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.