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Tag: Politics

Messing About in Boats

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other non-religious fare

Bali, Jan. 4, 2017

 

WE have a lovely friend, a former media colleague who goes by the pen name of The Global Goddess. She has a tough life, poor thing. She’s forever flitting off from Brisbane, her home city, to go to distant places and write about them. Well, someone has to do it, we suppose.

Her most recent gambol was a cruise to Komodo aboard the Al-Iikai, a 37-metre Bugis pinisi fitted out for maximum comfort and operated from Serangan in Benoa Bay. It was, she tells us, a program that gave her plenty of stories about messing about in boats.

The goddess, real name Christine Retschlag, apparently didn’t read Kenneth Grahame’s marvellous fantasy tale Wind in the Willows as a child. But we’re sure that Ratty will forgive her, given her later experiences. Hector, who is one of Ratty’s firmest friends, will pay close attention to her trip reports on her blog and in the travel media.

We’re sure that Ratty – whose ancestral lineage, we remember, traced back to a seafaring rat who had sailed to England from Constantinople long before (though possibly not as early as the Black Death fleets of 1348-49) – will fully understand that the Bali Sea and beyond is a different kettle of fish to the somewhat placid Thames in the golden age of Edwardian England more than a century ago.

The goddess finished her archipelagic sojourn with some lovely down-days at Palms Ceningan, where we hear she adopted surfer-chick hair because she had lost her comb. She’ll have found it eventually in the designer Black Void handbag that she, like all the girls, simply has to tote around.

Before Indonesia, she had been in Canada chatting up polar bears. As a result of this earlier adventure, and when we caught up with her aboard the Al-Iikai at Benoa before she sailed away to joust with dragons, courtesy of Indonesia Island Sail’s Amanda Zsebik, we dubbed her Nanook of the Near North.

That’s no igloo, just the smile.

What a Blast

It’s over now, for another year, thank goodness. But Christmas is worth discussion. It marks the requisitioned and wholly notional birthdate of Jesus the Nazarene, who in the Christian rite is the Messiah, the prince of peace, Son of God, prophet and prince of life, among other things. Nothing in his story seems to mandate explosive exclamation, except perhaps the feeding of the five thousand, which must have been a blast.

So it is curious that in Indonesia it’s apparently an occasion for letting off fireworks. From the noise these infernal objects generate, they must be rather bigger than the two inches (five centimetres) maximum allowed by official order. Never mind, no one here takes any notice of official orders.

There’s a serious point in this. Christmas is a Christian religious feast. For Muslims, it is the birthday of the Messiah (Mahdi), Isa – Jesus – who ranks behind only Muhammad as a prophet of Allah.

It is the secular West that has turned Christmas into an occasion for consumer excess. But even there, and in the little pockets of bad behaviour its acolytes occupy around the globe, pyrotechnics don’t figure in the events of the season.

A Sari Tale

The other day we came across a delightful Jakarta-based blog (www.eatlivetravel.com) that had somehow previously escaped our notice. We really should get out more. It comes with an emailed newsletter, to which we have now subscribed. Interesting takes on current events are always good value, whether they are serious or of the ROFL class. Hereabouts they’re often of the ROFLMAO variant.

What caught our eye particularly in the newsletter we saw on Dec. 17 was a spin-off from the awful Ahok saga. It involved Sari Roti, a bread maker, whose products were seen in apparently invidious proximity to the governor of Jakarta in the context of his legal difficulties with the FMP (the Fanatical Muslim Push). Sari Roti’s stock value had fallen as a result (no, we’re not kidding).

No one can have missed the fact that Governor Ahok is on trial for blasphemy on the grounds that he misquoted the Qur’an and is therefore a kafir of the worst order. He’s a Christian, of course, and an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity. Neither of these qualities is favoured as a political option by the chaps with the placards and the turban fetish.

It’s a sorry tale all round, and not one to laugh about. Except that sometimes if you don’t laugh, you cry.

It Just Piles Up

Photos that surfaced on Facebook just before Christmas, of the disgraceful piles of garbage washed up on Double Six beach at Legian, after seasonal rains flushed out the poisonous detritus that clogs every watercourse you can think of, are an object lesson in the poverty of public policy in Bali.

They show how fiddling around at the edges, or hoping someone else will front up with the money and the means to do something for you while funding your latest vehicle fetish, is a cop-out, a disease risk and a PR disaster all rolled into one.

They were taken by surfing identity Tim Hain on Dec. 24. He noted that he was feeling a little delicate as a result of the ASC Tour awards party held at Canggu the previous evening, but what really made him feel sick was the sight that greeted him on Double Six beach on his morning walk.

It’s true that there are some good waste management initiatives in an increasing number of localities in Bali, organised at local community level. Craig Glenister of the Alasari resort in Tabanan mentioned the one that’s up and running in his area. Fair enough.

But it’s not enough. Just for example, in the Bukit area that houses The Cage (from whence Hector scribbles) a local contractor is paid by some residents to properly dispose of their rubbish. Others couldn’t care less – it’s not the money – and continue with the sorry custom of just tossing garbage away. Sometimes they set fire to it and the noxious plastic it contains. But mostly they just forget about it. Everywhere you go there’s a smelly bag of diseased rubbish lying in the scrub or by the road.

The local free-range dogs, a pariah class created by public apathy and indolence, the rats and the dengue mosquitoes, are guaranteed a continuous feast as a result.

A Sound Point

Helen Mirren is a great actor. And anyone who has seen the long-ago guest spot she did as a much younger one on a British TV talk show – when interviewer Michael Parkinson asked her with a particularly gauche grin if her “attributes” got in the way of her winning offers of serious roles – will understand also that she is a highly intelligent woman with whom one should not trifle.

So when she observed that by general agreement 2016 was a shit of a year, as she did recently, it was very hard to argue. You don’t even have to have read the library-load of end-of-year reviews to work that out. She wasn’t making a partisan political point. That’s a tiresome practice of some actors, who seem to believe that a good publicist, a photogenic presence and an ability to take direction on a film set invests them with special knowledge, but it’s not hers.

Neither was she speaking in personal terms. She has a broader mind than that. She can see that things happen that aren’t good, even if they don’t directly affect you; and she is not so consumed with Self in the modern fashion that nothing else seems to matter. In short, she’s a breath of fresh air

See below for Hector’s view on The Year It Would Be Nice to Rewind.

Monkey of a Year

The Monkey is most likely exhausted, or near as, since his year is nearly over. The Diary, a Monkey of the class of 1944, certainly is. In the Chinese Zodiac, everyone’s once-in-a-dozen years mazurka is not a treat but a challenge. And 2016 was not a good year for anyone.

The year of the Fire Rooster starts on Jan. 28. We look forward to it. The next Monkey year is in 2028. Perhaps we’ll see you for that party.

President-elect Donald Trump’s next celestial challenge is in 2018, by the way. He’s a Fire Dog. But he gets his box of matches a year early, on Jan. 20, when he is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. He’ll probably tweet about that.

This column appears in the Bali Advertiser, out Jan. 4. The newspaper publishes Hector’s Diary in every second edition. It is a fortnightly print and on line publication.

 

 

Best in Bali

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Wine country, Western Australia

Nov. 23, 2016

 

CHRISTINA Iskandar, who is busy expanding the Diva Empire in Australia from her Sydney hometown base, tells us of a lovely little charity revenue stream she’s putting in place. It’s at the invitation of a major greetings card company.

The idea is they’ll put a selection of Best in Bali images on cards and other gift products and 5 per cent of the proceeds of sales will go to nominated Bali charities.

Iskandar has chosen as the first beneficiary of this scheme the Suryani Institute for Mental Health, a non-profit institute established in 2005. It and its sister organisations the Committee Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) and the Bali Elderly Welfare Foundation (Yayasan Wreda Sejahtera) work to create a healthy and happy community in Bali. Through academic, medical, psychiatric, educational and social work, the institute seeks to help the Balinese people become more intelligent, independent, creative, as well as physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually healthy.

The institute is headed by Professor Luh Ketut Suryani, MD, PhD. Its holistic approach to problem solving and positive advance – which it terms biopsycho-spirit-sociocultural – combines Western mainstream psychiatric/psychological practice with Eastern and Balinese cultural and spiritual knowledge and beliefs.

The Bali Divas themselves have been busy getting ready for a White Christmas ahead of their Divas and Dudes Christmas Charity Lunch on Nov. 25. It’s been a little chill on the island lately, courtesy of the annual wet season, though not that cold! Still, it’s a lovely old song. Thanks, Bing Crosby.

The “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” event is at Merah Putih in Kerobokan, where the fun starts at 12 Noon on Friday. We’ll be getting reports of frivolity and other action, so play up, folks. It’s for a good cause. Proceeds from the charity lunch will go to the Bali Children Foundation and The Refugee Learning Nest.

Bali Children Foundation is a non-profit organisation that provides education opportunities to more than 2300 children from disadvantaged families across Bali. The Refugee Learning Nest is a community-based project in Java that helps refugees through informal educational programs including women’s literacy, tailoring classes, and sporting activities.

The lunch, sponsored by Chandon, will feature a performance by the Bali-based singer Eva Scolaro, who we hear has added footwear designs to her list of skills. She looks good in shoes. There will be the usual raffles and auction items.

Don’t be a Dork

There was a flurry of fevered interest in Australia in the misbehaviour of women at this year’s Melbourne Cup, run on Nov. 1 and won, as usual, by a horse. Apparently media focus on idiot women should not overemphasise their looks, as this perpetuates sexist myths. It’s an interesting point of discussion in Bali, where the loudly drunk and selfishly inclined tourist cohort regularly makes a mess of itself and whichever locality it is that they’ve chosen to disgrace with their presence.

Fine. If you’re drunk as a skunk and passed out in a wheelie bin in a short skirt and with your legs up, because you’re blotto and the remains of your mind thought the bin was a good place to be, you’re not going to look good.

There’s a lot of talk about the glass ceiling these days, and how while some women have managed to crack it, many have yet to do so. This is held to be a sin, and not only against the sisterhood. We agree. Merit and a capacity to commit are the keys to advance.

It’s a shame that efforts to crack the glass ceiling are seen in some quarters as licence to wreck the joint once you’re in there. Not in the business sense: the women we know who have gained access to the glass cage at the top of the corporate bureaucratic ladders are all sensible, thinking people. Some among them might like a drink, and even to misbehave, in all sorts of ways, but they do so in private, where in a free society such things are legitimately enjoyed.

It’s on the party circuit, broadly defined, where bad behaviour occurs publically. It’s true that in many societies, especially the Anglo ones, the bad behaviour of men is apparently expected, still largely accepted, often cheered on (crassly) and frequently overlooked. The stupid boys will be boys rule. Read that line any way you like. This dispensation is not extended to women who drink too much and behave like dorks. Women are supposed to be savvy and sexy and all of that, in whatever body shape they naturally possess, and not to compete with men in the idiot stakes.

Fundamentally this is phooey, despite grandma’s sensible advice to always keep yourself nice. People are people. They come in all shapes and sizes and an infinite range of personalities. These days, however, good manners have largely been thrown out of the window in the western world, along with common sense. They have been replaced by the glottal-stop baby talk and short attention span of the Me generation. That’s what people need to think about and correct. It’s not really a gender thing at all, except among men with a fixed and prehistoric belief in their own sex’s supremacy.

Chump Time

That a man whose adult life has been spent losing other people’s money, stiffing business partners, failing to pay creditors, creating a lengthy list of corporate failures, avoiding tax, being a loud-mouth reality TV front-man (“You’re Fired!), running the Miss Universe pageant while ogling the talent, pushing forward the boundaries of shocking kitsch and publicly avowing the delights of pussy-grabbing, can be elected the 45th president of the United States is something that takes American democracy into new territory.

There are good reasons for American voters to disavow the political practices of establishment candidates and the two-party system (never mind the quality, feel the width) and to choose something that promises to break that matrix. On Nov. 8 they wanted, in sufficient numbers, to belt the Beltway (the popular synonym for Washington’s inner circle).

It’s a bold political experiment. We can only hope the test-tube doesn’t blow up and destroy the joint. It will be an interesting spectacle whatever results. An Australian friend whose considered opinions we greatly value, remarked when we asked him what he thought of the events that it was a bit like jelly wrestling: you know it’s wrong but you watch anyway. The life of a voyeur can be very rewarding.

There were the expected reactions to Donald Trump’s win on Nov. 8. Locally, the rupiah weakened, though this was expected to be only a temporary effect. Global bond markets were spooked. The Brexit Brits were re-enthused, since like them Trump wants to overturn all sorts of apple carts. The British see a fortune to be made in bilateral trade deals. (They’ve managed, oddly, to get the Australian government politically on side in that respect. Perhaps Canberra needs to glance briefly at a world map.)

Trump for his part wants to reinvent American rustbelt industry, which according to him shouldn’t have disappeared to China and other places where cost-effective manufacturing is practised. He’s a bit like Don Quixote, albeit with rather less moral fibre. Though tilting at windmills can be fun, for the spectators at least.

Another friend, this time in America itself, reports an unexpected side effect of Trumpism’s triumph. She’s looking for a new hairdresser in her gentle, liberal New England domain. Her long established snipper, who’s very good and very, very gay, has taken to loudly singing the praises of the White House Apprentice. She said she had not yet allowed this to disturb her coiffeur but that it had seriously ruffled her feathers.

Karma on the Rocks

The sports bar at Echo Beach over which long-term American resident of Bali Mara Wolford raised a stink earlier this year with allegations that her drink was spiked, has closed. That’s good news.

When it found itself criticised after the events Wolford wrote about on her Facebook, it adopted the usual tactic of miscreant businesses in Bali: First, anguished hurt that anyone could possibly think they were to blame; second, inventive and wholly inadequate answers; and third, threats of retribution.

The bar ceased trading this month. We love karma.

Chilling Out

The Diary is in Australia this week, on an SEB: a short essential break. So chilling out is the order of the day. That’s not difficult at all, when you’re in the bit of the Special Biosphere that has cool nights and often none-to-warm days even when late spring is said to have finally arrived.

We’ll be back shortly. The woollies will need washing.

HectorR

Hector writes a blog at 8degreesoflatitude.

 

Dystopian Delights

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Bali

Nov. 9, 2016

 

THERE were no visibly ruffled kebayas at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival session featuring American author Lionel Shriver on Oct. 29. No one loudly rattled their worry beads or furiously flounced out. This was in stark contrast to the thought chasm at the Brisbane Writers Festival in September, where an angry ethnic headdress made a public point of walking out of Shriver’s presentation. Someone else then thumped out an anguished memoir that appeared somewhere or other and, in it, claimed that Shriver was stealing other people’s heritage.

Shriver’s crime is to give voice in her novels to imaginary characters whose culture and ethnicity is not her own. In doing do, so the good thinking collective asserts, she and others perpetuate an invidious imperial-colonial imbalance. These days, this warrants condign punishment, such as being shouted at before being sent to Coventry.

The modern white man’s burden is to be continually assailed by charges that might have applied to his great-grandfather (the point is moot). It’s true that much of the world’s body of literature, fictional or otherwise, is in English. But much of it isn’t. There are other global languages, Spanish, French and Portuguese in particular. And if a culture whose native language isn’t one of these or any of their increasingly incomprehensible derivatives wishes to fully develop literature in its own lingua franca, it is perfectly free to do so.

This of course is not the thing to say at a literary festival, unless you want to have your tea poisoned.

But it is hard to see how Shriver and her ilk are the agents of continued bastardry just because they write into their narratives imaginary representatives of other cultures. Fiction, whether grittily realistic, or enervating, or readable, or otherwise, is neither fact nor claims to be. That alone should eliminate angst among the sentient and offset the risk of injury to readers from that modern plague, acquired cultural offence.

It’s true of course that many authors and their cheer squads claim gritty realism as the leitmotiv of their works and the arbiter of their own social relevance. But these days if you’re not socially relevant, you’re nowhere, baby.

Shriver’s presentation concerned her latest book, The Mandibles, a dystopian romp of sorts through the imagined near-future economic and social collapse of America. Mad Max on Mandrax, in a way. She read from the text. It’s unlikely to set the world on fire, though America might. The session was moderated by Gill Westaway, once of the British Council and now of Lombok.

Better than Chocolate

We spent some time at the festival chatting with Ines Wynn, who writes for the Bali Advertiser and lives in a riparian setting with a small menagerie (of dogs and cats) far from the madding crowd, just an easy three-hour round trip away from the nearest supermarket that’s stocked with anything bules might actually want to buy.

In such a setting, one has to plan. It doesn’t do to run out of something essential. We thought of foie gras, not because we suppose Ines likes to keep it in stock, as indeed neither do we, but just par exemple, to break briefly into one of her eight languages. Ines is originally from Belgium, that confection of four languages, several instances of casus belli, multiple competing legislatures and former Heart of Darkness empire that was invented in 1830 as a sort of final post-mortem act in the overlong and competing narratives of the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Crown.

Lunch with her, which we took at Kori, just across the road from the gabblers’ headquarters, was much less complex. It was also very tasty and in a quiet environment where the only noise seemed to be coming from our table. We didn’t have any chocolates. It seemed invidious to suggest that we might, since chocolates are perhaps Belgium’s finest exports. No substitutes permitted.

Solemen Indonesia’s Robert Epstone, by the way, had a sort of TED Talk opportunity at the festival, on Oct. 30 rescheduled from earlier in the program, to introduce the lit crowd to the sterling work his charity organisation does.

We couldn’t be there, unfortunately, but Ines tells us Epstone worked his usual magic and passed the virtual hat round to good effect.

Shoot to Thrill

The executioners have been out and about. We’re not referring to the national drug agency, which says it would like to shoot drug dealers without benefit of judicial process, as in Rodrigo Duterte’s new killing fields in the Philippines perhaps, and which hopefully will never get permission to engage in state-sanctioned murder.

It’s Gianyar regency we’re talking about, again, and its cruel and counterproductive dog-culling program. The latest victims were 21 dogs in Batubulan, after a dog bit someone and was later found to have rabies. Just to be clear, we’re not opposed to killing dogs when circumstances dictate that there is no other option, even though it would leave a heavy shadow on our non-Hindu heart.

Instead, as is much of the world that exists outside the blank-stare fiefdoms of the regents of Gianyar and others, we are opposed to the idea of killing dogs because this is easier than implementing an effective vaccination (and re-vaccination) program and humane population control through sterilisation, and because, being cheaper, it won’t interfere with the Essential Additional SUV Acquisition schedule.

There’s plenty of literature available on how to actually suppress rabies rather than just look as you’re doing so. We’ve had rabies in Bali since 2008, at a cost now approaching 200 human lives. That’s ample time to have assimilated the information and to have translated even the difficult bits into Bahasa Indonesia.

A Fine Award

Puri Mas resorts and spa in Lombok has a new and very fine feather in its cap. It’s just been voted Best Luxury Boutique Hotel in Indonesia at an awards presentation in Doha, Qatar. GM Sara Sanders, who was in the Puri Mas contingent at the St Regis Doha to collect the gong, says this: “Congratulations to Marcel De Rijk and all the amazing staff in Puri Mas. Well deserved.”

Puri Mas has always been a great place – in two places: right on the beach at Manggis north of Senggigi and inland at Kerangandan, where owner and long-term Lombok resident and ballroom dancer De Rijk maintains his residence. The resort truly is a jewel in the crown of Lombok tourism.

Get. A. Life.

It is not a criminal offence to be gay in Indonesia. (That’s a good thing in the other, older, sense of the word, because there’s plenty here that gives you a laugh, even if it’s a horse one.) But, seriously, it’s not a crime.

So the disgraceful hue and cry that was reported last month, involving the police and other guardians of self-assessed moral requirements in Manado, North Sulawesi, was a very sorry spectacle. Two gay men were hunted down and arrested because they had displayed their affection for each other in a Facebook post.

Social media is not a public space. It’s certainly true that public demonstration of affection is not what one does here. It is culturally inappropriate. Tourists of all stripes please note, especially the half-clothed young bucks and does of western provenance whose displays of plainly sexual intent are blots on the landscape in Kuta and other goodtime places.

In the Manado incident, there was no cause for public disquiet. It’s no business of the police what private individuals choose – unwisely or otherwise – to post on their social platforms. “Our team tracked down the locations of the two men thanks to information from netizens, and on Oct. 11 we found the two in Bahu, Manado,” North Sulawesi Police Spokesman Marzuki wrote in a statement.

What a circus. The police should have told “concerned netizens” to go away instead of responding with a farcical witch-hunt. That way, police spokesman Marzuki wouldn’t have had to look as if he’s with the Keystone Kops.

The silly business even reached Jakarta, where IT ministry spokesman Noor Iza was quoted as saying: “Facebook is very concerned about inappropriate content, including LGBT.”

Um, no, Facebook is rather more rainbow minded than Indonesian regulator-enforcers like to think.

End Game

The US election will be all over bar the continued shouting by the time this appears in print, but American scribbler Richard Boughton, who very sensibly lives in Bali, posted a plaintive note on his Facebook on Nov. 2 to which we can relate, both in his specific and our own more general circumstances.

He wrote: “I can’t believe how much time I wasted last night arguing with Trump supporters on Facebook. Not that I don’t have time to waste. But I could have wasted it in so many more pleasant ways. Sleeping, for instance. Or pigging out on junk food. Or picking a scab off my leg.”

HectorR

Hector’s Diary appears, edited for newspaper publication, in the print and on line editions of the fortnightly Bali Advertiser

AMERICAN POLITICS

From the American Prospect (Monday, March 5) on Super Tuesday. A fine little aide-memoire:

 

CORONATION TUESDAY

Super Tuesday once was super. Progressives of a certain age will never forget the fun of the first edition in 1988. Conservative Democrats had dreamt up a March day of nine Southern primaries that would guarantee no “unelectable” liberal could win the party’s nomination. The geniuses forgot, though, that most Southern Democrats were not actually white moderates or conservatives. The scheme backfired spectacularly, with the Reverend Jesse Jackson emerging as a viable contender and Michael Dukakis also faring well. Since then, the role of Super Tuesday has been considerably more banal: It almost always clinches the nomination for at least one party’s frontrunner. Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, Al Gore, John Kerry, and John McCain all guaranteed their spots atop the party ticket with strong performances. Maybe this thing should be rechristened “Coronation Tuesday.”

Leading up to tomorrow’s 10-state version, it seemed unlikely that Mitt Romney would follow that trend. But the air appears to have gone out of Rick Santorum’s insurgent campaign, and Romney’s victory in Michigan last week and in Washington’s caucuses on Saturday has created the possibility. In Ohio, the most closely contested state, Romney has drawn even with Santorum after trailing by double digits. In Tennessee, where Santorum also held a big lead last week, Romney has closed the gap—thanks in part to a million-dollar advertising blitz by the Restore Our Future PAC. If Romney wins those states and the other six he’s expected to carry, limiting Santorum to a victory in Oklahoma and Newt Gingrich to a home-court win in Georgia, it could be all over but the shouting when the dust settles—and the increasingly antsy Republican establishment will, unlike the conservative Democrats who started this whole exercise, get what they so devoutly desire.


SO THEY SAY

“Unenthusiastic,” “discouraged,” “lesser of two evils,” “painful,” “disappointed,” “poor choices,” “concerned,” “underwhelmed,” “uninspiring,” “depressed.”

Responses when NBC/Wall Street Journal pollsters asked Americans to describe the Republican presidential race in a word or phrase. Seven in ten responded negatively. 

The Carr That Skittled Kevin

Appointing Bob Carr as foreign minister-designate – ahead of the New South Wales parliament formally electing him to the vacancy caused by the unexpected departure of no longer faceless man Mark Arbib – may be just what Prime Minister Julia Gillard needed as a circuit-breaker.

     There are certainly signs the Liberal opposition thinks so (along with such parts of the National Party as are able to think further than the brims of their hats); its confected incandescence over the Rudd non-coup and Labor brawling show that very clearly.

     Two things emerge immediately from the Carr appointment. The first is that Gillard has finally (albeit messily as usual) stamped her authority as leader on something of moment. Many commentators have already noted this. The second is that Carr neutralises – though neuters may be the better term – Rudd as an alternative foreign affairs voice, again something that other commentators have noted. Both these outcomes are beneficial for Gillard and Labor. It remains to be seen whether benefit then flows on to governance or indeed to Australia’s foreign representation.

      It is in the chaotic workings of the law of unintended consequences, however, that longer-term questions arise over the events of the past week. Tony Abbott’s charge for The Lodge 2013 has not yet been officially dented – we’ll have to see several sequential opinion polls for any real assessment there – but there’s no denying that a working Labor government would claw things back to a very contestable margin at the next election.

      Gillard’s image is tarnished. The manner of her 2010 coup against Rudd, his devious behaviour and disloyalty since, and the marginal outcome of the 2011 election, would have taken the shine off any prime minister. The fact that until now Gillard has looked like a leader only by power-dressing – overcooked events at the Lobby restaurant in Canberra on Australia Day aside – hasn’t helped.

      Rudd has now been very effectively sidelined. Well, no: actually he sidelined himself, the victim of his own unbridled hubris and self-image. He won’t be back in the medium term, if ever. The drubbing he got last week speaks volumes. If there’s a future challenger this term, it’s unlikely to be him. He may remain the member for Griffith. But as that old scoundrel Graham Richardson said during the week on Sky TV – who cares what Rudd thinks; and he might usefully have added, or does.

      If Gillard does get her act together the focus will rightly turn onto Abbott and his credentials as alternative Australian prime minister. Other than for agenda-setters on The Australian newspaper and some of the tabloid TV channels, this is where it should be.

     It is not true to say – as Labor trolls in the all-pervasive social media continuously assert – that Abbott is unfit to govern. He does have policies (some of them are execrable but that’s another issue, especially for traditional small-l Liberals) and he does have a working team. It would be folly to assume an incoming Liberal-National government would be train-wreckers in disguise. That’s just what people on opposite sides in politics say about each other.

      Labor hasn’t been a wrecker in office since 2007 (well Rudd was, but he is now his own problem) and no one able to see out of the political prism would suggest it has. It hasn’t been very good at governing, but – again – that was a situation wrought upon Labor by the 2010 election. Bob Brown’s a pleasant fellow, but he’s never easy to work with and he has his own politics to consider – continuing to grow the Green vote. The independents are relevant only on the numbers in the present parliament. A fresh election, in all the new circumstances, might well sort them out.

      Abbott articulates an argument that is specifically designed for opposition. He does it very well, although he’s had a lot of stumble-footed help from the government to push along his argument that Labor’s a dog. That’s essentially his job, until an election comes along and he has to say what he’ll do instead of just what the other side should do.  It’s worked for him as leader, in the opinion polls. But effectively they don’t count, other than as material likely to cause euphoria on one side and indigestion on the other. The reality is that on Election Day – in the only poll that really counts – the margins are likely to be far tighter than public opinion sampling has previously indicated. Abbott knows this as well as anyone.

      And that’s his real dilemma. If Gillard’s a dud – his continual assertion – and remains so, Labor will ultimately fix its own problem. It won’t do so by drafting Rudd:  he’s killed his own chances. If on the other hand Gillard does now actually get it – if she can lead without internal distractions and with the real support of all her colleagues – and public opinion (as gauged) begins to swing Labor’s way, Abbott’s in trouble.

      He’s a combative character (he’s an engaging one too, in private) with views that he articulates well but which are not necessarily those of a swinging voter, or even of many small-l Liberals. It’s not just that his frequent macho war-cry is tedious to most people, or that he and his immigration spokesman Scott Morrison shamelessly beat the jingoistic drum on illegal boat arrivals.

    His problem seems to be that from time to time he’s confused as to whether he’s leading Opus Dei or the Australian opposition.

    It’s possible to be an abortion sceptic, if you remember to couch that scepticism in line with the fact that half the people you want to vote for you are women whose views on pregnancy termination are rather more important than those of men. And that they are largely the opposite of yours.

     It is permissible to be out of step with the global scientific community on global warming, but it’s not wise to then let the view grow, among those whose urban votes you wish to attract, that therefore no one need worry overmuch about cleaning up the atmosphere.

     It is conceivable that many Australians support the philosophic concept of cutting back on welfare. But that, in the smugly self-indulged society that is today’s Australia, would be a very brave call indeed.

     It is possible to believe that wages – real or relative – should be cut to fuel productivity improvements, but that may be rather more of a Luddite position than most 21st century Australian voters accept is feasible or proper.

     Abbott is unchallenged. But he is not unchallengeable, especially if the polls start flowing Labor’s way. That may be the ultimate result if Gillard now gets down to the real work.