BARR’S LIGHT-RAIL ANALOGY TAKES THE PRIZE

By Mike Welsh – July 1, 2019

Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s light-rail analogy to explain away the shock resignation of tipped Labor leadership aspirant Meegan Fitzharris took the prize, says Seven Days columnist MIKE WELSH

ALL the usual, overused cliches were wheeled out in the wake of the shock resignation of senior ACT minister Meegan Fitzharris

The dependable duo of “spending more time with the family” and “difficult decision”, were mixed with the plausible “time is right” and the elusive “work/life balance”. 

But it was Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s light-rail analogy that took the prize. Barr explained: “The tracks of your life are laid down for another four years if you commit to the process, so now is the time to be making those sorts of decisions.”

Barr’s pragmatism could be code for “covering your (tram) tracks” or referencing an out-of-control train “hurtling down the line”. Two questions remain: was the Yerrabi Express politically derailed due to an overloaded baggage car? Or did Ms Fitzharris simply bite off more than she could “Choo Choo”?

THE Canberra Airport managing director has gone into bat for our society’s marginalised. Stephen Byron, who participated in the recent Vinnies CEO sleepout in an airport hangar, says the Newstart allowance is “so low it’s a joke”. Byron, who raised more than $70,000 for the annual fundraiser, says the benefit should be increased by $75 a week. Most economists agree, suggesting the increase would stimulate the economy and create employment.

STILL at the sleepout and there were a few sniggers from among the high flyers who’d stepped into the shoes of the homeless, doing it tough for a few hours. At sunrise, as the bleary-eyed participants packed up their cardboard mattresses, a chauffeur wandered through the homeless hangar to whisk his charge back to their real world.

FORMER Brumbies star Clyde Rathbone has confused social-media followers with bizarre comments on fellow former Wallaby Israel Folau. In an opinion piece on the online platform PlayersVoice, the South African-born player appeared to be standing by Izzy.

“I feel for him as a person. He’s got strange ideas in his head and didn’t necessarily choose them,” he wrote. 

“He appears to be caught up in a relatively small community of zealots”. But unhelpfully Rathbone, or “Rattlebones” to his mates, later tweeted: “For three million I will make sweet love to Israel Folau. We can even do it in a church to make sure it’s not gay sex. Call me @IzzyFolau”.

IN these days of rapidly disappearing provincial TV newsrooms comes a documentary on the demise of a local news bulletin that had run for 40 years. Canberra commercial radio producer/journalist Daniel Pizarro has put together “Ten Capital News: The final days”. The 20-minute production featuring the anchorman’s anchorman Greg Robson, with contributions from Greg HughesVirginia Haussegger and ABC anchor Craig Allenchronicles the end of the one-hour bulletin, axed in November 2001. Pizarro plans to enter the doco in festivals beginning with September’s Canberra Film Festival.

IF Canberra isn’t the tailgate capital of Australia I’ll wager it’s in the top two. I’ve long wished for a better and more apt way to respond to the impatient bully bearing down on me. “Dangerous dickhead” lost its power long ago. But thanks to one of our National Living Treasures, I feel better knowing someone else considers tailgaters to be the worst of the worst. In his regular column in “The Australian” Phillip Adams writes: “Whilst opposed to capital punishment, I reckon tailgaters deserve the death penalty”.

AND still in traffic, an update on the rogue cyclist I wrote about on June 13 (playing chicken with four lanes of peak-hour traffic) who was at it again this week. This time his arrogant antics were met with a chorus of blasting horns. His response was to boldly give them and anyone else in the vicinity the middle finger. Seems while most of us are bound to obey road rules there are some, often cyclists, who apparently have been given special dispensation from annoying and tedious regulations.

CANBERRA CITY NEWS JUNE 6

By Mike Welsh

SPARE a thought for recently re-elected ALP member for Fenner Andrew Leigh.

Poor sod spent countless hours smiling on early morning TV and arguing on late night “Q&A”, building a national profile, only to find himself on the backbench. 

The factionally unaligned Leigh was heading for a ministry in a Shorten government, but has been overlooked for a spot on Albo’s opposition team.

ANU economist Warwick McKibbin’s tweet: “When Andrew Leigh, the best economist in the parliament is not in the shadow ministry, you know something is wrong”, may test Leigh’s commitment to Labor’s cause. And the general consensus that Albo’s team is lined with “mediocrities”, would add to Leigh’s misery.

THE cruel dumping hasn’t dampened Leigh’s liking for a sledge, though. Leigh tweeted: “Since 2016, Labor has had a shadow minister for charities, now the Coalition has decided to copy the idea. Just two small downsides: 1. It’s an assistant minister. 2. It’s Zed Seselja. Perhaps they should be honest, and call him the assistant minister against charities?” Seselja fired back: “On the other hand, there appears to be little downside for the ALP in dumping you”. Ouch !!

FANS of angry-old-man-radio are pleased to learn Alan Jones remains on the wireless until at least his 80th birthday. AJ signed a two-year contract with 2GB, which relays parts of his breakfast show to Canberra via 2CC. The shock jock’s stablemate Ray Hadley, recently touted as a replacement should Jones “walk”, was quoted as being “comfortable” with the signing. Sources from inside the conservative bunker suggest Hadley is anything but.

RUGBY superstar David Pocock usually has plenty to say on issues dear to his heart but was more measured recently. As the sporting media gathered to hear his plans of enhancing his World Cup chances by quitting Super League and the Brumbies, Pocock virtually confirmed a post-rugby political career by impressively sidestepping the inevitable question about his future.

The South African-born athlete, who came to the capital in 2013, said: “The Brumbies have given me a home for the last seven years. They’ve supported me through injury and given me the opportunity to work on my game and my leadership as part of an incredible group of men”. 

The activist also thanked fans and the city: “Canberra has well and truly become my home. Em and I love living here, being part of the community.”

THE shock 2017 announcement of Belconnen Myer’s closure has been reversed. After a “new lease arrangement” was reached between the retail giant and Scentre (operator of Westfield), a downsized Myer will emerge at the Belconnen landmark.

AT nearby Hawker the pharmacy is now under the bright purple and orange banner of the Hawker Discount Drug Store, part of a chain spreading down the east coast and through the ACT. One local wag, showing his age, wanted to know if the drug store sold “ice-cream sodas” and if “Richie Cunningham and The Fonz would be dropping by”.

CANBERRA AFL stalwart Aaron Bruce has reached a special milestone in his long career. The Canberra Demons’ skipper notched up 150 NEAFL games, becoming only the fourth player in the comp’s history to do so.

Rupert Murdoch may be spending more time at his Yass weekender after the announcement of a new news site dedicated to Canberra (the ‘burbs not the bubble). Murdoch, who started “The Australian” in Braddon in 1964 has launched the Canberra Star digital-only site that will focus on “connecting with local communities who are often seeking new ways to stay in touch with what’s happening on their doorstep”.

FRIGHTENING reports are emerging across social media of food, possibly laced with poison, being tossed into Canberra backyards. A Flynn dog owner warned owners to be vigilant after her dog returned home with dark chocolate in its mouth. And a Bonython resident reported finding a raw chicken stuffed with rat poison in her yard.

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CANBERRA CITY NEWS MAY 30

By Mike Welsh

IF the city of mostly true believers is still disappointed by the election result it could always build a bridge and get over it. Speculation of a brand, spanking new structure spanning Lake Burley Griffin might just be the tonic. 

The National Capital Authority has confirmed a study of completely replacing Commonwealth Avenue Bridge will begin, rather than building a separate structure to accommodate light rail to Woden.

AND if a new bridge doesn’t do it, a naked man walking across the existing one with a pumpkin on his head surely would. Thankfully we won’t be exposed to such a spectacle after Sydney journalist Eddy Jokovich reneged on his pledge to “walk nude from Sydney to Canberra balancing a pumpkin on my head” if the coalition won the Federal election.

Pumpkinhead Eddy’s copped a shellacking on social media in the days since, pathetically responding on Twitter: “To all those perverts with their binoculars out there expecting this to happen, if the Liberals can lie and break their promises, so can I. None of the polls predicted Morrison’s re-election, few expected it. People make mistakes. Go and have a cold shower, all of you”. 

Given shrinkage and Canberra’s climate, a nothing-to-see-here-folks headline has gone begging.

SCOTT Morrison’s miraculous victory has brought the “fast tracking” of Canberra’s light rail to Woden to a shuddering halt. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr must now explore other avenues of funding. Stage 2 was more likely under a Shorten government with its pledge of $200 million. A shellshocked Barr suggested the re-election of the coalition was “going to set back the time frame, there’s no doubting that,” with 2025 “a more realistic time frame”.

IF the next ACT election takes on a Trump/ScoMo presidential tone the Canberra Liberals will need Mark Parton as its leader. Armed with little, the local Libs won’t be able to resist a “Barr will tax you to death” version of the “Crooked Hillary” and “Shifty Bill” template which worked a treat for Donald Trump and Scott Morrison.

Morrison is the consummate salesman. Parton is a very good salesman. Both have extensive experience in media roles before entering politics and the skills to “buy and sell” career political types such as Bill Shorten and, locally, Alistair Coe. Political campaigns are now 100 per cent sizzle with no room for sausage.

WITHIN 48 hours of the first quiet murmurs of a Labor defeat turning into a loud roar, reinstated ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher had put the bite on me. Late on Monday I received a “Don’t mourn, join” email from the former ACT chief minister. “Mike, Saturday night’s election was disappointing for Labor supporters and voters across Australia. But now it’s time to rally together and look to the fight ahead”. Before the signwriters had even reattached the shingle to her new/old office, Katy was asking me “to join our progressive movement and become a member of the ALP”.

THE once fierce resistance to Canberra’s annual kangaroo cull has dimmed over recent times, but the 2019 program targeting a record number of roos has reawakened protesters’ rage. Twenty four organisations, including filmmaker Creative Cowboy and British-based vegan charity Viva, have issued a statement condemning the killing of 4076 kangaroos and unknown numbers of joeys. The group claims: “When global scientists have issued the strongest call yet to reverse ‘nature’s dangerous decline’, the ACT government is overseeing the cruel mass slaughter of over 4000 kangaroos.”

STILL on activism; Manuka’s fashionable district is not known for its tree huggers nor is it traditionally a haven for those with a penchant for civil disobedience, which is a relief because such action is no longer necessary to save a mature London Plane tree in Franklin Street. A ruling by the Conservator for Flora and Fauna Ian Walker, has blocked the destruction of the tree standing in the way of a proposed European-style, neoclassical, seven-storey hotel near the Capitol Cinema.

THE good folk of Curtin have been very generous with donations to the recent Anglicare Pantry appeal. Volunteers spent the weekend outside the local Coles store and gathered around 5000 items. The supermarket manager says that takings were up $30,000 for the week and the food items donated during the weekend filled more than 40 trolleys.

CANBERRA CITY NEWS MAY 16

CANBERRA was Bob Hawke territory. The Labor legend spent more time here than most of his fellow Lodge dwellers and, unlike most who spent time in that high office, sport was Hawke’s major leisure pastime. Among the Canberra-themed Hawke stories being shared, many involve the Raiders. 

Hawke’s premiership coincided with the Green Machine’s purple patch and underpinning Hawke’s “People’s PM” mantle are the many classic photos of a grey-suited Hawke enthusiastically sharing a beer with sweaty and often topless footballers after another Raiders win.

THE Hawke reputation was formed decades before he strode the national political stage. While many tales of the Rhodes Scholar’s boozing can’t be told, there is one from his time as a student at the ANU. Often dismissed as myth but confirmed by author Dr Jill Waterhouse in “University House, As They Experience It: A History 1954-2004”, a naked Hawke in 1957 “was one of five students who, in very high spirits, swam about in the ornamental goldfish pond at University House.”

FROM all the words written about him since his passing it’s impossible for anyone to claim to have nailed the impact the flawed but brilliant Hawke had on Australians. But Canberra social commentator Melinda Tankard Reist, for my money, came very close with: “I had never seen a male adult in my family cry when I saw Bob Hawke shed tears on TV. It was almost shocking and in retrospect, a gift to Australian men.”

RECENTLY I made a mental note to purchase some Bob Hawke beer after spotting the craft brew from Hawke’s Brewing Co on special at a suburban grocer. I popped back in around 4.30 on Thursday afternoon to buy a six pack, only to be told it had just sold out. Spooky?

NOT everyone is impressed with our light rail. A Sydney visitor very keen to experience the new transport mode hectored their host for a ride. Eventually relenting, the host organised a round trip from the city to Gungahlin. At journey’s end the visitor’s only comment was “don’t like the scenery”. Apparently it was “too concrete” resembling the “major thoroughfare of an eastern-bloc city”. May have been a cloudy day. Can’t please everyone.

The 1959 handmade suit in the window of Sam Catanzariti Menswear. Photo: Mike Welsh

STILL in the city and with a mini-Manhattan skyline rising above it, it’s nice to know there is still some old-fashioned craft appreciated. On display in Sam Catanzariti Menswear’s window in Allara Street is a mid-grey, double-breasted suit. The suit was handmade by Sam himself in 1959 for a local man who wore it until his death in 2009. Before donating the garment (made from pure wool baratier fabric) to present owner Jovan Nikolevski, the man’s widow sent it to the dry cleaners who found two ticket stubs to the Dress Circle of the Royal Theatre in Sydney dated October 27, 1962.

AS the keeper of chooks I am beginning to feel nervous about proposed new laws for the ACT which recognise animals as sentient beings (able to perceive or feel things). If enacted, the legislation will dictate that animals have “intrinsic value and deserve to be treated with compassion”. Therefore we humans have “a duty to care for the physical and mental welfare” of our animals. I confess I may at times have spoken brusquely to my chooks when the production of eggs slowed and possibly subtly suggested an “axe” was hanging over them when laying stopped completely.

Who is the fairest of them all… Richard Luton or Madonna?

THE end of an extremely dull Federal election campaign was brightened by Canberra real estate agent Richard Luton, who posted on Instagram a picture of himself (at the 2018 Luton Charity Ball) and a picture of Madonna (at the Billboard Women in Music Awards) both wearing similar flamboyant suits. Luton asks: “Who wore it better?… This is more important than general election”. Observing AEC regulations Luton urged followers: “Need your vote by 6pm, Saturday”. The result? Too close to call.

CANBERRA CITY NEWS APRIL 25

by Mike Welsh

THE smug smirk permanently parked across the annoyingly plausible face of Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not borne of any cockiness but a deeply held conviction that he finally has opposition leader Bill Shorten right where conservative politics wants him – in a one-on-one contest. 

Tony Abbott didn’t need to figure Bill out and Malcolm Turnbull didn’t even try, but ScoMo has been gagging to get Bill to this for a long time. Morrison’s smirk is dripping with “Bill’s my bunny”.

Officially, the line will be the economy, climate change, border protection etcetera but the undercurrent, or dog whistle, is: “Bill is a bad, bad man”. After six years and three leaders, the LNP has little else in its campaign kitbag.

For someone with a flash marketing resume, Morrison is acutely aware of that basic rule of advertising, “less is more”. 

On the surface, he made a meal of his first pitch to the nation after calling the election on April 11 with his: “If you vote for me you’ll get me, if you vote for Bill Shorten, you’ll get Bill Shorten”. But there is a method to his seemingly message-mangling madness.

Message: “Get Bill and you also get his nasty union thug mates”.

A few days earlier Morrison had served the entree: “But Labor are full of lies and high tax. That’s all you need to know about Labor”.

Message: “Bill Shorten is a liar”.

And Bill’s union mates were central to conservative commentator Miranda Devine’s ludicrous piece in the Sydney “Telegraph” suggesting Shorten’s slight speech affliction is in fact an affectation. Devine said “Shorten sometimes says “with” and sometimes “wiv”, a vestige of trying to slum it with his union bruvvers after attending one of Melbourne’s poshest schools”.

Message: “Bill Shorten is a fraud”.

With an already deeply cynical electorate largely disapproving of negative political behaviour, the battle will still be more about slogans and smear/fear campaigns of varying degrees of viciousness than explanation of policies.

But relying on the effectiveness of negative political attacks poses real risks for the major players. Do they have the skill to kick a head and move on? Millennials are now more politically astute and fully engaged than in the recent past.

Twenty three years ago my five-year-old daughter came running into the room crying indignantly that “John Howard hurts families”. She’d been exposed to a negative ALP TV commercial designed to prevent Howard from moving into The Lodge in March, 1996. A residence he occupied (too little for some locals’ liking) for the next 11 years during which he launched successful election campaigns mostly with the perennial “who-do-you-trust?” line.

That traumatised five-year-old is now a millennial with a raft of millennial issues demanding to be addressed.

Signalling and messaging to this socially progressive cohort, financially conservative, with a genuine concern for the planet is now a complex task.

Thanks to social media flushing out the concept of identity politics, defined as: “A tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etcetera to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics”, the once reliable short, sharp political stab that easily reached the masses now comes with the high risk of missing new mobs within the masses. 

Bright young political staffers are now required to forensically fossick through the dirty and dangerous skips of social media, hoping to tap into a seam of vote-winning gold running through our increasingly more fragmented and fraught society.

But there are still many cautious coalition MPs who are much less flamboyant than their brash new leader from the world of advertising. A week before the poll was called, the member for Bennelong (John Howard’s old seat), John Alexander, ran with “who do you trust?”.

Just how difficult it is to teach old dog whistlers new tricks will be clear on or around May 18.

CANBERRA CITY NEWS APRIL 18

BARELY hours after PM Scott Morrison called a Federal election for May 18, news teams were on the streets of Queanbeyan – the heart of the once bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro – feeling the pulse. 

Mike Kelly’s touched-up teeth outside his Queanbeyan office. Photo: Mike Welsh

At the same time, across the border the streets of Manuka were alive with the colour green as half a dozen Greens volunteers hit the ground early, handing out material on behalf of the party’s candidate for the seat of Canberra, Tim Hollo and ACT Senate hopeful Dr Penny Kyburz.

MEANWHILE back in Eden-Monaro, incumbent Dr Mike Kelly’s teething troubles have been fixed. Months ago, an unknown wag blacked out a couple of his pearly whites in Kelly’s enormous image plastered on the outside of his Monaro Street office, giving the good doctor an imbecilic look. But there’s nothing like an election to bring out the best in people and Kelly’s beaming smile has been restored with the unsubtle application of white paint.

Kingston Foreshore local Tia meets Hercules, the therapy alpaca. Photo: Mike Welsh

OUT among the people this week was popular therapy alpaca Hercules, still grieving the death of partner Mimosa, killed last month in a dog attack. He’s back to doing what he does best, participating in selfies with his legion of fans. Handler Nils Lantzke says Hercules spent a few days after the attack waiting by the gate for Mimosa to return, but is back to his regular gig of visiting patients at Clare Holland House.

IN local politics Liberal MLA Mark Parton is indeed a brave man. Taunting animal rights activists has been a free-for-all this week, but as a public figure Parton is certainly inviting strife. The former radio man tweeted: “If you wanna be vegan, all power to U, but DON’T FORCE IT DOWN MY THROAT. Don’t trespass on to hard-working farmers’ homes and properties. And leave meat workers the hell alone”.

Meat Lover Mark

WHEN I first worked in the northern industrial suburb of Mitchell, early 2003, there were probably three or four coffee shops, a bakery and a Greasy Joe’s fast food outlet. The area now boasts many fine coffee brands, impressive pastries, an award-winning craft beer brewery, IT and production houses gaining national reputations and a tram-shed full of shiny red Spanish trams. The suburb has just taken a massive technological leap as a potential Tech Hub, housing the launching pad for the world’s first drone delivery service by Wing, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet.

And for those who may be wondering exactly how this delivery service works, online site producthunt.com simplified the process: “Customers place an order for popular items like food, coffee and medicine through Wing’s app. Minutes later a drone arrives with the goods at their doorstep.” The company initially plans to deliver into Gungahlin, Harrison, Franklin, Palmerston and Crace by mid year. The company predicts by 2030 there could be more than 10,000 drone deliveries each day in Canberra.

LATEST stats reveal the capital is now officially the most expensive city in Australia in which to rent, with houses here around $30 higher a week than in Sydney. And to make matters more stressful for renters entering the market, scammers are also active. One newcomer to the region applied for a rental property in Lyneham, only to be told they needed to shell out $2400 via bank transfer before being able to inspect the property. He quickly smelt a rat and notified AllHomes, which took the apartment off its listings. The property later reappeared on HomeAway.com, again being quickly deleted.

OUR northern suburbs’ snout “Pete” was recently left incredulous after discovering the National Press Club, which also houses the ACT/NSW NBN office, does not yet enjoy the benefits of the political football that is the national broadband network.

A bit of snooping by “Pete” revealed 16 National Circuit does have a cable – of sorts – passing its front door but no connection has yet been made. He’s been assured a hook up is “imminent”.