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Issue No. 248 26 November 2004  

Australian Idols
It was a week for the little people as Casey won Australian Idol and Rebecca beat the railways. In entertainment and politics it was a young woman from the burbs who ran rings around the pros.


Interview: The Reich Stuff
Robert Reich has led the debate on the future of work – both as an academic and politician. Now he’s on his way to Australia to help NSW unions push the envelope.

Economics: Crime and Punishment
Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

Environment: Beyond The Wedge
Whether the great forestry divide can ever be overcome or whether it is best sidestepped for the sake of unity and sustainability in other areas is up for debate, writes Tara de Boehmler.

International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews show us How To Kill A Country

Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Nick Lewocki from the RTBU lifts the lid on the shonky science behind RailCorp testing

Politics: Labo(u)r Day
John Robertson lets fly at this years Labor Day dinner

Human Rights: Arabian Lights
Tim Brunero reports on how a Sydney sparky took on the Taliban and lived to tell the tale.

History: Labour's Titan
Percy Brookfield was a big man who was at the heart of the trade union struggles that made Broken Hill a quintessential union town writes Neale Towart.

Review: Foxy Fiasco
To find out who is outfoxing who, read Tara de Boehmler's biased review of a subjective documentary about corrupt journalism.

Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
Brothers and sisters! Praise the Lord! Brother George has saved the White House from an invasion by infidels, writes resident bard David Peetz.


 Helicar Fingers Victims ... Again

 Rabbits Sick of Clover

 What a Banker

 Pack Up and Go Home

 Pratt By Name

 Horror at the Hacienda

 Women Wiped for Bush Jobs

 Veteran Fights Bullet

 Tunneler Survives Death Trap

 Bathurst Three Face Court

 Chullora Cuts Struck Out

 Bully Breaks Heart

 Southern Cross Flies High

 Activists What's On!


The Locker Room
In Naming Rights Only
Phil Doyle has Gone to Gowings

The Soapbox
Homeland Insecurity
Rowan Cahill tells us how the Howard Government’s appointment of Major-General Duncan Lewis to head up the national security division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has received little critical comment, until now.

The Westie Wing
New proposed legislation in NSW provides a vital window of opportunity for unions to ensure they achieve convictions for workplace deaths, writes Ian West.

 Regarding Pee Poles
 Pee Pole Shame
 Latham Is A Scapegoat
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Australian Idols

It was a week for the little people as Casey won Australian Idol and Rebecca beat the railways. In entertainment and politics it was a young woman from the burbs who ran rings around the pros.

The reality TV model of choosing our next big star is now well-established and, despite the sneerings of the pop-cognescenti, quite effective in finding performers who match the hopes and dreams of their audience.

Australian Idol can be seen as a reaction to established structures of the Australian music industry that turned stardom a closed shop, requiring personal contacts and, even better, family contacts to get a slot in the popular culture.

With the collapse of grass-roots music thanks to the invasion of poker machines into pubs, the available talent pool shrunk until it took in little more than the family and close friends of a few record company executives and aging rock stars. Either that, or they are extremely good-looking.

Sure, experiments like JJJs Un-Earthed delivered some acts from left field such as silverchair and Killing Heidi, but few Australian acts cracked the charts and those who did were usually poor imitations of the US bands that dominated the Top 10.

In this context, Australian Idol has been an adventure in popular culture democracy, allowing the punters to vote with something more than just their wallets, actually managing the flow of talent into the mainstream.

And here's the punch line: when it comes to picking talent, the public seems to get it right, with both Casey and Guy they have clearly chosen the performer with the best set of lungs, rather than other assets that the establishment all too often promotes.

As Casey was embarking on her media blitz, another young woman was rewriting the rules of engagement, the 24 year-old legal secretary who caught one late train too many and decided to make a stand.

Yes, she was promoted first by the media and supported by the trade union movement, but the idea and impetus were her own - the existing order simply facilitated her campaign.

Like Casey and Guy, Rebecca was not particularly polished in her performance or sophisticated in her delivery - but she had a much more valuable commodity - she was real.

Casey and Rebecca got me thinking, as yet another round for ALP leadership talk began swirling this week.

Could it be that the real problem confronting the party are the very issues that have also engulfed our music industry: a shrinking talent pool caused by the professionalisation of the industy, an ailing grass roots structure and a collapse of talent identification.

Could it be that, given it is the punters who ultimately decide who wins elections, they should be given a greater say on who is strutting their stuff on stage on the big night.

It is with this is mind that I put forward my Modest Proposal for Australia's newest reality TV show - Australian Leader.

It would be a cross between Idol and The Apprentice - a bunch of hopefuls - rank and file workers, mortgagees and contractors in a face-off for the ultimate prize - leadership of the Australian Labor Party.

Contestants would be put through a number of tests: the standard political skills such as visiting shopping centres, kissing babies, 'managing' local branch issues.

Each week they would also be asked to work within an established genre - speaking at rallies, hiking through the wilderness, addressing foreign dignitaries, batting off curly ones in Question Time.

As the season progresses the contestants would grow under the tutelage of a panel of experts - say John Faulkner, Robert Ray and Ros Kelly (for whiteboard skills); and Australia's own Donald Trump, Bob Hawke.

The public would eliminate a contestant each week through the celebration of popular democracy, a phone-in poll, at $1.80 per minute - a great source of funding come election time.

First to go would be those who look like they want the job too much, who don the tailored suit and the toothy grin to tell you what you want to hear.

Next in the firing line would be those who change their positions to make life easier on themselves. The punters much prefer human qualities like honesty, candour and even frailty, than the illusion that things are OK.

Left standing would be those contestants who have a compelling life story, who have contributed to their community, who know what its like to be caught at the end of a bank line or on hold to Telstra, who have been squeezed between work and family, wondering where to send their kids and what happens when they get sick, and who care about the environment and are proud to call themselves Australians.

As a finale, the last two contestants would appear on the Opera House steps for the ultimate challenge - enthusing the crowd about their vision for Australia and laying out an honest platform that looks beyond the political cycle to confront the real challenges we face as a nation.

And the winner? Well, they would be someone the Australian people have chosen to lead the party that represents them, a modern day Ben Chifley, who is called to public duty by the Light On the Hill.

Call me misty-eyed, but I believe our leaders are in the community, not in our Parliament. Australian Leader would find them and send them to Canberra to bust the joint open.

Peter Lewis



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