21 December 2007

Premier described as "artful dodger" in film by his own speech writer

The Advertiser/Adelaide Now reports that the SA government has paid Bob Ellis $150,000 over the last five years to write (or help write ) speeches for Premier Rann.

Documents obtained from the Premier's office under Freedom of Information laws reveal the payments from the taxpayer to Mr Ellis, for 137 speeches and 53 "messages" written for Mr Rann over five years, from March 2002 until June 2007.

Author Bob Ellis is maker of the documentary Run Rabbit Run, a look at how Mr Rann won his landslide 2006 election victory.

Sydney-based Mr Ellis, a long-time friend and stalwart of Mr Rann's, read a poem at the Premier's wedding last year.

Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith said the payments made to Mr Ellis were on top of the salaries and expenses for a full-time speechwriter in the Premier's ministerial office and the cost of speech drafts prepared by public servants in government departments.

"The Premier has paid $150,000 to a Labor mate, who doesn't even live here," Mr Hamilton-Smith said."How does that fit with Government guidelines for the proper expenditure of taxpayers' money? This is a classic case of mate's rates – except it's South Australian taxpayers who are losers."

Mr Hamilton-Smith said MPs who had attended some of the community functions where the speeches written by Bob Ellis were given by Mr Rann, said some lasted "barely a few minutes".


Mr Rann's principal media adviser Jill Bottrall, in an emailed statement, did not answer specific questions put by The Advertiser.Rather, Ms Bottrall provided a lengthy summary of Mr Ellis' literary and cinematic highlights.

She also said he had "a long and close involvement with politics". "For a person of this depth of experience and reputation for outstanding political writing and commentary, the Opposition is absolutely correct in suggesting that at $30,000 a year, he is on `mates rates'," she said.

"Bob Ellis collaborates on many of the Premier's speeches with the Premier's full-time speechwriter."

Mr Rann's full-time speechwriter, Mark Batistich, left his $90,600 job earlier this month.

Ms Bottrall said he had been replaced, but declined to say by whom or on what salary package.

Ms Bottrall is disingenuous to describe Mr Ellis's remuneration as "mates rates" since Mr E, as is widely known here, supplements his speechwriting activities with other, presumably paid, positions on boards (eg the Adelaide Film Festival) . He also receives in kind benefits such as free tickets to and VIP hospitality at a number of events such as Womadelaide, where I've seen him accompanying the Premier, and the Norwood Food and Wine Festival, where I've also seen him in the VIP marquee.

It's also interesting to note that Run, Rabbit, Run the documentary about Mr Rann's 2006 election victory mentioned in the Adelaide Now report does not appear in Mr Ellis's IMDb entry. The entry for the film itself is pretty sketchy.

In July The Australian reported that the film was critical of the Premier:

Ellis's dry, eloquent voiceover includes observations that would sound highly critical if expressed more forcefully and in a different context.

Mr Rann is "the artful dodger", has "the ideological fluidity of a Bugs Bunny" and his gift for friendship, Ellis suspects, can be "turned on and off like a tap".

One voter quoted in the film says Rann is "all feathers and no stuffing".

"I am not a flatterer, I am a friend," Ellis said. Because of the Vera Lynn songs in the soundtrack, he described the film as Singing in the Rain meets Rats in the Ranks, a film about the 1994 mayoral election in Sydney's Leichhardt.

Have Mr Ellis and his mates yielded to pressure from Mr Rann and consigned all the film to the cutting room floor? Perhaps only this picture, which I believe is a still from the film, is all that remains? If so, what does it tell us about Mr Rann's (1) judgment in commissioning the film and (2) his ability to accept criticism?


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