On 1st January 1901 Australia’s political structure was transformed. Six separate colonies became part of a Federal Commonwealth. Many of the motivations for the genesis of the new nation were, by contemporary standards, unedifying, especially the nation’s wish to implement a discriminatory race-based ‘White Australia’ policy. Not to forget the blatantly racist Constitutional exclusion of Australia’s indigenous people from being recorded as citizens of the newly formed country.
However, for the white working men of Australia their land provided working conditions that were envied around the world. In Federation’s first decade, the concept of a “basic living wage” was endorsed by the nation’s Conciliation Court; pensions and other social welfare benefits were introduced by the Federal government and the nation’s strong labour unions won the battle to legally establish an eight hour working day. It was no accident that Australia was identified as the “white working man’s paradise”.
As we began, so we have continued. When I was in Canada on a term’s study leave in 2015, Canadian teachers were astonished that their Australian counterparts were entitled to long-service leave after seven years of continuous service, meaning they would be paid whilst taking a term’s leave. They were even more astonished that under many industrial awards Australian workers receive a “leave loading” in their December salary payments to provide a little extra for their summer holidays. I was repeatedly asked, “So are you telling me that Australians are paid more when they are not working?” Well, yes.
The Australian culture of “working to live”, rather than “living to work” will be reinforced next Tuesday when Victorians will have a public holiday to celebrate the running the nation’s most famous horse race, the Melbourne Cup, even if the 160th running of the race will be run in front of empty grandstands, as was the 100th running of the Cox Plate yesterday. It should be noted that Covid travel restrictions did not prevent an Irish horse, Sir Dragonet, arriving from overseas to win yesterday’s race.
In recent years, the Victorian government has added another sporting holiday to our annual schedule. The day before the Grand Final of the nation’s Australian Rules football competition is now a public holiday in Victoria. Typically, the Grand Final is played on the last Saturday in September. Because of the pandemic, this year’s football season was rescheduled and culminated in last night’s Grand Final, which was played in Brisbane.
Consequently, this year’s ‘Grand Final Eve’ holiday was shifted to last Friday. 23rd October, 2020 is now a day that might be noted as the zenith of public policy stupidity when the history of the pandemic is written.
Victorians were granted a holiday, but from what and to do what? There was no Grand Final to look forward to, no Grand Final parade to attend, no shops, hotels, or restaurants to attend. We could not even go to churches to pray for our teams! For nearly everyone the holiday was another day, added to over a previous 100, where nothing could be done. Teachers resented that a critical day of teaching senior classes in a classroom as they prepared to leave school to prepare for their final examinations was removed.
To make the holiday more agonising and absurd, the Government renamed it “Thank-you Victoria” day to thank its citizens for co-operating to defeat the second wave of the pandemic. Thanks for what? Having to witness economic and social dislocation, for which no-one in our government is willing to take responsibility for?
So, will America’s political structure be transformed in less than a fortnight? The President and his challenger conducted a second and, thankfully more civilised, debate last week. Whilst they were debating, millions were already voting. Indeed, some 50,000,000 Americans have already cast their vote, including the President himself who voted in Florida yesterday.
Many of these postal ballots have been cast to avoid attending crowded Covid susceptible polling stations on election day. In a country without compulsory voting, the Biden camp are hopeful that the unprecedented surge in pre-poll votes indicates that many have been motivated to vote to ensure a change in government, even allowing for the Covid factor. The American Senate confirmed this week the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the nation’s Supreme Court, a decision that critics see as transforming the judicial temperament of the Court into an unacceptably conservative one.
The importance of affordable and reliable national postal services has been reinforced during the pandemic. Forget needing the post for voting. In Australia, the government owned Australia Post, has been delivering as many parcels over the last few weeks as they do at Christmas, mainly due to unprecedented amounts of on-line shopping. Postal couriers have been relentlessly busy. Luckily, there is little traffic on the roads to delay their deliveries, other than a fleet of food delivery mopeds and motorised bicycles.
Australia Post’s Head Office is in Melbourne in Southern Cross Lane, which runs between Little Collins Street and Bourke Street. Half a block away and almost parallel to the Head Office is a Cartier jewellery store in Collins Street. The Cartier company, made famous by their custom-made jewellery ordered by Edward VIII for Mrs. Simpson- think gold and silver leopard and panther brooches ostentatiously studded with jewels-found itself receiving some unwanted publicity this week courtesy of Australia Post’s CEO, Christine Holgate.
Ms. Holgate, formerly the CEO of Blackmore’s Vitamins, has been asked to step aside from her role as revelations were made at a Senate Estimates Committee hearing that “under her watch”, gifts of four Cartier timepieces, valued at $4,000.00 each, had been made to senior Executives of Australia Post as acknowledgement of their work in securing successful multi-million contracts for the company. Further, she was criticised for wearing a Bulgari (who also have a boutique in Collins Street) watch at the Senate hearings valued at $48,000.00. Her money and her wrist. As far as I am concerned, the CEO is free to choose whatever watch she chooses.
The Prime Minister has led the chorus of derision. His objection seems to be that Government owned enterprises should not engage in such largesse for their employees. Why not? Australia Post makes healthy profits. How many privately owned companies spend far more of their shareholders’ funds on corporate hospitality suites and/or sending their employees on fully paid professional development courses and seminars? What would be the cost of BHP Billiton’s corporate Christmas presents every year, or the annual Christmas party?
Having the Prime Minister lecture anybody on appropriate spending of funds is as laughable as anything can be. He heads a government that has spent $30,000,000 more than necessary to purchase a parcel of land near the construction site of Sydney’s second airport. What about the ill-disciplined distribution of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to sporting clubs? What about the latest submarine building project of the Federal government that is already running hundreds of millions of dollars over budget? What about the millions spent on so-called official advertising campaigns that are thinly veiled political announcements to endorse government policies?
A colleague of Matthias Corman once told me that when the retiring Finance Minister was appointed to his role, he asked his Department for a list of all government organisations that received Federal finance. When presented with the list, he was told that no one could guarantee that the list was complete. The runaway train of government departments had already left the station.
When there is so much indefensible wasting of the public’s money, it is bizarre that the Prime Minister thinks he can offer lectures on what constitutes appropriate corporate governance. Are there unfortunate sub-texts at work here? Are senior employees of government corporations meant to be deprived of ‘capitalist trimmings’ to prove their loyalty to the government ownership of the means of production, but still be expected to contribute to the attainment of healthy corporate profits?
Remember the ridiculous fuss when Joe Hockey and Cormann were seen smoking a cigar outside Parliament House. Symbolism took a sinister hold. Apparently, cigar smoking is an indulgent pastime of the pampered rich. Therefore, how could someone smoking a cigar “care for and understand” the typical person.
Is wearing an elegant watch now to be seen as a similar betrayal of the people and their humble letterboxes?
For a supposedly pro-free enterprise Prime Minister to chastise the encouragement and reward of productivity suggests an inversion of the natural order of things. What is the great line from Macbeth? “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”
Quite a few inversions of the natural order of thinks lately when you come to think of it. Despite the presence of Covid risks there have been mass protests in Thailand against the unassailable authority of their Royal Family. Who would have ever thought that the revered Thai Royal Family would run into secular headwinds? Similarly, who would have thought a Pope would advocate civil unions from same-sex couples?
Who would have thought there would ever be an AFL Grand Final played at night? Who would have thought it would be played in Brisbane? Well, not everything was usurped. The pre-match and half-time entertainment were, as they always are in Melbourne, predictably awful. At game’s end the defending premiers, Richmond, had won successive premierships for the first time since 1973-1974.
Other remarkable achievements became predictable. Dustin Martin, Richmond’s dynamic player has played in three Grand Finals and has now won a record three Norm Smith medals for being the best player in each one. Maybe Dustin’s efforts do not qualify him to be considered the GOAT, but he is certainly the GGFPOAT- Greatest Grand Final Player Of All Time.
Geelong’s Gary Ablett, son of the mercurial Gary Ablett senior, played his last game in the Grand Final at the age of 36. A shattered shoulder and his team’s defeat prevented a romantic ending to a remarkable career; however, the guard of honour that was formed to farewell “the little Master” from the ground was a reminder of the power of sport to transcend a fight for scoreboard supremacy.
Whilst Geelong’s legion of fans were able to congregate in Covid safe pubs and club, Richmond’s fans were obliged to remain in their homes, with the numbers of police patrolling Swan Street, the heart of Richmond’s fan base, outnumbering wayward fans.
By and large Victorians continue to demonstrate remarkable obedience to ongoing lockdown restrictions. The rule of the law continues to rule, although it has been noted that of the close to 20,000 fines levied for breaches of Covid restrictions, totalling nearly $28,000,000 only 845 have been paid.
Literally, the fate of Covid fines seems to be following the law of diminishing returns.
Today the Victorian Premier rather bizarrely announced that he had no further announcement to make on the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. It was an announcement that further diminished the prospect of Victorians gaining much needed returns and respite for and from their three months and more of confinement.
We have all been advised of the importance of social distancing. Unfortunately for Mr. Andrews Melburnians will be reminded over the next week that their Grand Final and Spring Racing Carnival should have taken place within a short distance of time from each other. Today, businesses note that there are only two months until Christmas. The Grand Final, the Melbourne Cup and Christmas shopping are carnivals of sport and capitalism central to Melbourne’s social and economic health.
Even the increasingly isolated Mr. Andrews must recognise his campaign to eradicate the threat of Covid will not prevent a restless public deciding that their collective economic and social health has been placed at risk for too long. Once that collective frustration takes hold, Mr. Andrew’s one-man press conference carnival and political survival are imperilled. Tick, tock, Mr. Andrews. Time is running out. Check your watch, Daniel, and I really do not care who made it.