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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bmag 19th November 2013 - Service clubs, citizenship and Doctor Who

One of the best perks of my job as a breakfast radio announcer is I have time during the day to speak at service clubs. At least once a week you’ll find me addressing a Probus or National Seniors' Club, telling behind the scenes tales from my twenty-odd years at the ABC. My favourite part is the question and answer time at the end, which has proven to be the best and most direct way to receive feedback from listeners, and we do take notice of what they have to say. But these talks are also a great source of story material for my breakfast show.

Here are a couple of recent examples: At Cleveland National Seniors, a woman handed me a nude 2014 calendar! It turned out her retirement village had produced it as a fundraiser for Look Good Feel Better, which helps women manage the appearance-related side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I flicked through the hilarious and very cheeky photos and who should I find playing piano in the all-together? None other than the first man on Queensland television, Hugh Cornish! What a great yarn! (Yes, the calendars are available – call Renaissance on 3820 7700).

Then just last week, after giving a talk at the Mt Gravatt Men’s Shed, I noticed the members were putting together 300 flat-pack timber cubby houses. Apparently a large department store imported them, then realised they didn’t meet Australian design standards. So they’ve all been handed over to the Men’s Shed, where the blokes are assembling and fixing each one – mainly reinforcing the verandah railings. It’s a great little earner for the Men’s Shed and will set them up handsomely for 2014 but they’re running out of storage space! So if you know any children who would appreciate a cubby house for Christmas, please call the Mt Gravatt Men’s Shed on 3343 2216. They’re $495. If you’d like me to speak at your service club in 2014, shoot me an email.

In what’s been a very busy couple of weeks, I also wrote and performed “A letter to the woman who changed my life” at an event called Men of Letters. I wrote my letter to the whole of Australia. As I hinted in the last bmag, there was a bombshell. Here’s an abridged version:

“My dear Australia, I’ve been disrespectful towards you. You educated me (even if that did mean sitting me next to Kyle Sandilands at Manly State School), you introduced me to my wife, you employed me (including that dream uni job as mystery shopper at McDonalds! How can I ever forget sitting in the loo at Maccas shoving a thermometer into french fries?), and you embraced me as a breakfast radio presenter on your national broadcaster. Yet for all of these 32 years, I have continued to think of another as my motherland. It has taken me all this time, but I finally see how this must hurt and confuse you. So I am writing to ask – dear Australia, please can we formalise our relationship? Australia, I have loved you for a long, long time. Will you have me as one of your own? PS: I may still support England in the Ashes. Can I let you know after the Second Test?”

I guess the surprise is more that I’m not already an Aussie rather than the fact I’ve finally applied. I’ll let you know when Australia (i.e. the Immigration Department) replies.

This Saturday (23rd) marks the 50th anniversary of Dr Who. TV stations around the world are broadcasting the special episode The Day of the Doctor simultaneously – there is no better way to crush TV piracy than to broadcast programmes at the same time everywhere. ABC Radio is launching a pop-up Doctor Who channel from 24 to 30 November. Look for ABC Extra on your digital radio or radio app (eg Tune In Radio). I’m presenting a two-hour special on the channel which will have rolling 24/7 interviews and discussion about Doctor Who.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Men of Letters - To the Woman Who Changed My Life - November 10th 2013

My dear,

It’s been over 30 years since we were introduced to each other and perhaps you were beginning to wonder whether today would ever happen. The thing is it never felt right before. But it does now. There is a question I must ask you and I do hope you’ll say yes.

My dear adopted motherland of Australia,

I cried when mum told me we were moving here. I can still picture the scene, as if I’m floating above it. We’re sitting at the top of the carpeted stairs inside our two storey cottage in the northwest of England. It’s 1980. I’m 8. Mum’s 33 and has recently suffered the loss of her second husband – my step-dad – to cancer. But she’s met an architect from Brisbane and we’re off to live in you!

I cried, not because I didn’t want to meet you. (I mean, this Aussie bloke that mum was about to marry was all sorts of fun. He was into filming trains on his Super-8 camera, and we would chase all over the English countryside. He also designed The Big Pineapple. Which, as a child, I thought was pretty cool. Even today, if you ever hear me on radio defending the Big Pineapple – and I think I’m probably the only person in the media who still does – now you know why!) No, the reason I cried was because I would leaving my Dad behind in England. Still, he bought me the 1981 Muppet Show annual at the airport… and you took us in.

Talk about a "Sliding Doors" moment. Where would I be today, if Mum and I hadn’t come here? That moment – and you, Australia, my adopted motherland – changed my life forever.

But I’ve been disrespectful towards you. You educated me (even if that did mean sitting me next to one Kyle Sandilands at Manly State School), you introduced me to my wife of 17 years, you employed me – including that dream uni job as mystery shopper at McDonalds! (How can I ever forget sitting in loo at Maccas shoving a thermometer into French Fries?) – and you embraced me in a very prominent and public position as a breakfast radio presenter on your national broadcaster. In short, you have cared for me as you would one of your own.

Yet for all of these 32 years, I have continued to think of another as my motherland. It has taken me all this time, but I finally see how this must hurt and confuse you. So today, I am writing to ask – dear Australia, please can we formalise our relationship? Will you have me as an Aussie?

Perhaps you’re wondering - why now? What’s changed? Well, it’s complex and even I don’t fully understand well enough to articulate why I’ve never asked you before. When people do find out that I’m not a citizen – and it’s been so long that most just assume I am (a very good friend of mine was shocked when I told her why I was writing you this letter. She had no idea) – I’ve always just said: I love you, I live in you, I pay taxes to you, I hope to die in you, but I just need to hold on to something from my past. And that something has been the fact that I am British and not Australian.

Yes, I know you can be both. In fact, I kindly went and made my son a dual citizen without asking him first. But I always had this fear that the British Government would pull the pin on dual citizenships and I’d be left without that link to the UK – which really means a link to my father, who still lives there.

I always said it was something in my heart that I didn’t feel the need to justify – and I stand by that. No one should pressure you into something so deeply personal.

And I always considered it a blessing that, as someone whose job involves talking on radio about politics, I simply cannot vote. I have never had to crystalise in my mind which side of politics I would support.

But a couple of things have brought me round. At the deli, I picked up a free magazine called “The Local Bulletin”. It’s all about Kenmore and surrounding suburbs. And inside was a photograph of a small, local citizenship ceremony. I never fancied the big flashy showy affair at City Hall – the one that’s on the telly every Australia Day, boasting it’s the biggest in the country. Suddenly I saw the beauty in becoming Australian alongside others from my suburb and community – people I would bump into at the shops or school gate.

Secondly, just before election day in September, a couple of recent arrivals to Australia were bemoaning the fact they couldn’t vote. They wanted to but couldn’t yet. That made me realise the value of being able to – and that I shouldn’t throw that privilege away.

And then, for some bizarre reason, I keep thinking about a scenario where I’m convicted of something – no, I’m not planning to join a bikie gang, or even chalk “I heart bikies” on the footpath – but in theory, I could be deported to the UK. Thousands of miles from wife Nikki and son Jack and you, dear Australia. I don’t want to think about life without you.

So you see how you’ve changed me? You can’t entirely take England out of the boy, but this boy left England long ago. He just didn’t realise it.

Australia, I have loved you for a long, long time. Will you have me as one of your own?

I know you’ll want to put me through a test. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’m pretty confident. In fact, I am refusing to look at the sample questions online. I might not be able to spell Kosciusko or Palazszuk without checking, but I do know Bradman’s batting average so I’ll think I’ll go alright.

Are you going to ask me to quote some lines from that Franky Walnut song? I do hope so! I’ve been learning the words: “I’m as Australian as a sheep’s turd in the shape of Australia riding on the back of a sheep named Bruce who’s been shorn in the shape of Australia/I’m as Australian as a pie that’s been run over by a ute being driven by John Williamson while he narrates a documentary about Australia/I’m as Australian as a red-back spider and a funnel-web spider having a root inside a kangaroo scrotum purse/I’m as Australian as/I’m as Australian as.”

My dear Australia, I have attached the official paperwork. I await your response. Yours, if you’ll have me, Spencer

PS I may still support England in the Ashes
PPS Can I let you know after the Second Test?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bmag 5th November 2013 - Separation of Powers

I wasn’t exactly sure how “The Meaning of Life” by Spencer J. Howson aged 17 ¾ would go down when I included extracts in my last column. I’m pleased to report the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. My favourite was from Julia Baker, a snake-catcher on Brisbane’s northside, who tells me she is about to start crowd-funding a TV show about her reptile-wrangling adventures.

Julia wrote: “Wow!! That is very impressive for a 17 year old! It took me over 40 years to realise that by doing things that make ourselves happy first, we are then naturally driven as humans to share that happiness and help create it in others. A win/win situation. Brilliantly written Spencer! The reason for working on and wanting this TV series so badly it hurts is my vision for what I want to do after it. I want to go into schools and speak in front of people that need an inspiration from someone that came from nothing, was pretty much labelled stupid, and show them how to set goals, dream big and achieve!”

You can count on some cash from me, Julia! Keep an eye on

Happiness is about as far removed as you can get from the way many people feel about the State Government granting Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie the power to overturn judges’ decisions and keep “the worst of the worst” offenders behind bars. Even Premier Campbell Newman says he’s uncomfortable with the Attorney-General wielding such power, but he says the community is calling for tougher sentences and that if you don’t like it, you’re “an apologist for paedophiles”.

But cast your mind back to high school and you’ll probably remember being taught that our parliamentary system is based on what’s called The Separation of Powers – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. In other words, having made the laws, the parliament should leave it to the courts to apply those laws. No-one is being an apologist for child sex offenders. The concern here is the precedent this sets for governments targeting certain groups and then acting as judge, jury and executioner.

But is it possible the Queensland Government is in fact well within its rights to take ignore the Separation of Powers? A nuance that seems to have escaped most was pointed out on “7.30 Queensland” by QUT Senior Law Lecturer Peter Black. Peter Black explained that whilst the Queensland Constitution states that the Supreme Court has unlimited jurisdiction, it can be overruled “either explicitly or implicitly” by a subsequent Act. “The Queensland Constitution is just an ordinary piece of legislation. It doesn’t have any special status like the Commonwealth Constitution”. Federally, says Peter Black, it would be a different story: “The Commonwealth Constitution would probably prohibit those laws taking place at a federal level”.

So, would the High Court attempt to shut down this legislation? Peter Black says: “It would require the High Court to extend its existing doctrine. “But these laws I think are so provocative and arguably so offensive that this is the sort of case that might tempt the High Court to extend their existing doctrine so that they do have a mechanism by which they could restrict and strike down the constitutionality of these laws”. Of course all this leads to the question – how else can we keep “the worst of the worst” behind bars? Jarod Bleijie himself admitted on 4BC that a better way would be for the parliament to pass tougher laws, equipping judges with tougher penalties. There’s also been talk of introducing a US-style system where we would get to elect (presumably tougher) judges. Perhaps all of this will lead to judges taking the hint about society’s expectations and the Attorney-General will never have to use his new-found power.

The other thing that’s been occupying my mind this week is an invitation to speak at the next “Men of Letters”. Along with Tim Flannery, Ernie Dingo, Lawrence Mooney and others, I am to read a letter to “The Woman Who Changed My Life”. So who will it be? Come along to The Zoo on November 10th and you’ll find out. There will be a bombshell announcement about me and this woman! “Men of Letters” starts at 3pm. Tickets are $25. Proceeds to Edgar’s Mission.