Murdoch boosterism at the Sun-Herald

Phillip McLean, editor of the ailing Fairfax Sunday tabloid, The Sun-Herald,
may be a little confused as to the identity of his readers, and even his
employer, as a flick through the last few editions reveals a surprising
fascination for soft journalism on the Murdoch clan.

Thus this Sunday just gone, the 19th, Phil featured a front page photograph
of Elisabeth Murdoch tying the knot with Matthew Freud at that citadel to
British imperialism, Blenheim palace. Readers learned all the details no
further inside than page three for a event billed as ‘the wedding of the
year’ and even the photos were labelled ‘official.’

And the previous Sunday, the 12th, Phil saw to it that the paper ran a mushy
feature about Sarah O’Hare (Lachlan Murdoch’s missus) – replete with
mentions of her latest Australian gig modelling for Bonds undies.

The same day – on the front page – the rag run a piece headlined Moulin
Scrooge, an open letter from NSW premier Bob Carr to fellow Murdoch
sycophant John Howard, which appealed for tax exemptions for foreign films –
primarily promoting a tax break for News’ owned Fox.

The paper even ran an editorial inside, endorsing the sentiment’s in Carr’s
protect Murdoch appeal. Linking back to O’Hare, perhaps its no coincidence that the week before
that, the 5th, saw the start of a David Jones campaign for the same Bonds
undies worn by the star model.

Perhaps McLean thinks he still works over at News Limited – where he was an assistant editor at the Daily Telegraph until recruited to Fairfax in 1999.

Or maybe he wants a job back at the Tele. McLean may need one: the
Sun-Herald’s circulation is back under 550,000.

Its looks like the Sun-Herald relaunch isn’t working.

Perhaps paid for interviews with ancient news personalities such as Lindy
Chamberlain (paid $10 grand for the Sun-Herald relaunch a few months back)
and empty promotion of the Murdochs just won’t wash the readers.

You have to ask: why does Fairfax recruit failed News Limited editors to
fill their own empty editors’ chairs?

CRIKEY: I’m actually a big fan of Phil McLean. He should have got the Daily Telegraph editorship ahead of Steve Howard and was the best
backbencher on the Tele when I worked there. The Murdoch wedding sounds justifiable but the Murdoch tax campaign is a shocker for Fairfax to push. I wish Phil the best with the Sun Herald relaunch and hope he doesn’t get the sack because of these kind words in Crikey.

Alston’s 4 degrees whilst in Parliament

Dear Stephen,

I was at an HDTV launch last week, with Senator Alston as a guest speaker.

He was introduced as “a barrister who, during his years in parliament, has
gained a further FOUR (!) degrees”. If these were new degrees, this is cause
for concern, since it would take at least six years per degree, or 24 years
total, but even adding post-grad degrees like a Masters and a Phd would
quite a bit of work on the side, one would imagine, that may have detracted
from his primary focus.

It’s also interesting because with my workload and family commitments, I
don’t think I could take on one part-time degree, let alone four, so Sen
Alston must be a very remarkable man!

Perhaps you should start a list of senators/ministers who have gained
degrees part-time while working for us full-time (particularly in view of
whoever it was in the US, studying while he was supposed to be on a
fact-finding mission).

Just a thought, anon

CRIKEY: We look forward to Alston’s office sending through the details of the four degrees and an explanation as to how
this miracle man juggled everything.

Aunty generally gets it right

I think its just one of those things in life that everyone (hopefully) has a
point of view. Kind of goes with having a brain.

My take on the ABC story (or lack thereof) of ALP arms deals in Asia – It
never eventuated, its from 5 or more years ago, and was essentially about a
bunch of boys (who no longer have much influence) following some pipe dream
on how to get rich quick. It’s hardly news. If you think the story’s that
good write a novel.

I think dear old aunty sees herself as having a responsibility to present a
dissenting voice, and god knows it doesn’t happen in the commercial media.
For the most part I think she does that pretty well without delving into the
realms of cynicism, sarcasm or unsubstantiated dross.

As to getting things wrong, show me another network (other than SBS of
course) that has anything like Backchat or Mediawatch. Now there’s a
suggestion for you Stephen, how about Crikey get up a column along the lines
of “Where We Got It Wrong During The Week”

Keep up the great work.

Colin

CRIKEY: Like most media we’ve certainly made plenty of mistakes and I’ll publish a big list of them soon.

Love your work Gordon Gong

Dear Gordon Gong,

What a hoot your first column was.

Send it to” Working Dogs” it’s a bloody brilliant
Aussie movie script.

Harry, George, Vania, Delcie, how does the
story end?

Dodgy councillors, arson, fraud, sibling rivallry,
it’s got the lot. All set against the backdrop of
the Steel Works with wagging school kids surfing
in the distance.

Fact is funnier than fiction. At least the way you tell it!

Keep it coming, Victoria

CRIKEY: I agree, Gordon’s debut column was excellent and may there be plenty more of them.

Send Mugabe and Malcolm Fraser fishing

Crikey,

The media reports rising concern about the visit to Australia of Robert Mugabe, the anti-democratic Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, to attend CHOGM. There could be protests. However, there is a solution to the problem. Why not pack Mugabe off with his long-time friend and supporter, Malcolm Fraser? Send the two of them fishing for a few days for mullet. Mal will love talking to his hero about the evils of world trade, colonialism and the Monarchy. Robbo can tell Mal about his support for a free press, ex-freedom fighters, multiculturalism, farmers and his concern for human rights. They’ll both enjoy it immensely. And so would the rest of us.

A.Irving, Brisbane

CRIKEY: Well put Mr Irving. I hope Mugabe suffers huge embarrassment from large scale protests.

Save the environment and cancel your newspaper

Some years ago I realised that my addiction to newspapers was that–an
addiction. Like you I had piles of unread papers everywhere that I didn’t
want to throw out in case I missed something. Yet when you read a month-old
paper you realise that you’ve missed very little.

It took a while, but about six months ago I went cold turkey, and stopped
getting all papers, except for The Australian on Thursday, because I like
its Media supplement (not least because it contains the week’s TV
programmes).

It helped that I now have a broadband (cable) connection to the internet,
and work from home. So I always have the internet available. I check The
Australian, The Age and The AFR websites each morning, and the ABC and BBC
many times during the day. (I’m no fan of the ABC, but it has the only
halfway-decent local online news service that I know of.) For international
commentary I can go to the New York Times, Economist and many others.

Who needs dead trees?

(My advice to Crikey subscribers: keep up your subscriptions to your
favourite newspapers, but don’t actually read them until they are at least a
month old. Then you’ll realise how vapid and useless most of the “news” is.)

Best wishes, anon subscriber

CRIKEY: I’m trying my luck without newspapers for a while so am now down to only
The Australian because we can’t afford to resubscribe to everything at the
moment and there is about a tonne of old newspapers driving Paula around the
bend that I’m still yet to read. With Newsradio, the web and more than 100
emails pouring in a day, you can keep on top of things pretty well without
slavishly reading the products of dead tree journalism. Anyone else thought
of doing their bit for the environment like Crikey and this anon subscriber?

BHP’s huge waste of money on logo

Stephen,

I’d like to comment on the new logo for BHP. Using the kangaroo droppings is
inspired graphic design, alluding to ties to the BHP’s country of origin and
yet contemporaneously suggesting an ingestion and evolution into the new
millennium.

Are they serious? Spending close to half a million dollars on a new
corporate identity? Show me the breakdown on the figures please. According
to today’s age Trevor Flett reckons that he had a team of 14 working on it
for 8 weeks, which works out at 4480 person hours (14
personsx8hoursx40days). That may be how he can convince the
graphically-illiterate and aesthetically-challenged Big Antipodeans to part
with $400,000, but he’s pushing it uphill when he claims that “its a
scientific process…well-researched” (The Age ,22/08/01, p. 7) But I guess
that I am prepared to pay him perhaps 1/4 of that, if only for his capacity
to maintain a straight face to sceptical board members and journalists. A
good use of shareholder funds – no way. But it does explain where some of
that equity went.

Isn’t this the same team that was responsible for Melbourne’s marvellous
Federation Arch – you remember, all those coloured sticks that adorned
Princes Bridge signifying…well…coloured sticks???

Regards, Shaun

CRIKEY: The advertising industry has an amazing ability to charge like wounded bulls for crap and this $400,000
new logo for BHP is just another classic example.

A pox on Wayne Jackson

Well put “anon” – the AFL have been sticking it up their members for years!
To join the MCC you have to put your name down and wait your turn to become
a member, there are NO exceptions. The process takes a generation as you
literally wait for current members to pass on.
To be granted full AFL membership, simply be employed in a senior position
for a company that sponsors the AFL and you will be immediately given full
membership – you will not have to wait one day. As an added bonus you will
also not have to go into the lottery for a Grand Final ticket, a telephone
call and you have your ticket!

It is time the AFL came clean – publish the number of full AFL members for
each of the last ten years and also, publish the number of seats available
for AFL members at the Grand Final for each of these years. The gap between
these numbers is growing exponentially as we the loyal footy supporters
continue to be screwed.

A pox on you Jackson, go back to SA!

Max

CRIKEY: This issue really seems to be firing. Why won’t the mainstream newspapers pick up the plight of AFL members?

Singapore dissent is not tolerated

Stephen

I read with interest the recent “Yoursay” comments on Singapore by “Singapore Sole Subscriber”. At the same time, the Prime Minister was receiving enormous media coverage for his National Day Rally address to the nation (an important speech setting out long term strategy for the development of the nation and its economy). The mainstream media simply reprinted the speech and amplified the government’s plans and the reasons why everyone should fall in behind the Prime Minister. I could not find any form of critique of the speech. There was no reporting of any opposition view. Actually there was one mention of possible opposition to the PM’s view and that
was in the PM’s speech. I don’t have the exact reference but one gained the impression that an opposing view would not be tolerated.

It may be true that the internet is allowing some dissemination of opposing views in Singapore, but it is not obvious to me (although I have only been resident here for 6 months, but in Asia for the past 4 1/2 years).

Singapore appears to have a culture of “conforming”. I observe this in the people that I recruit for my business. There is not the same energy and creativity as I find in
other parts of Asia.

Singapore needs a local “Crikey” but I doubt whether it would be tolerated by the Government.

“Another Singapore Sole Subscriber”

CRIKEY: Given that there will be an election in the next year, I’d love to set up a Crikey Singapore but it would need to be hosted in Australia
with someone on the ground in Singapore secretly filing. Any volunteers out there willing to do this?

In defence of Singapore

Dear Stephen,

Having read Crikey’s articles on the state of Singapore, I thought it was probably time to bring a shot of reality back into the argument which has crafted Singapore into a dictatorial Asian state with too much money.

I fail to see the point of Paul Hanson’s reply, he seems to be swinging wildly at Singapore policies towards the Net, yet not really driving any particular idea home. Having lived and worked in the media environment of Singapore for over five years, I feel that the picture he portrays of the Internet in Singapore is not quite the truth. The ubiquitous nature of the Internet in the island State has meant that there is no real control over its nature. Even the well known ‘proxy server’ which all Internet connections in Singapore pass through, has for the best part fallen by the way-side in favour of the market opportunities presented by positioning Singapore as the leading IT venue in Southeast Asia. Singapore has learnt from Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor mistakes – don’t hinder the Internet.

Singapore opposition politics, and for that matter other parts of life shunned by the establishment, have been given a good run online through the lack of online policing. It has been many years since sites have been banned or prevented from broadcasting into or out of Singapore. The Government, by all accounts, seems to accept the fact that the Internet will be better tool for Singapore than it can be against. Likewise, introducing this law represents a change of heart from the Government, previously they would have been unlikely to condone publishing from any sort of opposition. One can also question, based on actions to date, whether and how Singapore will actually police online content.

On the other hand, Kerry Stokes piece was a well argued and certainly well presented case against Singapore’s push into the Australian market through the purchase of Optus, but it presents a half-view of the reality of Singapore and its difficult to see what is really the burden Australia may bear by allowing the Singaporeans to purchase Australian assets. I’m not armed with a blow by blow retort to Kerry’s arguments, but its scary to consider his perspective of Singapore!

While Crikey continues its attacks on Singapore, lets look at the benefits of teaming up the two nations than the negatives of pulling relationships apart. Singapore manages to remain a stable nation in a bad neighbourhood. It’s providing a strong beachhead into the region for Australia, which will only be opened further when the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) discussions are completed. There are awesome rates of personal savings, low unemployment and an economy essentially built within 30 years on the back of zero natural resources. There are at least a few tricks that could be passed on to an audience willing to listen rather than hurling insults.

On the media front, the Government is releasing its clutches, having recently provided new licences for both broadcasting and print. This has, as one could expect, allowed the market to dictate more of what they are willing to consume.

Finally, while some Australians may consider it a God-given right to press reform on Singapore, perhaps they should look more closely at the similarities in the Australian backyard first, before pointing the bone. Two dominant media players, questionable corporate governance, strong-armed Internet laws, and as you regularly point out, the two worst defamation laws in the English speaking world!

kind regards,

Singapore Sole Subscriber

CRIKEY: Agree that their are lots of similarities with Singapore but on the Optus front their privacy record is pretty scary. I can’t think of too many Aussie companies that have bought power distributors, airlines and telcos in Singapore. You are right that they are relative angels in a bad neighbourhood but this should not stop Australia from trying to push for some reforms in return for the economic co-operation.

AFL members forum

Dear Stephen,

A few minutes after I was told that you’d published my article about the way
in which the AFL seeks the opinions of its own Members, 3AW hosted a
three-and-a-half hour Football Forum. The AFL were involved with the Forum,
with CEO Wayne Jackson fielding questions from footy fans. All part of the
intention listening to the fans, and therefore a good thing.

I caught the Forum only in snatches and grabs, but I was quite taken by a
question from someone whom I’ll call Bruno from Ascot Vale. He identified
himself as an AFL Member and stated that he didn’t like the system of
Members having to reserve tickets for the Grand Final. Bruno wanted to go
back to the system that existed until 1997: turn up to the MCG on the Big
Day, and it’s first come, first served.

Before Jackson could respond to this comment Ron Barrasi chimed in, saying
something along the lines of “But people slept for two nights in the queue.”
This is clearly an objectionable practice in Barassi’s eyes, never mind
that people did such queuing of their own choice. But he misses the main
point: there’ll be queuing for seats no matter what system is in place. When
the AFL required members to reserve a seat all they did was shift the queue
from outside the MCG to outside selected Ticketmaster Agencies. Last year I
queued for six hours at the Camberwell Ticketmaster, but that didn’t get me
a ticket. Obviously I should have been there for two nights or more!

Wayne Jackson’s response made no mention that the reserved seat system was
introduced because in 1997 “60 per cent of members” wanted it. This is
strange given that the League is currently surveying its own Members (a
point Jackson mentioned), and that he was at the Forum to find out what the
fans want.

What Jackson did say is that the AFL changed the system because they are
concerned about there being unused seats in the AFL Members Reserve (and in
the MCC Reserve). I understand and appreciate this point. Asking Members to
commit a week before the game gives the League the opportunity to release
any unreserved seats to other groups. But when the Grand Final is an AFL
Members lock-out (as last years was, and future Grand Finals look like
being) Jackson’s response is hardly relevent, since there won’t be any
unused seats.

Irwin Hirsh

CRIKEY: Keep it coming Irwin, they must be starting to feel the pressure by now.

About time Crikey got into the arts

Stephen,

glad to see Crikey taking an interest in this screwy area. It’s
deliciously fetid so will produce some great stuff and also needs to
be trawled for it’s utter pretentiousness. I don’t know if it’s too
completely piddling but there’s an interesting review in the
Australian Book Review this month of Robert Dessaix’s new book
Corfu by the endlessly garralous Peter Craven. As you know ABR is
only subscribed to by 2000 people but it considers itself to have
status and Peter Rose recently took over as ed. This was the first
review of Dessaix’s book to appear and it was the most vilifying and
personal attack I have ever read. Craven got it completely wrong but this isn’t what worried me about the
review it was the utter camp bitchiness of it all… rotting violets,
lavander writing and “Robert is a national treasure”. Craven is
supposed to be a friend of Robert. Behind the scenes everyone is
asking what such an unfair unkind and basically wrong-headed
review is about. Craven, of course, is always huffing and puffing
about his friends and isn’t taken all that seriously by people who
think independently. Anyway, possibly all spunds boring to you but maybe there’s
something there.

Best, anon

CRIKEY: Very interesting stuff. We’ll see if there is anything judging by the Crikey mailbag after people read yoursay.

Screwed by the secretive AFL

Dear Crikey

Congratulations on the strong stance against the AFL and its membership
arrangements. The gathering momentum is likely to escalate this week,
following the results of the ballot for Grand Final seats being posted to
members last Friday.

Previous correspondents have explained the deterioration of AFL Members
rights over the past few years so I won’t go over that again. However what
I will suggest is that in addition to the increasingly complex set of hoops
we are being put through to try and secure a seat, the number of
“available” seats in the AFL Reserve must have been substantially reduced
over the past two years.

The letter advising the outcome of the ballot states that some “20,000
applications for tickets” were received. I assume this means separate
bookings for anything up to 12 seats per time. However, it does not advise
how many seats were allocated by the ballot process – 50% of “available”
seats was, I recall, the expression used in earlier advice.

I for one will be interested to see how many members have in fact struck it
lucky. I for one got the impression that my application was akin to buying
a Tattslotto ticket. Sure enough, Friday’s letter advised that “on this
occasion, my application has been unsuccessful”.

In the good old days of the walk-up arrangement, there were 24,000 seats in
the AFL Members and the AFL clearly publicised that fact. In those years,
the only problems in accommodating all members who wanted to attend the
Grand Final were of the AFL’s own making (in 1992, when they allowed
restricted members and in 1997 when they sold seats to the general public).

We know that last year the AFL set aside 5,000 seats for those grassroots
supporters, the Medallion Club, to act as a sweetener for that exclusive
package. However, if this is the extent of the reduction in numbers in the
Reserve, why doesn’t the AFL just come clean and tell us that there are
19,000 seats available? Or are there some other “special” groups being
looked after that is reducing the numbers to an embarrassing level?

The process from here for AFL Members is that the balance of “available”
seats will be sold during Grand Final week to holders of Club Support
tickets from the two competing teams. Any left over (ho,ho) will then go
to other AFL members who missed out through the two previous processes.
Given that last year’s entire allocation sold out in less than two hours,
and with well-supported Essendon looking a monty for a GF spot again this
year, one would expect a similarly quick snap-up. Unless the mighty Tigers
produce some sort of minor miracle and actually make the big one, my
chances of even being allowed to apply for a seat are virtually zero.

In short, the 2000 Grand Final was one of only three that I have not
attended in 20 years, and the only one I have not chosen to miss. 2001
looks like being number four. It makes the $330 odd subscription look a
bit sick.

Regards, anon

CRIKEY: Clearly the AFL are screwing the members and less people will sign up next year. With the stadium redevelopment deal for the
MCG finalised, the AFL don’t need a large membership base of their own so they clearly are planning to run it down.

HIH due to lack of journalistic resources

Dear Stephen,

The collapse of HIH and the inability of the press to report the bleeding
obvious especially having seen the event 4 Corners program in my opinion is
because of the lack of time being provided by employers for journalists to
undertake research and investigation without the possibility of a story.
This time was once provided to a number of senior journalist.
The another reason is journalists inability to follow up on their instinct.
Another may be a fascination with the shit an inability to report the shit
-you should know a lot about this. There seems to be a wish that the shit is
someway represents gold or could turn into gold. It also may be enhanced by
the inability of journalist to not but themselves in a position where they
will not be attacked by the bullies i.e. Ray Williams. This fear can be
paralyzing. Defamation.

This is a large issue confronting journalists and is worthy of further
research. It may be worth setting up a chat line with journalists.

Regards, Chris

CRIKEY: This might apply to most of the media but you can’t argue that Mark Westfield on The Australian did not put the boots into
HIH over the last year. Then again, I can’t remember any media campaign against the prospectus when the Swiss parents
sold 51 per cent of the business and there were many warning signs in that prospectus. They got the float away on the
strength of management alone and we now know this was the major problem.

George Lekakis in the pocket of Visa

Dear AFR banking writer George Lekakis,

About your ‘credit card’ article in today’s AFR.

I guess you and I both worked off roughly the same raw material in
assessing what the European Commission had ‘done’ to VISA — although
perhaps you had the advantage of me, if you also spoke to Visa
Australia’s Mr Wheaton.

My ‘headlines’ were “Credit cards: War in Europe ‘lost’ ” (on a note
sent to you) and “Sad Day”, on a note sent to my network in Europe. My
assessment was in sharp contrast to the impression in your story today –
that Visa had been dealt with in a way that boosted the RBA’s ‘push’
against Visa in Australia. What tripe! Nothing could be further from the
truth — Europe let the world down.

Now there is a place for diversity in judging complex issues: however, I
do not see the complexity here. If a line of credit were attached to our
debit card accounts, we would not need credit card accounts and the
excessive interchange fees that accompany credit card transactions. Fees
that are ‘loaded’ with the apparent, but rarely real, cost of providing
(unnecessary) “free credit” that in general has little if any value to
most credit card customers.

Perhaps we can be thankful that, in Europe, Visa is not seeking to
recover the (unnecessary) costs of turnover ‘reward’ schemes!

As you know, my view is that, in this modern age, the credit card is a
redundant contrivance against the public interest.

The suggestion in your story that Visa’s Mr Wheaton will now attempt to
‘sell’ the European formula for credit card interchange fees to our
Reserve Bank should be cause for concern in the Australian community.

On the contrary, the pressure is now on the RBA to resist this nonsense
— and return serve to the European Commission.

More generally, George, if you were to get the impression that I felt
your story was particularly inappropriate in the ’50th anniversary
edition’ of the AFR — you would be spot on.

What would Max Newton and Vic Carroll et al make of your story?

Peter Mair

CRIKEY: I’ve noticed a trend in recent months where the AFR has been way too soft on the banks. George and Miranda McLachlan need to
ignore the bank spin doctors and start writing about the public interest rather than the bank interest. Hopefully by shining a light
on this we will see some changes.

Ruddock and Australia a disgrace

“Faced with the prospect of a $150m budget shortfall, the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which helps to look after more than
22m refugees and displaced people, has cut its 2001 budget by over $100m to
$862m. It is shedding 800 members of staff and closing down nine offices,
including seven in Africa.” — The Economist, 9 August 2001

Philip Ruddock keeps telling us that the people who risk their lives in
leaky boats on the high seas to reach Australian shores are “queue
jumpers”; that they should be processed according to the UNHCR’s
procedures. Just how a family pursued by Saddam Hussein’s bloody henchmen
does this is not explained.

And while Ruddock says it is the United Nations’ role to sort the “wheat
from the chaff” (his words), his government provides a pittance to the
organisation he holds responsible. Finally, because of the actions of the
rich western nations, the UNHCR has been forced to closed shop.

Those of you who saw last night’s Four Corners program on the ABC will
recognise Ruddock’s “detention centres” as nothing less than concentration
camps, with all their tortuous horror and deprivation of basic human
rights. In this country. Witnesses to this crime must surely be shamed by
the Australia’s treatment of the most vulnerable in our community.

Why do Australian governments abuse these relatively few refugees? For one
simple reason: to deter others from coming here (and upsetting our
lifestyle, costing us money, and otherwise making us uncomfortable.) Over
90% of these detainees are non-Anglo-Saxon, non-Christian, and desperately
poor. Many are nevertheless professionally qualified and reasonable people.
It is the colour of their skin that dictates conservative Australia’s
response.

What sort of country have we, if we are unwilling to take in a fair share
of the world’s poor, the abused, and the desperate and provide them with
some hope? I believe that, under recent governments, we have become a
racist, selfish, and inhamane community. We are narrow-minded and ignorant.
And we are certainly no longer deserving of the tag of “a civilised
people”.

How far have we come, and what service has the government done, if an
increasing number of Australians are saying they are ashamed and disgusted
with their country?

Murf

CRIKEY: You mount a pretty good argument here Murf. I’m always amazed at the number of people who argue that Australia shouldn’t have
a population of 50 million. We are the most selfish nation on earth when it comes to population policy and the detention centres
are part of this closed door mentallity. If Egypt can support 95 million people with one river, surely Australia could open the door
to a stack more refugees.

Line rentals rise after PCCW blunder

Dear Senator Alston

Most thinking people realise that the proposed increases in the telstra line rentals to domestic customers is a direct result of telstras (ziggies?) disastrous investment in Pacific Century cyberworks. It is a relatively easy way for the Australian taxpayer/phone users to pay for this mess and it is an absolute disgrace. Telstra knows that all phone users, whether they use telstra or optus or whoever, will have to pay for this increase. it is my opinion that there is no competition in the telecomunication industry, and never will be, while telstra still owns/controls the infrastructure.

I am sending a similar email to my local member Patrick Secker and also to crikey.com.au

I am a Liberal voter.

Cheers, Crikey’s only subscriber in Mt Gambier

CRIKEY: Very astute observation. Howard is desperate to get the share price up before the election so why not just
slug the good old customer. I’m still amazed that Ted “not” Pretty has still got a job. Everything he’s touched in there
has been a mess and he should be sacked.

Another indulgent $40m pool

The Crikey list of Australia’s white elephant sporting stadiums is about to
get a new addition: “Jeff” Bracks intends to build a $40m swimming pool next
to the existing five pool Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre at Albert
Park.

The existing pools were built in 1996, and the government brochure said it
all: “It has been designed to accommodate all levels of competition ….state
and national championships and international events.” This was at the height
of the Kennett major events mania – over the top bids, secret contracts and
no apparent process in determining best value for Victorian taxpayers.

Ron Clarke summed it up in The Age (7/7) “The problem is too much of the
sponsorship dollar is going to these special events, and not enough to help
the kids at the grass roots level.” As a private citizen Ron has been doing
his best to correct this imbalance by putting some millions of his own money
into the children most disadvantaged by this neglect but this worthy example
won’t stop successive Victorian governments repeating the same mistakes.

This pool proposal totally ignores all principles of good planning. For the
same investment several pools could be built in the suburbs and one of these
or the existing complex could host major events with a few rows of temporary
seating. Melbourne hosts an Olympics or Commonwealth Games about once every
half century so it doesn’t make any sense to purpose build a new pool for
those events but there again, the Nine Network has the tv rights for the
Commonwealth Games and Kerry Packer might want to recoup the money his
network spent on the last Commonwealth Games. After all, his former partner
in Crown Casino, Ron Walker has been appointed as head of the Commonwealth
Games and they do seem to have a lot of influence over the Victorian Labor
government.

To put this $40m pool into perspective, Montreal just defeated Melbourne for
the rights to hold the 2005 FINA world swimming championships with a cost
effective $19.5m pool. The Victorian Government is still persisting with
this “world’s best practice” pool but a better cliché would be spend in
haste, repent at leisure.

Yours sincerely, Peter Logan

CRIKEY: It does seem odd that you spend $70 million building a great new Aquatic Centre at Albert Park and then 5 years later you
bung up another $40 million pool just because you’ve won the Commonwealth Games. Where’s the planning?

Why can’t bad judges be sacked?

Stephen, just been reading the Sunday Age and there is an article in the Spy section regarding a County court judge whose decision was appealed and subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal. Their honors’ judgement stated that the judge’s direction to the jury ” was so riddled with errors and deficiencies that the verdicts cannot be allowed to stand” and that the judge gave the jury a “clearly unbalanced and manifestly unfair summary of the case”.

It reminded me of the decision by Justice Vincent to throw out the NCA’s case against John Elliot ( at a cost of a few million $’s) which I seem to remember was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal but because the law is the law, you can’t be tried twice for the same crime, John Elliot got off.

As I understand it ( and I am no expert), once a judge or magistrate is appointed that is it – unless you can prove corruption it is almost impossible for a judge to be removed. What other profession is there where you can make completely wrong decisions and there be no personal consequences? Seems to me that there should be some form of formal peer review process for those members of the judiciary whose decisions are overturned (I am sure that this would be anathema to most of the legal profession). Further instances could lead to more serious consequences such as suspension or dismissal. I understand the need for judges to have permanent tenure to be protected from political and other forms of influence but for there to be no form of sanction for significant errors of judgement doesn’t seem reasonable in today’s society where we are all held accountable for our decisions in various ways.

Perhaps this is something worth pursuing (within the bounds of our highly restrictive defamation laws of course).

Regards, Bruce

CRIKEY: You’re right that there are not enough accountability mechanisms built into judicial system but this is to protect from
marauding goverments sacking judges they don’t like and then stacking the bench with their own. The answer is maybe to
have a Big Brother style secret ballot where all judges get to vote 2 per cent of judges and magistrates out each year.
This would weed out the poor performers without government intervention. Can’t see it happening somehow.

Magnesium technology is unproven

The magnesium financing failed because some of the potential investors did
their homework and listened to the boffins. The process being proposed by
the Qld boys is not exactly tried and true. Over here in the wild west we
have some nice monuments to technology which has not yet ironed out [ouch]
all the wrinkles–eg the HBI plant of BHP up at Port Hedland or Murrin
Murrin. Its only taxpayers money.

From a cynical boffin, Alan Flavelle

CRIKEY: So why should the taxpayer commit $300 million to such a risky investment just so they can provide subsidised car parts for
Ford which makes $14 billion a year in profit.

AFL members treated like dirt

Dear Crikey,

AFL Members are getting sick of being treated with utter contempt by the AFL. Your recent articles on the AFL are a welcome breath of fresh air, given the chicken livered approach by most of the mainstream media who are either too scared of losing access to the AFL or their jobs if they criticize Colonial Stadium or the Management of the AFL.

Since 1997 our rights and privileges have been eroded to a level where our Membership Fees now only entitle us an opportunity to attend games like St. Kilda -v-Fremantle. Anything else that remotely sniffs of crowd like Blockbusters, Finals and Grand Final we have to pay extra for. What is our $350 yearly fee for?

Once upon a time the then VFL now AFL threatened to move the Grand Final from MCG to Waverley (circa 1984) if VFL Members were not better looked after. The Cain Government pressured the MCC to provide VFL Members with access to the Grand Final. Subsequently the Great Southern Stand was built with significant funds coming from AFL Membership. It appears that now AFL Members have reached their use by date.

Since Wayne Jackson came to office he has consistently eroded our rights. The most notable time, ripping out 5000 AFL Memberships and giving them to Colonial Medallion Holders because the AFL couldn’t sell any of these $5000 membership packages to the “most technologically advanced stadium in the world (Colonial)” without offering access to the most popular stadium in the world The MCG.

AFL Members have had a gutful. Wayne Jackson only pays us lipservice and his patronising attitude of us on talkback segments on Melbourne radio are particularly galling.

Now the AFL are trying the “consultative approach” with a survey. Question 22 in this Members Survey asks our opinion of AFL Membership, whether we value and prize it. Currently
based on past performance my friends and I are ready to cut up our AFL Memberships the minute our MCC Membership arrives.

The AFL needs to do a lot of work to change that intention.

regards,

Michael Agrotis
Disgruntled AFL Member

CRIKEY: The mainstream media have been pretty slack in not chasing this issue around. Let’s hope the deal that has just been struck to
finance the indulgent $400m new stadium at the MCG.

Keep on keeping the Democrats honest

I disagree with Rachel (Yoursay, 30 July). I quite enjoy reading about Ah Satan and how she’s growing into her name ‘Despot whatever’.
I seem to remember that Don Chipp founded the Dems because he didn’t like being pushed around by Malcolm Fraser.

Malcolm has since found his feminine side, and the Dems are growing balls. I beg your pardon, going to balls. The socialist fervour which they used to pursue their policies of balance and honesty, has honestly been replaced with a fervent, unbalanced socialite who misses party meetings due to hangovers.

Sometimes when I feel a bit down, I pull out an old video called ‘Women in Parliament’. I like to see Ah Satan as the idealistic yet frumpy Senate candidate carrying extra weight and dressing like a maths teacher in Docs.

Then I get the movie out ‘The Candidate’ with Robert Redford and think, my God! Life really does imitate art, doesn’t it?

The Natasha Look Alike

CRIKEY: (no – its our heroin) Hillary Thank you, thank you, thank you. Hillary lives in fear of appearing obsessive about Natasha and the Dems – but they deserve some serious scrutiny. You can promise the world when you’re never going to be in government – and avoid dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. If the Gallery hacks aren’t prepared to do it, someone has to.

The Hindenburg hits the spot

I was thrilled to read Joe Hockey’s opinions on migration and the future of Australia. At last, I thought, a politician with a vision of this country beyond being a roomy South Pacific nursing home in 20 years or so. Since then the debate has fizzled, again. The two party dictatorship seems to have decreed that Australia will dwindle into ever more insignificance. I suggest we can do better by inviting useful people to stay in this country if they’ve already made the effort to come here as students as working holidaymakers. Let me give two examples.

A couple of days ago I had dinner with four Bangladeshi students. They live in a crappy little house in inner Footscray, as bare as the simple homes they grew up in (I’d met one, Nurul, in his home town of Sylhet). They sleep three to a room, they share one old computer, and when they’re not studying they work the nightshift at service stations and 7/11s. From the way they live you’d be forgiven for thinking they were illiterate illegal immigrants, but they’re all legit students studying their guts out for graduate diplomas in IT, and they’re all aiming to continue on to MBAs.

Why don’t we offer guys like these a working visa if they graduate, maybe with the carrot of citizenship after a few years? I can imagine people saying they’ll
all want to stay, but two out of four of them insisted they would return to their country, and the other two weren’t so sure. How could we lose? Some might go home, some might stay, some might alternate between the two before they decide. Either way we win their experience and their absolute determination to improve their lives.

The problem has been, of course, that migrants end up in Sydney and Melbourne. But that’s not the same as saying Australia risks becoming overpopulated through immigration, it just points up the failure of regional development. Any where else in the world the vast Queensland coast would support 20-40 million people without it being unusually crowded. Tasmania, which doesn’t have any water shortages after they dammed everything, actually has a falling population which might bottom out at 350,000.

That’s similar to the population of Iceland, which has a strikingly different climate and landscape. Tasmania more closely resembles Ireland, with 4.5 million people. I believe Tasmania could easily support ten times as many people, and perhaps at last cast off the married-cousin jokes. It seems pretty obvious that Australia could support twice our current population, if migrants could be encouraged to look beyond the two main cities.

Which brings me to another idea, and another person I met. Lisa was a Yorkshire abattoir worker who came to Australia on a working holiday, whom I met travelling in India. She had stayed in Sydney for a few months, and met some bloke who ran a meatworks in Culcairn, a hayseed town about 100km from Albury-Wodonga. He offered her a job, and she lived and worked in Culcairn for six months. She said she loved it, and would have happily stayed if she could. She’d tried, and failed. She’s obviously not the sort of university-graduate, middle-class multilingual politically acceptable wanker our current immigration policy demands (sorry, no disrespect to the traumatised refugees and detention-centre victims we let through after a few months or years of bureaucratic grilling). She’s a down-to-earth woman, fond of a beer, a smoke and a rude joke or two, the kind of person who can adapt to small-town life.

So how about letting people like Lisa stay her in Australia if they’re willing to work and live in regional Australia. She’d already got a job and settled in with the locals, so what other assistance could she need. Obviously not everyone on a working-holiday visa from Europe or Nth America or Japan is going to want to live in a place like Culcairn, but some fit in just fine. If regional shires and state governments could have a quota for a certain number of immigrants they think they can absorb, why not let these become available to people who are already settling in. They could be offered a deal whereby they get citizenship in four years or so, as long as they’re registered to vote in regional Australia and if they need to resort to unemployment benefits, they have to draw them from the local office (probably miles away anyway). And as I said before, if these people have already chosen to come to Australia rather than the US or wherever, they obviously demonstrated a liking for the place.

The kind of people who are happy to live in rural Australia are probably going to be of similar cultural/ethnic origins to the majority of the local population, ie European. But that’s no different to the way it is now under our scrupulously PC immigration policy. A Bangladeshi IT professional would tend to gravitate to Melbourne or Sydney, while a Yorkshire abattoir worker might live in the country., where the work is. If we can boost population growth in regional cities like Cairns and Darwin and Hobart can grow to become mid-sized cities, non-European migrants would have more options than Sydney, Melbourne and a couple of other state capitals.

Personally I’m suspicious of middle-aged greenies talking about an environmentally sustainable zero-population growth country. Yes, we have our environmental constraints, but let’s have some faith in environmentally sound technologies and a seriously big, relatively wealthy country. Scratch the surface of a few Stevie Nicks dressalikes and see how many of them actually fear the ethnic kids in rap clothes and all the other rude people who don’t speak like them or take vegetarianism so seriously.

There is a nexus between One Nation’s open xenophobia and the Greens attitude to immigration which has pushed the two real political parties to decide a pro-immigration policy is far too courageous, in the sense that Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister calls ideas ‘courageous’. One Nation just don’t want no more of them chinks and spics round their place. The Greens would rather lock the gates and only let in the nobly pitiful (eg post-Tiananmen Chinese students, and refugees who’ve suffered more than most) and some wealthy, well-educated migrants who might be nice to have round for dinner.

I don’t think I want to live in an ageing backwater known mostly for staging sporting events. I’d rather live in a young, growing, progressive country, one which can influence the world with a bit of clout rather than timidly fretting over giant Asian neighbours and sucking up to the US. Yes it would be fab to live in a gigantic national park but let’s face it, in 30 years 24 million Australians won’t count for much in a region where India has 1.4 billion people, Indonesia (whatever shape it’s in) has 300 million and even Bangladesh has 250 million. I’ve gone on long enough, but Australia’s current vision of a lingering decline is at least one factor why five of my most motivated friends have left to work in the US, Asia and Europe. I’ve done that too, but I’d actually rather live here though it means less opportunities.

Joe Hockey might have bungled HIH, but at least he’s got some sort of a vision for the country, more than you can say for John, Kim or (god forbid) Natasha.

Love your work by the way, keep it up,

Richard Plunkett

CRIKEY: (no – it’s our heroine again)Hillary: We love your work too, Richard. It was a pity Joe’s intervention was so cack-handed – he was really attacking Bob Carr for the exactly the same reasons that Hillary calls him The Malthus of Maroubra. Immigration is good for economic growth and the apocalyptic greenies are just recycling the completely discredited Club of Rome crap from 30 years ago that we’d run out of everything and be starving by, oh, around 2001.

Keating’s brain resource company dreams

Re “the brain resource company”:

No. I know nothing about the company. I do know things about the potential
technology, and the potential market as I’m a medical specialist with experience in bioengineering and that gets you the right to an opinion).

I think it is one of the more fanciful Ideas I have seen lately. The science
isnt there, the market isn’t there. I havent seen mention of anybody that
any medical specialist would trust anywhere. I cannot work out who would buy
the service. They are not pitching it as an investment to us, so they cannot
think that we would be buyers. (This is in stark contrast to some biotech
floats. It is not rare to get unsolicited fliers). I dont think they have
worked out how they will believeably measure anything. The last time I
thought about an idea this dumb was ‘north shore limited’ (NSL) which has
essentially no protectable intellectual property I can identify.

Mind you, I told a stockbroker 8 years ago that biota was full of hot air,
and I was right, for the right reasons, but they probably still made money
out of it in the meantime, so who am I to say that some people won’t get
rich on this.

Not many medical or science people invest in biotech because most of it
seems like hot air, and the comanies that are genuinely good have such
masive PE that it still is a huge lottery (eg CSL resmed cochlear). I can
unequivically say that there never was a time in the comercial life of any
of those companies, when they seemed as flakey as this.

I don’t want to see my name in print on this, so if you choose to ignore
these comments I would understand

Anon Doctor

CRIKEY: I’m still to look at the prospectus so will offer up an opinion after that. Keating was about to take a couple of public
directorships just before the whole Timor blow up last year but it looks like he’s coming back out of his shell again now.

Col Allan a lightweight bully

Just picked up your excellent piece on Col Allan. As someone who worked with him in Murdoch’s london bureau for three years, let me just say that the guy is regarded here as a lightweight bully who couldn’t hack it in Fleet Street. Kelvin Mackenzie was over the road at the time and allan was both terrified of him and awestruck. Of course, Kelvin probably is the best tabloid editor Brit journalism (which means the world) has ever had. Even Rupert treated him with respect. We didn’t take Col seriously in the bureau; he was always trying to steal other people’s stories, for one thing. We regarded him as totally untrustworthy and a chancer. We were certainly not overawed by him. As for being a brilliant journo … forget it. A boozer
and a tosspot, yes. But not much else.

Anon

CRIKEY: I reckon this is a bit rough on Col. He is a good tabloid editor when not too drunk or in one of his abuse the power moods.
Then again, he can’t hold a candle to Kelvin MacKenzie.

Courier, Four Corners and due credit

stephen,

re: Courier-Mail, Four Corners and due credit.

Memories … I worked at Queensland Newspapers for The Courier-Mail & The
Sunday Mail from 1979 to 1987.

(I remember getting severely told off, when I was a cadet circa 1980-81, by
the CM’s editor for being disrespectful for having the audacity of asking
that nice police commissioner Terry Lewis a blunt question about police
corruption. Lewis – much later jailed for corruption – was giving a guest
speech to Queensland Newspaper cadets about police/journalist relations.)

The Moonlight State was a follow-up on a series of investigative articles
written by Phil Dickie for The Courier-Mail. I can’t see why there should be
any tension about that – publication and broadcast dates could be checked,
showing The Courier-Mail published damning allegations relating to
corruption and organised crime in Queensland well before the Four Corners
report went to air. It was the first and only show of guts I can recall from
during my time at The Courier-Mail, which was appallingly sycophantic
towards the police, state government and the establishment generally.

However, serious allegations of Queensland Government and police corruption
were published much earlier – in 1984 – by election candidate and
shit-stirrer Fast Buck$ (aka Byron Bay local Jon Anderson), in a series of
“Pink pamphlets” (he called “Pinkies”) which I helped distribute. (Fast
Buck$’ running mate, “Sir Peter Livecy”, or some absurd name like that,
stayed at my place in Highgate Hill during that election campaign.)
And informed attacks on the Bjelke-Petersen Government and Queensland
police were aired on Brisbane community radio station 4ZZZ-FM (where I was a
volunteer announcer in the mid-80s) since it began broadcasting in the
mid-70s, in satirical magazine The Cane Toad Times since the early 80s and
throughout the Joh era in student papers such as Semper at Queensland
University and Planet at what was then QIT (now QUT).

regards, anon

CRIKEY: The question of the Courier Mail and Four Corners in relation to the Fitzgerald inquiry is something we are exploring presently.
Chris Masters is still bitter towards the Courier for some reason but a lot of independent observers give Phil Dickie much of the
credit. Strangely, Dickie, who is one of Australia’s most sued journalists with 29 writs and his head held high, appears to have fallen
out with the Courier Mail as well these days whereas Masters is still senior reporter on Four Corners.

Peter Fray

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