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.