Friday, January 27, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies and Press Releases

Are the Coalition REALLY understaffing stations in South West Sydney?

On one set of figures, sure. In this Daily Terror story, we see the following:

(blogger isn't letting me upload photos, so I'll copy and paste)

   WESTERN Sydney police were understaffed while dealing with a frightening spate of drive-by shootings, while in the Premier's north shore electorate there were more than enough officers.
   As of December 31, the southwest metropolitan region had just 2305 police officers - 44 less than it should have.
   In Bankstown, there were 260 officers on duty even though the authorised strength of the command was 272, and there was also fewer officers in shooting hotspots Cabramatta and Fairfield.
   The shortfall came despite a police class graduating in mid-December and the fact the force was overstaffed state-wide, with 16,092 officers compared to 15,806 budgeted for by the state government. In Barry O'Farrell's Ku-ring-gai electorate, there were 174 officers - four more than the authorised strength of 170.

Assuming those numbers are correct, it is clear that the Ku Ring Gai numbers are higher (as a percentage of the "authorised strength") than the numbers in some SouthWest Sydney Local Area Commands.

What interested me was how fair those numbers are.  As the old saying goes, "lies, damned lies and statistics".

We are told the numbers in Ku Ring Gai - 174 officers (102.3%).  We are told the total for South West Metro Region - 2305 officers (98.1%).  Interesting, the only LAC we are given numbers for is Bankstown - 260 officers (95.6%).

I think it's fair to assume that those Bankstown numbers are the very worst the writer of the press release could find.

Labor also had a news item on their website that explained that Rockdale LAC is presently "three officers short" but does not tell us what their budgeted figure is.

What interested me in all this was a population comparison.  How do the population figures between the areas compare? Does that explain the difference?

The only LAC's that we have figures for Bankstown (260/272) and Ku Ring Gai (174/170), so we'll compare those.

Unfortunately, it's a little hard to work out what the population of the LAC's are.  What I've done is refer to the NSW police website to work out what postcodes are included in each of those 2 LAC's, and then used the 2006 census figures to work out the approximate population of those LAC's.

Imperfect, but I don't think NSW Police will respond to a media enquiry from me, so you're stuck with it.  First is the postcode, second is the population in 2006.

KU RING GAI (174/170)

Arcadia, Berrilee, Fiddletown, Galston 5103
Asquith, Hornsby, Hornsby Heights, Waitara 32 280
Berowra, Cowan 4 867
Berowra Heights, Berowra Waters 5 180
Brooklyn 1 699
Canoelands, Forest Glen, Glenorie 3 161
Dural, Middle Dural 7 907
East Killara, Killara 11 824
Gordon 5 993
Mount Colah 6 975
Mount Kuring-Gai 1 550
Normanhurst, North Wahroonga, Wahroonga 21 715
North Turramurra, South Turramurra, Turramurra, Warrawee 19 808
Pymble, West Pymble 14 096
St Ives, St Ives Chase 17 334
Thornleigh, Westleigh 19 028
TOTAL 178 520

BANKSTOWN (260/272)

Bankstown, Bankstown Aerodrome, Condell Park 37 958
Bass Hill 7 224
Birrong, Potts Hill 6 755
Chester Hill, Sefton 14 877
Chullora, Greenacre, Mount Lewis 22 462
East Hills, Panania, Picnic Point 19 511
Georges Hall 8 049
Lansdowne, Villawood 11 716
Milperra 3 887
Padstow, Padstow Heights 14 484
Revesby,Revesby Heights 13 853
Yagoona 14 876
TOTAL 175 652

So, Ku Ring Gai, with its 174 officers, and 178 520 residents, has 1 officer for every 1026 residents, whilst Bankstown, with 260 officers and 175 652 residents, has 1 officer for every 676 residents. In fairness, those numbers are based on the 2006 census but on the 2011 police numbers, and the LAC may not fit precisely with the suburb demarcation, but I think I've made my point.

That's not even considering the fact that, as I look at a map, Ku Ring Gai has a far bigger area than Bankstown, which all things being equal should mean it would need more officers to cover it.

My point?  I think it's fair to assume that the Terror's story is based on a Labor Press Release.  I don't have a copy of that release, but the above analysis took me about an hour of poking around (admittedly as I tried to watch the Australian Open Semi Final), and how many journalists have that long to spend on research?

And, if it is in fact all taken from a Labor press release, it just goes to show how you can use statistics to prove almost anything.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics indeed.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Money Money Money (Part II)

I've thought a little more about political donations since my last post on the topic.

Ideally, this is the system I would prefer:

  • Only individuals on the electoral roll can make donations.
  • Each person has an applicable "donation limit" per year.
  • If a non-political party wants to run an issue campaign, they can do so, but only using funds donated for that purpose.
  • Funds donates to non-political parties would be included in a person's donation limit.
I think it's fair. I also think it has buckley's chance of being introduced, but there you go.

If you've had a look at the changes proposed by O'Farrell - well, they are heading in the right direction, but they are a long way short of where I would like us to be. That said, small steps are (in this case) better than no steps at all.

Consequently, I was more than a little frustrated to read the transcript of the first day of the Inquiry into the Coalition's changes.  The conga-line of people attending to rubbish the changes smacked of vested interest and partisan (rather than honest) analysis.

As I settled down to peruse O'Farrell's comments to the committee, I expected that he would be hammered by a panel that seemed more than a little slanted against him.  I was not disappointed.

You may be interested to first have a look at the submission made by the Office of the Premier. If you're interested, the full list of published submissions can be seen here.

The full transcript of the second day of the hearing can be found here.

O'Farrell came straight out of the gate with his justification for the changes:
Steve Whan (ALP) persisted with Labor's attack on O'Farrell for continuing to attend fundraisers whilst pressing the case to, if not outlaw, certainly minimise the utility of them.  
O'Farrell response is entirely reasonable.  It is unfair and frankly more than a little ridiculous for Labor to expect O'Farrell to stop attending fundraisers whilst the ALP delay the introduction of these changes by running an inquiry.

There followed some discussion about the exact operation of the new laws.  John Kaye (GRN), chair of the committee, had this exchange with O'Farrell, which is worth repeating just for the nasty (but not unfair) comments about lawyers:
If you have the chance, the full 13 pages of his evidence are worth reading just for the amusing sniping between Whan and O'Farrell.

Anne Twomey gave evidence principally directed at the constitutionality of the changes.

Tony O'Grady, Brett Holmes and John Moran of the NSW Nurses Association were the next to appear. Their biggest concern was expressed as follows:
Christopher Maltby of the Greens appeared next.  At the start he clarified that the Greens do support the legislation generally, saying the following:
It was also interesting to note the following comments about the Greens funding arrangements:
How many donations from corporations and other non-individual bodies would the Greens get if they did accept those donations?  Impossible to say - but their policy does somewhat allow them to claim the moral high-ground in this discussion.

Mr Smith and Mr Thew were next to appear. A problem with the transcript as it presently appears on the Hansard website means I'm not sure exactly what their positions are, but it appears that they are in some way affiliated with the Christian Democrats.

That transcript problem meant that I'm not able to peruse his opening statement, which makes it a little hard to know their overarching views on the legislation. Mr Smith did make a good point about the fact that many of their supporters are in the older demographic, meaning that complying with potentially complex reporting requirements may become onerous for them.

The final witnesses for the day were Lenore Hankinson and Jennifer Diamond from the NSW Teachers Federation. It was interesting to see Diamond state the following right at the outset:
The impressiveness of that independence is somewhat lessened only a few paragraphs down:
He went on to express concerns about the ability of the Federation to push their agenda if these changes are made.

One final comment - an incredibly large amount of time in committee was taken up by members asking witnesses whether they thought this action or that campaign would be permissible under the legislation. That seems to me to be a monstrous waste of time.

No doubt the committee have all read legal advice on the topic. Excepting the constitutional experts, I fail to see what the witnesses personal view as to the legality or otherwise of this or that is of benefit to anyone.  It certainly wasn't worth spending large portions of the day on.

The documentation I have been able to find is unclear as to whether further hearings will be held.  I certainly appears, judging from the questioning, that the inquiry is far more about the media and perception then they are about any legitimate attempt to discuss the legislation.

It appears certain that the ALP will oppose the changes and likely that the Greens will support them, possibly after some fiddling around the edges.

What I hope is that there will continue to be pressure placed on O'Farrell to make further changes and to do even more to clean up this most unsavoury aspect of politics in NSW.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Nudge in the Right Direction

This is unfortunately going to be an abridged blogpost, because I'm on holiday and was planning on leaving this blog alone for a few days.  But this is an issue I simply cannot let slide past without comment.

Look at what the Terror served up for us today:
Now I've had plenty to say, both here and on Twitter, about our old friend Laura Norda.  To be expected I suppose, given my job as a criminal lawyer.

On one hand, I agree that harsh sentences are often not just appropriate but also required.  In many cases, gaol is the only appropriate response, and the community is right to be demand it.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who are in gaol for no good reason, forced there by vicious laws created only to keep TalkBack Radio and the Tabloid Media off politicians' backs.

There needs to be balance in the debate, and Greg Smith has been one of the first politicians to suggest that the issue is far more nuanced than "tough sentences equals less crime".

The problem for him, however, is that certain media outlets are always going to hammer him for any change that softens sentencing.  This article, which shamelessly labels him "soft on crime", is a textbook example.

Again, this post isn't meant to be another complant about the media (although God knows that is what I would like to write).  What it is about is an observation that this is the kind of rubbish that is going to be printed (and no doubt believed by many) if Mr Smith wants to actually achieve something good and worthwhile whilst the Coalition is in power.

Labor had this little nuggett of wisdom for the AG:
That's nice.  Let's make it about the fact he lives on the North Shore and therefore cannot possibly comprehend the "gang war raging" on the streets of South-West Sydney.

I mean for heaven's sake - a "gang war"? Spare me.

Smith going to cop it in the neck for this.  But what better time to do it?

We've already seen that this government appears to have a licence, at least for the moment, to do what they want and not get penalised for it. I've written about that here and here.

That window of opportunity won't last forever.  Smith should take the chance to push these reforms through now before the populist rubbish has a chance to really penetrate.

I've never met Smith, and I have no idea what he is like as a person.  The fact that he is pushing these reforms that (surely) won't win him many votes is a good sign that he was sincere when he said, before the election, that he was determined to make the right changes, not the popular ones.

It bodes well for our state.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Money Money Money (Part I)

Money makes the world go round, and politics proves it.

I have long found party funding distasteful.  Companies who donate tens of thousands to both sides, proving that it is not an ideology or a person they support, but rather influence they seek to buy. The constant confluence of donation and patronage. The sympathetic ear offered to the "generous" rather than the needy or the worthy.

It disgusts me, but I accept that to some extent it is inevitable. Political parties do serve a purpose, and like ideology will always attract like.

Having said that, we can have a system that entrenches advantage or we can have a system that seeks to level the playing field.

If I had may way, only individuals would be able to donate, and their donations would be limited to a modest amount.  Any companies or organisations that want to have their say to the electorate can do so directly, or not at all. Why is don't we have that system?

Because the amount donated would fall, dramatically.  Because the two major parties depend on donations from non individuals (overwhelmingly business for the Coalition and unions for Labor). Because it would make non-major parties more competitive.  Because it takes political will for good to make these changes, and who has that these days?

In any event.  There is presently an inquiry into the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Amendment Bill 2011, which has the following memorandum
If you'd like more detail on the changes, have a look at these previous posts: 1 2 3.

The transcripts from yesterdays hearings are available here.  Time permitting, I'm going to post a few blogposts on this issue as the inquiry progresses, not least of all because this is one of the most important inquiries this government will conduct this sitting.

The first witness was the Secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon. The heart of his argument appears to be the extract below:
This is thinly veiled BS. There would be nothing stopping Unions NSW running an ad on their own dime.  There is nothing stopping them dropping leaflets on whatever issue has upset them.  What it does stop them doing is funnelling vast amounts of cash into the Labor Party.

The unions have enormous influence in the Labor Party, and if they stopped from providing cash directly, I suspect that they are concerned that the influence might evapourate.

The next witnesses were Paul McNabb and Diana Melham, both from the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (NSW).

I want to extract the very start of their testimony.
I mean for heaven's sake.  It's about time we created our own Godwin's Law for the first person to use the word UnAustralian.  This stuff sends me spare.

His argument comes down to this:
He seems to fail to understand that this legislation doesn't stop him expressing anything.  It stops him donating.  What he really means is that this legislation stops his group buying influence, which I suppose to him might be the same thing.

You'll also notice he used my favourite word again too.
What, again? Surely that's the last time.

I mean, if you're not going to take the process seriously then what's the point of appearing?

The next witness was Geoff Derrick, Secretary of the Finance Sector Union Australia (NSW).

Whilst his views do somewhat mirror the views of Lennon, he did make a good point about the restrictions regarding affiliated and non-affiliated unions:
This is why I am sceptical about the complexity of the bill proffered by the Coalition.  Why not stop all donations by anyone besides individuals, and then let any union buy as many ads as they want?  No doubt the Coalition will mobilise business in the same way, and at least then there will be some transparency to the whole thing.

Lannon's views on this are probably about right, but I suspect he and I differ on the solution to the issue.

Next was John Tingle, former MLC and Vice Chairman of the SHooters and Fishers Party.

He makes an interesting point that bears repeating:
Well, yes, precisely.  People aren't going to donate as much.

What he doesn't mention is that if the changes are made parties will need to actually make a case to the public as to why they are worth donating to.  If you can't convince the public of that, then I would suggest that you don't deserve of the public's hard earned.

David Avery, Honourary Secretary of the Hunter District Hunting Club Inc gave evidence broadly in line with Tingle.

Graeme Orr of the Democratic Audit of Australia (an organisation I must admit that I had never heard of) was the final witness. His evidence is a little opaque, but in short it focusses on the constitutionality of the bill, which is a complex legal issue beyond the ambit of what I want to look at here.

It will be interesting to see if many submissions are made in favour of the bill. It may well be that given that this bill hurts the otherwise powerful and emancipates the otherwise weak that we won't see much "institutional" support for the changes.

Which kinda proves the point, really.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Shot in the Dark

Shootings are scary things, and they are all the scarier when they appear to be at random.

Sydney journos have whipped themselves into a frenzy over the recent spate of shootings in Sydney, mostly confined to the city's West and South-West.

We have had front pages, large colour spreads and the usual proliferation of online articles.
From this ABC report
From this Daily Terror report
These stories are scary - there can be no denying that.

What's all the more unnerving are suggestions that innocent parties are being targeted.

Having said that, any suggestion that the residents of a home shot are entirely innocent should be taken with a grain of salt.

The residents are hardly likely to say to the police "Well, yeah, there is that guy I owe $100 000 for that bulk purchase of ecstasy I made, so yeah, maybe that was who it was."

Same goes for speculation that the shooters got the wrong house.  Some crims are stupid, no doubt, but few are as bumbling as we've seen in many movies, and crims aren't generally in the business of shooting up homes for fun.

That's not to say I'm certain that every victim is actually a drug dealer - there is no way I could know that. It's also not to say the public's fears are entirely unfounded. I'm just suggesting that if you're not involved in crime, the chance of having your house shot up is pretty miniscule.

The fact that the people being shot at are not so pure is reflected in the unwillingness of many victims to give statements to police.

From this 9News story
Which bring us to this fairly idiotic tweet from Labor:
What, exactly, does Labor suggest that O'Farrell has done to bring about this rise in shootings?  Has he relaxed gun laws?  Has he released bikies from prison?

Of course not.  If ever there was a case of an opposition trying to blame a government for something that is beyond their control, this is it.

Labor knows that they can't say "You should have X or Y before now" because whatever it is that they want to allege the Coalition should have done, Labor didn't do it either.  So better to just criticise and try to make a fuss.

Having said that, the government is in fact doing something, or at least thinking about it.
From this 9News story
Whilst I can't criticise the government for considering such a change, I certainly hope that they don't start moving down this path.

People who have been arrested have a right to silence. Except in very particular circumstances, that right is pretty universal.  You don't have to talk to police if you don't want to.

The fact that these victims don't want to talk to police is almost certainly because they have something to hide. They shouldn't be forced to give a statement to police about it.

If police want to investigate the victims on the assumption that "If bikies are shooting up their place, they must have something to hide" then they are free to do so.  But to force people to give a statement would seem to be a step too far.

In any event - if your husband is a drug dealer, your place is shot up and police then force you to give a statement, are you going to tell police all you know?  Of course not - you'll lie, which means the police will at best get nothing useful,. but at worst will get set off on wild goose chases.

The last thing I want to write about is this press release from Nathan Rees, Shadow Police Minister.
So, Rees knows that that the High Court struck down the bikie laws brought in by Labor, but thinks that O'Farrell should "replace" them?  How?  With what?  And how will that help?

He also wants O'Farrell to "outlaw bikie gangs."  How, exactly, does he propose that be done?  What kind of law would permit that?  If Rees offering a serious alternative, or is he just criticising with no reasonable alternative?

There's no doubt that it is an opposition's just to criticise, highlight flaws and (in a perfect world) try and push a government towards better solutions.

But Labor's approach here is to simply try and blame the Coalition for something outside their control, and then suggest that Something Must Be Done without offering any sensible basis for doing so.

I'll leave the final word to @PrestonTowers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Paying the Price

I make it a policy to not call someone a liar unless I'm 100% certain.

That might be the lawyer in me, but regardless it's probably a good policy for life.

In any event, this post is as close as I've come to just coming out and saying it.  The motivation was this piece from Andrew Clennell, the Terror's State Political Editor.
Just as an aside, and I can't just let this go by, this is the first paragraph:
See how O'Farrell's name is hyperlinked?  Do you want to know where it links to?
I'll leave you to make of that what you will.

In any event, the article is part of a "campaign" the Terror is running about salaries for senior Public Servants.  Yesterday we had this piece, by Geoff Chambers:
There are a lot of things to say about these articles.  The first is that they are an awful example of shoddy, lazy, and potentially deceptive reporting.

I've never wanted this blog to be a blog about the media. There are a few reasons, not the least of which are that there are already plenty blogs about the media and its failings.  If that's your interest, I commend  to you News With Nipples and Politically Homeless.

I'm interested in the media, but only insofar as it plays a major role in politics - the perception of the parties, what the media does and doesn't pick up on, and even the bias in play.

The reason I am breaking my "Don't Write About the Media" rule today is because these two pieces are a perfect example of how the media can misconstrue and obfuscate in an attempt to push an agenda. And it's an agenda that I fancy we'll be hearing a great deal more about.

The first thing the pieces do is confuse the executives at State Owned Corporations with those working for Departments.

Today's piece fails to explain that State Owned Corporations are just that - companies owned by the state.  Like any company, their directors are appointed by the shareholders (Treasurer Mike Baird and Finance Minister Greg Pearce).

These companies are competing against all the regular private companies for executive talent, and therefore have to pay the "going rate".

By way of comparison, let's look at some of the salaries paid to executives at privately owned companies.

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors has put together a quite excellent report on CEO pay that can be found here. It looks at incomes for the CEOs of the top 100 companies in Australia and helpfully breaks the income into fixed salary and short term incentives, and then a total including long term incentives.

These are the numbers for fixed salary:
Short term incentives:
Total including long term incentives:
It's a fairly simplistic analysis, but you can see that the average CEO of a top 100 company gets a touch under $5 million.

By contrast, the Tele tells us this about the state owned company executives in yesterday's piece:
And, further down:
We're told that they earned $3.5 million in bonus and increases, but not told how much their base pay was, which makes it a fairly pointless statistic. We're also told that the top earning state owned company executive earned less than ONE FIFTH of the average.

The story is a whole lot less shocking in that context. But I'll come back to that later.

Let's look at what today's story had to say about the Department heads.
In this story the Tele pretends to "hold O'Farrell to account" in relation to the salaries paid to these department heads.  Fair enough.

A few points that are glossed over though. Firstly, these pay rates are all determined (for the most part) by the NSW Remuneration Tribunal. Each job has a set Remuneration Level, and the pay applicable to that Remuneration Level is set by the Tribunal.  You can see their determination for this year here.

It is interesting to note that the pay increases for this year were capped at 2.5%, as they were for the rest of the NSW public service

The report explains that there are a few different forms of remuneration.  The first is the base pay, as per the following table:
As well as that, an executive can be paid either a recruitment allowance or a retention allowance.  This gives the government a little flexibility, to try and hold onto those executives that they feel they need. Depending on the executives remuneration level, the recruitment allowance can range up to $43 000.

In justifying the pay rates, the O'Farrell government was quoted as follows:
The range of between $402 000 and $464 600 is the prescribed range for those on Band 8.  The contrast is being drawn to the salaries detailed in the first paragraph:
What this contrast does not make clear is the discretion provided by the Remuneration Tribunal to pay a recruitment or retention bonus.  If the government chooses to pay the full $43 000, that brings the maximum up to $507 000, which is above everyone's figure except for Chris Eccles, head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Rob Mason, head of RailCorp.

How is it possible that these two are paid more? The Tele doesn't tell you.

As far as Eccles goes, it's very easy to find out.  I had never been to the Remuneration Tribunal's website before, and it took me less than a minute to find this report.
And, further on:
In short, an Independent Authority fixed Mr Eccles wage.  An independent authority!

Now, maybe Andrew Clenell didn't know about this report.  Maybe the 2 minutes it took me to find it was all a little too much effort.

On the other hand, maybe he knew about this special determination and understands perfectly how recruitment and retention bonuses work, and decided to conceal that fact to write a more shocking story.

It's not for me to say, and no doubt you'll reach your own conclusion.

As for Rob Mason, the answer is I don't know. I've had a detailed look through the Remuneration Tribunal's website, and I've reviewed the legislation and the RailCorp Annual Review, and I can't work it out.

Either Clenell knows and isn't telling, or he didn't bother to ask when he sought comment from the government, or he had it explained to him and has decided not to share it.

Either way, a pretty shabby effort.

The point I'm trying to make in a roundabout way is that these stories are all about the Telegraph seeking to drum up outrage about the pay packets these executives are taking home.

I've written on many occasions about the anger various groups felt (and no doubt continue to feel) about O'Farrell limiting their pay increases to 2.5%.  Most people will not be aware that these executives salaries were limited to the same increases.  They're not aware because Clenell has chosen not to mention it.

By the same token, the salaries paid to the state owned company executives do seem large, until they are stacked up against those paid to the Top 100 companies.  But that kind of analysis would have distracted from the main thrust of the story: these people are getting rich and you're getting screwed to the wall. Cue outrage and (at least, according to the plan) more sales of the Tele.

Of course, the problem for O'Farrell is that almost no one will go to the Remuneration Tribunal website and read these reports.  And it may be that this battle is one that a sitting government will always lose, because the government's argument will always be about context, and an argument about context seldom triumphs over an argument designed to breed outrage.

And at a time when the public is being whipped into a frenzy about cost of living, outrage come cheap. Just read the comments on those articles.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How's That?

Today was a big day at the SCG - and not just because of Michael Clark's amazing innings and Jane McGrath Day.

The crowd included three special people - Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Premier Barry O'Farrell and even former Prime Minister John Howard.

It appears from the various reports I saw that Gillard busied herself supporting the foundation, whilst O'Farrell soaked up the atmosphere and, I expect, posed for photos all day.
Photo from here
It set me off wondering about the effect of politicians appearing at sporting events - why do they do it, and does anyone care?

I should start by acknowledging one thing - politicians may just like doing it.  Despite all indications to the contrary, politicians are still human beings who have likes and dislikes. It should be no surprise that, from time to time, they do things they like.

I distinctly remember years ago seeing Kerry Chikarovski at a movie theatre.  She was still opposition leader at the time, and had to endure her fair share of head-turning and pointing.

But that is the price you pay for having a public persona, just like sports and movie stars.

O'Farrell regularly tweets about cultural events he has attended.  It doesn't seem like an attempt to garner votes or attention - it seems to me like something he does for no reason other than that he enjoys it.
I think it safe to assume that Howard was at the game today because he loves it - he is a well known cricket tragic, and made more than his fair share of visits to commentary box over the years. Moreover, I understand that an enormous Boo echoed around the ground when he was shown on the big screen, although I suppose he is used to copping his fair share of derision these days.
I understand that Gillard paid a visit to the Channel 9 box today as well.

The below photo, taken by my friend @KateHislop shows some of the "indignities" that O'Farrell was subject to.
My view is that these appearances help politicians.  It reminds us that they are, after all, ordinary people (despite their extraordinary roles).  People are a little warmer towards someone who they know enjoys a day at the cricket, and having a beer with his mates.

Of course O'Farrell isn't campaigning for anything at the moment, but he is building his brand as a leader.  People remember this stuff.

The problem for politicians is when their attempts to ingratiate themselves backfire. One sporting event that backfired horribly for a politician was this photo:
Click here for YouTubey goodness
If memory serves, it was meant to be Howard watching soccer on TV.  You can watch the video and judge for yourself, but to me it seems incredibly staged.  It bombed, because people saw it for what it was - a transparent attempt to seem part of the crowd, when (at least in that case) he was staging the whole thing for the cameras.

I don't know how much idea about or interest in cricket O'Farrell has, but if he doesn't know then he was wise to stay away from the commentary box today. Gillard made an appearance - I don't know what she said, but if she pretended to be there for any reason other than to spruik the Jane McGrath Foundation then she would have made a mistake.

Should we cynical about politicians "acting like normal people"? Sure.  Everyone knows that Tony Abbott getting a truck licence is a transparent political stunt.  That said, Coalition voters don't seem very bothered about those kinds of transparent stunts at the moment, but that's another issue.

But when it sincerely seems like something that the politician wants to do, I think most voters love that kind of thing.

So expect to see more of it.

UPDATE: Barry O'Farrell responded to this post on twitter, so in fairness here is what he had to say: