field notes

Three times a year, the ordinary sittings of the Senate are suspended for the obscure but essential business of budget estimates hearings. For the next fortnight, the bleak theatre in the House of Representatives will continue as expected, but the Senate chamber will lie empty; the action on our side of the building playing out elsewhere.

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It won’t make the front page but on 30 March, Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek quietly caved in on one of the most invasive of recent proposals for mass surveillance in Australia.

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As we know, Australia has one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy. When you turn on your free-to-air television, you know that you’re receiving your news from one of only six major companies. Radio broadcasting comes from five major companies and when you open a newspaper, it is even more concentrated, with just four major companies delivering your daily news.

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Tonight I rise to invite Prime Minister Tony Abbott to visit the beautiful state of Western Australia.

I do this in good faith, because we are only a matter of weeks away from a historic by-election that will not just determine the final makeup of this chamber after July but also will decide much more of consequence to the people of Western Australia, whether they are thinking of voting for the Greens or not. Prime Minister, you are welcome out west, but this is a respectful invitation to think carefully about what baggage you pack when you make your next flying campaign stopover.

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11 February 2014: around the globe more than 6000 websites, with user groups ranging from sub-niche to hundreds of millions, are blacked out today. The cause is serious: government surveillance overkill that compromises privacy, the rule of law, journalism and democracy itself.

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“We don’t discuss intelligence matters,” Australia’s bewildered Prime Minister told the media again this morning, making him the only person left on earth not discussing intelligence matters. Finally, seven months after the fuse was lit, the scandal of the US National Security Agency surveillance state has finally detonated in Australia.

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So we’re seven days into the search for #14votes, and there are probably another seven…

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There is an old story about the original creator of the game of chess, a wily mathematician who submits his invention to the ruler of the country. Asked by the delighted queen what he would require by way of reward, the mathematician requests to be paid in gold. He proposes the queen place one single coin on the first square of the chessboard, two on the second square, four on the next, eight on the next, doubling the number of coins on each successive square up to the sixty fourth.

The queen, perplexed that the mathematician would ask such a meagre reward for his inventiveness, nonetheless orders her chancellor to total up the number of coins. In disbelief, the chancellor calculates that this simple sequence of 63 doublings has the queen owing the mathematician 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 coins. Arranged neatly on the queen’s chessboard, the stack on the 64th square would reach 300 million kilometres past the orbit of Jupiter.[i]

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FIRST PUBLISHED AT THE GUARDIAN ONLINE

TEAThe formula for election 2013 is by now cast in concrete. The press gallery are being subjected to a degrading series of set-piece doorstops designed to click neatly into the nightly news, and a reasonable number of them are playing along. The Murdoch press have cheerfully abandoned all pretence of impartial reportage and have seamlessly integrated themselves into the Abbott campaign; front page after front page hurled against any chance of an ALP win, with a side-dish of hit pieces on the Greens to keep things fair and balanced.

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An impressionistic view of the place we want to create: home town, home state

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