Time for a pre-emptive strike. My experiences with Bob Hawke when he was under challenge for the Prime Ministership by an aggrieved Paul Keating was that letting the challenger choose the time of the contest is not a wise policy.

Hawke thought he could do little but sit by and wait while the media built up the tension about when his former Treasurer would rise from his new backbench seat to make his second bid. With the benefit of hindsight — and, I modestly add, some advocacy of mine at the time — it would have been better to call on the contest while Keating was still campaigning to get his numbers and building a perception that his selection was the only way to end all the destructive speculation.

Julia Gillard should not make the same mistake. Forget about the weekend chat at the Lodge with Caucus members to plan strategy for the year ahead. Boldly tell them that she is sick and tired of all the challenge nonsense and declare that she will be calling on a leadership spill for Tuesday week.

That is the only way to stop the media leadership feeding frenzy.

Cheap ships for rent. Let’s hope the nexus between the price of chartering ships and international economic prospects no longer applies for the index that measures such things is now at its lowest level for 25 years. Since mid-December the Baltic Dry Index has fallen every day to be down by 65 per cent.

Hopefully the London Financial Times is right in pointing out that this time it is not a decline in international trade causing the collapse but “a surge in delivery of ships ordered in the shipping boom before the 2008 financial crisis, that has outpaced still growing demand to move goods.”

Some bad trade news. While our Asian customers will benefit from not having to pay as much to transport Australian coal and iron ore, not that all the news on the trade front is good. China’s Trade Minister Xie Xuren yesterday warned of weakening prospects for the economy as the HSBC/Markit manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI), while improving  slightly to 48.8 in January from 48.7 in December, was still below the 50 level which indicates contracting activity.

Xie Xuren said there would be “downward pressure” on growth in 2012, as the outlook for China’s trade partners deteriorated. London’s Telegraph reported him saying that “as the external demand is now fading clearly, Chinese exporters are facing increasing difficulties.”

Death of a political poet. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said of his country’s Nobel prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska who died overnight that “in her poems we could find brilliant advice which made the world easier to understand.”

How better to illustrate that than with her own words from the book Miracle Fair published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc and reprinted from the POETS.org website:

Children of Our Era 
by Wislawa Szymborska
translated by Joanna Trzeciak

We are children of our era;
our era is political.

All affairs, day and night,
yours, ours, theirs,
are political affairs.

Like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political cast,
your eyes a political aspect.

What you say has a resonance;
what you are silent about is telling.
Either way, it’s political.

Even when you head for the hills
you’re taking political steps
on political ground.

Even apolitical poems are political,
and above us shines the moon,
by now no longer lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Question? What question? Dear, here’s a suggestion:
a political question.

You don’t even have to be a human being
to gain political significance.
Crude oil will do,
or concentrated feed, or any raw material.

Or even a conference table whose shape
was disputed for months:
should we negotiate life and death
at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile people were dying,
animals perishing,
houses burning,
and fields growing wild,
just as in times most remote
and less political.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW