An election coming on. When a State Attorney General starts talking of a group of young, predominantly Aboriginal, people as “pure evil” you are reminded that there is an election coming on. South Australia’s Michael Atkinson is the very model of a law-and-order politician who is well practiced in the black arts of appealing to the worst public prejudices. His specialty is having a shot at judges when the length of one of their sentences happens to strike a vocal mob as being too short but he does not mind a clash now and again with a Director of Public Prosecutions either. Just the kind of man a Premier likes to have on his team when political parties start playing the campaign game of we can be tougher than you.

Yesterday Attorney General Atkinson was in fine early electioneering form – the election is coming on 20 March next year – when he chose to discuss the activities of what is popularly known as the gang of 49 which is held responsible for a series of armed holdups in and around Adelaide. Over the past three weeks targets have included hotels, bakeries, coffee shops, bars, TABs, fast-food outlets and a jewellery exchange.

The Atkinson solution is a variation on the lock them up and throw away the key approach for at least some gang members are, according to him, “pure evil” with no hope of rehabilitation. “Many of the Gang of 49, we know, are youths and under 18, and indeed some of the leaders of the gang we know are juveniles and teenagers,” he was reported as saying yesterday. “(But) rehabilitation is not going to do anything. We have to keep them away from society as long as we can.”

Having appealed to the straight law and order brigade, Mr Atkinson could then turn to tapping into a little anti-Aboriginal prejudice. He said he was weary of “hand-wringers” with a “1960s hippie” outlook on life who were stopping the state Labor government from giving young Aboriginal boys a better life behind bars. “They are resistant, immune to any rehabilitative programs at this time in their lives. This hard core needs to be put behind bars and kept there. We are dealing with an evil phenomenon.”

Truly an impressive campaign start and we have five months more of it to look forward to. What odds that some candidate will soon add restoring the death penalty to the election policy agenda?

A really fascinating interview. The Kerry O’Brien who fascinates and delights me on television is the Kerry O’Brien who interviews authors, musicians, painters and other assorted artists. Relaxed and friendly, the amiable red head pops up intelligent questions in a way that encourages his subject to talk. It is a style that leaves the listeners at home free to make their own value judgments. There is none of the argumentative, barrister like bluster that is the normal style of an O’Brien political interview which prevents, rather than encourages, the gaining of insights as a politician retreats into carefully rehearsed clichés.

Last night we had the rare event of an interview on a political subject which followed the artistic method and if you missed it then it’s worth visiting the ABC website to look at and listen to Ross Garnaut give a measured but quite devastating criticism of the Labor Government.

The politics of nuclear power. People who oppose it will feel strongly enough about the issue to change how they vote. Those in favour will not. That’s all that need be said really about the renewed flurry of advocacy for Australia embracing the nuclear option. There are votes to be lost and none to be gained so it won’t be happening any time soon.

What is a statistic worth? In Russia not much apparently. The Moscow Times reports this morning that Vladimir Sokolin, the head of the State Statistics Service, accused the Economic Development Ministry of playing loosely with his numbers and said in an interview published Monday that he would leave the post next month.

“The body that is the main user of our data and which compiles lots of reports and forecasts has a big temptation to direct statistics in the direction it needs,” Sokolin told Itogi magazine.

The previously independent State Statistics Service was included under the Economic Development Ministry in a government reshuffle initiated by President Dmitry Medvedev last year. But the move was a mistake, Sokolin said, and has left the government free to pick and choose data as it orchestrates a recovery from Russia’s worst downturn in a decade.

Peter Fray

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