Oz odds. Mixed swag

All of Sydney (and Australia) was relieved when 11-year-old Michelle Levy, who had disappeared from her Bondi home in a white party dress, returned two nights later. While thousands had combed the streets, she had spent most of the time reading on the sofa of a benevolent 50-something stranger, and gone shopping with him too.

The questions that raged afterwards: Should an 11-year-old have known better after her fight with her dad over a chocolate bar? Should “the brat” be punished, and somehow be made to pay back every dollar of the money she cost the emergency services? Is running away a cry for attention? Should she be made to do community service to understand how lucky she was? And if she had been from Sydney’s much poorer west, would she have made front page news for days?

Back home again, Michelle tidied her room after the mess the police had made, ate dinner and chatted about the man she said had helped her.

• Why exactly a lawyer would secretly film himself asking a more junior employee for sex 78 times in one hour is incomprehensible, but a Melbourne solicitor who was found guilty of professional misconduct – and who claimed his behaviour was a function of Asperger’s Syndrome – did just that. Having paid $100,000 (R974,000) after a harassment suit, his ban from practice was reduced on appeal to two months, with the tribunal rejecting his Asperger’s claim and commenting that while he was “seen as a highly competent, respected, intelligent and outgoing solicitor and friend with impeccable credentials”, his behaviour was that of “a persistent sexual predator capable of considerable cunning, humiliating behaviour and deceit”.

• Richard Flanagan, who won the Booker Prize with The Narrow Road to the Deep North, his historical fiction novel about Australian World War II prisoners working and dying on the Thai-Burma railway, told a BBC interviewer asking about the government’s environmental and energy policies that he was “ashamed to be Australian when you bring this up”. 

• The president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, millionaire businessman and a consultant to an earlier incarnation of the Liberal Government for ten years, Geoff Cousins, says the Direct Action Plan that was introduced on 30 October after the scrapping of the Labor Government’s carbon tax is “Mickey Mouse” and stitched up with the leader of a mining company. (It was passed with the backing of Clive Palmer, mining magnate and leader of the Palmer United Party.)

Its centrepiece is a AU$2.55 billion financial incentives emissions reduction scheme whereby the government essentially will pay polluters not to pollute as much, or to increase their energy efficiency. It is voluntary and there will be no penalties for those who continue business as usual. As one letter writer to The Sydney Morning Herald said, “When are we going to start paying people 50c every time they stop at a red light, or $10 when they don’t speed or even $100 for not robbing a house this week?”

• In the meantime, Australia had its hottest October on record, going back to 1911 – in New South Wales, a full four degrees higher than the norm, according the Bureau of Meteorology. Two other states, Western Australia and South Australia, maxed out too.

• Gough Whitlam, a towering figure in Australian politics, has died.

The late Gough Whitlam, former Prime Minister of Australia

Whitlam a former Labor prime minister whose 1975 sacking by the Queen’s representative in Australia, then Governor General Sir John Kerr, brought the country to a standstill (and apparently the closest to civil war it has ever come, but, in the Australian way, this soon blew over) was responsible for free higher education (now overturned) and many other landmark reforms including no-fault divorce.

Funding for his reform programmes ran into difficulty, in part as a result of the first oil crisis, which led to a constitutional crisis with threats to “block supply” in the opposition-controlled senate.

Colluding with Kerr was Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser, who became PM after Whitlam’s dismissal and who Whitlam at the time famously labelled “Kerr’s cur”. But last month Fraser helped lead the tributes for his former political nemesis.

Other bon mots: On the campaign trail, Whitlam was once persistently hectored by a man demanding to know his opinion on abortion: “Let me make quite clear that I am for abortion and, in your case, Sir, we should make it retrospective!”

On a more serious note, as we lurch ever backwards: “A conservative government survives essentially by dampening expectations and subduing hopes. Conservatism is basically pessimistic, reformism is basically optimistic.” There it is, in a nutshell, as apt today as it was in Whitlam’s heyday.

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