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Coming back from Queensland I took photographs of my airline meals, as I generally do. In fact I often take photographs of my meals out, if they are at all interesting in place or kind or size, which is where my shockingly neglected blog comes in.

I have an idea for another blog, just as an aside here. I've got the domain registered and I'm playing around with a few ideas.

When I get time. My own computer with the busted hinges finally flickered and lost it on Sunday, so it's in at the repair shop. It's been around the world three and a half times, and spent just about every night of two years knocking around my cab, usually pushed down beside the passenger seat, so it's done well to last this long.

Got home - I all but clung to the flight attendant when the time came to get out and walk across the tarmac in Canberra, begging her to take me back to Queensland - and voted. I was naughty. "You've got my vote!" I said to one of the two major party reps as I walked in.

"I put your guy last!" I told the Green on leaving. I like Bob Brown personally, but the Green policies make no economic sense to me.

In fact I voted Independent in House and Senate, but you've got to put one major party above the other, and I put Liberal ahead of Labor both times. Do my bit to encourage Independents, and make Canberra as marginal as possible.

Besides, I really wanted Julia Gillard to do well, but she has just totally been the party slogan machine. Her vision for Australia seems to exist entirely of getting elected and she will say anything, make any promise, attack any opponent to make it so.

Not that Tony Abbott is hugely inspiring in himself, but I see him as having more character. He ran a very good campaign, looking more and more the Prime Minister every day.

As it turned out, watching the election night coverage, where the experienced commentators refrained from calling the outcome and no concession or victory speeches were made by either major party leader, it was Independents' Day.

The decision on who will form government will rest in the hands of three Independents from regional Australia. I'm hoping that this will lead to a lot more open-ness and honesty in government. At the very least, it's one in the nuts for the big parties.
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I live in Canberra, so my vote doesn't count.

Well, not much, anyway. John Howard used to say of Canberra, "Funny place. Looks like Killara (a leafy, upper-class suburb in Sydney), votes like Lithgow (an industrial town)."

Canberra is a safe Labor city. Only once has a Liberal member held one of the local seats, and that was when the Australian Labor Party thought so little of the voters that the outgoing member - a minister in the hugely unpopular government of Paul Keating forced to resign over the "sports rorts affair" - referred to the transition as "like handing over my baby". The Labor candidate at the by-election was a lesbian party hack, who failed to resonate with the family voters of Tuggeranong.

This election, both local members are resigning, and once again party hacks have been rewarded with safe seats. The people vote for the party, not the person, you see.

I don't believe in safe seats. The representative takes the voters for granted, the electorate is ignored by both the Government gravy train and the Opposition election promise bandwagon, and the local member is generally someone who wouldn't be able to win a marginal seat, but must be rewarded for his work in the party.

In any case, a representative from either of the two major parties will give his primary loyalty to the party, not the people.

So I'm voting Independent this election. Independents have the devil's own job getting elected, but once in they tend to stick. The voters are delighted to have a representative in Parliament who raises the issues that matter to them, who isn't beholden to party bosses, and doesn't vote the party line.

I'm well aware that no Independent candidate will win more than a handful of votes, but that's fine by me. Firstly, I'd like to encourage them. Secondly, public election funding kicks in at 4%, and having $2.50 of taxpayer money given to one of the major parties on my behalf just because I voted for their hack candidate gets right up my nose. I shouldn't have to pay to vote, even if it's not coming directly out of my pocket, it's still money that could usefully be spent on something positive, like health or education. I'm going to vote for an Independent candidate who isn't going to get 4% of the vote. So long as he or she isn't too obnoxious in their views.

But, Australian voting being of the preferential nature, I have to number all the boxes, and that means I have to put one of the major party candidates ahead of the other. It's unlikely that my vote will ever be counted, as the ALP will probably receive an absolute majority of votes and preferences won't be counted, but just in case, I'd like my vote to count towards making the seat marginal.

Marginal seats tend to attract more government attention and a better class of candidates. The marginal seat of Eden-Monaro, just across the New South Wales border, is a case in point. It is loaded down with Commonwealth-funded projects, and the local members have always worked hard to win or retain their seat. They work for every vote.

And that means I'm going to put Liberal ahead of Labor (and any minor candidates I really detest, such as the mildly-mad Socialist Workers Party or the gibbering idiots of the Democrats).

Of course, my vote will have minimal effect. Through some shonky dealings over the years, the 350 000 residents of Canberra elect just four MPs, compared to Tasmania, where 325 000 voters return seventeen representatives. My vote will count for 0.001% of the total. It's more a matter of making me feel that I've done my tiny best.
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Television was the place to be last night.

First, Masterchef. This is the second season of a reality show based on cooking (as opposed to dancing or singing or losing great slabs of weight) and it is amazingly popular. Last night, the final.

Believe it or not, but one of the finalists was a twenty-year old uni student, having seen off dozens of other, far more experienced and knowledgable, contenders. All but one - a 31 year old lawyer.

Last night was the big cook-off, culminating three months of challenges, stunts and eliminations.

Surprisingly, the show is enormously popular, and the supermarket sponsor reports sales increases of up to 1 400% on some items featured in recipes. Spelt flour, for instance, a fresh bag of which can be found in my own pantry.

Everyone loves good food, it seems, and the tensions as the contestants form teams, react to stress, relate to each other and the judges, and ultimately find themselves walking out the door add spice and savour to a series of excellent dishes.

The producers have come up with ways to make and keep the show entertaining. Stunts such as cooking for a meeting of the Country Womens Association (basically farmers' wives) and feeding the experts with such staples as scones and fruitcake. I loved that episode. The contestants formed two teams and had to bake out in the open on trestle tables in a rural setting. Cakes sunk in the middle, jams were runny and the lamingtons lopsided.

The three judges - two chefs and a food critic - really make the show. They are firm, friendly, never familiar, and above all, fair. And entertainers in their own right. The poor contestants have to bear their food to the tasting table, where each offering is dissected, examined and chewed over. Make a hash of your omelette and you'll find yourself on the next limo home. With a television crew in the front seat, capturing every fleeting expression.

Which is where, I think, a great opportunity has been lost. All this cooking, there must be a lot of dishes to wash up. Put the losers slaving over a steamy sink, I say. Better yet, have cameras trained on them as they discuss the remaining contestants. I reckon you'd get some great television once the contestants are off the show and have nothing to lose.

Last night? The lawyer won. He got an early lead in the knowledge test, able to identify platters of spices, rare fruit, sauces and seafood where the engineering student was forced into guessing. The early margin remained the same over a day of cooking boiled down into two hours, changing up and down a point or two, but the contest never really in doubt, given that both contestants handled the remaining challenges with equal panache, reducing the judges to salivating wretches as they sank their teeth into the tucker.

The show is having an influence on the wider world, quite apart from the massive ratings. Last week I heard some computer consultants discussing a new government project. "Well, let's see how it plates up," one said.

The one and only debate of the federal election campaign also took place last night, shown live on three channels, with the timeslot moved forward to avoid a clash over the cooking final.

Not much of a debate, really. Both Prime Minister and Opposition Leader stuck to their scripts, stayed on message, and refrained from either hurling insults at each other or answering carefully crafted questions accurately. In politics, a pointed question is really just an invitation to waffle on about your favorite policies.

An even contest, with opinions as to who won differing according to commentator. I couldn't pick a clear winner, but the party bosses could.

An interesting sidelight was the performance of "the worm". Each member of the studio audience is given a hand control with a knob, and the knob settings are displayed at the bottom of the screen in aggregate. A good performance and the line crawls upwards, or down again when the audience cools. The setting points remain on the screen, forming a wiggly line or "worm".

Three worms last night. A red one for the women, blue for the men, and white for the average. What was abundantly clear was that regardless of policies, the women voters support the female Prime Minister and the men support the male Opposition Leader.

One point I dislike about election campaigns. They are increasingly "presidential", with most of the focus on the party leaders. In reality, the election is for 150 Representatives and 40 Senators, with the party leaders elected only by their constituents. The effect, however, is that all but the party leaders fade into the background at election time.

We're not even voting for the head of state. The Governor-General is appointed every five years, a solid citizen who does nothing much but sign documents and open fetes.

The head of government is merely the leader of the dominant political party, able to be installed and removed by a secret vote in a back room. As occurred only a few weeks ago, when Julia Gillard rolled Kevin Rudd.

The Prime Minister leads a government of twenty ministers, each one responsible for a department or portfolio within that department. Kevin Rudd tried to do all the work himself and ended up doing nothing, leading to Julia Gillard's successful challenge. And now, with the spotlight firmly on her, it looks like she is heading the same way - a goddesslike figure instead of the team leader.

Swollen heads aside, the two party leaders are gifts for cartoonists. Tony Abbot, facing the camera, looks like a taxi with both doors open, according to one wag. Julia Gillard, turning sideways, reveals a long and sharply pointed nose. Under a head of bright red hair. The cartoonists have their work done for them, though of course it doesn't stop Julia looking like an anteater or Tony like Dumbo in the political cartoons.

On the whole, I think it's best to have big ears for listening, rather than a long nose for sniffing into the affairs of the voters.

For myself, I couldn't pick one over the other. Tony Abbott - ex-priesthood candidate - is a little too religious for my taste, but he's also a little more honest than his opponent. Neither of them is my first choice, but as Jed Bartlet is unavailable, one of them will have to do, and honestly, I don't mind too much which one.


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September 2010

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