28 December 2008

Benaud spins for bookies

Natasha Robinson in The Weekend Australian reports concerns which have been expressed about an online "betting agency" (aka bookmaker) using TV commentators, including Richie Benaud, to drum up business by quoting odds at different stages during the day.

World Vision head Tim Costello and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon said yesterday they were shocked to see Betfair's strong presence on advertising billboards at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Mr Costello, who was at the MCG yesterday, said he was "very worried" about the potential for children who viewed the Betfair advertising to go home and gamble online without their parents' knowledge.

"You've got families and kids here," Mr Costello said. "Of course gambling is part of life, but I think when it's a family cultural event like the Boxing Day Test, the advertising is inappropriate."

He said he was particularly concerned at the way Benaud had quoted Betfair's odds during his commentary, broadcast live around the nation on the Nine Network yesterday morning.

"The truth is we know that gambling addiction breaks up families, causes crime and comes at a huge social cost," Mr Costello said. "When it's a family event like the cricket, when it's being broadcast live and kids are listening to it, it is overstepping the mark. It's inappropriate certainly for kids at a family event."

Senator Xenophon, who was elected as a South Australian senator at the last federal poll largely on an anti-gambling platform, described the online gambling world as the "wild west" and called on the Rudd Government to impose regulations on the broadcasters.

"Online gambling such as Betfair has the potential to deliver the next wave of problem gamblers," he said.

"There's very little regulation in relation to advertising. Gambling advertising ought to carry with it warnings, and we ought to be looking at restrictions similar to those that apply to cigarettes and alcohol."

Senator Xenophon agreed with Mr Costello that the ability for online betting agencies to advertise at the cricket threatened the Boxing Day match's family-friendly status. "It's a shame for the great game of cricket that it's been reduced to just another event to have a punt on," Senator Xenophon said. "It diminishes the great game of cricket."

Nine's publicity officer did not return calls yesterday.

Andrew Symonds seems to appear in more TV commercials than any other current player. A recent addition to his repertoire features him elbowing a cross dresser to the ground. All this to promote a soft drink!

Given Symonds's on and off field reputation this looks like another example of art imitating life.

24 December 2008

Ministerial accountability?

Today Michael Owen in The Advertiser/Adelaide Now reports on some discrepancies between a state government minister's statements and official records:

Families Minister Jennifer Rankine, under fire for using a consultant to help with her new portfolio, had 19 full-time personal staff to assist her, a government document shows

This is despite official 2008-09 Budget papers for Ministerial Office Resources stating Ms Rankine had 10 full-time equivalent staff, with a budget of $1.26 million.

A confidential government document obtained by the Opposition under Freedom of Information laws reveals Ms Rankine actually had 19 full-time personal staff. Among those listed as working in her office are a chief of staff, three ministerial officers, a media adviser, five ministerial liaison officers, and seven administrative staff.

Consultant Margaret Wagstaff completed a four-month contract, worth $80,000, in the minister's office on December 11.

Liberal Upper House MP Rob Lucas yesterday said Ms Rankine was either "extraordinarily wasteful of taxpayers' money or needs a lot of help".

"Minister Rankine should now explain why she has claimed to have only 10 FTE staff when in reality she has almost double that number," Mr Lucas, who obtained the FoI document, said.

"It is incomprehensible that a minister with so many personal staff to help her to be a minister should then have to spend $80,000 of taxpayers' money on a consultant to help her."

Ms Wagstaff is the partner of Philip Bentley, a long-time friend of Premier Mike Rann. Together they receive about $100,000 a year of taxpayers' money for government board and committee appointments. Ms Wagstaff last week was appointed to yet another committee position by the Premier, as chair of the Boundary Adjustment Facilitation Panel, for two years. She will be paid $190 a meeting.

A spokesman for Ms Rankine yesterday said she has 17 staff, including a trainee, for five portfolios, including the new Northern Suburbs portfolio.

Ms Wagstaff could not be contacted for comment.

The consultant story was first reported earlier this month .

All above board? These kind of matters often appear to be swept under the carpet here. Raising the issue again on Christmas Eve will restrict public discussion.

22 December 2008

Former Muslim chastised by media

David Hicks is no longer subject to a control order.

To mark the occasion The Australian has seen fit , in today's lead editorial "Hicks can count himself fortunate", to make some comments about his situation.

As a sign of his goodwill and to fulfil his duty, Mr Hicks should tell the full story of his recruitment and training to Australian Federal Police in his exit interview. In the interests of terrorism prevention, he should not be allowed to duck this responsibility.

Judging by his court hearing, he could have much to tell about guerilla warfare, explosives, weaponry, surveillance, commando tactics, grenade and sniper training. He might also be able to cast light on terrorists' brainwashing techniques, given his view, at one point, that Osama bin Laden was a "lovely brother". Full co-operation with authorities would be the best way Mr Hicks could show his determination to start a new life.

Is this a thinly veiled threat that, unless the AFP is satisfied that Hicks has given "full co-operation", he will be liable to further restrictions? Surely there are bigger fish, even in Australia, for the anti-terrorist authorities to fry.

09 December 2008


A-SPAN is the acronym for Australian Subscription Public Affairs Network which was, as reported in today's Australian, launched by the Prime Minister yesterday.

A-SPAN, or Australian Subscription Public Affairs Network, will begin broadcasting on January 20 next year with live coverage of the inauguration of US president-elect Barack Obama.

Operators say it will become part of the subscription TV platform and will be available for broadcast as a free-to-air digital channel, online and on mobile phones.

A joint initiative of Foxtel, Austar and the Australian News Channel (ANC), provider of Sky News, it will be an Australian version of US network C-SPAN, which provides live coverage of the US Senate and Congress.


“Political junkies will of course love it, they'll now have one more way to drive their family and friends absolutely mad,” Mr Rudd said.

He described the new network as “a good thing” for our democracy and valuable to educators, students and all Australians who want to understand how democracy works.

The venture jumps ahead of the ABC, which a few months ago announced that it was considering a dedicated news and public affairs channel.

The chief executive of Sky News, Angelo Frangopoulos, said A-SPAN would be available on pay TV from January 20.

He expected it would initially be available on free-to-air digital TV only in Sydney.

Former Nine and Seven network political correspondent Laurie Wilson will host a program on A-SPAN, which will also provide broadcasts of the British and New Zealand parliaments and question time from parliaments in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, with more to come.

There will also be live broadcasts of speeches from the National Press Club, think-tanks such as the Lowy Institute and the Sydney Institute, and from universities.

The ABC report is slightly different: it implies that the network will be available on free to air TV throughout the country, not just in Sydney.

I'm currently a pay-TV subscriber but believe that this kind of material should be as widely available as possible, which means on a free to air network (and preferably one free of commercials). The ABC comes to mind but it appears, as the report indicates, to have been caught napping. Once again it seems the ABC will be left with the radio rights to broadcast the national parliament but little else.

In the new world of digital TV (15 " Freeview" channels) which we are being promised parliament should fund a direct telecast and online streaming of all its proceedings
, not just Question Time and a few other highlghts which is all we get nowadays. It may be that few people watch it but it shold not be left to solely to private commercial interests.

Joshua Gans makes some good points on his blog post, including one about the cost to users of online streaming, which sounds good in theory but can be expensive in practice.

28 November 2008

Mumbai madness

I've spent a lot of time following the media coverage of the appalling events in Mumbai, which I visited in 2005. Not only am I familiar with the location of most of the sites attacked I've had first hand experience of some of them. Like millions of Indians I've used the CST (formerly VT) railway station and, like many other tourists, I've eaten at Leopold's Cafe in Colaba, where apparently the first shots were fired.

My sympathies go out to the friends and families of all those killed or injured in the attacks.

24 November 2008

Directors increase fees by up to 40% despite loss

Today I went to the AGM of the RAA (Royal Automobile Association of South Australia).

A major item on the agenda was a proposal to increase the remuneration available to the Directors by 40%, from a total of $250,000 to $350,000. This despite a loss of $2,000,000 in the last financial year (due mostly to poorly performing investments).

The explanatory note issued with the AGM papers (and available in the current SA Motor magazine at p8) states

Independent advice received by the RAA Board from Mercer Human Resource Consulting indicates that the level of remuneration paid to RAA Direcors is significantly less than the rate paid to directors of similar sized commercial organisations and public companies. There is no intention to change this margin, since it is recognised that serving on the RAA Board will always include an element of community service. However, it is clear that the cap on the total amount permitted by the RAA Rules for allocation to the Directors needs to be increased to provide flexibility to recognise the changing responsibility of Directors in a complex business environment, ensure we are able to attract and retain appropriate skills, and allow for inflationary movements over the coming years. This will ensure that RAA continue to be remunerated at a reasonable level whilst maintaining the discount well below the rate applied to directors of comparab le commercial organisations.

The Board considers that the proposed new maximum total amount of $350,000 will enable the RAA to continue to provide suitable recognition to Directors for their time and expertise.

The motion was carried, though only, as I recall, by 200-300 votes in a total of almost 7,000 cast (most of them by proxy).

I have no objection to large non-profit organisations like the RAA remunerating directors but my eyebrows, and those of many other members, were raised by the percentage increase sought and granted in the current environment. I can only hope that the Board exercises some restraint when it comes to determining just how much will be paid to whom.

For many, probably most, South Australians the RAA's core business is providing services to motorists, yet it derives a lot of its income from commercially oriented related activities such as insurance. I hope that this continues and that the insurance tail doesn't come to wag the service dog.

21 November 2008

No more control orders for David Hicks

Following an online video request from David Hicks posted on the Get Up Australia website, the Australian Federal Police will not seek an extension of the control order on David Hicks. This is a welcome and overdue move.

News.com.au reports

Former attorney-general Philip Ruddock - the man many hold responsible for Mr Hicks' long incarceration at Guantanamo Bay - said he had no problem with the decision not to renew the control order.
"I'd have no problem with him living in my street," Mr Ruddock told Sky News.

I wonder how many of the others who were so strident in their insistence for the harsh control order imposed last year, eg Mr Rann, Mr Downer, now think likewise.

20 November 2008


I have been silent for some time as I have been travelling in the UK and USA. Here are some photos I took.

RTW= Round the World

15 October 2008

Change in the air for Radio National?

Today Paul Collins on Crikey reports about changes proposed for ABC Radio National. Extract:

Several specialist programs are being taken off-air including the Religion Report, the Media Report and Radio Eye. The Reports are flagship programs that deal with issues central to current culture. Apparently they are being replaced by a movie show and something about the future. Specialist broadcasters will spend more time responding to opinionated bloggers rather than making programs. God help us!

Let's be clear what ABC Radio management is up to: it is a case of the bland leading the bland. Specialisation is out. Nowadays the belief is that any old (or, more likely, young) "interdisciplinary" journalist can deal with any topic. Well, I've been interviewed literally hundreds of times on ABC radio and TV. My experience is that while most journalists make a reasonable go of it, they just don't know the detail and often have to be led to the key questions.

An ABC spokeswoman has replied. Extract:

"A number of line-up changes are planned for ABC Radio National next year, these are currently being finalised and will be announced shortly. They do include a number of programs being moved, changed or ended.

"These changes are in part a response to the move in ABC Radio National's audience growth, particularly online. This necessitates a shift in resources - in some cases from on air to online. There will be no job losses."

I shall wait to see what happens. I listen regularly to The Media Report (which is usually of very high quality) and occasionally to The Religion Report and Radio Eye (which often have items which interest me). I'm not necessarily averse to increasing online content (including transcripts) to supplement the material which goes to air: this is already happening with some programs eg Hindsight .

06 October 2008

Crime in the neighborhood

Today was a public holiday here. Unfortunately its tranquility was disturbed by a stabbing near where I live and whose aftermath I witnessed.

Here is
The Advertiser/ Adelaide Now report and accompanying photograph.


A bloodied man who staggered into a Norwood bottle shop after being stabbed eight times in the chest and stomach remains in hospital in a critical condition.

About 2.50pm today, the 34-year-old stumbled into the Norwood Hotel drive-through bottleshop – covered in blood and begging for help.

He was then rushed to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

More than a dozen police cars arrived at the scene within minutes. A Kensington Gardens man, 38, was arrested in relation to the alleged attack.

Police also spoke at length to two women before taking them away without arrest.

It is understood the two men were travelling together in a Mitsubishi Verada when they were involved in an argument.

The victim then got out of the car and began walking along The Parade. He was allegedly then repeatedly stabbed with a knife in a second altercation with the same man outside the Norwood Hotel.

Hotel management declined to comment this afternoon.

"We just came down here for a quiet coffee and didn't expect to see anything like this,'' bystander Jessica Matern said.

"It's pretty scary for something like this to happen in an area like this."

Detective Chief Inspector John Gerlach said police would continue to investigate the incident to determine the motive and if other people were involved.

"It's a very serious incident and would have been terrifying for the people involved," he said.

"At the moment I'm not sure how many individual persons were connected other than the four allegedly involved, if anyone else was involved it certainly is serious and would have been terrible."

The stabbing, which occurred in broad daylight on what should have been a sleepy public holiday, follows a shooting on Sunday morning in Gouger St.

In that attack, a man was wounded in the leg and a bystander injured by shattering glass.

The ABC reported the story more briefly though the 7pm TV News did lead with it.

28 September 2008

Spot the differences

Two versions of the same story from The Advertiser 27 September 2008 print edition.

1. Page 20

Stopped at lights

Handbag snatched

A brazen thief snatched a women's handbag from a car while the driver was inside the vehicle and stopped at traffic lights at Mile End early yesterday.

The thief, one of about five men in a car which pulled alongside, opened the victim's car door to steal the handbag while she was waiting for lights to change at the intersection of Henley Beach and South roads about 6.10am.

The man got back into a blue Subaru WRX sedan and sped off towards the city. The woman was unhurt. The partial registration umber of the car was "AA62". Anybody who sees the car should contact BankSA Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

2. Page 39

Brazen handbag snatch

Police need help to find a brazen thief who snatched a woman's handbag from a car stopped at traffic lights at Mile End yesterday morning.

The man, one of about five in a car which pulled alongside the woman's car , stepped out and opened her car door to steal the handbag as she waited for lights to change at the intersection of Henley Beach and South roads about 6.10am.

Described as an Aborigine, wearing white gloves, he got back into a blue Subaru WRX sedan which sped off across Bakewell Bridge towards the city.

The woman, who was physically unhurt but shaken, noted the registration number of the car as "AA625K".

  • The 'Tiser's website Adelaide Now has subsequently reported that the Subaru has been found.

25 September 2008

Watching from the sidelines

As the global financial crisis unravels or unfolds or whatever it is difficult for people like me, an interested though relatively uninformed bystander, to make a lot of sense of events. Perhaps even those who are presumed to know what is happening don't know all that much themselves. After all they've been the ones running the system which is now wobbling.

"Crisis" is often used loosely but the capital C version of the word does seem to apply at the moment as international financial leaders meet and try to cobble together a "solution". Almost everyone seems to agree that an important, probably essential, element of any solution (or whatever it's called) will be a government ie taxpayer funded bailout of the system. In other words the free market advocates whose voices have dominated economic and financial discourse for so long have been forced to admit (doubtess they'll put it differently) that they have been following false prophets (or gods).

27 August 2008

Don Bradman centenary

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir Donald Bradman , IMO the greatest cricketer ever.

I doubt whether many cricket followers would disagree with me, even though the Don did not play the shorter versions of the game.

There are tributes and assessments aplenty in the media, including from the Federal Parliament via Cricket Australia and, as you'd expect, a wide coverage on Cricinfo, including pieces by Suresh Menon and Gideon Haigh.

[Also posted at Nudges and Deflections ]

19 August 2008

Back from leave...more transport problems

Adelaide Now/The Advertiser reports that a train was delayed for almost an hour because the driver missed a stop, while a tram (presumably one of the recently acquired ones) was delayed due to a malfunctioning door:

A Transadelaide train was stopped in the middle of a busy peakhour service because the driver missed a stop and the rules say he had to be relieved.

According to an explanation given to passengers on the Noarlunga line train stopped on the city side of the Emmerson station, regulations say the driver must not continue with the run after making such a mistake.

The train was stopped about 8.20am and did not resume until a relief driver took over about 9.10am.

Also this morning, a peak-hour tram into the city arrived 15 minutes late after problems with a door delayed the tram at a suburban stop.

PS Will try to post more frequently from now on.

19 June 2008

Restrictive work practices in health

Mike Steketee in today's Australian analyses succinctly one of the major weaknesses of our health system:

In the days before labour market deregulation, unions would go on strike over a shearer being asked to pick up a fleece or a plumber asked to disconnect a piece of wiring. These days it is the Australian Medical Association that defends with religious fervour the exclusive right of doctors to issue prescriptions and to make or at least supervise any number of procedures that a junior nurse can perform. Even in remote areas where there seldom is a doctor in sight, woe betide any other health professional who suggests taking over some of their duties.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon wants to do something about a situation that discriminates not only against highly qualified nurses but also other allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, psychologists, dieticians, podiatrists and diabetes educators. It could be one of the most significant of the many health reforms on her plate, if she can carry it off.

Australia's health system compares favourably with that in many other countries but this is an area in which we are way behind the rest of the world. Greater workforce flexibility in health would increase efficiency and reduce costs in a sector of the economy that is looming increasingly large as medical technology advances and the population ages.

But Roxon has a fight on her hands. The AMA always has been a strong union but these days it arguably is the most powerful in the country. Most unions have suffered from a sharp decline in members, and from laws that greatly restrict their activities, including under a Labor government. But the AMA, representing a respected profession and with a tradition of articulate and very tough leaders, continues to fiercely defend the interests of its members.

In 2006, the Productivity Commission laid out in stark terms the case for reforming work practices in the health sector. It heard that the inability of physiotherapists to directly refer patients for diagnostic imaging cost taxpayers $1 million a year in 9500 hours of unnecessary GP consultations.

That is just one small example in one area of health. Physiotherapists and other allied health professionals cannot refer patients directly to specialists under Medicare: they have to go through a GP.

In the US, not generally held up as an example of world's best practice in health policy, podiatrists perform 80 per cent of foot surgery. In Australia, most of this work is carried out by orthopedic surgeons specialising in foot and ankle surgery. Although there are podiatric surgeons in Australia, they are not recognised as medical practioners, which means they cannot operate in public hospitals. Those who supply services to them, such as anaesthetists, pathologists and radiologists, cannot claim Medicare rebates for their services.

Radiographers cannot do the work of radiologists, even though the shortage of radiologists in hospitals creates problems when rapid results are needed, for instance in emergency departments. Only sonologists can prepare formal reports on ultrasound examinations, even though they often simply repeat the interpretation by sonographers. And so on.

Of course, the doctors have a justification for such restrictions. As AMA president Rosanna Capolingua argued at the National Press Club yesterday, "GPs are the pivotal gatekeepers: the people who select the services that each patient requires to get the best health outcome possible, in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

"Without appropriate medical diagnoses and supervision, patients' problems won't be dealt with properly in the first instance. Missed diagnosis, false reassurance, misdiagnosis, delay in care, all cost dollars and time and human expense." In short, see your GP or die.

Other countries, the Productivity Commission, and most Australian health experts - at least those outside the AMA - think that is a little extreme. Nurse practitioners and other allied health professionals working independently of doctors play significant roles in countries such as the US, Canada, Britain and South Korea.

The Howard government introduced Medicare rebates for practice nurses but they are not the same as nurse practitioners: they have fewer qualifications and can work only under the supervision of doctors, who are the ones who claim the payments from the Government.

Australia has just 300 of the more highly educated nurse practitioners and they are severely restricted in what they can do. Those limitations are all the harder to justify in rural and remote areas where it is hard to find a GP, let alone specialist doctors.

The Productivity Commission concluded that extending Medicare services to allied health professionals "would improve patients' access to quality care, enhance the convenience of care (and) lead to a more efficient use of the mix of skills in the workforce without compromising safety and quality".

This would mean Medicare funding a wider range of services but, to the extent that they substituted for those provided by doctors, it would save money. A study in Denmark of nurse practitioners working with elderly patients in the community found there were extensive savings.

The Productivity Commission recommended an independent committee look at the range of services covered under Medicare, together with referral and prescribing rights. Roxon announced something similar last week, despite the strident opposition of the AMA. A 13-member reference group will report by the middle of next year on, among other things, ways of "addressing the growing need for access to other health professionals".

It is yet another item on the list of Rudd reviews. If the results are not compromised out of existence, they have the potential to significantly improve the health system.

06 June 2008

Public transport makeover promised for Adelaide

In his budget South Australia's Treasurer Kevin Foley has promised a radical overhaul of Adelaide's rail/ tram/ light rail transport system .

The Advertiser/ Adelaide Now reports:

The state's ailing public transport system has received a $2 billion injection described as the "single biggest commitment to public transport in the state's history" by Treasurer Kevin Foley. The centrepiece of the massive announcement is an extension of the Glenelg-city tramline to West Lakes, Port Adelaide and Semaphore at a cost of $162 million.

Over the next four years, $648.4 million will be spent on the first leg of the extension, the purchase of new light rail vehicles and buses, electrification of the rail network and a new ticketing system.

Speculation has been rife the Government would extend the tramline following the recently announced upgrade of AAMI Stadium.

Work will begin "immediately" on the first leg of the extension, to the Entertainment Centre, and trams are expected to be running on the new line by 2010.

A park-and-ride facility will be set up at the centre where western suburbs commuters can park their cars for a fee and commute by tram to the city.

To address capacity issues on the already overcrowded tram service, the Government has committed to buying or leasing six new or second-hand trams "immediately".

A further 15 hybrid tram-trains and 50 new electric trains will be bought and 58 diesel trains will be refurbished and converted to electric over the same period.

Mr Foley described the transport budget as a "blueprint for redeveloping our transport network that will help provide a framework for the future development of our city and state".

In the northern and southern suburbs, rail was the focus.

Electrification of the Noarlunga and Outer Harbour lines will begin at a total cost of $292 million and the start of concrete re-sleepering of the Gawler line will cost $116 million.

On the roads, an extra 80 buses will be added to the fleet over the next four years at a cost of $64.4 million.

This is in addition to the 133 replacement buses to be purchased under and $102.2 million program.

A long-awaited replacement for the more than 20-year-old Crouzet ticketing system has been promised with a commitment of $29 million to begin purchasing new machines.

For a map of the proposed changes see here.

Notwithstanding a question or two about details (eg how will standard gauge trams run on the broad gauge Port Adelaide rail track?) I'm obviously in favour of the proposals and look forward to seeing them implemented within Mr Foley's timeframe.

28 May 2008

Number 157

Alan Bond is no 157 on the BRW Rich List:

Former billionaire Alan Bond is back in the money, placing 157th on a list of richest Australians with a relatively small but still respectable estimated wealth of $265 million.

Bond, who hit rock bottom in 1992, earns his spot on the 2008 BRW Rich 200 list mainly through interests such as holdings in Madagascar Oil and Lesotho Diamond Corporation.

The former media proprietor last made the list in 1989, after peaking in 1987 at fourth spot with $400 million.

His return to the 200 comes eight years after he was released from jail and coincides with the Packer family losing its spot atop Australia's annual rich list for the first time in 20 years.

Such is life in modern Australia.

26 May 2008

Accuracy of ABC radio current affairs programs confirmed

From today's Agesupport,p perhaps even vindication, for the ABC's claims to be an accurate source of information:

The ABC's flagship radio current affairs programs — often the source of tension and controversy in the Howard years — have won overwhelming endorsement from a landmark report by an external expert.

An audit of AM, PM and The World Today found they were almost 96% accurate.

ABC managing director Mark Scott said the report supported the ABC's goal of continually improving editorial standards. He emphasised the report was not initiated at the behest of Mr Howard's government.

The review, by an expert who reported to the ABC's director of editorial policies, Paul Chadwick, found 95.3% of items sampled from the three programs were either wholly or substantially accurate for plain facts and were 97.3% accurate on the context of the facts.

Denis Muller, an independent media research specialist and a former associate editor of The Age, devised a method to review a sample of 150 current affairs items from last October.

Drawing on 12 experienced journalists whose names were not given in the 48-page report, the audit compared the 150 current affairs items with the originals of documents used for the items. Dr Muller put items in four categories: wholly accurate, substantially accurate, immaterially inaccurate or materially inaccurate.

"There is a very high standard of accuracy in the material broadcast by AM, The World Today and PM," he concluded.

Inaccuracies stemmed less from recklessness or incompetence than from deadline pressure and "the competitiveness that drives journalists to make the most — sometimes too much — out of their material".

In an appendix to the report, the head of the ABC's news division, John Cameron, contested the findings of inaccuracy in some instances, saying the journalists' news-gathering inquiries had found information that clarified or superseded the original documents.

The review comes against a backdrop of 11 years of tension and sometimes open hostility between the ABC and Mr Howard's government.

Former communications minister Richard Alston complained unrelentingly about the Iraq war coverage in 2003 by the morning radio current affairs program AM, exhausting all the ABC's internal complaints mechanisms and, unhappy with the ABC's overall exoneration of the program, appealed to the Australian Broadcasting Authority with only marginal success.

Mr Howard appointed three noted public critics of the ABC to its board, anthropologist Ron Brunton, News Limited columnist Janet Albrechtsen and historian Keith Windschuttle.

After Mr Scott began as managing director in mid-2006, he moved swiftly to lower the temperature of government-ABC relations, making his first major speech at the Sydney Institute, which is headed by long-time critic of the ABC Gerard Henderson, and in late 2006 appointed respected former journalist and lawyer Paul Chadwick as the first director of editorial policies.

Mr Scott said yesterday he was not providing specific briefings to the Rudd Labor Government on the continuing reviews of programs, policies and procedures.

"We are doing this ourselves as part of our self-regulation, and making the results available to all online.

"The ABC holds itself to the highest editorial standards of independence, fairness, accuracy and impartiality under the framework of our editorial policies," he said.

13 May 2008


Life goes on here with, now that the mainstream media news focus has moved back to local matters, apparently little concern about the devastating effects of cyclone Nargis in Myanmar/ Burma. While the more recent earthquake in China is still attracting some attention (some very graphic video footage of scenes in Sichuan may have helped) the effects and consequences of both are almost imposssible to grasp.

The /Myanmar Burmese government hasn't helped with its reluctance to allow relatively free access to international aid agencies, many of whom have the expertise, if not the resources, to alleviate the situation. We hear little about the negotiations which are no doubt taking place to try and remove a few impediments. This semi-secrecy as exemplified by the circumspection of the CEO of Australian Red Cross on today's RN Breakfast contributes to the news dim out which may in turn dissuade people here and in other affluent countries from donating to relief efforts.

I admit that I've sat on my hands for several days but I've now made a donation to a relief organisation in the hope that my small contribution will show that I cannot stand aside in the face of so much palpable suffering, even if this is exacerbated by government inertia, stubbornness or whatever.

I encourage everyone else who is able to make a contribution to relief agencies to do so.

08 May 2008

More allegations of corruption and intimidation

"Standover" is the page one headline on Miles Kemp's report in today's Advertiser

ADELAIDE'S crime gangs are using personal information leaked from the public service to harass people involved in court trials and their families.Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Tony Harrison said it had been difficult to prosecute gang members because victims, witnesses or their family members had been the subject of intimidation or threats of violence.
Mr Harrison, who recently briefed MPs on the issue, said the gangs avoided prosecution by using tactics that included:
A CODE of silence among members;
INTIMIDATION and violence;
INSULATION of principal players in a crime;
CORRUPTION of the justicesystem;
EXPLOITATION of the operations of the justice system.
Notes from the briefing have been obtained by The Advertiser.
Mr Harrison said the corruption referred to were instances where department records had been accessed.
He said gangs in the past had gained access to personal records of people kept by government department databases through an intermediary person who may have been a friend or relative.

Mr Harrison said police needed measures contained in the anti-gang Bill passed last night by the Upper House of Parliament, which would provide greater protection for people prosecuting serious organised crime, for example, "avoiding the stalking or intimidating of judicial officers or witnesses involved in prosecuting serious organised crime".
Mr Harrison said it was now "very, very difficult" to take gang extortion matters to trial because of intimidation.
"Invariably, somebody receives a threat . . . and invariably they decide not to proceed," he said.
Opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Isobel Redmond said the Opposition was strongly supportive of the Bill, which she said would make threats or reprisals against those involved in criminal investigations and proceedings punishable by up to seven years' jail.
But she said Mr Harrison's comments also showed the need for an independent commission against corruption in South Australia.
A spokesman for Attorney-General Michael Atkinson said the issues raised by Mr Harrison were being dealt with by legislation that had passed through parliament, was going through parliament, or being developed as part of the Government's criminal justice reforms.
For more on the legislation which has just been passed see here and here.
The shootings in the city at the weekend and other events indicate that matters are getting out of hand so I intend to refrain from comment for the time being to give the laws a chance to take effect, though IMO there are some interesting comments on the ABC News story (the second of the two links above).

05 May 2008

Another term for the doublespeak lexicon?

On yesterday's ABC TV Insiders Treasurer Wayne Swan gave a very broad definition of "working families":

BARRIE CASSIDY: You make constant references to working families, that they have to be protected, but what are couples without kids supposed to think, what about singles, pensioners, the unemployed? You never say you're setting out to protect them?

WAYNE SWAN: We certainly do. We not only protect them, we support them. When I talk about low and middle income families, I talk about people across the...

BARRIE CASSIDY: No you don't, you talk about working families.

WAYNE SWAN: I talk about pensioners as well, I talk about singles on low incomes, they're all part of the Australian family, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So who's not? Who do you exclude? Who are you not setting out to protect?

WAYNE SWAN: I'm not setting out to exclude anyone. When I'm talking about people on modest incomes, low incomes, modest incomes, I'm talking about all people in the community, but the people out there that are doing it really tough at moment are those people who are trying to raise a few children, I'm not saying someone on a low income or pension income isn't doing it tough, but we do have to make sure that those people that are raising the next generation of young Australians can get by, so that in the future our economy is not only economically healthy, but socially healthy.

In The Age (via the Oz's Cut & Paste) Michelle Grattan explains:

If you feel like throwing a heavy object at the TV every time Kevin Rudd intones about working families - because you're not part of one - take heart. Like much else in politics, things are not as they seem. A working family apparently does not actually have to work or, indeed, be a family in the conventional sense.

A talkback caller on Friday got Kevin to explain. The questioner was worried about singles and the elderly, who were apparently not in the favoured working families circle.

Here is the definitive explanation. Excuse the Kevinese. "Well, 'families' we use in just a very broad sense. I mean, if you're a single person who is a pensioner or a self-funded retiree, or someone who is being provided care by a carer, everyone is part of a broader family. So, when we say 'working families', we're not talking about some nuclear family of Mum, Dad and two kids; it's people who are out there in a set of family relationships either under one roof or beyond one roof, who are under financial pressure. And that means our senior Australians as well."

There you have it. "Working families" is a political frame more than an objective reality.

One advantage of talking about working families compared with, say, middle Australia is that it taps into a policy area of Labor's natural advantage ... If that's the political rationale for the endless repetition of working families, the downside is that inevitably some of those who are obviously not families nor working will say, "What about us?" Hence the stretch to put them inside the tent.

As George Orwell said years ago about this kind of language, it aims to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.

01 May 2008

Ever felt like this?

Great piece by Garrison Keillor on Salon.com about the perils of passing through modern airport security (with some asides on other matters).

While he's perhaps best known for his folksy style Keillor often writes with a pithy acerbity which adds bite to his trenchant comments. Example:

[W]hen I went through airport security in Minneapolis on Monday, it was an object lesson in something -- a line of a hundred people twisted around in the cattle chute, 16 men and women in the white TSA shirts with the epaulets, an obese young woman shouting at us to take our laptop computers out of our cases in a voice she learned from a prison camp movie; one metal detector in operation, two closed, and the guardian of this narrow gate was a man who carefully read each boarding pass as if proofreading it for misspellings, though it had already been checked by his colleague at the head of the line.

The line inched along, four supervisors stood watching blankly, the fat lady barked, the gentleman operating the scanner was very jittery about shaving kits and computer batteries and needed to have every other bag checked, and in the lifetime it took to go through, you started to sympathize with all the Republicans who've complained about government inefficiency over the years, except it is a Republican administration that runs this operation, but never mind. Details, details.

I wanted to tell the shirts not to treat us with such extravagant contempt, but you should be careful about mouthing off to people who have the power to detain you and order a body search.

And also it seemed to me that I was the only one in line who was grinding my teeth. Everyone else was quite chipper, as if they were heading off on the class trip to Excelsior Amusement Park. So if I had spoken up and the shirts had thrown me to the ground and Maced me and stuffed me into a holding cell to await arraignment under the Patriot Act, I doubted that anyone would've come to my defense. They would've figured I must have had a shoe bomb on me or something.

I wish that I could express myself half as well as Mr Keillor.

Update 2 May

Two articles from today's Australian discuss, apparently unwittingly and without matching the elegance of his prose, some of the issues explored by Garrison Keillor.

Steve Creedy writes of the pressure to cut long airport queues for quarantine inspections, while Natalie O'Brien and Peter Wilson draw attention to other deficiencies which they perceive in the security measures in place at Australian airports, notably Brisbane and Perth.

29 April 2008

Worst of the worst? Not according to the prosecution

The mainstream Australian media, including The Age, the ABC and News.com.au report that Colonel Moe Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, has said that David Hicks should never haver been charged with terrorism offences.

Extract from News.com.au:

Australian man David Hicks should never have been charged with terror offences, according to Guantanamo Bay's former chief prosecutor.Colonel Moe Davis, who oversaw the prosecution of Hicks, quit the war court last year.He testified overnight that evidence for the war crimes tribunals was obtained through prisoner abuse, and political appointees and higher-ranking officers pushed prosecutors to file charges before trial rules were even written.

Col Davis was giving evidence at a pre-trial hearing for Osama bin Laden's driver, Yemeni prisoner Salim Hamdan, in a courtroom at the remote Guantanamo naval base in Cuba.

Since the US began sending foreign captives to Guantanamo in 2002, only one case has been resolved - that of Hicks. Hicks avoided trial by pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism and served a nine-month sentence as part of a plea negotiated by a Pentagon appointee without the chief prosecutor's involvement.

Col Davis testified that he "inherited" the Hicks case from a previous prosecutor and would not otherwise have charged him because he wanted to focus on cases serious enough to merit 20 years in prison and the Hicks case did not meet that test. He said a supposedly impartial legal adviser demanded prosecutors pursue cases where the defendant "had blood on his hands" because those would excite the public more than mundane cases against document forgers and al-Qaeda facilitators.

While he was chief prosecutor, Col Davis appeared to be a stickler for the rules. He was a vocal critic of Hicks's defence team and criticised his military lawyer, Major Michael Mori.Col Davis threatened to charge him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with using contemptuous language towards the president, vice-president, and secretary of defence.Col Davis said Maj Mori was not playing by the rules and criticised his regular trips to Australia. He said he would not tolerate such behaviour from his own prosecutors.

“Certainly, in the US it would not be tolerated having a US marine in uniform actively inserting himself into the political process. It is very disappointing,” he said in May last year. “He doesn't seem to be held to the same standards as his brother officers.”

In an interview with ABC TV's Lateline program in March last year, Col Davis insisted the tribunal process was free from political influence and was evasive on whether abusive interrogation techniques were used on prisoners. In today's testimony, Col Davis said pressure was ramped up after "high-value" prisoners with alleged ties to the September 11 plot were moved to Guantanamo from secret CIA custody shortly before the 2006 US congressional elections and amid US presidential campaigns.

"There was that consistent theme that if we didn't get this thing rolling before the election it was going to implode," he told the court."Once you got the victim families energised and the cases rolling, whoever won the White House would have difficulty stopping the proceeding."

26 April 2008

Anzac Day

Yesterday was Anzac Day. As usual it was commemorated throughout the Antipodes and at Gallipoli with services, marches etc.

For the first time there was also a ceremony at Villers Bretonneux in France, the scene of a major battle in WW1 involving Australian troops around Anzac Day in 1918.

Apart from its own merits the French commemoration may in future become a handy replacement for the Gallipoli one should circumstances in Turkey change. This seems unlikely at the moment, but that part of the world remains volatile.

Enough of that for now. I was impressed to see the turnout and demeanour of the diplomats at the Wellington (NZ) ceremony which was telecast on Sky News. The wreath layers included the Iranian ambassador, which surprised me, given the picture of Iran which is usually painted in our media.

A couple of stories worth a look:

Ashley Porter in The Independent Weekly on Bob Quinn, Port Adelaide footballer, second AIF member (2/43 Battalion) and Military Medal winner.

David Tiley in Barista on several forgotten, and one remembered, if for other things, Aboriginal servicemen and women from WW2:
Can you guess who this might be?

She joined the army after her two brothers were taken prisoner in Singapore. Her training in typing and shorthand, partly in a post-war rehab scheme, left her working again as a domestic servant, but ultimately helped her as an activist.

She wrote a few lines which stand both as accusation for the present mess, and as true words about the way we should see April 25th -

“To our father’s fathers
The pain, the sorrow;
To our children’s children
The glad tomorrow.”

To find out read the entire post, which also has a good photo.

14 April 2008

The last Governor-General?

Ms Quentin Bryce AM will be the next Governor - General of Australia. She is exceptionally well-qualified for the job, in fact for many jobs.

Whether she will be the last Governor-General is a question which many have already asked. The tide of opinion in favour of a republic is certainly flowing strongly, even if we judge this only by the lack of support for the current arrangements, except, and it's a significant exception, when a new appointment is made and obviously widely accepted.

Today's Australian editorial "A safe pair of hands" reflects the dilemma:

Like Major General Jeffery and Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen before him, Ms Bryce has been apolitical, non-controversial and non-interventionist during her time as Queensland Governor. She has been a safe pair of hands, respecting the boundaries of the office. Aside from a well-publicised turnover of personal staff that has not impacted on her public role, her tenure has been smooth, characterised by enthusiasm and hard work in cities and small towns across Queensland.

While there are those eager to see an Australian republic replace the constitutional monarchy, Mr Rudd, wisely, was not being drawn yesterday on whether Ms Bryce would be Australia's last governor-general. The move to a republic is a standing commitment of the Rudd Government and Mr Rudd put the debate back on the public agenda in London. As he said yesterday, however, it is "not a top-order question" in the face of many other priorities. Given her discretion in Queensland about Australia's constitutional future, Ms Bryce would be unlikely to indulge in any such speculation.

The Government House website defines the governor-general's role as being "to encourage, articulate and represent those things that unite Australia as a nation". Ms Bryce is well-qualified to carry it out, and we wish her well.

It is easy for all us couch republicans to wish for the inevitable transition to take place sooner rather than later, but the PM's assessment that it isn't a "top order question" is accurate enough at the moment, and with our political system already being a de facto republican one in so many respects, not to mention the protracted processes necessary to obtain approval for any constitutional change, I'd be surprised if Ms Bryce is our last GG.

Update 15 April

There's a great Bill Leak cartoon in today's Australian (published online in colour, but in print only in B&W)":

10 April 2008

More regular service will be resumed shortly...

I've now replaced my old computer, which was crashing more and more frequently until last Sunday, when it gave up the ghost. An autopsy indicated that, while it might be possible to restore it to life, there was no guarantee that the procedures required would restore it to its former degree of efficiency. Four and a half is a good age for a computer, so I'm not complaining.

All this means that I hope to resume more regular posts shortly, once I've come to grips with the special qualities of Windows Vista.

01 April 2008

At last, recognition of service and suffering

Ted Jones, one of two living survivors of the Royal Marines Band of HMS Exeter was honoured at the weekend with a presentation at Glenelg.

The photo above shows Ted receiving a commemorative plaque from the RM captain who, with a senior NCO, travelled to Australia for the occasion.

Ted only served on one ship, HMS Exeter , which was sunk by the Japanese in the Battle of the Java Sea. As a consequence, he spent more time ashore as a Prisoner of War than he did afloat. He was 19 when he was captured and 22 when released.

It took a long time to find him and to recognise his service and suffering (about which he speaks little) but this has now been done in a most appropriate manner.

25 March 2008


ABC Managing Director Mark Scott in The Australian has promised a new world of news delivery:

In 2008, work will begin on the ABC's first purpose-built continuous news centre to provide multiple, simultaneous continuous streams of news, 24 hours a day to every outlet of the ABC - ABC1, ABC2, ABC Online, Australia Network and ABC Radio.

A specialist production team will operate the CNC using new technology to sift and distil the hundreds of hours of news content produced daily by ABC staff around the country and make it available to multiple platforms around the clock.

For our audience it means stories can be published or updated as soon as they are completed, taking full advantage of the ABC news network: more than 1000 journalists working locally, nationally and internationally.

The centre will deliver to existing continuous news platforms, and be viable for potential future ones such as an ABC news channel for digital TV, or internet TV. To do this we have to reorganise the way we work. If Sky News can deliver a 24-hour news service with a fraction of the number of journalists working in ABC newsrooms, then it stands to follow that the ABC is capable of producing a 24/7 news service for our audiences: we just need to work smarter to deliver it.

In contrast to Sky News, a niche service available only in the 25 per cent of homes that can afford pay TV, the ABC provides a universal service to all Australians, rich and poor. The CNC would make ABC news content even more accessible to all Australians, all day on different devices.

We begin with a great advantage: our strength and reputation in news gathering. By adopting a new production model we can harvest more effectively the news and information we are generating.

Digital technology means we can create news content once and use it many times over on a number of different platforms. The CNC will allow us to take stories that appear on news services in Perth, Darwin or Brisbane and make them available for audiences across the country. It means we can put cameras in the AM studio, so these interviews won't just be heard on radio but can be seen on TV or online.

The same principles apply to our creation of 60 new local websites, ABC Local, delivering not just local news, weather and sport but also video and audio, reflecting local events and cul-

ture and opportunities for audiences to contribute.

These will be the dominant information hubs across regional and rural Australia, demonstrating the depth of ABC commitment outside the state and territory capitals.

The ABC has no rival in rural, regional and local news gathering and with fast broadband coming to the bush, the ABC will be the "town square" where events, issues and community information is posted and debated.

The continuous news centre will be built within existing ABC funding, a result of a constant process of review at the ABC to ensure our funding is being used in the most efficient and effective way.

Much of it involves taking the content we already produce and finding new ways to connect with our audiences. If there's a new and better way of working offered by technology, we use it.

That's how we are able to achieve so much within existing means.

I'll look forward to seeing how this unfolds. While much of what Mr Scott says about the ABC's "strength and reputation in news gathering" is true IMO there are significant areas where the network's news dissemination could be improved. For example

  • Many stories broadcast on radio bulletins (esp outside Sydney) don't seem to be posted on the internet or available from archives
  • The news search engine doesn't seem to be able to access stories from the preceding few days (though it seems to be able to pinpoint many of those from years ago).
If the ABC can work towards implementing Mr Scott's vision so that tangible changes, including those I've suggested above, are apparent within the next two years or so this will be a considerable achievement.


Just before five o'clock this morning I was awakened by an unfamiliar sound: rain on the roof.

It's the first precipitation we've had here for weeks, and is most welcome even if it means that we have to seek out our umbrellas, raincoats and the like.

Last evening I cycled to Glenelg to watch the sun set in a cloudless sky. This will probably be the last such one we'll see for a while, as
more rain is forecast for the next few days. I'm sure most of us will welcome it.

19 March 2008

Varieties of politics: Barack Obama and Queensland

Two contrasting events, one from the USA, the other from Queensland.

Barack Obama

In the wee small hours of this morning my attention was grabbed, and held, by a speech by Barack Obama as it was broadast live on CNN.

Read the transcript or, better still watch the video.


...it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action, that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.

On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation -- that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Rev. Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain.

Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice.

Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country -- a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America, a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Rev. Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems -- two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Rev. Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church?

And I confess that if all that I knew of Rev. Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and YouTube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than 20 years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor.

He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine, who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth -- by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, "Dreams From My Father," I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note -- hope! -- I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones.

"Those stories -- of survival, and freedom, and hope -- became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world.

"Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish -- and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety -- the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger.

Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear.

The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Rev. Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children.

Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions -- the good and the bad -- of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork.

We can dismiss Rev. Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Rev. Wright made in his offending sermons about America -- to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through -- a part of our union that we have yet to perfect.

And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country.

Is there a politician (or anyone) in Australia who can speak like this?

Politics Queensland (old and new) style

From today's Australian :

Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie has performed his most spectacular backflip by accepting a $200,000-a-year job representing the state Government in the US only months after he declared he would not take any government position.

Mr Beattie's successor as Premier, Anna Bligh, announced his appointment yesterday as Queensland's Trade Commissioner to North and South America, starting on June 1 and based in Los Angeles.

At the time of his resignation in September, there were rumours Mr Beattie would be appointed the Queensland government representative in London, but in December he told a Queensland newspaper he had turned down the position.

"I will not be accepting any government positions at a state or federal level. This is to avoid any unfavourable perceptions of deals or otherwise," Mr Beattie reportedly told The Sunday Mail.

Ms Bligh also yesterday announced the appointment of former transport minister Steve Bredhauer - a close personal friend and factional ally - to be Queensland's special representative to China and Vietnam.

As a public servant, Mr Beattie will be part of Trade Queensland, whose recently appointed general manager is Rob Whiddon, who was Mr Beattie's chief of staff for the 11 years he was premier.

Mr Beattie had previously, as part of a complex factional deal, appointed one of his former ministers, Bob Gibbs, to the position he will now hold in Los Angeles.

Andrew Fraser puts the appointment in (a bipartisan) context with some trenchant but fair criticism:

One of Joh Bjelke-Petersen's last acts in the dying days of his premiership in 1987 was to appoint Tom McVeigh Queensland's agent-general in London. McVeigh had been one of his strongest supporters in the "Joh for PM" push.

The plum posting followed several other political appointments from the Bjelke-Petersen government, including postings for former Country Party minister Wally Rae, as well as John Andrews, a public servant who did the redistribution that helped keep the National Party in office.

This is the dubious tradition that Anna Bligh has continued after it was resurrected by no less a person than Peter Beattie himself. It is the political insider's "jobs for the boys" (and girls too, now), for which the taxpayer has to pay. Handing out appointments to your political opponents as well as your former colleagues only insults the intelligence of the electorate.

Queensland is alone among the states in maintaining a heavy overseas presence. The Queensland foreign affairs empire is again a throwback to the days of Bjelke-Petersen, who never trusted the Canberra "socialists" to adequately represent Queensland's interests. Hence the appointment of political mates, the sort of cronyism that was supposed to disappear from Queensland when the Nationals lost office in 1989.


For Bligh, the Beattie appointment is an appalling black mark. There's no real reason for a state to have such a heavy overseas presence, and even less of a reason to staff them with former politicians.

As for Beattie, you wonder if he has any spine left after all those backflips. But saying less than three months ago that "I will not be accepting any government positions at a state or federal level" and then signing up for this shows the very elastic nature of the man's ethics. Little wonder that people get disillusioned with politics and, especially, politicians.

17 March 2008

If you can't stand the heat, get out of Adelaide

The average maximum temperature in Adelaide in March is 26 degrees C. Not exactly autumnal, but not high summer either.

For the last 15 days we've been experiencing an official heatwave, where each day the maximum temperature has exceeded 35 deg. The Bureau of Meteorology official figures are available on its website , but I'll reproduce them here:

Observations are from Kent Town, about 2 km east of the city centre.

DateDayTempsRainEvapSunMax wind gust9 am3 pm







Statistics for the first 17 days of March 2008






Those who measure heatwaves by the Fahrenheit scale will note that the 100 deg F (37.9 deg C) mark has been passed for the last 13 consecutive days. This is a record for an Australian capital city, breaking Perth's 11 day spell of 35+ deg C days set some years ago.

Despite the consistently high temperatures the days have not been identical: most have been sunny and with relatively moderate winds, but there have been some overcast ones where the sun hasn't shone through for long (or at all).

Today's max was 40.5 deg, but a cool change is predicted for tomorrow with a max in the 20s. At 10.45pm the temperature was, according to the BOM website, 28.5 deg, so I hope the prediction comes true. But if it doesn't I, like so many other people, will maintain (or try to maintain) a stoic fortitude in the face of the climatic adversity.

How well have people coped? i think that two things have helped: (1) widespread air conditioning , particularly in public places, and (2) no (or very few) power cuts despite the system being placed under considerable strain.

My house is made of brick and stone, which means that once it heats up it stays heated up. Opening windows at night has sometimes helped a little but, as the BOM stats show, the minimum temp hasn't always dropped very much. I have one airconditioned room, to which I've retreated at times and a cellar, where I've slept very comfortably for a few nights, and to where I'm about to adjourn. i hope to wake up tomorrow to a cool(er), crisp morning much more typical of mid-March in Adelaide.