29 May 2009

Private acquisition, but what about the public ?

The front page of today's Advertiser and the Adelaide Now website report a recent significant property transfer on the Fleurieu Peninsula:

The Fleurieu Peninsula's "magnificent and undervalued" land has prompted media owner Kerry Stokes to buy a spectacular 660ha coastal property.The Mt Scrub property has 2km of breathtaking coastal views at Waitpinga, adding to the 9km of coastline already owned by Mr Stokes on the neighbouring Balquhidder Station, which he bought for about $20 million in 2007.

Nigel Austin, the reporter, describes Mr Stokes' acquisition thus:

Mt Scrub, 25km from Victor Harbor, is an environmental wonderland which includes about 40ha of heritage-protected native flora and fauna.It also features the meandering Bollapurruda Creek and offers spectacular views over Waitpinga Beach, Parsons Beach, The Pages Islands and Kangaroo Island.

To those who don't know the area this may read like tourist promotion puffery, but anyone who has been in the vicinity will know that Nigel, apart from misspelling Ballaparudda Creek, is not too wide of the mark.

He has also provided some background material to place the purchase in context:

It will be run as part of the 3046ha Balquhidder Station, with cattle grazing becoming the main enterprise under Mr Stokes' ownership.Balquhidder is also considered to have major tourism and eco-tourism potential.The combined property will include several magnificent beaches and creeks. Mr Stokes, the chairman of the Seven Network and owner of a 22 per cent interest in West Australian Newspapers, also has extensive land holdings on Kangaroo Island.

If the area has " major tourism and eco-tourism potential"[how do the two differ?] would Mr Stokes, as a gesture of good faith, be willing to allow the Heysen Trail to be rerouted from its present inland detour around Balquhidder so that walkers during the relatively short May -November walking season can savour more of the "breathtaking coastal views", as Nigel so accurately describes them?

Update 1 June

The link to the SA Place Names online website appears be to functioning working sub-optimally at the moment. If you can't get through try this and see if you get the search page: http://www.placenames.sa.gov.au/pno/index.jsf

I've also included a link to the Heysen Trail and done some minor reformatting of the post.

24 May 2009

Innocent abroad?

The ABC reports

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says the Government worked hard to help secure the release of Victorian woman Annice Smoel, who spent time in a Thai prison after being accused of stealing a bar mat.At the same time, Victorian Premier John Brumby has accused Thai authorities of overreacting in the case.

Ms Smoel, 36, was greeted with hugs and cheers by her four daughters and other relatives when she arrived at Melbourne Airport this afternoon.She was released late yesterday after pleading guilty to stealing a bar mat almost three weeks ago. A Thai court suspended her six-month jail sentence after the Governor of Phuket paid her $38 fine.

Mr Rudd said the Department of Foreign Affairs did a lot of work behind the scenes to secure her release.

"Helping the family, helping the individual, and negotiating quietly with the Thai authorities to make sure that this can be dealt with," Mr Rudd said. "And they've done a very good job, and I congratulate them.And I would say to the family concerned, that we're pleased that the little ones have that anxiety removed."

Mr Brumby, meanwhile, says the Thai authorities "gravely" infringed Ms Smoel's human rights when they charged and jailed her.

"To be honest, that message did get through to the Thai authorities and they saw common sense and that this was a trivial matter, that there'd been an over reaction and that a woman's rights had been gravely infringed," he said.

However Mr Brumby says he hopes the relationship between the two countries will be repaired.

Despite his propensity to bang the populist drum , I thought that Andrew Bolt had a pretty sensible take on the matter before it was resolved.

"Next time, pack some manners" was the headline of his comment after it was all over . One succinct sentence is IMO a fair comment on our times:

It strikes me that our public manners in fact no longer meet the standard required in most other countries, and improving them might make us a lot safer when we travel.

Perhaps this point could be emphasised more on the DFAT General Travel Advice web page.

Clarification 25 May 11am

The title of this post is not meant to refer to the book by Martin Indyk about peace talks in the Middle East which was the subject of an item on ABC RN Breakfast this morning.

19 May 2009

Alben who? Is this really history ?

Today's Australian reports:

World War I ended when the Treaty of Versace was signed. True or false?

Have faith, most high school students -- at least those about to hit television screens as contestants in a new history quiz show -- do not attribute the 1919 Treaty of Versailles to an Italian fashionista.

The quiz show Histrionics will be launched on Sydney community television this week, and high school students look certain to show up their parents in the home buzzer stakes.

A collaboration between the NSW History Teachers' Association and the University of Western Sydney's School of Communication Arts, the quiz show is based on the NSW history syllabus and is being billed as a creative way of inspiring students to engage with the curriculum.

The show was launched by former NSW premier and noted history buff Bob Carr yesterday, who threw at his audience some curly trivia challenges he felt sure that nobody could answer.

He was right. Nobody at yesterday's launch, academic or student alike, knew who Harry Truman's vice-president was.

I'm a history buff too, albeit nowhere near as noted as Bob Carr, yet I can't see why 21st century Australian history students should be expected to know who Harry Truman's vice-president was. If "the quiz show is based on the NSW history syllabus and is being billed as a creative way of inspiring students to engage with the curriculum" I'd like to know the contents of that syllabus and the degree to which it emphasises kmowledge of facts as opposed to understanding of broad historical changes.

Bob Carr claims elsewhere in the article that when he was Premier of NSW he, unlike his more acquiescent counterparts elsewhere, resisted pressure to abolish history as a discrete discipline. For that he deserves recognition, and perhaps even a little indulgence for promoting what looks like a frothy diversion.

PS. The Oz
doesn't answer the question it poses about Harry Truman's vice-President. I didn't know the answer: if you are curious it is here .

14 May 2009

Gruen Transfer censored by ABC management

ABC TV's program about advertising The Gruen Transfer is one of my favourites. I've also bought the season 1 DVD . One regular segment, The Pitch , sets two advertising people against each other to devise ads to sell the unsellable, eg going to war with New Zealand ('100% there for the taking"), reviving the Australian Democrats and promoting child labour. For some examples see here .

Last night's topic was Fat Pride. One of the ads, which featured four jokes which I expect most people would place somewhere on the spectrum of politically incorrect to extremely offensive, was removed from the show before it went to air. It can be viewed, prefaced by an explanatory note and a warning and followed by an extended discussion between the panel and the ad's creator here.

Here's an extract from the explanatory note:

This segment of The Gruen Transfer was scheduled to appear on the ABC-TV program on May 13, 2009. It was not approved for broadcast by the ABC. We are grateful for the ABC’s consent for us to put the material on this website, as it facilitates further debate and discussion.

This is a confronting ad. We at Gruen feel that it may be offensive to some people, but we stand by the fact that The Foundry agency made it with a considered and legitimate intent to persuade Australians to reconsider their prejudices.

It is clearly an anti-discrimination ad, an argument for tolerance, not divisiveness. As road safety advertisements sometimes use horrific accident images to make a point, so too this ad uses shock to drive home the ugliness of prejudice. It was made by a highly experienced advertising creative, winner of a Cannes Gold Lion, one of advertising’s greatest honours, for a previous anti-discrimination campaign.

As a show about advertising, we feel that it is appropriate for an audience, with fair warning, to consider and judge the ad for itself. And so we are making it available for viewing through this site.

To provide a clear context for the ad,The Foundry and JWT agencies were asked to come up with a campaign for the idea of Fat Pride, to end shape discrimination and make overweight Australians feel less humiliated by the constant public disapproval of anyone who isn’t a size 10 or under.

After watching the video and the discussion I concur with the ABC's decision to pull the ad from the program. It's not so much the end (promoting a non PC topic like Fat Pride) as the means to which I object. IMO there needs to be some link between what - images, language, content - could reasonably be shown on TV (not necessarily prime time TV). In this instance I believe that the content (the jokes) did not meet this standard, whereas the segment which was shown on the program (and which was adjudged the winner by the panel) did.

I do, however, agree that it was right to make the video and the discussion available online. The publicity which has ensued will probably see more people watching it online than would have watched the program, but everyone who does so at least makes a conscious choice to do so, for whatever reason.

04 May 2009


Today South Australia followed followed Zanzibar's lead and banned most types of plastic shopping bags .

There's been a lot of media comment about the change, much of it reiterating the Rann government line that this is a worthwhile (and worthy) exercise . A more sceptical and to my mind more accurate assessment was provided a week or so ago by Christian Kerr in The Spectator Australia.

There is nothing quite like fatuous gesture politics, particularly when one side of politics thinks that the other’s fatuous gesture deserves to be trumped with a fatuous gesture of their own. That is exactly what has happened in the state once labelled a ‘paradise of dissent’, South Australia. A ban on most kinds of plastic shopping bags has been gradually phased in from the beginning of this year. By May, a week away, retailers will be prohibited from supplying them.

South Australia is the first state to legislate for such a ban, so its environment minister Jay Weatherill has decreed that there must be an education campaign for shoppers, businesses and retail workers. ‘If they supply them it is an offence and so it’s an offence punishable by fine,’ he said. Instead of getting plastic bags to carry their shopping in, we get to carry the cost of promoting and enforcing this gimmicky new law. The local Liberal party opposed the legislation. Instead, they offered a gimmick of their own. They argued that a levy on plastic bags would be better. In other words, they wanted to tax the state’s citizenry for the privilege of carrying their shopping home.

Throughout the debate, South Australians were encouraged to believe these measures would be good for the environment. That is what Weatherill suggested when the bill passed into law last November. ‘We see millions of tonnes of these plastic bags being dumped every year across this nation,’ he said. But it is all just spin. The whole issue of plastic bags was examined in detail three years ago by an inquiry by the federal government’s main microeconomic policy review group, the Productivity Commission.

Its report, the catchily titled ‘Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency’, found fewer than one per cent of plastic bags become litter. The extent to which these bags harm wildlife, it suggested, is uncertain. The report found ‘no waste’ policies are unobtainable and lack credibility. Unsurprisingly, it also discovered that 75 per cent of households reuse their shopping bags rather than throw them away. The Productivity Commission has been accused of providing refuge for free-market fundamentalists, but it was politically savvy enough to throw a sop to the nanny-staters. The plastic bags we take home, the commission declared, also play an important role in food safety.

01 May 2009

The longest day ... 3 years on

It's three years today since the longest day of my life: 37.5 hours travelling from Adelaide to New York.