Free speech and the fabulously rich and famous

It’s that time of year again. No, not Mother’s Day (or it it Mothers’ Day, I’ve never been sure if it was for mothers in general or just one), which down here is in actually in the middle of May anyway. No, I’m talking about the beginning of the Formula One season, which means over the past several weeks Melbourne’s Albert Park has gradually been closed to local residents, the poor bastards whose local taxes I imagine help pay for the park they use and who are tapped a second time along with everyone else in the state because of the government subsidising it to the tune of $50 million or so, and is by now humming and thrumming to the sound of highly tuned engines hurtling around the park’s main road. It’s the time of year when fans of motor racing, like me, are derisively called revheads by all the people who hate the race and/or the sport, even though I’m sure I’m not the only motorsports fan who objects to both the government subsidy and the use of a public park for the event.

I’m not going to blog about that because I’ve done so more than once before, such as here and here and here and here, and if you follow those links you’ll see that I don’t particularly care if it’s a sport I happen to like. If it needs subsidising by government, which ipso facto means forcing people who have no interest in it to contribute money as well, then either it’s not worth having at all or someone’s getting rich of off it. I’ve long felt that sports promotion of any kind should not be a function of government, especially given that picking winners in any industry is something they tend to be pretty bad at, and the fact that so many of them spunk away huge sums of money doing so anyway is just another reason to distrust and despise governments of all stripes. I haven’t changed my mind and I’m not going over the same ground again today.

Instead I want to say that another effect of the Formula One circus being in town is that F1 personalities seem to get a lot more press and attention around this time of year, including the little big man himself, Bernie Ecclestone. One bit of extra attention he, or in actual fact his daughter, has received has come from Labor federal MP Kelvin Thomson, who represents the seat of Wills just a bit north of central Melbourne, and who spoke in Parliament a couple of days ago on the subject of the Grand Prix’s cost and the Tamara Ecclestone reality TV show, saying:

One thing I am absolutely sure of: there are better ways to spend $50 million, year in and year out, than bankrolling Bernie’s billionaire bogan.

There’s a great deal that Kelvin Thomson said in that speech that I don’t agree with. As you’d expect of a left wing politician his thoughts were occupied on what Victoria’s government could spend that $50 million a year on – schoolsanospitals were a given, natch, as well as ‘undergrounding’ power cables (is ‘underground’ even a verb, and if so is it a better one to use than ‘bury’?) to reduce bushfire risks* – and never once did he mention the opportunity to end the compulsory tapping of every Victorian for about twenty bucks each to pay for it. Never once did he mention the possibility of simply telling Bernie that the Grand Prix must pay for itself and that incidentally, Parks Victoria is going to start charging rent just like the owners of any other venue do when someone wants to use it for an event. I assure you, in the highly unlikely event he wanted to hold the race in my back yard I’d charge him for it even though I’d be thrilled at the prospect, and I can’t see why so many governments can’t grasp this simple concept of being paid for providing the venue. Instead there’s the inexplicable queue to fellate him with mouthfuls of money, mostly taken from taxpayers. Kelvin Thomson does not seem to me to be particularly against the principle of fellatio with mouthfuls of taxpayers’ money but just objects to doing it for certain people and things, so naturally I’m going to disagree with most of what he says because he’s clearly just another politician who forgets whose bloody money it really is.

However, having not seen the reality TV show about Tamara Ecclestone, and feeling like I’d rather blind myself with an oily con rod than seek it out, I’m in no place to disagree with Thomson about her being a bogan, though naturally protective and unnaturally diminutive daddy did. Once someone explained to him what ‘bogan’ means.

Mr Ecclestone said federal Labor MP Kelvin Thomson’s comments had been “stupid” although he questioned what he had meant by ‘bogan’.

“I didn’t know what that means, does he speak English?” he asked on radio station 3AW.

Informed that being called a bogan implied his big-spending eldest daughter Tamara had no class, Mr Ecclestone suggested the insult was more suited to Mr Thomson.

Okay, well let’s look into that in a bit more depth than ‘takes one to know one’. First let’s get the dictionary definition from Macquarie (no link, subscription only).

/’boʊgən/ (say ‘bohguhn)
noun Colloquial (mildly derogatory) 1. a person, generally from an outer suburb of a city or town and from a lower socio-economic background, viewed as uncultured. Compare barry2, bennie, boonie, Charlene, Charmaine, cogger, feral1 (def. 9); Especially Qld bevan (def. 2); Chiefly Qld bev-chick; WA bog3; ACT booner; ACT charnie bum; Tasmania chigger2; Riverina gullie; Melbourne Region mocca; Victoria scozzer; Chiefly NSW westie.
2. a stupid person. Also, bogon. [origin unknown; ? from BOGAN]
–boganism, noun

On the one hand we have someone who’s been variously a lawyer, public servant and politician, and who favours the kind of politics that talk about robbi, sorry, taxing the rich to pay for nice things for the poor, but invariably ends up meaning taxing rich and poor alike, or would if some of those inconsiderate rich people didn’t keep buggering off with their money to lower tax regimes. I can think of many unpleasant and abusive things to call him, but ‘bogan’ isn’t one of them. And on the other hand we have a woman who, if Thomson and The Age are to be believed, has a home with an elevator for her Ferrari, motorised shoe racks, a bowling alley with crystal studded bowling balls, its own nightclub, a $1 million crystal bathtub, and wardrobes for her dogs… whose hair and nails are done regularly at Harrods… like you do. Whether all that’s sufficiently class free to be called bogan is probably up for debate, but I’d suggest there’s one thing about her that certainly qualifies, possibly to the point of überbogan-ness.

She’s got her own fucking reality TV series!

However, all that’s still a matter of opinion, and if Bernie Ecclestone disagrees that’s fair enough – he wouldn’t be much of a father if he didn’t speak up to defend his daughter. But I don’t think that defence extends to wanting someone sacked for voicing the opinion that she has less class than a derelict comprehensive.

“Who was the half-wit who said these things … he should be fired because he’s a bit of an idiot, he obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking [about].”

Oh, he may well be an idiot and he wouldn’t be the first politician not to know what he’s talking about, but he shouldn’t be sacked for several good reasons. For one, it was said in Parliament as part of a debate on state funding of the Grand Prix, and by extension Bernie Ecclestone and his family. It might not have been high quality debating but in parliament a politician should be free to make his arguments however he or she wants to. For another, even if he’d said it to some news crew in the street outside he’s as entitled to his opinion as anyone else. He gets to call Tamara Ecclestone a bogan and even label her old man a subsidy sucking goblin if he wants, which wouldn’t be OTT for a country with a proud history of political insult throwing (my favourite is ‘a shiver looking for a spine’ although I can’t remember who said it or to whom). And in return Bernie gets to call him an idiot if he thinks that’s a better idea than refuting it and justifying why taxpayers, few of whom attend the race, are made to throw 50 million bucks at him every year. For a third, how long he stays in his job is, at least in theory, entirely up to the people living in those Melbourne suburbs that make up his constituency. It’s a very safe Labor seat so in practice it’s also down to the Australian Labor Party, but for damned sure it’s not down to the whims of Bernie Ecclestone, who incidentally seems confused about what kind of political systems allow or encourage free speech.

“You’re not a communist state there are you?” he queried.

No, see, Bernie, in a communist state you’re not supposed to say unpleasant things about the wealthy and powerful because they might demand, and get, retribution in the form of getting you fired or assigned to some shitty work, or even charged with some bullshit offences in the most obscenely illiberal places – Bexley, for example. Which seems to be kind of what you want when you say that Kelvin Thomson should be fired. In Australia and Victoria, while currently leaning left of centre and while also technically lacking what I’d call real freedom of speech, this generally will not happen.

You can ask the locals all about it this time next month when you’re in Shanghai.

* I understand burying power cables is expensive and comes with its own issues relating to losses and insulation. Shouldn’t be much of a surprise – if it was easy to bury high voltage transmission lines they’d be doing it more already. When it becomes the better choice, perhaps through some breakthrough in superconductors or something, then you can expect they will, though I imagine that maintaining a buried cable will always be more work than a suspended one. In any event, I’ll always hate hearing it called ‘undergrounding’.

Posted on March 15, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Free speech and the fabulously rich and famous.

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