Yesterday, I held a man's hand while he died

Yesterday I held a man’s hand while he died.

That’s not quite true; I stroked his head as he died. His hand was unresponsive. He may have been paralysed or his hand may have been trapped so he couldn’t move it. It was hard to see in the wreckage. He could move his head and, as I touched his head and spoke to him to reassure him, wiping blood from his eyes, he moved his head gently to connect more firmly with my stroking hand.

This was not planned. This was not a death he expected. This was not something I anticipated.

Can I bring you up to speed? My wife, Deb, and I were driving from our wedding anniversary lunch at a restaurant in Girona, northern Spain towards our home in southern France. We were on a busy local road – two lanes of fairly constant traffic. Up ahead, a white van was driving somewhat erratically, dipping in and out of the traffic to pass as many cars as possible. It was travelling too fast.

Less than a minute down the road, down a steady slope, we came across the scene. The van had veered off the road, down a steep embankment and into some trees. It was on its roof, wheels spinning in the air as the engine continued to work, with its front fully caved in.

We stopped and I ran to the scene. There were others there. Everyone was standing back. I think that – like me – most were concerned about the van exploding while the engine continued working. To be honest, I can’t recall thinking logically; just instinctively. In seconds, I was down the now torn embankment, yanking at the driver’s door to try to open it. It was useless.

The driver was clearly trapped and in serious pain. He was bleeding profusely and moaning. Deb was up near the road, urging me – and others – to touch him and to talk to him. That’s when I stroked his hand. It was cold and unresponsive.

Someone had called the authorities. I turned to the man beside me to ask whether he spoke English and, when he said that he did, I asked him to speak to the driver, to tell him that help was on its way. I asked the Spanish man to ask the driver whether he was alone in the van or whether someone else was there. It was just him.

Another Spanish man and I tried the rear door of the van to see if we could get inside to help the driver. There was no way through. We considered trying to roll the van over again so that the driver wasn’t hanging upside down, before deciding that it may risk his health too much and may send the van further down the embankment.

I saw that the driver had been left alone, went back to him and spoke to him, stroking his head.

His face was blue. He was still bleeding. He had stopped moaning. This is when he began leaning his head into my hand, as if he was looking for, anticipating, the touch.

The police had arrived and were organising the scene to make it safe on the road. I could hear a helicopter coming and kept on talking to the driver and stroking his head as the helicopter landed in a nearby field.

There was a woman beside me. She seemed to know about medical issues. I was speaking to the driver in English and she was speaking to him in Spanish and to me in English. She told me to keep going. I was checking his carotid pulse every five or so seconds. It was there. It was there. It was not there. He convulsed three or four times. The pulse was definitely not there. It was still not there.

I said ‘Senor. Senor.’ I looked at the woman beside me. She shook her head and placed a hand on my shoulder. She and I together signalled to the advancing paramedics that they may be just too late.

When I clambered up the embankment back to the road, I was pulled up by someone who offered me their hand. It felt like being pulled out of a grave – clearly not mine, but someone’s – maybe one that I had dug.

I’ve faced this before. My father and I once gave first aid to someone injured in a car accident near our home. That man died in front of me. I was also present when Deb’s best friend drew some of her final breaths at the end of her battle with cancer. She died as we drove back to where we were staying so we didn’t see her death, but I can recall a moment on that drive when something shifted either inside me or in the world around me. I knew she had gone. I have spent time contemplating death and its finality (or otherwise) and its impact on others. So, I have some familiarity with death and its processes.

This incident – unexpected and unwelcome – was not unpleasant. Distressing? Yes. Avoidable? Yes. Ugly? In a way, no. The man was distressed. I think that he knew he was dying. In that moment, though, he responded to human touch and voice. He calmed. Perhaps he accepted what was happening. And I felt the honour of being there with him in that moment.

No winners here

One week from the vote and the results are in for the State seat of South West Coast. The VEC website might say that there is no declared outcome yet, but they have rechecked 91% of the total enrollment and history shows that at least 5% of those enrolled regularly do not vote so there is realistically only a handful of votes left to be rechecked with an average of 6.5% of those likely to be informal. They probably haven’t counted mine yet (a postal vote from Europe) but I don’t think that single vote is going to help Terry Riggs in his quest for a miracle.

So, how did we go? Well, no-one won; least of all the South West.

In a remarkable election which saw safe Liberal and National party seats falling to Labor and independents across the state, South West Coast delivered the same result it has since its inception in 2002 and the same result for the old seats of Portland and Warrnambool that were merged to form it that voters in those seats have plumped for since at least the early 1970s when flares and flower-power were really the in-thing – a do-nothing conservative. This was the seat’s best opportunity since 2002 to get smart and deliver a marginal outcome with a local member who’d be in government. The voters blew it so that there’ll likely be no wins at budget time for south west roads, the train, schools, hospitals, etc. Sure, there might be a few dollars thrown at sporting clubs here and there or the odd CBD improvement investment, but upgrading infrastructure like our roads, rail line and services, Reid Oval and the saleyards? Forget it. Why would either major party invest in a seat that continues to deliver the same result regardless, while they have competing demands from a swag of marginal seats they do hold? Why would the Labor Party ever think that their support of the area (which has been considerable, in my view, despite it not being a Labor seat or anything close to that) might convince voters to change their underpants let alone their life-long habits? Why would the Liberal Party ever think that it needed to do anything other than show up, with whatever candidate, to win the seat , again and again and again?

Nope; the people and communities of South West Coast are the big losers of this election.

Not that the candidates fared much better. Let’s look at the figures, candidate by candidate.

The likely elected member, Roma Britnell of the Liberal Party, secured 32.4% of the primary vote. This is 7.6% less than she gained in the 2015 by-election and a whopping 25% less than Denis Napthine’s result in the most recent general election in South West Coast in 2014. The Liberal Party’s 2018 statewide vote (widely assessed as a total train-wreck for them) was 6% down on its 2014 result. I have never, ever before in my life, agreed with Adam Kempton about anything at all, but I agree with him that Roma has delivered an unacceptably bad result for her party in this election. How can a sitting member, with three clear years to work on building a positive profile and ‘results’ and the publicly-funded resources to go with being a sitting member, deliver a vote that is 1.6% WORSE than a statewide party wipeout vote and 25% less than the previous Liberal member’s vote? How is that even vaguely possible? My tip? Roma will occupy the seat until 2022 and then be turfed in a preselection battle. She has proven herself incapable and inept. Essentially, she’s unelectable in a fair fight. James Purcell would have rolled her if Michael Neoh and Jimmy Doukas had got out of the way and given him clear water.

Kylie Gaston is not the ALP’s Boadicea. Her primary vote of 24.5% was 5.5% short of the Labor average vote for the seat. If you include analysis of the seats of Portland and Warrnambool going back to the earliest records you can get from the web, 30.1% is the ALP pass mark for South West Coast. I fell short of it in 2014 with 28.2%. So did John Herbertson in 2010 with 24.6%. You simply can’t win in South West Coast as a Labor candidate without at least 35% of the primary vote, and even then you need everything else to go 100% right to get over the line. I know this from harsh personal experience. Under Kylie, the ALP’s two-candidate preferred margin below Roma (post distribution of all preferences) is likely to be 4.6% at 52.3:47.7. I gotta tell you – that ain’t marginal; especially considering the swag of other seats that will be sitting in the true marginal zone of 0-1.5%. Kylie was the wrong candidate at the right time.

I despair of The Greens Party. Thomas Campbell is an exceptional candidate who deserves to be in parliament – somewhere, sometime. But his vote fell 1.5% from the 2015 by-election and 3.7% from the 2014 general election. His 2014 9.8% primary vote was a highwater mark for The Greens Party in South West Coast. Given climate change, the importance of the renewable energies industry to jobs in the South West and the dark cloud of racehorses trampling hooded plover chicks, vegetation and important sites for Aboriginal Australians on our local beaches, I’m very surprised that his vote went south like that. It doesn’t bode well for The Greens Party vote in the future. It seems that the disfunction of the party at an organisational level was noted by some voters who then decided to revert to type and vote conservative – Liberal, Neoh, Purcell or Labor.

Michael Neoh lost 5% of his primary vote against his 2015 by-election result. I cannot help but think that his swapping from the Liberal Party to the National Party to rudderless independent confused his voters. Some say that he is popular with young people and that he uses Facebook well to maintain this. Against this I think, yes but do many of them vote? If they are enrolled to vote, do they turn up or are they overly represented in the 5-6% of enrolled voters who don’t vote? I’m not sure that Michael Neoh is the man to inspire the youth of today (and tomorrow) to rise up for major change.

Nor is Jimmy Doukas of The Country Alliance the man to inspire hard-bitten farming types to march on Spring Street in their gumboots. His primary vote dropped by 2% against his 2015 by-election result to 8.1%. Not a bad result, all things considered. And, given the fact that The Country Alliance is as high-profile and well-known as the Koroit Sentinel, that 8% is all his. Jimmy could do a lot better if he hitched his horse to another post – the Liberal Party, maybe? He could do just as well as Roma, and he brings an 8% core vote with him.

James Purcell. James, James, James. My shrivelled heart bleeds. At 16.5%, your primary vote was UP 5% against your previous lower house effort in 2010. But you of all people know that 16.5% is about ten percent short of where it needed to be. What if Neoh (9%) and Doukas (8%) had left you to it? Would you have picked up enough of that 17% to overtake Kylie Gaston and then have a crack at Roma (whose primary vote might, admittedly, have then been at about 39%). My gut says that – if it was a three (four, including The Greens Party) horse race like it was in 2002, it would have been a run-off between you and Roma but that you would have fallen just short by less than 1%. In reality, you had no choice but to jump from the Upper House to the Lower. You couldn’t pull off that weird Upper House preferencing hocus-pocus twice in succession. So, when you did make the leap, you had to have everything go right to even have a chance of winning. I tip my hat to you for what you achieved for the region during your time in the Upper House (actually achieved, not claimed credit for like the Lower House member), but unfortunately for you – and for the South West – everything didn’t go right. You got stuck in a packed field of candidates and couldn’t get the voters to pay enough attention to realise that there was genuine choice other than the main parties they have always so blindly seen as their choices. I went through that in 2015, with a remarkably similar primary result – 16.8%. History shows your base vote in the South West to be 5000 and a good result for you to be somewhere between 11 and 15%. Of course, if you were a major party candidate, ...?  It looks like Roma might be looking over her shoulder in all directions. While your vote was up, you still lost, I’m afraid – by about 10%.

I’m yet to analyse preference flows and final booth-by-booth figures to assess how all of this happened (and how it might be different in the future), but – based on this analysis of the 2018 South West Coast State election results – there are no winners, just the wreckage  from a train – or more to the point, replacement bus – crash. Hang your head, South West Coast. I’m shaking mine.   

Jeunes, pas jaunes

I love a good protest, and here is the tale of two of them – hemispheres apart but occurring nearly simultaneously and, in many ways, for the same reasons.

This week in France, there have been sporadic but surprisingly effective protests by Les Gilets Jaunes – noisy knots of mostly middle aged people dressed in the floursecent yellow vests (gilets) that drivers are required to carry in their cars here. Les Gilets Jaunes have blockaded major roads and roundabouts and commandeered (and in some cases set fire to) toll-pay gates on motorways to disrupt traffic and thereby gain very visible attention for their cause. They have focused on blocking lorries from delivering goods to supermarkets. They wave ordinary drivers – especially those displaying their own gilets jaunes in their windscreens in solidarity – through their blockades, often after aggressively eliciting supportive hoots on car horns. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, yellow-vested people claiming association with this leaderless movement have stopped cars containing migrants, people of colour and people they believe to be homosexual, dragged drivers and passengers from their cars and beaten them. People have died; some through this violence and some yellow-vesters who have been hit by cars and trucks driven by antagonised commuters.

What is their cause? What are they protesting about? It’s quite hard to say definitively because they lack leaders, any real organisational structure and any collective manifesto. They appear to have risen in anger over a range of things, including unemployment (especially of the middle aged) and job losses, the general cost of living and – most notably – the cost of fuel. France has a history of grassroots revolution emerging from general anger. A couple of them were highly successful. The most recent major uprising, a union and student-led revolt in 1968 that was much more organised, structured and ideologically driven than this Gilets Jaunes revolt was not.

When everything is stripped away, the common complaint of the Gilets Jaunes is that petrol is too expensive and that government taxes on petrol (including, most notably, some recently imposed by the government as one response to climate change and Big Oil’s impact on the climate) are too high and are making daily life financially unsustainable for the ordinary French. Of course, the oil companies’ response to the government’s additional climate change taxes on their product was to immediately pass those costs on to the consumer via price increases.

I get Les Gilets Jaunes’ point, and to a degree I support their methods (they work; they’re getting attention at least) but they are only expressing anger; they offer no solutions.  The main criticisms you could make of the Gilets Jaunes ‘movement’ are that it is selfish, narrow-minded and vague. But their methods – which are mainly hurting poorer, working (and unemployed) people and business – are proving to be effective, at least at getting attention and having the broader population consider their complaints.

The second protest happened this week across major cities and towns in Australia when secondary school students went on strike to voice their concerns over the Australian Government’s inaction on climate change. They expressed their concern for their future and the future of our planet via rallies, marches, chants and slogans on posters, and – as is so necessary these days – blanket social media coverage. Thousands of young people gathered in public places to take part in this process. They didn’t block roads. They didn’t burn property. They committed no violence. They spoke – loudly, clearly, articulately – about the issues around climate change that concern them and about the urgency of the situation.

There are contrasts and confluences between these two protests. First, the contrasts.

Most notably, the Australian students’ strike spoke articulately about its issue and offered solutions. Those involved spoke about their fears but also about what needed to be done. The Gilets Jaunes expressed their fears but offered no solution. Theirs was a simple cry of ‘J’ai mal’, ‘I am hurting’. The Australian students said ‘The earth is hurting and this is what we need to do now to help it’.

The spokesmen of the Gilets Jaunes (and I use the term ‘spokesmen’ intentionally) were middle-aged men, often with greying walrus moustaches and an alarmingly bland taste in clothes (beyond their lurid yellow vests). Although I can’t understand French, translations of what they said suggested that they were either inarticulate or simply didn’t know what they were protesting about. They could barely give a coherent answer to the simplest of questions on that point. All those that I’ve seen and heard on social media, mainstream TV and radio delivering the message of the Australian student strike were young women/teenage girls who had clearly prepared themselves well for their moment under the spotlight. They were informed, articulate and intelligent. They were certainly more articulate and – to borrow a term used by Australia’s Prime Minister – authentic than him or any of his government ministers on the issues of their strike and of climate change.

The Australian students were restrained and respectful. The Gilets Jaunes were – and are – undignified, indiscriminate and – frankly – dangerous.

So, where might the confluences be?

Of course, at its heart, the issue is the same – what do we need to do to prepare western society for the impact of climate change? The Gilets Jaunes seem to say ‘don’t ask me, but also don’t increase the cost of things like fuel for my car or truck for me. I just want to get on with living my life as it is.’ This self-obsessed perspective overlooks the fact that the taxes imposed on the oil companies were partly to levied to raise funds so that the French government could take the action necessary to address the harmful impacts of the continued use of fossil fuels on the environment and on society. This is similar to government taxes on tobacco. The use of tobacco creates health impacts that place greater strain than is necessary on society’s health systems, so that those suffering tobacco-related illnesses disproportionately draw on the health system’s resources compared to those who don’t use tobacco. The science around this is clear and accepted. The use of fossil fuels is similar in that the impact of their use places disproportionate strain on environmental clean-up resources compared to other uses of our environment. The difference is that the impact is felt by everyone, not just those who use oil. The Australian students are calling for everyone – but mostly their elected representatives; those making decisions now that will markedly impact their future or that of the world they will be forced to live in – to face up to this reality, to accept the science and to get on with doing the things that are necessary – vital – for dealing with those impacts. They accept that climate change is real and that human activity (especially that of the commercial and business world) is a major contributor to climate change, but they also recognise and loudly advocate for the steps we need to take to mitigate and address its impact, for the relative benefit of their generation and beyond and the planet itself.

Both protests appear to be relatively spontaneous and leaderless. Those who have stepped forward to ‘lead’ or speak for the Gilets Jaunes appear to be middle-aged men with personal axes to grind or men associated with far right or far left parties or groups promoting social agitation and unrest. They stand in stark contrast to the young women fronting the Australian students’ strike. But the lack of leaders, the lack of an organisational core for both campaigns, is interesting. Power – and responsibility – is disseminated. In both cases, the organisational glue is a clever use of social media platforms and discussion threads. From the outside, it seems that both campaigns can maintain a relatively coherent expression of their views, across a number of different spokespersons and platforms, without a pre-prepared script, without the ‘lines’ that we often see politicians spouting in interview after interview. The two protests are staying on message, without any leaders and without any policy platforms or manifestos.

Both protests seem to be driven by a bottom-up, grassroots impetus. This is how successful, sustainable revolutions have occurred in the past. Everyone involved believes in and commits to the cause organically. They feel it. They live it. They know it. They don’t need to be told why they are doing it. Therefore, they just do it. The trick is find a way to sustain the impetus into action that will create the change you want to see. Personally, I wish the Australian students every success in that regard and the Gilets Jaunes none at all.

And then there was hope. What has stirred me to write this blog-piece is not my hope that the narrow-mindedness of the Gilets Jaunes fades quickly to even less than a distant memory but the hope for the future represented by the clear-faced, clear-minded, clear-sighted young women of Australia who took part in – and spoke for - the students’ strike this week. If Australia’s future is in their hands, then we – and the world – do indeed have a future. I sincerely hope that those who stepped forward to speak for themselves, their fellow students and the planet this week – females and males – are those who will also step forward to lead Australia when their time to do so comes in twenty or more years. In the meantime, it is absolutely vital that our current leaders – and those who rise to lead Australia over the next few decades – listen very careful to these young people, their concerns, their ideas and solutions and their passion and act now to ensure that those future leaders have something to work with to save our planet. Throw down the caution represented by your hard-hats and yellow safety vests, roll up your sleeves and put your shoulders to the wheel alongside these inspirational young people. Viva la revolution des jeunes!  

Considered thoughts on the South West Coast State election 2018, one month out

This is a long piece, but contains quite a bit of detail that - I think - rewards close reading.

If you’re interested in what might happen in the coming election in South West Coast (my old seat), persist with this piece and engage with the ideas and logic behind it.

I’m just going to come out and say it – Roma Britnell will win the seat of South West Coast at the coming election. That might sound  a bit ‘tell us what we don’t know’, but the entry of Vote1-Local Jobs Party candidate James Purcell into the race has put a different complexion to the usual on this election. Here’s why and how.

First, the obvious. The Wentworth by-election result has reinforced a prevailing notion that voters are dissatisfied with the major parties and are looking for alternatives. The South West Coast electorate is  more conservative and rusted-on than the voters of Wentworth (believe it or not); less given to change and less attracted to things they haven’t had the opportunity to become comfortable with over many years. But there could be a segment of the voting population in the South West who are ready to try something different, but most opt for safe and steady. To be fair, James Purcell is not that different. He is conservative by nature, but is not from the major parties and, to that degree, is independent. He’s also served a term in parliament and has done so in a very public way, so he has a proven track record to point to. So, he could present as a safe alternative. And, given Trump, Brexit, Wentworth, circumstances might be aligning to allow him to step forward as an electable alternative.

Of course, he’s been elected before – at least twice. He served on the Moyne Council, including as Mayor.  More tellingly, he won the fifth Upper House position in Western Victoria in 2014, with his new party polling only 1.3% of the primary vote in a very populous, diverse electorate that takes in Geelong and Ballarat as well as south west Victoria. He scored 5501 personal first-preference votes though, so we can assume that he has a solid personal base – largely in his home country of the south-west – of 5000 votes; a very good start. He also ran for South West Coast in 2010, as an independent, gathering an impressive 11.53% of the primary vote. More about that later.

One key factor is that Roma Britnell isn’t Denis Napthine. In her 2015 by-election win, the Liberal primary vote dropped by 7748 votes (17%) against Denis Napthine’s 2014 result. This may have been because there were more – and more conservative – candidates running in the by-election, splintering the traditional Liberal vote. However, the numbers don’t necessarily support this simple explanation because my primary vote dropped in that by-election too. I’ll cover that in a bit of detail shortly. Ahead of that, let’s just look at Port Fairy as an example of the Napthine factor. In 2014, Napthine received 200 more two-candidate preferred votes than Britnell did in Port Fairy in 2015. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for one smallish booth, that is significant – 20% of his vote in that booth. And in a close election, 200 votes can make all the difference.

Let’s look at the 2015 by-election result in a bit of detail. Denis Napthine had resigned after two decades as a parliamentary representative for the region, in the seats of Portland and South West Coast , and sometime Opposition Leader and Premier. It was my fifth attempt as a perennial candidate, after 1999, 2002, 2006 and 2014. I wasn’t a candidate in 2010. Looking at the results now, that by-election can be characterised as the election of ‘The Liberals without Napthine and Roy Reekie without Labor’. The ALP decided not to field a candidate for the by-election and I mounted a campaign as an independent. So, how did the numbers fall? As previously noted, Britnell’s primary vote was 7748 down on Napthine’s from a year earlier.  My primary vote was 4495 down on the Labor vote from 2014. At 16.82%, my first preference percentage was down 14% against the ALP average slice of all enrolled votes for the seat of 30.5%. So, where did those 2014 Liberal and Labor votes go? Where were they – or more pertinently, where are they – hiding?

Analysing voting records is an inexact science, closer to astrology than astronomy. That said, my assessment of the fate of those votes is this. Britnell’s lost votes were swallowed by a Nationals vote for Michael Neoh (5581), some Portland Liberals voting for Pete Smith (695) and a 40% slice of Jimmy Doukas’ vote (1586). My vote (and the 1010 lost from the Greens Party’s vote between 2014 and 2015) disappeared to Swampy Marsh (1137), The Animal Justice Party (490), informals being up by 2% (826) – especially in Portland where the informal vote was almost 10% - and the Did-Not-Vote element being up 2.5% (1133).

So, what does this tell us? If you look at my 2014 and 2015 first preference votes against my 2006 first preference result and the ALP’s 2010 first preference results, it could reveal my personal base vote to have been somewhere between 6 and 10% and the ALP’s rusted-on-if-revived-from-slumber core vote in the seat to be about 25%, with a general election average for Labor to be 30.5% of the primary vote. It also might tell us that Britnell’s – or more properly, the Liberals’ – core primary vote is 35-40%, depending on how the wind is blowing. It also suggests that there are – if not swinging, then – wavering voters who moved to personalities like Jimmy Doukas and Swampy Marsh in the by-election and that there is a natural National vote looking for somewhere to go (Gerald Madden – another former Moyne mayor – in 2002, with 11.5% being a case in point).

I promised to come back to Purcell’s 11.63% in 2010. This is where it really gets interesting. Purcell came out of the blue in that election, as much as a sitting mayor can. There was no Nationals candidate. So, did Purcell just pick up Madden’s 11% from 2002? I don’t think so. The Nationals ran in 2006 but only polled at 4.5%, so there was 7% of their vote from 2002 hiding somewhere. The 2006 and 2010 figures suggest that those voters chose Napthine. They appeared to have stayed with him in 2014. In 2015, Neoh scored 14.5% for the Nats. Many of those could have been his personal following in Warrnambool as a high-profile mayor but many others could be Nationals looking for anywhere else than the Liberal Party as soon as they had an excuse and opportunity to jump ship. So, where did Purcell’s 2010 votes come from? He looks like a conservative/Liberal, sounds like a conservative/Liberal, comes from what appears to be a conservative/Liberal background. One would assume therefore that they came out of the Liberal vote. Wrong. A booth-by-booth trend analysis suggests that his 2010 vote largely came from the former ALP vote. His big booths – which all show corresponding drops in the Labor vote – were Warrnambool Temperance Hall, Koroit, Warrnambool North, Warrnambool Tower Square, Warrnambool East and – wait for it – Port Fairy. He also did well proportionately in all three Portland booths, ripping votes off Labor. It gets very difficult to analyse where his votes then went when he didn’t run in the Lower House seat in 2014 because pre-poll voting really became a thing in that election and that means that the booth-by-booth figures are down across the board but most noticeably in the bigger, urban booths in both main population centres. However, it does appear that Purcell’s 11% of votes did not all return to Labor in 2014; some ended up with Napthine. Lessons from this? First, Purcell’s 11.63% result was close to the 5000 he yielded in Upper House first preference votes in 2014, so it’s looking like a very solid voting base for him. Secondly, as suggested in my by-election analysis above, there is a segment of the electorate – some or many of them traditionally National voters, and most of them situated in Moyne – who are attracted to high-profile, noisy candidates and are prepared to go there with their vote.

What then can we conclude from close analysis of historical voting in South West Coast and general gazing into our crystal ball for the coming election?

Port Fairy – and maybe Nationals voters – like shiny things and will go with a high profile candidate.

Labor needs to focus on Portland. There’s a did-not-vote and informal vote there from 2015 to recover and a lot of votes to be gained if the ALP runs a visibly Labor campaign.

James Purcell needs to focus on Port Fairy, Koroit and Warrnambool, except Warrnambool North which – on recent figures – holds up very strongly indeed for the Liberals. It’s becoming a fortress up there.

Pre-polling is very, very important. More people are using that option. Unfortunately for politics tragic like myself, it means that you can’t see the demographics of who is voting which way because voters from everywhere are mixed into one super-booth called pre-poll. Purcell is going to need to spend a lot of time standing outside shopfront polling stations in Warrnambool and Portland over the next four weeks. He needs to dial up his profile there.

There are three missing links in all of this. One, the results of the Seat of Warrnambool election immediately after Adam Kempton’s  single term as a local member after winning the post-Ian Smith by election over Labor and John McGrath. McGrath came back in the general election and beat Kempton using Labor preferences. With a solid base of 5000 votes, a high profile track record, the right conditions for a usurper to win and a good campaign that presses the right buttons, Purcell is a reasonable chance to run second on primaries and then – depending on the level of Labor’s vote and how their preferences flow – come over the top of Britnell unless she can win more than 41% of the primary vote. It could be McGrath all over again.

Secondly, who else is running?

It seems that Michael Neoh is running as an independent, rather than as a Liberal Party candidate, National Party candidate or Natural Law Party candidate. Neoh has a high profile in the Warrnambool half of the electorate and polled strongly there in the by-election. Coincidentally, he did well in places James Purcell polled well in at the 2010 ballot. It’s hard to assess his core vote because he ran under the Nationals banner last time, but it’s safe enough to shave about 4% of his vote to allow for true blue Nationals who might prefer Britnell, Purcell or – the next candidate for examination – Jimmy Doukas, leaving him with a maximum of 10%; enough to run fourth at best. Where his 3 or 4 thousand votes then go is anyone’s guess, but I’m guessing that they’d go to Purcell and then to Britnell, not to the ALP.

Then there is Jimmy Doukas; the dark horse who presents the Doukas Dilemma. Jimmy came off a standing start (albeit as a high profile Moyne councillor) in the 2015 by-election to pull 10% of the vote for the Country Alliance, a relative new player in South West Coast. We can safely take that full 10% as all Jimmy. The dilemma – principally for Purcell – is that Doukas’ best result was in Koroit. He also performed well in Warrnambool North (Neoh/Liberal country) and Port Fairy (Napthine/Purcell/Shiny Objects territory) – all of which are Purcell heartland based on the 2010 results – and in Allansford where Purcell did not score well in 2010. The Doukas Dilemma is doubled when you look booth-by-booth at 14 booths where Doukas and/or Neoh did well in 2015. If you compare their votes against Purcell’s votes in those booths in 2010, it’s clear that there is not room for three independentish, high-profile candidates in those booths. Someone has to bomb badly or that swinging, protest vote will splinter. And for Purcell to win the seat, that vote is going to have hold – and improve – for him while the Doukas and Neoh votes dramatically dive. How likely is this? A lot will depend on how well they all campaigns. Even at that, Doukas and Neoh would have to run dead or do something outrageously stupid to lose big chunks of their vote after only 3 years. As noted earlier, an improved Purcell vote in those booths is most likely to steal votes from Labor.

The other analysis of the Doubled Doukas Dilemma for Purcell is based on a simple sample dip of four bell-weather booths – Koroit, Warrnambool (Temperance Hall), Warrnambool East and Warrnambool North - across the last five general elections to determine the average ALP and Liberal primary votes and therefore the average undecided or swinging vote level. I could bore you with the booth-by-booth and election-by-election breakdown, but the overall averages for those four seats collectively are ALP 33%, Liberal 42% and ‘available’ 20% (with 5% informal). That’s 20% to be divided between Purcell, Doukas, Neoh, the Greens and any other party or candidate that shows up. The problem for Purcell is that this isn’t likely to be enough for him to garner enough primary votes to run into second at the end of primary voting, given that these four booths are four of his strongest based on the available evidence. He needs to blow both Doukas and Neoh out of the water to have any real chance.

If – I repeat, if – he makes it into second, Labor preferences will be vital. They will need to flow solidly his way. Then, depending on how large the Doukas and Neoh vote blocks are, he’ll need at least a third of those as preferences.

Finally, and maybe crucially, how well will the Greens Party do? If Thomas Campbell runs for them and if there’s any sense or justice in politics (which there isn’t), he should – in all fairness – win 50.1% on the primary vote; he’s that good a candidate: poised, accomplished, professional, talented. However, in the real world in this election, he may well hold his first preference percentage or even increase it a little to maybe 10% or more. In that case, where do his preferences go in a two horse Britnell-Purcell second round sprint? This is interesting, because Purcell is closely aligned to the horse-racing industry and has been vocal on the beach training issue. Britnell has largely kept her mouth shut over it. Gaston (ALP) has alternated between tripping over her own feet and placing one or the other in her mouth about it. The Greens have been solid with BCRAG throughout. So, a first preference Greens voter goes where with their preference vote – the horsey Purcell or the hoarse Britnell? If Campbell’s vote is 10%+, his preferences may well save it for Britnell and the Liberals in a run-off with Purcell.

If Purcell fails to make it to second, I can’t see all of his votes – or many of them, for that matter - flowing to Labor, and the Doukas and Neoh  votes are most likely to flow to the conservative side. Greens votes may well flow to Labor, but not in large enough numbers to get Gaston up. In a Britnell/Gaston run-off scenario, Britnell should canter in.

I stuck my neck out at the start of this piece. At the end of this first lap around the course, what’s my prediction now – or more relevantly, what’s yours? With Doukas and Neoh in the race, mine is still a Britnell victory. There’s still a lap to go in November, but from here she has a pre-existing big lead and the advantage because Purcell’s run may well be blocked by Doukas and Neoh. Watch for an advertising blitz from the Libs in the final weeks of the campaign. Still, there is a lap to go and with pre-polling ...? It’ll be interesting to watch. Don’t put down your glasses.


Renovating with three Cs

Yesterday was the beginning of the business year in Europe. I took the opportunity to work on some business things, including officially launching this website into the public domain.After a good few months work on it by myself, some valued friends as first reviewers and my talented faux son-in-law George who did most of the design work and all of the tech on it, it's out there on its own in the wild web world. Thanks for all your help, George.

Yesterday was also too hot for work on the house I'm renovating - nearly 40 degrees.

So, taking a day off renovation to work on business tasks was both apt and practical.

It also gave me time to reflect on renovation and how it relates to the work I do professionally, because there is no way in the world I can claim professionalism in renovation! I concluded that planning is relevant to renovation and renovation is relevant to planning. I'll explain.

Planning is essential to renovation. When renovating, you've got to sequence your jobs so that the whole job flows. Don't start painting until you've done all the construction (and especially deconstruction) work. Make sure that you have bought all the things you need for a certain sequence of jobs before you start them. It doesn't help to be running off to the hardware store (some 45 mins drive away) in the middle of doing a job. But most importantly, you need a clear, logical, achievable vision for your renovation project - before you start.

Equally, renovation provides lessons for planning.

One key to renovation is stripping back what you've got, what's already there, to see what's underneath. You need to do this carefully, not with a sledgehammer. Take the wall, roof, whatever apart bit by bit. Get to the skeleton of it. Keep the things that are sound and reusable. Only replace what really needs replacing. Don't rebuild unless you really have to; renew instead. And take time to understand how things work in your house and why they work that way. Then either replace them if they don't work for you or retain and respect them.

In essence, get back to basics before you build.

So, what are the basics of organisational and project planning? It's the three Cs:

Consultation. Certainty. Clarity.

In planning, it's wise to consult - in a meaningful way - broadly, deeply and frequently; at the beginning of a project (to scope, define and design the project), during (at key points of decision-making) and at the end (reporting back).

A planning project needs certainty and needs to produce certainty. Everyone involved or affected by the project needs to understand what the big picture goals are and - in broad terms - how they will be achieved and how everyone will know they've been achieved.

And the best way to achieve this is clarity - clarity in your communication with others about the project; clarity - for yourself - in how you are going about delivering the project; clarity in the outcomes of the project (the planning vision, values, goals, objectives, etc it produces).

This rule of three Cs should be applied to the Vision, Values and Goals of your planning project but be used sparingly beyond that - into objectives and tasks. Objectives and the action tasks associated with them need certainty and clarity but they also need flexibility, to respond to changing circumstances, new opportunities that arise, unforeseen challenges and difficulties, etc. Also, the HOW of what you do doesn't need consultation. It just needs to be compatible with the vision, values and goals derived from stakeholder consultation and with the organisation's culture (unless, of course, it's the organisation's culture you're trying to reform).

That's probably enough professional philosophising for now. The sun is up here and I can feel my toolbelt and little mallet calling. It's off to hardcore renovation. A bientôt.

An Eixample for all of us

Barcelona is a mere 3 hours' drive from here; long enough to muse on what a socialist utopia might look like. In a sliding doors world, I might have got a glimpse when I arrived there in that alternative universe (in my Gogomobile).

To illustrate, this - courtesy of Frank Camora and Richard Cornish (and The Miegunyah Press) in their 'Movida's Guide to Barcelona' (2011):

"Eixample was to be an example of socialist utopia when it was planned ..., but capitalism got in the way and the result is a huge swathe of a European city that is more tightly planned than Haussman's Paris but as intensively developed as New York - without the skyscrapers.

When Philip V invaded Barcelona in the early 18th century, he constructed the Ciutadella, a giant fort to house the soldiers who would keep the Catalan capital under his rule. When it was pulled down in the mid-19th century, after much social upheaval, citizens took pickaxes to stone, and the great walls that had stymied the city's growth were destroyed. Barcelona expanded for several generations on a plan laid out by a progressive socialist designer called Cerda. Cerda's vision, with its great parks and canals, was never realised beacuse developers took over the grand design. They built out every last square metre and later filled in the courtyards that were to be private parks for every apartment."

Only a few of Cerda's planned public parks - like the Joan Miro Park on Carrer Arago - made it from the blueprint to reality and survive today.

Some challenge me on why I am prepared - and proud - to call myself a socialist (given the horrors of Stalin's Russia and Mao's China, neither of which had anything to do with socialism). My response? Because I cannot imagine subscribing to any other belief system than one that puts public purpose, public utility and sharing first as the principal - but not sole - motivation for creating things and organising things. The evidence I've witnessed in my lifetime tells me that capitalism consumes, abuses and destroys, with only dollar gain for a few as its ethical foundation.

And this leads me to wonder what socialism might look like and how the world might be different if there was a little more socialism in it, or at least some socialist values and motivations at the heart of policies, projects and responses to society's problems. Cerda's vision may have shown us that.

Ildefons Cerda, I'm with you, amigo.

The values of your own revolution

Today is July 14 - Bastille Day; the French national day. It's an honour to be here in France on this day. There is a palpable sense of national pride; not in the flag-waving, rah-rah American sense, but in a more restrained, determined, jaw-jutting 'I'm French and proud to be French' manner.

This could have something to do with the fact that France plays Croatia in the World Cup final tomorrow but, talking to a few French people here about this, it is much more to do with the national day itself.

The day marks the occasion - 229 years ago in 1789 - when the French people rose up against the then ruling elite and - for a short period of history at least and - admittedly, in a bloody way - successfully threw them out of power. There may now be another ruling elite in most places around the world (a type of ruling elite that increasingly borders on hereditary monarchy - witness, V.Putin) but the fact that it happened here once seems to be a source of both pride and confidence. The people know that it's possible to rise and rule, and the rulers know that it's possible too; so there is - way in the background - an uneasy understanding that acts as some sort of inhibitor/limiter to absolute political power. The historical shadow of the guillotiné looms long, and July 14 - Bastille Day - is an annual reminder of this.

The motto of the 1789 French Revolution is another legacy of that moment and it continues to serve modern France. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. It's a little sexist towards the end, but stands as a strong statement nevertheless and is perhaps the earliest use of a three-word political rallying slogan. And today, on la fête nationale, it has got me thinking.

What three words would I use for my revolutionary rallying cry? What three things are most integral to my beliefs, hopes and aspirations that I would scrawl them on a banner and hoist them high? This will change constantly (like all sustainable revolutions should) but today I'm going with Community, Fidelity, Clarity. I'd be happy to explain why to each if you're curious and make contact with me to ask (try the contact link in this website).

The French national motto ends with a bleak note. It actually reads: 'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ou Mort' - '... or death'. So, to complete mine: 'Community, Fidelity, Clarity or atrophy.' Atrophy is the last thing the world needs now but it seems to be all around us. Maybe more on that in a future post? ...

The great leap forward

So, this is it. This is the point where I leap - sans bungee cord; no parachute; not even a hint of a trampoline at the bottom - off the cliff's edge and into ...

I have been in full-time work for the last forty years, if you count my senior years at high school and my uni years (which I do). Certainly, I've had paid work since I was 14 - summer jobs (hay-carting, spud-picking, sheepshit-shoveling - I kid you not -, grounds work at the local seaside caravan parks). Post uni, I went straight into my professional life as a lawyer in private practice, community lawyer, community development worker, manager and community and local political activist. No gap year. Kids barely five years after I'd graduated from uni. no more than maybe a few months off at a time.

Then, the crunch. An enforced extended period off work, giving me time to take stock and sift out what is most valuable to me. And The Big Decision - resign; take the leap; see if I can fly as a consultant.

Making the decision was easier than I imagined. Deciding to move to southern France helped. I knew that I could still do the same sort of contract-based consultancy work just as well from there (stay tuned to my blog posts here to see how it goes) and the lifestyle is ... well ... you should try it for a while.

What helped most in making the decision to take the leap was realizing again what is most important to me. When all is said and done, I value community. We have a lovely community here in Lapradelle-Puilaurens and, professionally, I hunger for the opportunity to work directly with community organisations who - in turn - work directly with community. Change for them, for the better, at that grassroots level is most likely to have the greatest, most beneficial and most sustained impact. I want to be part of that again.

So, I'm ready. My feet have lifted from the edge of the earth. My arms are swinging. My eyes are fixed on the blue, blue sky. And ... I'm flying.

Join me here for sporadic updates on my progress and my random thoughts, opinions and observations about things relevant to community and community service. Watch me fly.