Friday, 21 June 2019

From the Earth to the Moon: My Apollo Space Nerd Film List

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. -- Former Apollo astronauts meet with the media at the Apollo/Saturn V Center prior to an anniversary banquet highlighting the contributions of aerospace employees who made the Apollo program possible. From left are Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin who flew on Apollo 11, the launch to the moon; Gene Cernan, who flew on Apollo 10 and 17; and Walt Cunningham, who flew on Apollo 7. This is the 30th anniversary of the launch and moon landing, July 16 and July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. -- Former Apollo astronauts meet with the media at the Apollo/Saturn V Center prior to an anniversary banquet highlighting the contributions of aerospace employees who made the Apollo program possible. From left are Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin who flew on Apollo 11, the launch to the moon; Gene Cernan, who flew on Apollo 10 and 17; and Walt Cunningham, who flew on Apollo 7. This is the 30th anniversary of the launch and moon landing, July 16 and July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon. Source:

I’ll admit it. I’m a space nerd. I am a complete and utter space nerd. Specifically of the “space” that occupied the popular imagination from the years 1957–1975. The “space” of the Space Race, which saw the United States and the Soviet Union battle for supremacy of the heavens and be the first to step foot on the Moon. A battle you could play on your computer in the obscure strategy game Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space (no longer “Buzz Aldrin’s” for licensing reasons, but nonetheless available for FREE download). Play me via mail with difficulty set to 3 and historical model ON. I DARE YOU.

But I digress. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the mission which launched Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins not only to the Moon, but into the annals of history reserved for Washingtons, Napoleons, Caesars and Cleopatras.

There’s a quote from Armstrong—one which doesn’t involve steps or leaps small or large—from the last milestone anniversary of Apollo 11. The last milestone, it would turn out, where all three of the original crew would be alive to mark it. In a rare public appearance, Armstrong said how kids used to come up to him and tell him they had learned about him in science class. Now (in 2009), they come up and say they had learned about him in history class. Time does not stop, particularly for those fated to become a great of history.

I remember well the 30th anniversary of the moon landing. I was about 11 and it consumed a good portion of the first half of 1999 for me. I’ve often felt like someone born out of time, from my love of film photography, to my taste in music, films and desire to consume alcohol in the workplace. Never have I felt that sense more acutely than in June and July of 1999. I was in awe of the Space Race, particularly of the milestones that got the technology (then humans) into orbit and on to the Moon. But no one—bar my wonderful science teacher—seemed to share my wonder. There were no great museums of industry and technology in Melbourne (or Australia for that matter) that put the Space Race front and centre like riches of the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Space Centre or Huntsville. Although “we” in Australia had played a key role in the success of the entire US space program and of Apollo 11 in particular, I felt, at this time, this was not recognised or well remembered (thankfully Working Dog Productions would rectify this the following year with The Dish).

The Internet (sic.)—also known as the Information Superhighway—helped immensely to feed my passion. NASA was in the midst of their own public digital revolution, having recently published the comprehensive Apollo Lunar Surface Journal and making available freely and easily the best photographs from the Apollo program. I got in heaps for downloading several 400kb JPEGs, clogging up the phone line, but holy Alan Shepard, I’d be damned if I’d ever seen anything so beautiful in my hitherto short life. It’s amazing how good JPEGs that size look on a 640x480 screen.

But most memorably of all for me were the movies and documentaries that brought history to vivid life. Firstly, there was Apollo 13 which, even though covered an entirely different mission, featured the best (to date) filmed representation of a Saturn V launch. And boy...that subwoofer (a feeling I’d only know once I had the DVD and a surround sound system). Then there was a little-seen TV movie called—imaginatively—Apollo 11 which dramatised the leadup to the eponymous mission and the landing. I think I originally saw it on channel 10, but it lived on—like so many childhood memories—on a VHS recording. I don’t remember much about it, other than Xander Berkeley (who was in Apollo 13 and would go on to play George Mason in 24) was Buzz Aldrin and it probably isn’t as good as First Man.

Above both of these, though, sat the defining television experience for 1990s Richard (aside from A*Mazing, Captain Planet and Widget the World Watcher). From the Earth to the Moon was a 1998 HBO miniseries, before anyone—in Australia at any rate—knew what that really meant. Its twelve parts charted the epic journey of American manned space exploration from the chalkboard calulations of ex-Nazi engineers through to the end of Apollo (with a detour to 1902 to witness Georges Méliès making the journey on 845 feet of celluloid before astronauts would make it on 7.5 million pounds of thrust). And, oh my gosh, that Michael Kamen score.

Although such a series could, in lesser hands, fall into a docudrama funk, each episode is written and directed by its own creative team, leaving each one with its own unique feeling and flavour. The executive creative team of Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer ensure coherence and consistency, but never compromise. The narrative’s points of view vary from episode to episode, each focusing on a different element that ultimately constitutes the whole. Even though that “whole” is NASA of the 1960s, the sum of its parts does indeed—somehow—feel greater than the whole. If I had to pick two standout episodes, they’d be the sombre and underplayed Apollo 1 and Spider, dramatising the conception and construction of the Lunar Module. But there’s too much goodness in this series to fit in these bulging paragraphs—MARK FU$#ING HARMON—so I’ll just finish it up with this: From the Earth to the Moon has been confined to cable TV (how I first viewed it—thanks Optus Vision!), VHS, then two versions on DVD. Next month it’s out on Blu Ray and I will delight in watching it anew as soon as it is out.

To mark this most awesome of milestones, the golden anniversary of humanity’s greatest achievement, I will be watching the best of the best of films about or pertaining to Apollo 11 and the Apollo program. If I find the time (heh) I might even write a few words about them as I go. In no particular order:
  1. For All Mankind (Al Reinert, 1989) 
  2. Apollo 13 (Ron Howard, 1995) 
  3. In the Shadow of the Moon (David Sington and Christopher Riley, 2007) 
  4. The Dish (Rob Sitch, 2000) 
  5. First Man (Damien Chazelle, 2018) 
  6. When We Left Earth: the NASA Missions (Discovery, 2008)
  7. The Space Race (Christopher Spencer and Mark Everest, 2005) 
  8. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller, 2019) SEEING IT IMAX, BEACHES 
  9. From the Earth to the Moon (HBO, 1998) BLU RAY ARRIVING AT MY DOOR 17 JULY!! 
Godspeed, movie watcher.

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Return of the Hobby Horses or: How the Government Will Learn the Wrong Lessons from 2019 and be Turfed from Office in 2022

Nobody does hubris quite like the Liberal Party. In 2004, when John Howard romped home with not only an increased majority in the House of Representative, but a rare majority in the Senate, the Liberals were unencumbered by compromise. Instead of charting the centre course on policy that had allowed them to dominate politics in the 1990s, they pursued old hobby horses. They overreached. They pursued unpopular industrial relations changes, sowing the seeds of defeat for the next election.

The way the current Coalition is acting, you’d be forgiven for thinking they had just won an election in a landslide. But no, the major parties’ seat count has only changed by a couple from the last election. Yet instead of taking a hint from the closeness of the election and fracturedness of the electorate, the Coalition has decided to disregard the middle ground and again pursue its hobby horses as a matter of priority. Two recently in the news are religious “freedom” (read: legally protected bigotry) and watching the world burn: carbon emissions.

Although the government has been emboldened by the election results, the fact is that there is little evidence of widespread community support for “reforms” to either of these issues. The idea that the “religious vote” came out to support the Coalition is overstated at best and an entirely spurious American import at worst. Religious voters — particularly those of the modern Christian bent — routinely support the Coalition over Labor. We have compulsory voting. We don’t need issues to galvanise “the base” to bring them out. Over a century of federated polity has demonstrated that while Australians don’t mind private faith (indeed most profess to have one), the vast majority of Australians are sceptical about it crossing over into politics. The final outcome of the marriage equality plebiscite is probably a better barometer of religiosity in the electorate, not a tightly-fought election where religion was essentially a photo op.

Likewise with energy. Minister Matt Canavan calling on resource companies to drop their support of legislated carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes ignores majority community sentiment and reality. Many of these resource companies operate across multiple jurisdictions, many of which have some sort of legislated emissions reduction scheme. They’re just after consistency and clarity, but this government seems determined to provide neither. The resources companies that support legislated emissions reduction schemes, Canavan claims, are only supporting them because they are in the thrall of social media-driven commentary from “loud Australians”. Poor multinational conglomerates!

The head of carbon management over at known greenies BP had this to say about a carbon tax: “We think a carbon price is an important way to tackle climate change and an economy-wide, market-driven price would be useful.”

The Woodside chairman and CEO repeated much the same thing.

Yep. Definitely social media.

Any other government would be chastened by such a close election. Not this one. Why? Because of expectations. Because of polling. Because they “defied the odds”. Now, for some reason, they believe they have a mandate to pursue whatever wacky policy issue comes to mind, never mind the fact they hardly took any policies to the last election. They made a heap of noise about what they were against (that mostly involved poo-pooing anything Labor came up with) but said very little about what they were for, which is why it’s a bit confusing to see MPs such as Canavan and Barnaby Joyce suddenly knowing beyond doubt what the “Australian people” are for or against (spoiler alert: the Australian people’s will miraculously aligns with Liberal/National party policy).

This government still has the chance to set itself up for a two or more terms of incumbency if they chart a sensible centre policy direction. In the past week, however, they’ve demonstrated that they are unlikely to do so. The question of the leadership of the Liberal Party may be solved, but the policy fissures remain, just like in the broader electorate, and it won’t take much for them to crack wide open yet again. The Coalition could have learnt a lot from this election. Unfortunately, they seem to be learning all the wrong lessons.

A lot can happen in three years and unless they tread carefully. With economic headwinds on the horizon and a persistent policy division in their party ranks, they might just find themselves on the receiving end of an electoral backlash sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The "Tightening"

Much has been made of the "tightening" of the opinion polls over the past few days. First came Morgan, with their face-to-face polling of around 700 voters, then came the "respected" Newspoll and, most recently, an Essential poll. Each with a two party preferred vote of 51-49 to Labor.

I'm not going to go off the deep end like some and claim this polling is all some conspiracy to boost the government — I imagine corralling opinion pollsters would make herding cats look easy — but a "tightening" of polls does make the contest more interesting. But does it present an accurate picture of the contest?

But what's behind the change in numbers? Well, that depends on the poll. It's not much to do with a substantial change in support for the major parties, rather it's got more to do with the changes in minor party votes and the allocation of their preferences. With rounding of these polls (they round to the nearest whole number, so a 51-49 result could be 51.4-48.5) and the sometimes secret sauce of weighting and preference allocation, it's difficult to know how substantial these changes in polling are for either side of the contest. Add in the much-misunderstood "margin of error" and you've got polling which hasn't really moved much for months.

But putting the polls to one side, there are some hard electoral realities for the Coalition. Firstly, it's going to be very difficult for them to win an election with a primary vote under 40%. In 2016, they scraped home with a primary vote of 42.5%, which worked out to be 50.4% on a two party preferred basis. Preference flows would have to be astronomically different from 2016 to reach a Coalition majority.

Secondly, Labor's primary is up 2–3% on 2016; the Coalition is a few points worse.

Thirdly, the Greens preferences will likely flow back to Labor even more strongly than in 2016 given Malcolm Turnbull's no longer Liberal leader.

Lastly, Labor doesn't really have that many seats at risk. The Coalition, on the other hand, have more than 20 and are likely going to struggle to hold them. Labor also starts with an increased number of seats on paper due to the shifts in electoral boundaries.

Don't be fooled by the tiresome media narrative about how "energised" the Prime Minister is, or how "lacklustre" the opposition leader is, or whether co-opting the image of a politician on a merry-go-round is "sharp". Purely looking at electoral arithmetic, this is looking like a very difficult election for the government to win. 

Sunday, 21 April 2019


Easter Sunday. He has risen. By “He”, I mean my son Finn, discomforted in his cot by cutting teeth and blocked nostrils. It is 5:03am. Blasphemy? Probably, but what isn’t? Cue the usual Easter Sunday op-eds in the papers from the usual pedophile apologists about “modern society” losing sight of the “true meaning” of Easter. If modern society has lost sight of the “true” Easter, consider me positively blind.

Overnight we placed Easter eggs at the feet of the kids’ beds, gifts from a hybrid furry Santa with large ears and a predilection for chocolate.

Archer, my older son, asked me what the deal with eggs was. Bunnies don’t lay eggs, he informed me, only dinosaurs and chickens did, so what the hell was going on? It was a good question, as they always are, particularly for a secular humanist parent. For an atheist, the story of Easter is troubling at best.

Take Christmas, for example. It is an absurd, yet largely benign, story to tell a child … well, everything except that bit where all the children of a town get brutally massacred. #FAMILYVALUES. But I digress. The Son of God was born in a manger and you get presents. Whacko—next. But Easter? That’s a different story. It takes the absurdities, discrepancies and violence of New Testament stories and turns them up to 11. And at its core isn’t some apocryphal yet beguiling tableau of a baby surrounded by neighing ponies and baa-ing sheep, but an act of gruesome torture. people baying for blood.. And you get chocolate. Any questions? You do? Bugger. Well let me summarise it for you.

The father/son/Holy Spirit sacrifices his only son—which is himself—and three days later that same son—again himself—suspends the natural order and rises from the dead (rather cheapens the whole ‘sacrifice’ bit, eh?) only float away to heaven for the benefit of everyone. And everyone has to believe it or else straight to Hell with you. Oh and your original sin is forgiven. What’s that, you had no part of that? Well no worries, in this doctrine, you’re born guilty anyway!

I’m no theologian, but the whole event feels like someone—who you don’t know—walking into your bedroom uninvited, farting, walking out, then coming back in to open the window, jumping out and demanding praise because he let fresh air in. And you're going to burn in Hell if you don't believe fart man is divine.

Eventually these absurd stories might be a gateway for one or both kids into the world of biblical textual criticism, but until those faculties (and conversant knowledge of Ancient Greek and Aramaic) develop, I’m left with 30-odd nine-inch nails—without Trent Reznor in sight—and a gory execution story to impart to my children (#triclavianists represent!). And for what benefit?

I always find it scoffable that the first groups to complain about violent video games or violent movies ruining our children are religious types, yet the core of Christianity is a torture story that would make Tarantino blush. It seems violence is bad, but when done in service of the resurrection, it’s better than fine—it’s mandatory. When Mel Gibson’s gore porn fest The Passion of the Christ came out, one of the largest groups of moviegoers were Catholic school groups. School kids. For an MA15+ film. Yeah, nah. Think I might pass on that one, buddy Jesus. In the meantime Archer and Finn, enjoy your eggs.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The Alphasmart Neo 2: the Anti-Winword.exe

The following was written on my latest acquisition: an Alphasmart Neo 2 word processor. It's basically the world's least impressive LCD screen mated to a a full-sized keyboard. For a writer, it is mana from heaven in a world riven with gadgets and gizmos of increasing price and decreasing utility. Despite its spartan appearance, the Neo 2 is not all that old, its manufacturer only ending production in 2013. Its sheer existence—in the post-convergence period—is a miracle worth exploring later on. But now, the words.

Here I am. Typing away for the first time on this thing. Just me, a proper keyboard and my words, displayed on the world’s most piss-poor LCD screen. I’m in heaven.

Introducing the Alphasmart Neo 2. In this age of convergence—let’s face it, post-convergence—this is a device which does one thing and nothing else. It’s a word processor, not dissimilar to the types which used to be mated to a printer/typewriter thing, and spit out the fruits of it labour on the wonderful dot matrix printer paper I and many of my cohort grew up drawing on. I feel I can just write with this thing. It doesn’t matter much what I write, but the words are coming down the fingers. I expect such a device will get some looks, but it works really well. So well, I might have grab a couple of them to ensure I have a backup or two.

I think I can probably just sit here and watch the world going by. My touch typing is okay, although I have some troubles as I migrate between Mac and PC keyboards. The Apple Extended Keyboards—the best keyboards ever made—mark their home keys as K and G; PC keyboard tend to mark F and J. Take a look on your keyboard, they’re little bumps which help tell the fingers where to go next. But I digress, none of this should prevent me from writing something of at least a vague interest on here. And technological determinism is bullshit.

I wouldn’t call myself a writer, but words matter to me. Words matter to me so much that I piss about trying to find not only the perfect words, but the perfect tool with which to scribe them. I was listening to an interview with Geoff Dyer recently on the sort of podcast that talks a lot about Writing (with a capital W). Dyer is, of course, an incredibly talented yet incredibly unpretentious writer who has a knack for making almost any topic interesting. His latest book is a blow-by-blow critique—though 'critique' is far too serious a descriptor—of the Richard Burton/Clint Eastwood film Where Eagles Dare.

The interviewer asked whether Dyer has any particular writing system (longhand; word processor) or whether he has anywhere in particular he must write. Dyer gave one of those disarming answers that fills mere mortal wordsmiths with joy. He, of course, uses a computer (what sane person wouldn’t) but can write almost anywhere or—as he corrects himself—he can not write anywhere, that is to say it is equally easy and equally difficult regardless of his location.

That is, I reckon, an entreaty to all of us to get out (or in) there and get those words on the page. They won’t write themselves. Now, how the fuck do I get the words out of here?

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Microsoft Word sucks so much I can't even be bothered coming up with a pun for this title

Microsoft Word for Mac. Version 16.23. Look at that goddamn paste options pane. WTF even is that? Who needs that many pasting options????

Writing is important to me. Words are much of my life, whether it’s my day job in marketing or teaching my three year-old seven syllable words (/ˌpætʃɪˌkɛfələˈsɑːrəs/). Words are my trade and like all tradesmen, I need good tools to get the job done.

For paper-based scribing, I use a Lamy Safari fountain pen which is a nice balance between practicality and pretension. For the computer-based input, I use an Apple Extended Keyboard II (I’ve got a few units and the requisite adaptors—enough to have one at home and one at the office). These are good tools—in fact the mechanical AEKII is regarded by some as the “best keyboard ever made”. But moving away from the hardware of writing to the software, things very quickly fall apart.

Word “processing” has, at various stages of the term’s use, meant an electronic typewriter, a piece of software and even a person trained to type. These days, it almost exclusively refers to software and the first piece of word processing software that springs to most people’s mind is the Monopoly Man of the digital word: Microsoft Word.

In which Microsoft Word is a bloated piece of crap

I know, it's fashionable to hate Word. Once upon a time, it was a plucky newcomer, competing with the big boys in the world of word processing. But now it is an ungainly, bloated piece of crap that claims to do too many things and doesn't do any of them particularly well.

At uni, I spent several years trying to come to grips with the intricacies of Word. I thought that if Word was everywhere, it must be OK, right? Somehow, it must be my own technical knowledge that was lacking. All I needed to do was learn...and I would win at Word! Hahaha, you poor fool, naive dummy past Richard.

Turned out there wasn't any real level of insight or knowledge that would make Word do as you vainly commanded. I found this out through my own blood, sweat and tears—well sweat and tears anyway—after coming close to losing my sanity writing my parliamentary internship report (complete with tables, breakouts and charts) with Word. Actually writing "with" Word probably doesn't do justice to those months of toil. I completed my report "despite" Word? Wrestling with the keys of fate, linked charts of catastrophe and wretched text wrapping of wickedness, I toiled to complete, against all odds, my parliamentary internship report? Hmm. Better. I mean whose sphincter hasn't irreparably tightened when an attempt to nudge an image one millimetre up the page results in the disappearance and dislodging of 46 pages of carefully laid-out text, charts and tables?

In fact, if I had the power to eradicate something from the surface of the earth, Word would rank highly on any list I dreamt up. Sure, it would probably sit behind war, famine and plague, but it would be higher than most others would place a software package. Why? Because Microsoft Word is a plague. It is like a virus that has infected almost every home and commercial computer.

Word is so bad that this is where I invoke Adobe in a positive light(room)

For me, I’d like to invoke Adobe as an example of one way forward for Microsoft and Word—yep, a I'm citing Adobe as a positive paradigm...the world has gone topsy-turvy. Adobe, like Microsoft, has a bit of a problem with legacy. Where Lightroom was once a revolutionary program for editing and managing digital assets, a dozen years of legacy coding have left recent releases running very slowly, even on blazing fast machines.

To address these issues (and ready the program for a cloud-based future) Adobe has released a reimagining of Lightroom called Lightroom CC (Creative Cloud). This version is entirely new and shares only a name with the older software. Developers are unencumbered by 12 year-old code free of the restraints of backwards compatibility. They are free to develop a program for the future of photography, not the legacies of the past. But Adobe hasn’t killed the “old” Lightroom. They rechristened the original version Lightroom “Classic” and are continuing to develop and support both programs side by side. The intention, however, is clear: the future is Lightroom CC, but we’ll have a while to adjust.

Adobe’s solution to the legacy problem is the best of both worlds. Developing for the new paradigm while supporting the old. Now why can’t Microsoft—with their subscription service and large development teams—think about doing the same. Do we really need word processing, charts, tables, mail merge, Word Art, shadows, outlines, address books, templates, ducking autocorrect, auto formatting or “smart” tags in one program? Or do writers want to sit down and write?

Funnily enough, Microsoft have actually done this already...kind of. In moving the focus of Office to the 365 subscription service, Microsoft developed Word Online as part of the package. This allows subscribers to view and edit documents in a web browser without opening the desktop app—so basically Google Docs, but you have to pay for it and it's still the same Microsoft rubbish. It's too baroque for my liking, but it's a step in the right direction.

And yes, Microsoft Word of 2019 is better than Word of, say, 2003, but the improvements are mostly ribbon deep. I still find myself stuck in a type-autocorrect-backspace-retype-autocorrect again-backspace-retype-autocorrect yet again loop, expecting the software to understand after the first two corrections that I did indeed want to begin the next line with a lower case letter. And don't get me started on formatting...that styles pane is a goddamn pain should you dare want anything other than Verdana or that standard bearer of default mediocrity: Calibri. Sure, the menus have been cleaned up, but I'll be damned if I don't spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find how to switch a function off after accidentally turning it on through an inadvertent key stroke.

Beware the Anonymous Capybara...

It’s often noted that George R.R. Martin still writes using WordStar 4.0 on a DOS-based machine. In his words, it does everything he needs and nothing he doesn’t. Plenty of niche developers out there are working on word processing software to meet this criterion—which is fine—but the monopolistic leaders in this space are doing nothing to improve the lot of the rest of us. As much as I'd like to take Ulysees or Scrivener into the workplace, it would not be accepted by the powers that be as a replacement for Word. Where is the business-friendly commercial word processing product that does everything we need and nothing we don't? Oh hi, Google Docs. I see you there. Yep, I think you're about ready for the big long as some anonymous capybara doesn't edit you off course...

Instead of burying the bloat in the “ribbon”, perhaps Microsoft can stop and think about their baby from the ground up. Maybe then I’ll shudder less whenever I see a .docx attached to an email in my inbox and I’ll open it without cursing the sender and the medium.

Further Reading

Death to Word by Tom Scocca (2012)
Why Microsoft Word must Die by Charlie Stross (2013)
WordStar: A writer's word processor by Robert J. Saywer (1990, updated in 1996)

This post was drafted in Notes for iOS on an iPhone XS. Notes is a simple cloud-based word processor which comes with Apple iOS. It's actually pretty useful, as is its MacOS version.

The typing experience on the iOS varies from mediocre to terrible, but I’ve used plenty of laptop keyboards worse than an iPhone’s touchscreen. 

It was edited in Google Docs on a desktop computer (with Apple Extended Keyboard II) before making the jump to the Blogger CMS. 

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Why #nswvotes won't impact #ausvotes

When Antony is ready to go, the state is ready to go! — Twitter

The voters have spoken. NSW’s Liberal National government has been returned for a third term. But those federal Liberals hoping their state counterparts' win bodes well for the upcoming federal election will likely be disappointed.

Firstly, a truism. State elections are largely won and lost on state issues. The degree to which politicians agree or disagree publicly with this statement depends which side of the election result they’re on: federal Liberals were quick to downplay any federal “implications” after the Victorian election wipeout, but have been all too keen to talk up their prospects after the NSW win. This isn’t to say that federal politics has no bearing on the outcome of state elections, but voters know the difference and vote on the issues. In fact, the NSW Liberals’ win demonstrates how true this separation is: they’ve won despite the dead weight of their federal colleagues around their necks.

Secondly, the NSW and federal Liberals share a party name, but that’s about it. While the federal coalition is busy arguing about which 1950s technology deserves state funding today or seeing whether Malcolm Turnbull weighs the same as a duck (“HE’S A WITCH!!”), the NSW government set about achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Sure, it’s an aspiration many decades away, but it gives centre-right NSW voters an option that isn’t a Green or independent if they’re concerned by climate change. Let’s not pretend the NSW Liberals are a super-progressive lot — the smashing of Allianz Stadium and the Sirius building are two counter examples of many — but they look positively socialist compared to their federal counterparts. This is how centre right parties win elections and is, in fact, the biggest lesson the federal Liberals could learn from this election — stick to the middle. But with an affronted suburban footy club secretary for a leader, that’s almost certainly not going to happen. 

Thirdly, everyone hates major parties. With the primary vote for the major parties plumbing 30%, the established parties of government have a fight ahead of them if they want to convince voters they’re in it for their constituents and not for themselves. This is an issue for both of the major parties but is existential for the Nationals. The junior coalition partner has essentially ignored climate change and environmental issues, and sided with big resource companies — against farmers — in the exploitation of arable land for CSG. The Shooters Fishers and Farmers party has won at least three seats and has successfully channeled this anger in rural communities for their electoral benefit. Notably, they’ve held the seat of Orange, a seat the SFF gained in an historic byelection which saw an unprecedented swing against the Nationals who had held the seat for 69 years. The federal Nationals — even more tone deaf to the concerns of their constituents — face the same challenge at the upcoming federal election, albeit against canny independents rather than the SFF. 

Supplemental point in here, yes people hate the major parties, but they’re particularly unimpressed with the federal government. Sure, the NSW Liberals have had their own challenges, but they’ve had nothing of the sort of the 2014 federal budget, an eternity of leadership spills, promises and backflips, cuts to services, Robodebts, “it’s okay to be white”, being against a banking royal commission 27 times...the list literally goes on. Electors might not like the major parties, but they hate the federal government and that opinion has been settled ever since the 2016 election. 

Lastly — and perhaps most crucially — NSW just doesn’t matter...well so far as the upcoming federal election is concerned. Of the government’s 22 marginal seats, only five are in NSW. The Liberals could have a federal 2PP of 60-40 in NSW (they don’t, it was 54-46 to the ALP at the end of 2018) and would still lose the next federal election. This election could be won and lost entirely in Victoria for all we know, but only two of the federal parliament’s 10 most marginal seats are in NSW. Five are in Queensland. With the government on the nose and no such thing as “safe” seats any more, this is probably not going to go well for the footy club secretary PM and his committee of top blokes. 

So, in short, a good win by the Coalition in NSW, but not as “against the odds” as the media narrative would tell you. An incumbent government only two terms old with none of the white-hot anger directed at it that their antediluvian federal colleagues have endured since 2014. Also, only eight years ago, NSW Labor was pretty much the most corrupt outfit around — it would have been no small feat to come back from that. The 2PP result will probably be close to the published polls, but it simply wasn’t enough to get the ALP over the line.

Bring on May.