Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Shut up and Stop whining: A guide to being a better ratepayer

My wife has a curious fondness for trashy celebrity gossip magazines of the ilk of NW, whose journalistic calibre was exemplified in 2001 when it famously published a comprehensive article of a celebrity event, including quotes and photos, despite it having been cancelled at the last minute.

Why she reads these magazines is beyond me, because she seems to find every person within the pages exceptionally irritating. I know this because as she reads them she mutters to herself, along the lines of, "Oh Rachel McAdams, who told you you could pull off green satin?" and "Put it away, Tom. No one wants to see your annoying Scientologist face."

The thing that is most guaranteed to provoke a scornful laugh is a rich, entitled celebrity complaining about how difficult their life is now they're famous. Whether it's Kristen Stewart or Johnny Depp comparing being photographed to getting raped, or George Clooney moaning about how he might be forced to sell his huge castle in Lake Como because of a lack of privacy, nothing raises my wife's ire more.

"Here's a plan, Kristen/Johnny/George." She'll say. "If getting paid millions of dollars for doing hardly any work is that bad, let someone else have a go and become a nurse or a teacher instead. Problem solved."

A similar, muttered commentary, punctuated with the occasional snort, could be heard as she was skimming through last week's exceptionally whiny Thinking Allowed piece by Fremantle councillor Rachel Pemberton in the Herald.

"I love it when someone has a good whinge about how bad it is that everyone is always whinging, and they're not being ironic," was her neat summation upon finishing the article.
I told her the whole piece left me feeling a bit let down. It's not the first time a politician has levelled the blame at their public for the shortcomings of government, but it doesn't make it any nicer to read.

"You know what it sounds like, Swanman? A job for...Captain Translator!" She cried. At that instant, in a parallel dimension not far from our own, a handsome, mild-mannered blogger pricked up his ears. A second later he bounded up off the couch and ripped open his t-shirt, revealing a shiny red leotard and tights, washboard abs, and a cape that blew heroically in the wind.

"Wherever there is spin, I will be there! Whenever someone tries to shift the blame onto others, I will make it right! I am... CAPTAIN TRANSLATOR!"

(For the sake of brevity, the Captain didn't reproduce the original Thinking Allowed column in its entirety. If you haven't read the whole thing, you should. Click here to go to the Herald's electronic version and go to page 5 to read the actual piece. Only the bits below in italics are actual quotes; everything else is just the Captain's interpretation.)

1. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

Captain Translator: I'm heartily sick of putting up with idiot ratepayers who revolt like Russian peasants whenever Council "suggests" (ok, "approves") buildings over three storeys. (Actually we approved up to eleven, but rounding down, more like three.) And we did it soley for the community's own good, but of course they're too dumb to appreciate it. You can't get vibrancy without infill, morons!

If only ratepayers would just trust that I and everyone else on Council know much, much better than them about practically everything, it would make my life a lot easier.

2. A culture of negativity and whinging about the government.

Captain Translator: Tons of people think they are disillusioned with the government, but they're not really - they're just a bunch of dumbos who swallow whatever opinions the media and the blogosphere feed them without any kind of critical analysis. It's an epidemic, only the disease is being a whiny, annoying idiot.

Luckily I'm here to set everyone straight. If you feel disenfranchised, or find yourself being critical of something your government has done, it's just because you're too lazy to get involved in a more positive way.

Whaddya mean, I might be biased? Yeah, I work for a senator, and yeah I'm also a local councillor. I don't get your point.

Here's my advice: Instead of complaining about stuff, go and knit a colourful stocking for a street tree. No one wants to hear your opinions. Be part of the solution, whingers!

3. Talking Fremantle Down.

Captain Translator: (What do you mean, writing an article with the headline "Is Freo the new Dullsville?" is a tad hypocritical in the circumstances? Didn't you see the question mark at the end? Geez.)

I thought I'd show how bad it is to talk Freo down by talking, at great length, about all the ways in which people talk it down. You might not even have heard some of the things people have said about Freo, so I've helpfully listed all the ones I could remember for easy reference.

I'll start with locals saying that Freo is a disgrace.

Before you tell me that you're a local and have never told anyone that Freo's a disgrace, pay attention. You can be guilty of this in lots of different, subtle ways. The most obvious one is being mean about Council.

I bring this up not because I'm on Council and I take all criticism very, very personally, but because no one wants to visit a place where locals aren't constantly saying how great their Council is. It's the number one reason that influences people when they're deciding where to go shopping or eat out on the weekend.

And don't fool yourself that you're actually doing a good thing in discussing your concerns about local issues to raise awareness and to prompt your elected officials to take action. I mean, who's ever heard of that working? Politicians are never influenced by anything as sordid as public opinion.

3(a) I have struggled to deal with the somewhat unfounded public denigration of this council, which is actually achieving some significant results.

Captain Translator: When I got elected, I expected a constant stream of congratulations just for doing the job that I freely volunteered for. Yes, there's evidence all around me that being a politician by definition means working in an adversarial environment and copping a fair amount of robust criticism, but I naturally assumed I would be an exception.

I'm a Gen Y, you know? It's how we roll.

But instead of accolades, I just get people giving me opinions that are different to my own and sometimes even outright criticism, or, as I like to call them, "swipes".

Council works hard, and has great intentions. That should be more than enough for any reasonable person. Sure, actual results might be thin on the ground, but if you managed your expectations better you'd be a lot more satisfied.

I mean, just look how Council transformed Bathers Beach. There's the boardwalk, the gazebo, and lots of other stuff that admittedly isn't 100% as aweseome, but seeing as we refuse to make any changes, you may as well learn to like it. There's even a moveable seat on railway tracks! Yeah, it broke after only a few days and we still haven't fixed it months later, but cut a person some slack! Look at all the people on the boardwalk!

And, of course, the new shower. I knew you'd bring that up. Yes, it had to be relocated immediately after being installed at needless expense, but it's local government, guys. These things happen. Like I said, manage those expectations.

3(b). Parking is not killing this town, attitudes are.
3(c). A city is only as interesting as its people (...).

Captain Translator: Parking is not the reason more people don't come to Freo, it's the locals being such whiny, boring, pains-in-the-backside who bitch and moan almost constantly.

A guy from another country came here for one afternoon and he told me Freo was fantastic, so that proves you're obviously all full of garbage.

And no, me saying that Freo is in the process of being killed is not talking it down or having a bad attitude. Nor is spending a whole Thinking Allowed piece musing about what's wrong with Freo locals. Don't be obtuse.

3(d). To all those people who think Freo is dull, I'm sorry.

Captain Translator: Yeah, sorry you're a bunch of lazy, negative whingers.

3(e). If you haven't found (how great Freo is) yet, that's ok. We'll welcome you when you do.

Captain Translator: When you're ready to become a worthwhile, positive person with all the right opinions like me, I promise my clique and I will welcome you into Freo. (I'm so nice like that.)

But until then, do me a favour: shut up and stay out.

3(f). Thanks to everyone who helps makes our city great. Now, time to put my head down and get back to work.

Captain Translator: I thought I'd include the penultimate sentence just in case anyone gets their nose put out of joint by me trash talking whiny Freo locals, in which case I can say, "Oh no, don't think I meant that you're one of the unconstructive whingers who's killing this town! I totally think you're one of the people who helps make Freo great, that I thanked at the end!".

Sneaky, eh?

And the last sentence is just to remind everyone that I'm super busy being important and making a difference and never (well, almost never) saying anything negative, even though none of you deserve me.

The Captain wiped his manly brow. Fremantle locals were no longer feeling like second-class citizens for making valid suggestions to their elected representatives about how grass at the beach might be nicer than tarmac and dust, or that overflowing bins perhaps weren't the best look for a city trying to attract visitors. His job, for now, was done.


  1. I'll report you to the Politically Correct Police

  2. Michael, you may be right to assume that few people like to hear a politician have a whine about how hard it is dealing with the difficulties of running a city, state or nation. That said, I'm not sure Rachel quite deserved the savage spray you just gave her as an armchair critic. She was simply expressing how she was feeling one year into her four years as a newly elected councillor. If you think your comments were in any way a constructive bonus to add to her $7500 reward for a years service, I suggest you think again. Rachel is one of the fairest and hardest working elected members I know. You also know quite well what she was able to achieve in the community prior to deciding to step up to the role of decision maker. The bottom line is that running this city can be bloody frustrating at the best of times and it just isn't possible to keep all of the people happy all of the time. Rachel is an awesome asset for the community to have on council and I suggest you show a little old fashioned respect if you can't muster any gratitude.

    Andrew Sullivan

    1. Thanks for that, Kristen, I mean, Andrew. (You had me confused for a minute there!) You raise a valid point and I appreciate you, and Rachel, pointing out my failings as a ratepayer.

      But if you find being a councillor so "bloody frustrating at the best of times", then, quite honestly, aren't you a bit of a twit for continuing to do it? (NB: the above may not be the best slogan for your state campaign.)

      Also, your inference that I'm entirely without gratitude and respect is incorrect. I loved your work in Twilight.

      Yours abjectly, Michael

      P.S. Do you think you could do anything about getting the bins emptied on long weekends, especially the ones at Bathers Beach? I hate to bring it up but I worry about the litter washing into the ocean and getting choked on by turtles. (Did you know they mistake the plastic bags for jellyfish? Amazing they don't taste the difference and spit them out. Although I suppose if you're eating raw jellyfish every day, not having really sensitive tastebuds may be a positive thing.)