Election time – and some book/podcast news!

Dear the Internet,

Sure, this page’s less-then-stellar update schedule makes things look like they’ve been quieter than they’ve been. But there’s some stuff to talk about! Honest! No, really!

Podcasts! They're the future (of talking things).

Podcasts! They’re the future (of talking things).

To start with: if you’ve been thinking “I could really do with hearing APS rant straight into my ears” then be advised that m’self and Chaser/ABC radio alumnus Dom Knight have just begun The Double Disillusionists, a weekly election podcast that’s better than all those other weekly election podcasts from less caffeinated people.*

It’s at Soundcloud right now, at PocketCast, and will be up at iTunes shortly!

Also, that Australian music book that got mentioned a little while ago has been gently put aside for a little while in order to focus on a completely new book. Oh, Australian politics: I keep trying to get out, and you just keep sucking me back in.

Yes, there’s going to be a sequel to The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott, focussing on the Turnbull epoch and taking us up to the election, because I am a sucker for punishment.

And while that’s being written at a rate of knots, View from the Street is still happening five days a week at the Sydney Morning Herald, of course.

It’s going to be a busy election campaign, basically, and I’m going to spend it neck deep in federal politics. What the hell have I signed up for?

Yours ever,



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That playlist I mentioned in that Spotify piece…

Dear The Internet,

So, earlier this week I wrote a story about how the machines are going to destroy us all, or more specifically about how my special precious musical knowledge is now comprehensively outclassed by Spotify’s algorithms.

Not a dud track, frankly.

Not a dud track, frankly.

Anyway, a few people asked about the mighty wandering-around playlist I mentioned in the Spotify piece, and so if you were curious, that 2000+ song thing is here – and if you’re a regular View to the Street reader, you’ll suddenly realise just how often I secretly reference Guided by Voices in the column.

Also out this week in my weird writesmanship was a piece testing if I could become a wine expert in 24 hours, and a very silly thing about daylight savings. Oh, and a Daily Life piece about what men should think about before they start blithely calling themselves a feminist.

Incidentally, I’m gradually hunting down old, largely no-longer-on-the-web pieces that I liked and jamming them in the categories at the top of this page. For example, in the politics-bit there’s a resurrected piece from September 2013 about why a Tony Abbott government will be a good thing, which proves that I AM THE CASSANDRA OF AUSTRALIAN POLITICS.

In related news, I’m still neck-deep in my book on Australian music which involved watching the amazing and impossibly heartbreaking documentary 15 Minutes to Rock, a film about the not-overnight non-success of one of my all-time most beloved Australian bands, the Fauves.

And while watching them not find the audience which they are inarguably owed was agonising, it seemed like a fair excuse to play a song that, if we lived in a just universe, would be a global number one: ‘Self Abuser’.

I love the drop tuning, I love the cheeky Beatles dick-reference (“I got what I got and it’s mine”), and… look, it’s a perfect song. Turn it up and enjoy.

Yours ever,


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So, I’m working on a new book…

Dear the Internet,

As the Game of Thrones-level drama plays out around the teetering towers of Turnbull Manse, I’m working on book #2 – and it’s all about… um, the last 40-odd years of Australian music.

If you’ve come to me because of View from the Street and/or The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott (and if so: thank you! Welcome!) this may well come as a surprise.

This album, friends, is so much better than literally everything happening in politics.

This album, friends, is so much better than literally everything happening in politics.

That’s partially because most political commentators don’t spend the first 18-odd years of their careers as (mainly) music journalists, and partially because almost all of the work done during that era was either for street press and is now slowly-degrading 90s-era landfill, or was for sites that largely don’t exist any more (or whose old content is buried beneath several levels of web platforms thanks to the steady geology of tech…).

Anyway: the plan is to do a bit more in terms of talking about the book as we go, not least because it’s a glorious relief to obsess over favourite Australian band and much-missed venues from around the country. I’m also going to start recovering some of the lost articles and giving them a new and hopefully more permanent home somewhere in here.

And, to kick off, here’s one of the greatest pop songs by one of the greatest pop bands: the Hummingbirds. It would be wise to turn your speakers up loud before dancing goofily around your study to this. I speak from recent experience.

(oh, and if you’re desperate for ranty political stuff instead of twee indie pop: here’s today’s V from the S about how Malcolm Turnbull is doomed, even if he wins).

Yours ever,


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A longish rant about the changes to the Senate Ballot, because WHAT COULD BE MORE EXCITING???

Dear the Internet,

Because I don’t want to spend an entire View from the Street column delving into the minutia of the Senate ballot, I thought I’d put the thing here where reading it was rather more optional. And thank you, incidentally: I know you upper-house obsessives like to party!

Pictured: what talking about the Senate is like.

Pictured: what talking about the Senate is like.

In case you can’t remember the process that occurred between you queuing up and hitting the sausage sizzle last election day, here’s how the Senate ballot has traditionally worked: either one vote for the party of your choice (voting “above the line’), or numbering every single candidate in order (“below the line”).

Unsurprisingly, most people vote above the line – 95 per cent, specifically, according to ABC statistical machine and stone-cold genius Antony Green – partially because it’s a lot quicker, partially because the majority of people vote for either the Coalition or Labor and therefore don’t need to worry about if their vote will be assigned elsewhere on preferences, and mainly because the only real motivation to number literally hundreds of boxes is to make a point of putting the most overtly bigoted parties last on the balllot.

(As those waiting for me to get out of the damn booth can attest, it really does take a while: the NSW state election was similarly arduous, but commitment to putting Fred Nile last requires certain sacrifices.)

It’s also worth pointing out that in a normal election half of the 12 senators per state are on the ballot (Senate terms are six years, as opposed to the House of Representatives which is three – NT and ACT have two senators each, who also sit three year terms, incidentally), and thus in order to win they have to get 16.67 per cent of the vote.

Remember that number – it gets significant shortly.

If you’re first or second on the Coalition/Labor ticket, you’re all but guaranteed to keep your job (Eric Abetz is #1 on the Liberal senate ticket in Tasmania and Cory Bernardi is the same in SA, so job performance is evidently not a huge deciding factor in who gets pole position). In South Australia Nick Xenophon are also safe, and most states will also vote in a Green every election or so.

The interesting things happen at the bottom, for those parties that don’t get that 16.67 per cent vote in their own right.

Those parties allocate their preferences to other parties, and while it’s portrayed as a secretive and sinister process of “preference harvesting” it’s a) fairly predictable since for the most part the left-leaning parties preference to the left and the right leaning ones to the right, and b) that group ticket is registered with the Australian Electoral Commission, who do the counting. However, voting for one microparty makes it fairly likely that your vote will go somewhere else.

That process is affected by the number of microparties – the more there are, the harder it is to predict the outcome – and it reached its apogee (or nadir, depending on your political outlook) at the 2013 election when the Motoring Enthusiast Party’s candidate Ricky Muir won a Victorian senate seat despite only gaining 0.51 per cent of the primary vote.

The new system that’s being proposed allows above-the-line preferencing (in other words, instead of only voting 1, voters can rank the parties in order), thus ending the back room preference harvesting in favour of direct democracy, right?

Well… here’s the thing.

The new system will make it all but impossible for any new parties to emerge in the future – so you can see why it appeals to the existing ones – and with the exception of the popular Nick Xenophon in SA pretty much guarantees that the only candidates that will get into the upper house are professional politicians.

Of course, these laws wouldn’t be getting passed if it was just a good thing for Australian democracy. They’re being passed because they’re to the advantage of those passing them.

For the Coalition it’s a slam dunk: a quick glance at the cross bench will confirm that most of the independents are right-leaning and therefore easy pick-ups under the new system (which, again, shows how that both whatever else the Abbott and Turnbull governments are, they’re lousy negotiators – how can they have passed so little legislation past a bunch of people with whom they largely agree?)

Labor too are hypothesised to benefit under the new ballot – not as much as the Coalition, hence their reticence to pass the laws – and since Nick Xenophon easily romps in his SA ballot in his own right, a preferencing system would do his new party a lot of good.
It gets more interesting with the Greens, who would probably lose seats – but, crucially, in a Senate with fewer independents the Greens would be very, very likely to hold the balance of power.

The problems with implementing the laws now and then calling a snap Double Dissolution are many – aside from the fact that DD is a huge Constitutional event designed to short-circuit a major parliamentary crisis rather than being used as a petulant excuse to hold an early election before a leader’s popularity slips.

One is that it leaves the Australian Electoral Commission very little time to change the systems, although they’ve supposedly been quietly preparing for this likely eventuality for a while, if my journalistic contacts within the public service can be trusted.

Secondly, there’s the fact that it leaves very little time to educate voters about how the Senate ballot has changed after 30 years, but again: a slew of informal votes, while bad for democracy, would be unlikely to hurt the government. Exactly which votes will count is a far bigger deal than it might immediately appear, incidentally, and Green explains it with great clarity at his blog.

A third problem is rather more tricky for Turnbull, which is that DD is a full Senate election – and with all twelve senators per state, the quotas are therefore halved to 8.3 per cent.

That’s a much, much lower bar – and there’s a solid chance that high profile cross benchers like David Leyonjhelm, Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus would clear it. How does Turnbull fancy a Senate where legislation is dependent on a cross bench fuming over how the government attempted to destroy their careers?

The alternative of course would be to go full term – or at least follow-through on the already-expressed plan to hold an election around September – which would give the AEC time to get software up to scratch and educate the public about this fairly important change to the method by which they vote.

But strategically – and let’s be honest, that’s why the change is being made – it would be better for Malcolm if he choses the dramatic and expensive option to go early before the government’s popularity slips any further amid disappearing ministers, children being sent back to Nauru, moves to privatise Medicare and the growing concerns over Australian property and share prices that seem to presage an economic slump.

Also, a snap DD would give the independent senators less time to remind their electorates that they exist – although who could be unaware of the sheer animal charisma of rock star senators like Family First’s Bob Day in SA and PUP’s Zhenya “Dio” Wang in WA?

And more importantly, if Leyonhjelm and Lambie carry out their threat to vote down any piece of government legislation if the new ballot becomes law, it would give the government a legitimate crisis for which a DD would be the only obvious solution.

In other words: if the changes pass – and they will – an election will not be far behind.

So don’t expect the government to rule out a GST hike, or privatising Medicare, or anything else that might be risky to take to an election: Turnbull will hanging on to them now in order to claim that he had a mandate to implement them later.

After all, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a manipulated Australian voter!

Yours ever,


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…and we’re back for 2016!

Dear The Internet,


A very rugged up APS beside Crick and Watson’s model of the DNA double helix at the British Science Museum, for which they were to win the Nobel Prize. Not shown: both men stealing Rosalind Franklin’s data in order to do so.

We are back!

Sorry for the extended silence. I was taking one of those “break” things that people used to take back in the days when our then-strong unions went “what, work all the time until we die in order that others may profit from our labour? Nah.” I recommend such things, as it turns out that not-working for a bit is pretty awesome and inspiring.

This break was not only wonderful, but also incorporated m’delayed honeymoon which involved Europe and seeing all sorts of incredible pieces of art about which I’d read since I was a kid, getting teary in front of the actual fossils that Mary Anning dug from the cliffs at Lyme Regis over two centuries ago, riding many trains, seeing lovely friends and family, getting colder than I’d ever been (cheers, Berlin!), and drinking in some superb bars. And I got to hang out with my wife for three uninterrupted weeks, which was the actual best.

And now we are back in Australia, feeling refreshed and ready to do stuff again – as perhaps indicated by this Daily Life piece I wrote pretty much upon touching down, regarding Australia’s mighty blindspot regarding non-English speaking visitors – but that is not even remotely all!

First up, View from the Street is back for 2016, providing all your lefty ranty column-sized needs at the Sydney Morning Herald and the rest of the Fairfax family (and it is a family) Sunday-Thursday at as close to 5pm as I can manage.

Here are the first two of the year: a bit of a catch up on the dumbest things that happened over the break, and how Eric Abetz confirmed that the government have no intention of respecting the idiotic plebiscite on same-sex marriage, regardless of the result.

Secondly, with The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott selling out of its first print run – I’m as surprised as you, frankly, but utterly delighted – it’s possibly not a huge shock that I’m now working on another book for Allen & Unwin.

This one’s about my other great love – music, specifically Australian music, and even more specifically some of the weirder things about Australian music that haven’t been given their due. I’ll give more details as things develop, but suffice to say it’s going to be nice to dig deep into something that doesn’t involve legislative breaches of human rights agreements quite so much.

So the ground has been hit running, friends. And if this is the sort of pace that will characterise the rest of the year, maybe another break is in order. Hopefully involving spending even more time at the Science Museum…

Yours ever,


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The Only Sane Way To Watch The Star Wars Films Before The Force Awakens

Dear The Internet,

So, you’re correctly excited about the forthcoming Episode 7 and you want to rewatch the old films, or get your child/niece/nephew up to speed before they see their first ever SW film in the cinema. However, there’s a problem.

Do you watch the films in release order – the original trilogy followed by the prequel trilogy – or do you watch them in George Lucas’ suggested order of one-through-six?

What, so "thumbs up" is a thing in a galaxy far, far away?

What, so “thumbs up” is a thing in a galaxy far, far away?

Or, to put it another way: do you waste seven hours watching rubbish films before or after the good ones?

The natural response is to ignore the prequels altogether, but that’s impossible now thanks to George Lucas’ meddling with the Saga that’s currently available: most notably because of the digital replacement of Sebastian Shaw with a glowering Hayden Christensen as the ghost of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi.

However, there is a solution. It was first outlined in 2011 by US fan Rob Hilton, who explained it on his blog Absolutely No Machete Juggling, and it remains the definitive way to watch the Star Wars saga.

Machete Order goes like this: A New Hope (episode IV, aka “Star Wars”), The Empire Strikes Back (episode V), Attack of the Clones (episode II), Revenge of the Sith (episode III), Return of the Jedi (episode VI).

In other words: the original trilogy with a two-film flashback after Luke discovers the truth about his father, and no Phantom Menace at all. At all.

And it works for so, so many reasons. For example:

  1. All the stuff you hate is gone.

Without The Phantom Menace there’s no more Galactic Senate discussions about taxation of trade routes; no nonsense about the Force coming from midichlorians; less of the cartoonish racism of the various foreign-accented alien species; and no Jake Lloyd as tow-headed, “Yipee!”-shouting child-Anakin, much less the bit about his being a virgin birth. You also lose Darth Maul, admittedly, but he’s little more than an interesting looking prop.

  1. Barely any Jar Jar Binks

Without TPM the worst Star Wars character ever is just part of Amidala’s senatorial staff. You don’t need to know that he had a stupid adventure with Obi-Wan and Anakin any more than you need to know that Obi-Wan had daddy issues with his mentor, that Anakin built C-3PO, or that the Clone Wars were started by a tax dispute. All the bits that actually affect the story are re-established in Episode II.

  1. Anakin makes more sense

With TPM, we meet the future Darth Vader is an adorable tyke. Without it, the first time you see Anakin he’s creeping out his old friend Amidala with his weird, entitled intensity when he’s supposed to be acting as her bodyguard (“She covered that camera,” he whines to Obi-Wan, “I don’t think she liked me watching her”). The idea that this hot-tempered, sexually-confused magical space wizard would be a danger to everyone around him seems less an tragedy of circumstance and more an obvious consequence of bad parenting. Speaking of which…

  1. Obi-Wan makes more sense

There’s a throwaway line in The Empire Strikes Back where Kenobi says of Anakin “I thought that I could train him as well as Yoda. I was wrong.” But again, without TPM the first thing we see of Obi-Wan is failing to reprimand his apprentice for throwing a tantrum, showing Obi-Wan less as a noble Jedi Knight and more like David Brent in The Office, blithely failing at being either friend or boss. “Wrong” becomes a mighty understatement.

  1. The plot points are preserved

You know how there’s a fairly large twist in The Empire Strikes Back that’s somewhat undermined if you’ve just watched three films establishing that Vader is Luke’s father? Machete Order preserves it.

  1. It ups the stakes for Return of the Jedi

By taking a little side-journey before going into the final instalment, we see that badly-trained Jedi become dangerous monsters, and that Yoda was defeated by the Emperor. So when we meet Luke in Vader-shaped silhouette at Jabba’s palace, casually force-choking his guards, it raises the genuine possibility that he’s started down the dark path Yoda warned him about. Similarly, the final battle against the Empire changes from matched space armies led by sorcerers to a scrappy militia of flawed characters versus an established government led by an evil tactical genius with endless resources. That’s a victory definitely worthy of an Ewok dance party.

Machete Order, friends: it’s the only sane way to rewatch the Star Wars Saga.

Unless it turns out that Jar Jar really is the main villain in The Force Awakens, of course…

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Why Marriage Is Nice

Dear the Internet,

I don’t want to go on and on about marriage equality – after all, it’s going to be passed eventually in Australia, bring people nothing but security and happiness and make exactly zero difference to anyone else.

However, there’s an argument that gets used a fair bit – heck, Mark Latham used it on The Verdict only last night as a way of telling gay people to stop annoying him about the issue, which is what reminded me of it – which is that you don’t need a piece of paper to validate your partnership.

And that’s absolutely correct, just to be clear. You can support marriage equality as the removal of a pointless piece of discrimination without feeling that you need to enter into it yourself, or necessarily support the institution. I know plenty of people that don’t see the need to do it themselves, and it makes no difference to the strength of their relationship – and neither does it mean they can see any reason to deny others the option simply because they don’t need it themselves.

However, I’d like to explain why I am a fan of marriage. It definitely changed things – just not between, y’know, the two people that got married. We were pretty damn into one another before we got hitched, and we remain so today.

Seriously, best day. How goddamn good to we look? Amazing. Photo by Anna Kucera

Seriously, best day. How goddamn good do we look? Amazing. Photo by Anna Kucera


That’s because weddings aren’t just about the people that wed, as I learned in 1989, the year my mother and stepfather got married.

Both were sole parent to three children apiece, families they’d created with their late spouses.

He’d moved interstate to be with mum, which wasn’t an easy thing for his family, and was living next door to our house so things were still very separate. The plan was that we’d all live in the one house after the marriage – and I, as the eldest, had already kinda figured that I’d be there for a couple of years at the absolute most so had the least to lose from the arrangement.

It was a volatile time for all eight of us, with the marriage bringing up a lot of fairly predictable grief for the six kids aged between seven and seventeen who had lost parents and could see their lives once again changing dramatically.

Even so, we six kids did get along pretty well among ourselves, even if there were differing levels of enthusiasm about blending our families, and a few excitingly dramatic screaming matches (But there was also Press Gang and Degrassi Jr High – yes, ABC’s Afternoon Show with James Valentine/Michael Tunn, you were the scaffolding upon which our family’s fragile bond was constructed.)

The wedding was very nice – lots of family and friends and people saying lovely things – but much to my surprise, something fundamental changed in the wake of it.

I didn’t think my relationship with Lance would change all that much at the time, since I really liked the guy and was glad he was marrying my mother. But my relationship with my stepfather’s family changed dramatically – his sister was now my auntie, his parents were now my grandparents, and most importantly his children were now my siblings. These people were now going to be part of my life for the foreseeable future. And something just… clicked.

I’m not going to pretend it was all smooth Brady Bunch sailing from then on in, but the struggles that followed were those of a family. And not to put too fine a point on it, the six of we sibs are still stupidly close. It helps that my brother and sisters are all amazing human beings, admittedly, as are the growing number of in-laws and children that have joined the tribe since.

I felt the same thing in May when I married my wife: there was a shift in my relationship with her brothers, her parents and (especially) her nieces. That’s because when you’re a kid there’s a fundamental difference between a chap being some-guy-that’s-seeing-your-Auntie, and being Your Uncle – not least because it makes clear that this person will be sticking around, and is another adult that can be relied upon.

And of course the other way for kids to know that someone’s there for a long time and can be relied upon is, you know, for them to be around for a long time and be consistently reliable. Again, the paper doesn’t change things – but we’re a species that responds well to symbolism and ritual. I still melt a little bit inside whenever my nieces call me Uncle Andrew, even if it usually means I’m about to run around the park with one or more of them on my back.

Also, as I made clear at the time, outside of weddings how many opportunities do you have in life to stand up in front of all the people that you adore most in the world and say “seriously, how good is love?” Not nearly enough, if you ask me. And it’s something well worth celebrating.

So: can we get this stupid niggling civil injustice sorted out, Australian Parliament? That’d be great.

Yours ever,


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