin and Malcolm adopt the advice that Rudd offered to Trump this morning and “put their big-boy pants on.” Otherwise, they may become, if they have not already, the sad embodiment of rancorous and conspiratorial former leaders whose obsession with their place in history prevents them from acknowledging voices other than their own, especially those of the people.
However, for unintentional irony even Kevin and Malcolm were outdone this week by Prince Charles. The heir to the English throne gave an interview trumpeting his interest in fashion and outlining his sense of style. Prince Charles, the 72 year old fashion icon! A rival in the couture stakes to his first wife, the late Princess Diana? Who could have imagined? Charlie, it is time to acknowledge races you can no longer win. Hopefully, there are many offering the same advice to the defeated Donald.