Sunday, December 31, 2006

Video killed the town-square public hanging – RIP Saddam

What to do with criminal national leaders after deposing them is an age-old problem. If not chummy absolution by the new guard a la Ford and Nixon, the age-old solution, of course, is the other extreme, of summary execution. Preferably in the town-square on market day, but I do believe modern usage permits the said execution to take place on live TV, at least when done on Christmas Day, or arguably another similarly high-profile festive and/or religious occasion.

Perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I thought early CNN reports of Saddam’s execution yesterday afternoon (Eastern Australian time) said that it was shown on live TV, at least in Iraq. Today, this seems not to have been the case, despite the whole thing most definitely having been caught on video.

So why the disrespect, people? You got the Haj timing right, at least, but you dithered around for three years before lynching the guy, and then before only a tiny live audience.

This was such slow-motion summary justice that the only person in the world who got a blood-lust boner yesterday was Australian PM John Howard, who grinningly stated that “due process” had taken its course. Even the bellicose-central generalissimo George Bush couldn’t be arsed going before the world’s cameras on the day.

Meanwhile, Howard-loving GenY hover itchy-fingered at YouTube, which passes for their generation’s town-square. Not a single pixel of YouTube, as far as I’m aware, is live. Which means from now on, deposed national leaders can look forward to a purgatory of flickering flinching in teenagers’ bedrooms for ever more.

Some lynch-mob. Happy New Year to the rest of you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

James Brown, and slavin’ for the man

In death, James Brown has been generally afforded all the respect he got in the last years of his life. In other words, the feeding frenzy now extends to milking his fresh corpse.

By this I particularly mean a disgraceful editorial in today’s Australian, and more generally, a wilful blindness to Brown’s having worked himself into the grave. There’s no stopping some people, of course, from more or less deliberately dying with their boots on, but all the signs are that James Brown was a minor actor in programming his grueling touring schedule as a septuagenarian.

“Hard work” is a noble thing, but only if the rewards flow primarily to oneself – or one’s family, at least – and one gets to enjoy them. The former condition is unlikely to have been met in Brown’s case, courtesy of his seemingly parasitical lawyer and accountant, whose moral calibres are attested to by Brown’s wife and young son having been ex parte locked out of the family home by the duo. As for enjoying his wealth – or at least what trickled down to him – James Brown never had a farewell tour (AFAICT), and so was presumably years off any prospect of a dignified retirement.

But never mind any of that, editorialises the Australian; Brown’s cotton-picking sweat – literally in his youth – looks and smells as its own reward:

Brown [was] the personification of reward for effort. He championed pride and empowerment for black Americans and preached the path to progress was hard work, not handouts . . . Brown's personal dramas followed him into death, with his widow Tomi Rae Brown claiming she had been locked out of his estate by his lawyers. But these troubles serve to amplify the scale of his achievements . . . [Brown’s] message that hard work is the recipe for prosperity in the face of adversity is [as] durable [as his musical legacy].

I saw James Brown perform at a touring festival earlier this year* – as it happens, his last# Australian gig. His red suit, with its ultra-high-waisted pants, appeared to be a decade or two older than the average patron (teens to early 20s). There was something odd about such a legend going through the motions in a hot and dusty paddock outside Perth – something that smelt of desperation and exploitation. If the Rolling Stones – in their prime, a much inferior act to Brown in his prime – are still performing into their 70s, there’s no way they’d be on that sort of treadmill.

Apparently, James Brown was questioned, before he came to Australia this year, as an appropriate headliner choice for the festival. There’s no subtext here that the “naysayers” were concerned about Brown's health. Worse, Iain Shedden drops this clanger, in the midst of an ostensible tribute to Brown:

[J]ust 10 months ago, I witnessed Brown for the last time. It was a huge disappointment. He was back to his cabaret routine, ranting show-biz banter, and for inordinate periods disappearing or taking a back seat, allowing the band to strut its funky stuff. He couldn't have been at the microphone for more that 40 minutes.

I’m sure that if he could, James Brown would sincerely apologise to you Iain, for ruining your precious little festival experience earlier this year. I pray that when you’re 72, Iain, you’ll be working like a navvy at a fast-food restaurant or somesuch, where customers will regularly tell you to hurry the f* up.

I’ll leave the (amost) word to the asinine Glenn A Baker, though:

"I think historians are going to be trying to fully come to grips with what he did for a lot of years to come".

I think you mean accountants, Glenn.

Update 30 December 2006

An Age-journo dickwit writes today: “[James] Brown was no Steve Irwin”. This is meant to be a put-down.

Meanwhile, on the Sydney arrogance-cum-exquisite-ignorance front, Phil at Larvatus Prodeo seems to be channeling his inner-Oz journo, in taking a pro-nuke-power stance, and then this:

The issue of congestion has more to do with motoring culture and the failure of adequate transport policies in Sydney. Convenient public transport comprising a range of options from public to private, buses to light and heavy rail and my favourite, a genuine busting up of the taxi cartel (something Macquarie Bank is attempting to do).

Macquarie Bank as a good guy (in transport policy, or anything else, for that matter)? You deserve your own sitcom, Phil. I’d also recommend a career for Phil in fiction, rather than fact, given that he is oblivious to the elementary fact that Clive Hamilton – who is hated at this blog probably more than any other – lives in Canberra, not Sydney.

* Good Vibrations festival; Belvoir Amphitheatre, Perth 19 February 2006

# The Australian, with typical Sydney arrogance-cum-exquisite-ignorance, states Brown’s last Australian gig was the Sydney leg (18 February 2006) of “Good Vibrations”.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Comedy Inc", and straining the envelope

According to its Nine network bosses, the long-running sketch-comedy series “Comedy Inc” is woeful crap that wouldn’t get air-time (nor hence presumably, made) in a less regulated TV marketplace.

My source for this is simply the show’s timeslot: 10.30 - 11.30 pm, along with Nine’s record of patent politicking (“telly-mandering”?) around (i) this timeslot and (ii) the show’s format limits, when the Broadcasting Services (Australian Content) Standard was last consulted-upon and revised a few years ago. (The current version (PDF) took effect on 30 December 2005).

The timeslot fudge came via an extension of “prime-time” – within which FTA TV networks are required to screen a minimum number of hours of debuting Australian “drama” (of which more about soon) – from 11.00 pm to 11.30 pm, subject to the conditions in s10(4) of the Standard being met. Nine appears to be the only network that consistently pushes the 11.30 pm-finish envelope, with “Comedy Inc” having clung tenaciously to this newly-minted "prime" slot (over varying nights) for its six-month run in 2006, while more recently, the faux-Australian “Outrageous Fortune” has only started what will no doubt be a run to the bitter end, also in Nine’s pseudo-prime Slot of Shame.

Timeslot aside, why did Nine choose a sketch-comedy format, rather than any other type of “drama” to so amply pad its Australian content prerequisites? Cost is an obvious answer, but with its taste for expensive, one-off sets and costumes “Comedy Inc” is by no means the cheapest show that a qualifying drama could possibly be, especially when one looks across the Tasman. “Outrageous Fortune” would cost Nine bugger-all, but in not flogging the faux-Australian loophole to the limit, Nine is showing an uncharacteristic semblance of moral qualm, or fiscal recklessness, as Packer pere et fils would no doubt see it.

Having splurged on actual Australian content with “Comedy Inc” then, it is as if Nine wants a minimum budget written into the show (there is no such yardstick in the Australian Content Standard, although networks get some modest bonus points if they pay at least $300,000/hr for outsourced content*). Perhaps there is a subconscious fear in the show’s producers that, were they to stick to “Neighbours”-style permanent sets, “Comedy Inc” would uncontrollably morph into a format that the Standard explicitly punishes: shows produced at the rate of more than one hour per week accrue only one-third as many points as one hour (or fewer) per week shows like “Comedy Inc”**.

Strangely enough, Nine again stands out as the lone FTA network not to run a points-penalised Australian serial, a la “Neighbours” and “Home and away”. But Nine’s telly-mandering doesn’t stop there; it also saw fit, in negotiating the current Australian Content Standard, to insist on what appears to be a “Comedy Inc”-specific clause, allowing the actors to improvise as they go, while still allowing the show to fall under the umbrella of scripted “drama”. The post-2005 definition of “Australian drama program” is a masterpiece of circular drafting in this regard:

“Australian drama program”

(a) means an Australian program that:

(i) has a fully scripted screenplay in which the dramatic elements of character, theme and plot are introduced and developed to form a narrative structure; or

(ii) has a partially scripted screenplay in which the dramatic elements of character, theme and plot are introduced and developed to form a narrative structure and has actors delivering improvised dialogue that is based on a script outline or outlines developed by a writer or writers; or

(iii) has actors delivering improvised dialogue that is based on a script outline or outlines, developed by a writer or writers, in which the dramatic elements of character, theme and plot are introduced and developed to form a narrative structure . . .
(emphasis added)

Sub-clause (iii) – which together with (ii) was only added in 2005 – is surely someone’s attempt at a joke. It improvises on sub-clause (ii) – which more forgivably melds the concepts of partially-scripted screenplays with actors’ improvisation – by dropping all reference to any kind of screenplay, yet absurdly, religiously sticking to the “narrative structure” mantra, as if just by saying these words, such structure can exist in the aether.

How much of “Comedy Inc” actually is improvised by the show’s actors is unknown. Like a doctor who gets to bury their mistakes, Nine covers its bases and any suspicious tracks with the same indiscriminating rote formality – or strained legalism, in Nine’s case. The show’s website features a huge bevy of writers including “contributing” ones, of whom about half the regulars plus one “contributing writer” duo were credited on Tuesday’s (19/12) episode.

If “Comedy Inc” were a broth, Nine has made a right Frankensoup of it – too many cooks, and with autochthonous ingredients also, just in case. And all most definitely not for human consumption.

* Three points per hour, vs 2.5: Australian Content Standard s11(b)

** One point per hour (vs 3 or 2.5): Australian Content Standard s11(a) and (b)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Land tax

A Devil’s Dictionary definition of “Fabian” might be:

“A small, upper-middle class club, whose members are dedicated to the revolutionary propagation of unimplementable ideas”.

One such worthy-but-ridiculous Fabian-stamped idea is GenY (I’m assuming) law student Michael Janda’s proposal for an across-the-board 5% annual land tax.

Admittedly, Janda includes figures showing the compelling need for the tax base to be wholesale shifted away from salary and towards land and capital. But no party ain’t ever going to implement an across-the-board land tax. Even more certain is that with land tax being a states-only constitutional prerogative, while income tax is federally mandated, a simultaneous switcheroo between the two would be impossible, even if one or more state governments decided to commit political suicide by introducing a broad land tax.

Janda is not only blind to this obvious constitutional stumbling-block, he can’t help but try for some cheap partisan mileage at federal level:

Tax reforms could help erode [Australian's love of land ownership] rather than fuel it, as John Howard's new home buyer's grant has done in recent years.

Yes, this is an arguable point, but necessarily co-equal in fuelling land-price inflation are state-Labor governments cuts to stamp-duty, such as has been recently formulated in Victoria. To be consistent – and to further burnish his “unimplementable” Fabian credentials, to boot – Janda should also be howling that state governments should be increasing, not decreasing real-estate purchase stamp-duty.

So what’s the answer? In a nutshell, a new tax should (i) heavily target existing, as well as future holders of capital-gains windfalls (notional or not), and (ii) be levied as painlessly as possible, viz only upon sale, or certain other change-of-ownership triggers. Such a tax is one I modestly proposed a year or so ago, as a swingeing (50% at a minimum) state pocketing of vendors’ real capital gains across-the-board, a tax that would also help deflate purchase prices, particularly for first-home buyers.

On the unimplementable scale, my proposed vendor tax admittedly also rates at a Fabian “eleven”. At least it fits within a state-government-only bailiwick, however. Even a partial implementation of it – simply levying stamp duty on real-estate vendors, not purchasers* – would be an eminently justifiable small step, albeit still a brave one, and not a particularly strong price-deflator.

Speaking of unworthy GenY pin-ups, burnt-out Xer (I’m assuming) Chris Middendorp writes:

[O]nly half of the participants [in a recent survey] believed that a homeless male over the age of 30 deserved their financial support. The perception that they are an unattractive, drunken rabble may well clarify why homelessness has been neglected to the point of becoming almost unmanageable.

. . .

Homelessness isn't a permanent condition . . . People can and do build new lives. Those of us working in the field have seen many positive stories. I recall the case of 28-year-old Joe. When I first met him, he was calling a bus shelter home. With intensive support over a two-year period, Joe was able to obtain stable housing and even take up some training in the hospitality field. Eventually he secured a job in a prominent Melbourne hotel. Six years on, Joe is still employed; he now rents a comfortable house and owns his own car; [is] married and is expecting his first child. I've seen far too many people like Joe turn their lives around to ever believe that any situation is lost.

Umm, good on Joe, and people "like" him – but wasn’t Joe always in the “worthy” category of homeless persons by age (and gender)? By re-using the lazy “over 30 male” as a sort of statistical mass-grave, Middendorp does a gross disservice to Xer men.

* There would need to be an anti-double jeopardy provision here, for (mainly) recent purchasers whose capital-gains windfalls would be insufficient to cover their exit stamp duty.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cronulla one year on

A heavy and permanent (at least in summer) police presence marks an ironic return to normality at Cronulla beach – an expanse now much more spacious and blisteringly White.

Apart from the conspicuous-policing angle, the national media marked the anniversary with little ado. A TV news report on the weekend actually made an issue of showing two young men of Middle-Eastern appearance on Cronulla beach – a forced (and quite possibly staged) incongruity akin to a 1950s’ newsreel showing Indigenous Australians as so ultra-assimilated in suburbia that they are whiter than White.

There can be no doubt that the white-pride thugs have won, in having got the current peace, of a thick blue line on the sand. The criminal justice system has creaked a few desultory convictions out of the hundreds of neo-Nazi whites caught on camera assaulting people, while a “Leb” revenge attacker, whose crime was against property* only (property with a replacement value of about $50) received a three-month jail sentence – one of only seven persons jailed, white or “Leb”.

In response to the riot, PM John Howard said:

"There are some people in the Australian community who are racist, but I do not believe the average Australian is a racist. I mean, why would we have accepted people so well? Why do we practise every day our tolerance and respect for people?"

Notice his twice-used contrast of “we” (= Whites, aka “average Australians”) with “people” (= those other than “we”). As ever, Howard’s message has gone down a treat with Sydney’s white-trash: here’s a 30-ish Cronulla male surfer using the same false dichotomy yesterday:

“I think when something like this happens . . . and it's from one type of community continually and I think they need to be more tolerant of the rest, of the whole of the Australian community”.

This person votes – and it’s pretty obvious who for.

Then there’s the mysterious Hazzard report into the riots, yet to be released publicly in full, but whose further incendiary contents are strongly suggested by the report’s having already lead to the sacking of Carl Scully as Police Minister, and Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Goodwin taking stress leave (penultimate URL).

* The property was an Australian flag. The the late Oriana Fallaci famously removed her chador, calling it a “stupid, medieval rag”, while interviewing Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. After 11 December 2005, a day on which when the Australian flag was widely used as a proxy Nazi swastika, calling the flag a “stupid, medieval rag” seems far too kind.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mr Lam, the real David Brent

“China Blue”, a superb doco that screened on SBS the other night (5/12) manages to be grotesque-funnier than its fictional mockumentary counterpart, “The Office”.

The fictional David Brent I find too unnuanced to be funny – he is irredeemably vile, the boomer boss from hell, whose inexplicable tenure could only flow from his year of birth and hence entry to the workforce. Mr Lam, in contrast, has the benefit of persons at least as odious appearing alongside him on camera, such as the English jeans buyer who mercilessly haggles Lam down.

Lam’s Brent-isms are choice: a provincial policeman for 17 years before starting-up his Lifeng jeans factory, he self-importantly describes his employees as "uneducated, low calibre".

Apparently, Lam was under the impression that the doco was about him and his management prowess*, rather than the factory workers – who are perilously close to being legally categorisable as “slaves”. Lam’s hubris is delicious – but more importantly, it allowed the filmmakers incredible access to the nightmare underworld of the factory and its dorms.

In a fitting ironical coda to the doco – one I feel should have been run in the end wrap-up/credits, but wasn’t – Lam ended up getting in trouble with furious Chinese government officials a few months ago, for collaborating with foreign media without a permit.

* "China Blue is real, not staged - and took 4 years to film"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sunset clauses and the freeing of David Hicks

I’ve always believed the worst about David Hicks – that in full knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, he chose to stay on in Afghanistan (or return there from Pakistan, as the US alleges), to fight the US-led invasion forces, who captured him on a battle-field in November 2001. I still do, but just because I reckon he’s done the crime, it doesn’t mean that Doing The Time has become quaintly redundant – on the contrary.

Conversely, the last thing David Hicks actually needs right now is a trial; i.e. the bells’n’whistles, Rule of Law thing. Let me explain.

Plainly, the Rule of Law has been suspended in Hicks’ case, and indeed with the entirety of the Guantanamo Bay operation. This is not generally a good thing, needless to say. But such suspensions are inevitable in war. The most important check/balance on them is not some semblance of an internal oversight mechanism – e.g. Gitmo Bay prisoners one day being brought before a proper court – but that there is an outer time limit of some sort (i.e. not necessarily forward-finite) on the state of emergency during which normal rules are suspended.

Such a time limit, when set in advance, is known as a sunset clause. Here, it does not matter that the end-date may seem arbitrary. What does matter is that it is adhered to. In exceptional circumstances, the date can be extended, but such an extension should be both aggressively short-dated and unimpeachably final. There should be no possible confusion between Emergency and Normality over the longer term, then. Even if catastrophe after catastrophe piles up so as to make emergency the new normality, normality must sooner or later take this under its own wing, and deal with it as best it can under its own steam.

The rule of war, rather than law, necessarily governed the initial capture (at the very least) of David Hicks. There is a whole area of law labelled Military Law, but I don’t think it is necessary to delve too much into this. Unlike many, I have no great problem with the concept or status of “enemy combatants”, which entails both detention without trial and suspension of Geneva Convention POW protocols. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures - and Military Law (like the old line about "military intelligence") is best thought of as an impermeable oxymoron, whose inner workings resist explanation as much as any other hoary old joke (You have to be there to get it, I suspect).

Military Law's content matters not, in the end, because of those very three words. Times change, hopefully. But even if they don’t, time passes – the War on Terror (not to mention the war in Afghanistan) remains on foot, and seems certain to do so for decades.

It is simply the passing of time that now provides an appropriate juncture, I believe, for the immediate release of David Hicks. Let me first be clear about Hicks’ rights and wrongs – the man is safely assumed a traitor to Australia, who has little to complain about (allegations of torture aside) from the last five years. Hicks was captured on a battle-field in circumstances in which he can count himself lucky not to have been summarily executed, either as tit-for-tat war collateral, or as a more sober-minded precaution (capturing him alive was to run the risk of his body being booby-trapped).

I have no issue, then, with Hicks’ having being held for five years in Gitmo Bay. Translated to at least ten years in an Australian prison, this is a harsh sentence – and deservedly so. But on any measure, his term has now expired. Summary justice /“justice” has served its purpose well enough in Hicks’ case to date, but it is now time to return to normality. Arbitrarily so, yes, but sometimes simple “enough” has to boldly juxtapose itself alongside traditional trials with their forward-finite sentences, and just say its name – enough – over and over again, until the system finally shrugs in grudging assent – and with an uncouth, extra-judicial burp, normal systemic criminal-digestion thus resumes.

Retrospectively giving David Hicks the benefit of a sort of sunset clause, or fixed-sentence comparator, is one thing. Noting instances of anti-terror legislation sunset clauses being slyly revoked is another*. Not merely extended, note – rather, the emergency being effectively proclaimed the new and permanent normality. The latter happened in Victoria earlier this year, yet it seems little-known about, despite its manifest indefensibility – there was no objective emergency at the time, and even if their had been, a sunset clause extension would have been a sufficiently extreme measure.

* “In Victoria the 2002 anti-terror laws were subject to a sunset clause. The legislation was to expire in 2006 following a public review. During the distraction of the Commonwealth Games, the Victorian Parliament quietly repealed the requirement for both the review and the sunset clause.”

- Brian Walters SC “Power and the Rule of Law” Overland # 185 (Summer 2006) p 11

Update 4 January 2007

Hicks to face fresh charges within weeks (The Australian 4 January 2007)

Hicks trial to start 'within weeks' (The Age 29 July 2005)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Journalists behaving badly

The strange thing, or so I thought, about Glenn Milne’s assault on Stephen Mayne the other night was the crowd’s – presumably dominated by journalists – laughing along with it. The herd/mob/pack instinct, caught off-guard in all its ugliness was thus observable for just a few moments.

One journo who fancies himself as having the common touch, George Megalogenis, writes today:

The Melbourne suburb of Bentleigh . . . has an interesting story to tell about the mind-set of middle Australia at the moment and why John Howard may be less entrenched than pundits think . . . Although there is an Ikea around the corner in Moorabbin, this is by no means Kath & Kim territory.

Umm, the Moorabbin Ikea actually closed in September 2005. Not that I live anywhere near it, or ever went there – but it was on SE Melbourne’s main highway, and so kind of hard to miss, whether seeing it or no longer seeing it. You really need to get out more, George.

In a rather different category of dodgy journo is Rebecca Weisser, also writing in today’s Oz.

She has a go at what looks like a self-indulgent drama of apology for an ancestor’s role in the 18th Century English slave trade, which is fair enough. But then she purrs:

In response to [the] shocking statistics, the contrast between practical assistance and self-aggrandising symbolism is striking . . . [An example of the former is] the Anti-Slavery Society . . . [which] is raising funds to purchase the emancipation of modern slaves and stamp out modern-day slavery.

My moral and practical compass is plainly very different from that of Rebecca Weisser and the Anti-Slavery Society. Alleviating slavery by buying slaves out of their “contracts” is like stopping/minimising the consumption of child pornography by buying up the negatives (if you’ll forgive the pre-digital photography anachronism here). Leaving aside the morality of so doing, it is short-sighted, in any event: today’s kind-hearted buy-out naturally creates a fresh market for tomorrow’s far-from-kind-hearted kidnapping/s.

Completing the trilogy of dodgy journos in today’s Oz is Stephen Matchett:

Both these books [Shelley Gare's The Triumph of the Airheads and Andrew West’s Inside the Lifestyles of the Rich and Tasteful] are about, and intended to appeal to, the same sort of audience. Literate, cosmopolitan people who believe ideas matter and who think theirs demonstrate they are in a state of social grace that sets them apart, or above, the rest of us.

But that's where it may seem the comparison ends. West is writing for winners, people who have done well at work, who have a quid in their pocket which they like to spend on sophisticated indulgence. Gare is addressing people who . . . don't have the money to pay for any of it.

And she is angry on their behalf about many, many things. In particular she is upset by the idiocy of powerful people, the way economic rationalists have stuffed up society and how academics have made a mess of the schools and universities . . . [S]he has caught the temper of the times for many Australians.

Amen to that, although I’d qualify the reference to sociopath “academics” by saying the word needs a B-adjective, or two. Unfortunately though, Matchett then pulls a Glenn Milne-style punch on any such ruminations:

Most important, [Gare’s] is a book for baby boomers who fear their social status is slipping in an economy where some of the old occupations, especially in education and public service, are not as admired, or as relatively well paid, as they once were.

Oh dear. However badly Australia’s worst-off baby boomer has been affected by economic rationalism, it pales in scope, if not also absolute degree, to/with the plight of the average GenXer. Xers had had no post-uni working life before the economic rationalist drawbridges started being raised, for starters. Xers also are much less likely to have the financial cushion that house-price inflation has provided for almost all boomers.

There's also the matter of what exactly boomers like Stephen Matchett have been doing in the last 23 years or so, since economic rationalism began scything through Australia. Quite predictably, of course, Matchett was in the cheer-squad for it, more or less. Here's him in 1996, speaking as a Monash University employee:

And education faces the same sort of problems, and in an environment of declining public resources, the Net, CD-ROMs, all sorts of interactive education, offer us the best opportunity we've got at the moment to compensate for the end of an era where public resources aren't as available as they've been in the past.

So there you have it, folks. In homage to the 1980s' “Land rights for gay whales” satirical catch-cry/put-down, I propose a new slogan, specifically for our out-of-touch journos: “Boomer compensation for phantom Ikeas, now!”.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Self-loathing Melbourne homosexual finds convenient Sydney scapegoat

Yes, Melbourne vs Sydney rivalry is a pretty tired cliché, but GenY ingénue and Melburnian John Heard today manages to milk it a little bit more. In honour of World Aids Day he’s penned an OpEd bemoaning Sydney gay men as a bunch of deliberate or reckless HIV-seroconverters.

The stats, on the other hand, plainly put Melbourne gay men at the centre of a second-wave HIV epidemic, which started in 2000. (Note that this link doesn’t have NSW stats – I’ll look these up later, but from memory, while NSW is also having a second-wave HIV epidemic, its stats here are materially lower than Victoria’s (i.e. Melbourne’s).

I’m in complete agreement with John Heard that – S&M rivalry aside – Australia’s second-wave HIV epidemic should be gay activists’ national number one priority. But John alone seems to be saying: Not In My Backyard. Or “back passage”, as Julian Clary would put it.

Update: NSW stats

HIV-seroconversion stats for NSW have been surprisingly hard to find online. This recent SMH report, citing 954 seroconversions in 2005 would seem to be a wild over-statement.

For whatever reason, the NSW Health Department also gives a misleading, but this time understated figure, of 124 “newly acquired” (whatever that means) serconversions in 2004 (PDF). A more plausible, and certainly less qualified figure is that there were 1,494 notifications of people “testing positive for the first time” in NSW between 2000 and 2003 inclusive (same URL). Thus, allowing for a moderate upwards tapering, there were about 450 notified seroconversions in NSW in 2003. (A figure of 412 for 2003 is given here.)

Admittedly, this number considerably exceeds Victoria’s latest full-year (2005) figure of 286 notifications. But as I’ve said, Victoria is on track for 450-500 HIV seroconversions in 2006. NSW, in contrast, would seem to have a less steep, or maybe even downwards taper for the years 2004-2006. Notifications among gay men, at least, actually decreased in the 2004 year.

As to what NSW’s actual 2005 stats were, I’d love to know. Meanwhile, government collection agencies cavil and waffle with “newly acquired” pseudo-statistics.

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