Alan Jones is no longer just Gloria, but Gloriana, the reigning queen of radio and Crikey is keeping an ear on what Australia’s most powerful shock jock has to say. This week, the Crikey Bird-Watching team have some amazing new discoveries on Australian parrots to share with readers.

Psittaciformes are a source of constant delight to the Crikey Bird-Watching team. We like nothing better than to while away a happy hour over books like The Parrots of Australia: A Guide to Field Identification and Habits (William R Eastman, Jr and Alexander C Hunt, Angus & Robinson, Sydney, 1966).

These contain a wealth of fascinating information and it’s probably worth quoting the fundamentals from Eastman and Hunt for readers new to bird watching:

“Parrots have a few interesting characteristics which set them apart from other birds:

1. They have short, stout, hooked beaks (not adapted to meat-eating like the beaks of eagles, hawks and owls).

2. The beak is used as a third foot in climbing, which helps the bird in its acrobatic activities.

3. The feet have two toes pointing forward and two pointing backwards as in owls, but parrots do not have the strong hooked talons of owls.”

Well, 1966 was a long time ago and from the many hours of research we’ve spent out in the field observing our special feathered friend, the Crikey Bird-watching team has some new discoveries to add to the list:

4. Parrots do not understand the concept of the separation of powers.

This hypothesis is easy to support. Every time some crime grabs both the front page of the Tele and the lead on the Channel 9 News, the Parrot is out their squawking as he demands to know why Bobs Carr and Debus haven’t got the perpetrators swinging from a gibbet under the Harbour Bridge.

Or listen to what he had to say about the ABC on Wednesday: “The Prime Minister of Australia urges the Board to ‘look as far and as wide as possible’. The Chairman of the ABC defies the Prime Minister. Mr. Kennedy’s altruistic offer to serve is ruthlessly rejected.” Despite what the Parrot might think, the Prime Minister doesn’t actually decide who runs the ABC.

This, of course, is only minor compared to our greatest discovery, viz:

5. Parrots can hold two completely contradictory opinions simultaneously.

Parrots can surprise one. On Monday morning, our feathered friend suddenly let out a squawk of protest at the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese’s opposition to the ordination of women. On Tuesday, there was a period of prolonged shrieking about the cost of the Cole Royal Commission into the building industry. It could have been one of the bruvvers from the CFMEU talking.

These sort of examples were just the starting point for our hypothesis. We needed more hard evidence and by golly, we got it.

The issue of insurance has got the Parrot so excited that he’s been running up and down the ladder in his cage and ringing his bell non-stop for weeks. Back on May 15, he offered this wisdom on the matter:

“Well full marks to John Brogden, the Liberal Leader and Opposition Leader.

“He has called on the Carr Government to step in and resolve the home warranty insurance crisis.

“Well, it’s a legitimate call.

“There was a home warranty Bill passed in State Parliament last week.

“It provides no solution at all to the problems of home warranty insurance.

“John Brogden said, ‘The Home Warranty Bill completely avoids any action by the Carr Government to overcome the real cause of the crisis: their failure to replace the Building Services Corporation with a reliable private sector system.’

“Mr. Brogden said, ‘when the government privatised home warranty insurance, it promised to deliver a tough regulatory and licensing regime to replace what the BSC used to do….this has not happened and the home warranty bill does nothing to address regulation or licensing, nor does it protect consumers and good builders from the shonks and the rorters…’

“He is 100% correct.

“Why the Carr Government persists as it does with this shambles, I have no idea.”

But what was the Parrot squawking about on Thursday just over a fortnight later when he spoke on the same subject:

“And what is the Opposition doing about all of this?

“Where is Mr Brogden?

“He’s a bit like Mr Carr and Mr Costa clueless.”

This was just what we’d needed to make our theory stand up because the previous day he’d made the most intriguing series of noises on Olympic overstayers:

“I see that nearly two years after the Sydney Olympics were declared the best ever, 21 official European visitors apparently think the same thing.

“According to the Federal Government, the Europeans, mainly athletes and officials, are amongst 57 Olympic visitors who have overstayed their visas which ran out on November 1, 2000.

“Europeans, according to the Daily Telegraph today, are the biggest single group amongst the 57 over-stayers

“Apparently of the 57, there are 23 athletes, 9 officials, 14 media and 11 guests.

“What a compliment to Australia.

“I will tell you what.

“If I came here as an Olympic athlete, I would be thinking many times before I left

“I will tell you something.

“It’s a compliment to us.

“As I said, I would stay too – or I would have a go at it.”

After all his shrieks on refugees, we were amazed. Trying to get into Australia illegally is “a compliment to us”? Wow! Only five weeks ago he squawked “now, there would be many Australians who would say that even Philip Ruddock has been too soft on the kind of people who have been allowed into this country”.

Parrot psychology seems to offer almost unlimited boundaries for exploration so from all of us at the bottom of the cage, until next time, goodbye.

The Crikey Bird-watching team can be contacted at [email protected]

ends

Now let’s look at last week’s Parrot Droppings column:

Hillary’s Parrot Droppings rules

Published May 26, 2002

Crikey’s Bird-watching team keeps an eagle eye on matters ornithological so naturally the news that people who keep Australian native birds in New South Wales will have to apply for a licence caught our interest. How will it affect our own dear Parrot?

Under the new guidelines owners must be over 18 and prove they can take care of the bird. That part’s OK Singo’s no spring chicken and we know he’s more than generous with the seed. It’s the other part of the new rules that might cause problems for him. Owners will have to inform the director-general of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in writing if they plan to get rid of the bird. What might happen if heaven forbid the ratings slip? Or perhaps this is all academic and everything has been taken care of under the licence 2GB’s already got.

Still, it’s important that parrot ownership is being discussed. Too much of the debate over pet control is dominated by dangerous dogs but parrots have nasty cruel beaks, sharp pointy claws and their squawks and shrieks can be quite disconcerting.

Take our own feathered friend. He savaged more than a few people this week. He kept pecking at Bob Carr and John Aquilina over home owners’ warranty insurance. Then he stuck his claws into Amanda Vanstone over disability services: “Someone who seems to be utterly ill-equipped to deal with this most sensitive area. Not only does she plainly not know the nature of the problem, but her blunt bully-boy tactics inspire further fear in the vulnerable people her department is meant to assist”.

Who knows best?

His greatest shrieking and beating of wings was reserved for Don Weatherburn, New South Wales’ chief crime statistician. Crikey’s Bird-watching team were amazed the Parrot didn’t fall off his perch, such was his anger:

“Well the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research director, Dr. Don Weatherburn has virtually told us all yesterday that he knows more about crime than anybody else.

“He has a ‘Dr.’ in front of his name, so therefore he must.

“And all you nitwits out there, and people like me behind the microphone are far too simplistic about everything

“He has been called one of the nation’s top criminologists.

“I suppose it’s easy to be a criminologist when you are behind a desk.

“I wonder does he get any of the letters that I get.

“And I wonder do they tell him what you are telling me”

This squawk wouldn’t have had anything to do with a speech Weatherburn gave would it where he talked about “senior police, judicial officers and politicians” who “take it in turns to be booed or cheered by a small chorus of media demagogues who sometimes seem far more interested in attacking people than in how to deal effectively with the problems they complain so bitterly about”, people who “believe crime will be fixed by bellowing for more cops, tougher judges, longer jail terms and the head of the occasional police commissioner” and also mentioned a certain A Jones?

Still the Parrot is a crafty bird, and to keep his audience he’s made sure that his program isn’t all fear and loathing. To reach number one in the Sydney radio market, the Parrot has had to compete for the crackers with the comedians on FM. Over the years he’s been up against Doug Mulray, Andrew Denton and Wendy Harmer to name just a few.

Comic timing

Unfortunately, media commentators have overlooked his great sense of humour and comic timing but not the Crikey Bird-watching team. Just last Tuesday he delivered this sequence of rib ticklers in quick succession:

“A young woman was asked whether she preferred to stay home in the evening, or go out with her boyfriend. She replied it didn’t matter, both involved putting up with interference.”

“Q: Why do bananas put on sun screen when they go the beach? A: So they don’t peel.”

“Q: When is a car not a car? A: When it turns into a garage.”

In the great tradition of radio comedy, these lines were delivered with a series of sound effects to make sure you didn’t miss the punch line. And of course you got plenty of the Parrot’s own peels of laughter. He’s obviously still capable of giving himself a bit of pleasure.

Angel face

Despite Wendy Harmer’s underwhelming performance at this year’s Logies, we can’t see the Parrot getting the gig as host even though he offers other forms of entertainment such as music. We admire the selfless way in which he seems to be wearing out what must be a rare and valuable collection of Enrico Caruso 78s just for our listening pleasure.

That made it a little odd when Ronan Keating, late of the Irish boyband Boyzone, turned up on the show on Wednesday but the Parrot couldn’t get over the “magnificent voice coming from such an angelic young face” as he talked to Ronan about his childhood poverty and rise to fame. It’s true that the lad can carry a tune, but his material and very blonde good looks usually appeal more to young girls longing for love, not men of the Parrot’s age.

Footy and foot and mouth

Comedy, music and the Parrot even offered us football to keep us entertained. There was lots on rugby, as well as the World Cup coup and a mention of the State of Origin match for followers of that weird version of the game that seems so popular in Wigan, Wollongong and Western Samoa. Even the AFL got a mention, with a chat about the new members of the Hall of Fame.

However, there didn’t seem to be mention of the game played with the round ball, the one that Tampa-types like. In fact, despite the World Cup being days away, the closest the Parrot got to mentioning it was when he demanded to know “if our quarantine services are up to scratch in determining what should happen to Australians who travel to Korea for the Soccer World Cup and come back home”, given the outbreak of foot and mouth in the host country.

The big issues

That doesn’t mean the Parrot was ignoring the big issues. At 5:30 on Wednesday the dawn chorus consisted of nothing other than parrot chatter over the Newspoll claiming 50 per cent of voters would like to see John Howard stay on as PM after he reaches the magical age of 64, asking why voters would want to “risk” changing from a good man like John Howard.

Peter Costello offered a reason a few days later, when he took our feathered friend’s line on the appointment of a new MD for the ABC and that was another topic the Parrot made plenty of noise chatter about:

“Why doesn’t Donald McDonald pick-up the phone and call Trevor Kennedy and see if he is available to become Managing Director of the ABC.”

Some of the Crikey Bird-watchers also like to observe the big beasts of the media world, and the first they recall about hearing that Kennedy wanted the job was when Gerald Stone started spruiking for him in November last year. That got us even more excited than a sighting of a rainbow bee-eater in Tasmania. After all, our Parrot, his and Pete’s pal Michael Kroger, Kennedy, and Stone (admittedly, less so these days) all have very good connections with Kerry Packer. No-one’s out to feather their nest, are they?

A volte-face?

Finally, two brief items to end with. There was an interesting volte-face from our feathered friend on Thursday when he referred to leading agrarian socialist De-Anne Kelly as “a very bright National Party member from Queensland”. Funny. He normally hates dole cruisers.

Then, on Friday, the Parrot came over all geo-political, letting out an anxious series of squawks about the threat of war between India and Pakistan. It’s a worrying issue but his minions messed up when they referred in the transcript to “attacks by Islamic militants in Cashmere”. Mobs of mad mullahs in twinsets and pearls? Bird-watchers are peaceable types, but that would make us reach for the nukes.

From all of us at the bottom of the cage, until next time, goodbye.

The Crikey Bird-watching team can be contacted at [email protected]

Last week’s parrot droppings

Is there a God? What strange cosmic forces govern the universe? What is coincidence and what is fate? Crikey’s bird-watching team has been asking the big questions since we stumbled across the home page of the UK Parrot Association and discovered their chairman is called Alan Jones. Honest. You can check www.parrot-link.co.uk if you don’t believe us.

It gets better, though. The webmaster warns us that the site is “not perfect perhaps but we are free to speak out without worrying about sponsors etc”. Just like our own dear Parrot, their opinions can’t be bought.

While we believe everything he said to the ABA, we checked the 2GB website and discovered that the only commercial agreement the Parrot has at the moment is the deal to provide his morning squawk for Channel 9. We knew Singo had been generous with the birdseed, but had no idea his feeding tray was so full that he didn’t need to peck around for other bits and pieces.

It’s no wonder then that Parrot sounds have rung so loud and clear this week. Everyone’s talking ’bout his squawking particularly on the Budget and the ABC.

First, the ABC and it looked at first as if our feathered friend was keeping his head tucked under his wing as Chris Masters and Michael Kroger slogged it out in the op-ed pages of the Fairfax press in the wake of the Parrot’s profile on Four Corners a fortnight ago.

Kroger told Four Corners “a show on Alan Jones should be more positive than negative, because I think that’s what the NSW public thinks of him” and very clearly felt Masters hadn’t delivered an unbiased program.

Still, there was nothing from the Parrot until Thursday, when an almighty squawk burst forth from the wireless. ABC Chair Donald McDonald, according to the Parrot, had made no effort to interview anyone for the potion of MD in the six months since Jonathon Shier had gone and McDonald was looking to secure the job for himself “an unmitigated disaster” in the Parrot’s eyes.

Whoops! The Parrot had just lifted the lid on one of the more interesting cases of Sydney/Melbourne rivalry.

It been clear for some time that there is a big split between Victorian and New South Wales Liberals over the ABC. Kroger and Peter Costello came out and supported Shier last year, even as McDonald was pushing him overboard. After the election another Victorian, Communications Minister Richard Alston attacked the board for not keeping Cabinet informed of what was going on about Shier, when it looked pretty clear that the Prime Minister knew his mate McDonald was moving against him.

The Parrot’s squawk looks like payback for Four Corners and a little bit more.

McDonald called an extraordinary board meeting on last Monday after Kroger criticised the length of time it has taken to find a replacement for Shier. As the reports suggested, the meeting was “torrid” and “included a heated exchange between Mr McDonald and Mr Kroger. Mr McDonald was thought to believe Mr Kroger, a Liberal powerbroker, acted inappropriately by conducting interviews on Sydney and Melbourne radio during which he made a thinly veiled attack on the chairman and his handling of the search for a new managing director. The relationship between Mr Kroger and Mr McDonald has been strained since the chairman removed Mr Shier in October last year. Mr McDonald reminded Mr Kroger that he was not authorised to speak for the board.”

So far McDonald’s closeness to the Prime Minister has protected him from attacks from New South Wales Libs but his reception in Canberra at the end of the week suggests that this happy state of affairs is deteriorating quickly.

The Libs are worried that the man they put is as Chairman of the ABC has gone native just like Dame Leonie Kramer all those years before. If he’s got Kroger, Costello and Alston against him, the last thing McDonald wants is to suddenly feel a sharp stab as Michael’s mate sinks that beak in between his shoulder blades.

The Parrot set the bar high for Peter Costello on Budget week. He started out on Monday with an editorial on “Tax Freedom Day the day each calendar, when enough income has been earned to meet the country’s tax bill, and then we start working for ourselves”. His squawking reached ever higher pitches as he complained about Australia’s top marginal rate of income tax, when it cuts in and bracket creep.

Another editorial followed, this time on the Budget proper: “Apparently the strategy is an action plan to make Australia safe and secure. Well it might make the nation safe and secure. But people walking the streets aren’t safe and secure How safe and secure are parents who have to pay too much to send their kids to university. I am not too sure about all of this.”

Say what? We’ll forget that minor detail about the people walking the streets and the fact that the states look after law and order and concentrate on the real point of interest: “How safe and secure are parents who have to pay too much to send their kids to university.” That sounds like a plea for middle class welfare that would bring a tear of joy to the eye of Adele Horin. Yet we can have all that and lower taxes too in Parrot Paradise.

And the Parrot stayed tough on the spending during the week. We told you last week how he’d been squawking about the disabled of late. He even pecked at the PM over the subject when the little fella fronted the show after Costello’s big night:

Jones: But you see, there is a Commonwealth State disability agreement to pay for people looking after the disabled now

PM: And we’re putting more money into that.

Jones: Well you are not.

PM: Well we are, it was announced in the Budget.

Jones: Yeah, no but that’s smoke and mirrors (inaudible).

PM: It’s not smoke and mirrors.

Jones: Two years ago, this is the same money that’s already been committed. I’m telling you that two years ago there was a lot of pressure and a report said that urgent, unmet need for disabled services required an extra $294 million funding and rightly, the Federal Government put in an extra $100 million a year of recurrent funding. Now, the States matched that and that was good but the Budget is only guaranteeing that money will continue for two years. That’s not new money, believe me that’s not new money

No man can stand their ground in the face of such feverish squawking, pecking and flapping of wings. In the end, the poor old PM was beaten down:

Jones: Can you guarantee today that you will end the trauma for families of the disabled and guarantee that these wages will be payed out of the budget that doesn’t have the money?

PM: Well Alan, I’m going to guarantee what was announced in the Budget. I mean I’m not going to on the run, provide a guarantee that is going to misunderstood by people and a guarantee that is sought in the particular terms that you have raised.

Jones: (Squawks)

PM: Well Alan, what I’m undertaking to do is to look at that particular issue that you’ve raised in relation to group homes.

Jones: Thank you.

Well, whaddya know, he kept it up all week. When the Western Australian Budget was handed down, he talked about it’s impact on funding for the disabled. Then, on Today, on Thursday, came this almighty squawk:

“Well at the risk of being a little repetitive, I must try to practice the old political axiom.

“When you are sick of saying it, it’s only then people are starting to hear it.

“I had an email from a parent the other day: ‘Could you please ask Mr. Costello a question for me. Should I kill my son now to avoid a possibly tragic end for him?

“‘If I do so, will the government subsidise the gun and the bullet seeing as how his death will remove an obviously unbearable burden from the shoulders of Treasury.’

“With respect, if Government can’t answer the plaintive cry of this parent, and so many others, what, in truth, is Government for.”

But when the next morning rolled around, he seemed a bit more settled almost a little bashful, by Parrot standards as he swung on his swing, rattled his bell, looked in the mirror and delivered his Today show homily:

“Yesterday I read you an email from a listener, highlighting the awful predicament facing families of disabled people in this country

“‘Could you ask Mr. Costello a question for me – should I kill my son now, to avoid a possibly tragic end for him? If I do so, will the Government subsidise the gun and the bullet, seeing as how his death will remove an obviously unbearable burden from the shoulders of Treasury?’

“This wasn’t meant to infer that Peter Costello is now responsible for every parent of a disabled child feeling this way.

“Indeed, in the management of the economy, no Treasurer since Federation has done a better job for all Australians than Peter Costello”

It sounded almost like an apology. Michael Kroger hadn’t called to remind the Parrot that he was also friends with the Treasurer, had he?

From all of us at the bottom of the cage, until next time, goodbye.

ends

Now let’s take a look at Hillary’s first effort.

The Inaugural Parrot Droppings column

First published May 12

We’ve been keeping a close ear to the Parrot this week, waiting for any utterances on corporate watchdog Alan Fels. With the parrot having been in receipt of plenty of birdseed from Qantas over the years, we had felt sure that Fels’s announcement that the ACCC was taking Qantas to court over predatory pricing would have set up some fresh squawking.

Well, nothing to report so far. Hardly a squeak has uttered from that famous beak. Perhaps the Parrot’s opinions can’t be bought, as he so strongly asserted before the ABA enquiry.

In fact, we have to give credit where it is due. From time to time, the Parrot does do some good work for the battlers on Struggle Street. In the last fortnight it has been to pound Peter Costello over funding of respite care. Note that Peter Costello, not the Howard government but more in a moment.

As much as we’ve been able to glean the story from the Parrot’s program, a recent arbitration hearing has lifted the award rate of workers in respite care facilities, and homes looking after the intellectually and physically disabled (respite care is a facility provided to parents of disabled children, where the children are looked after for periods of a few hours or few days, to give parents respite to do their things with their life).

This new award has created a problem for these programs, as the funding is provided to the states by the commonwealth, but the commonwealth will not lift funding to cover the cost of the new award rate. The extra money required is some $70 million.

The Parrot has squawked on the topic all week. As he rightly states, the workers are hardly well paid, even with the new award. And the people in these homes are some of the most defenceless people in our society. As he interestingly points out, “these are the sort of people who can’t ring up talkback radio and make a fuss”.

So last week, while doing an extended interview with the Treasurer, the Parrot kept coming back to this topic of respite care funding. In fact, the Treasurer appeared to have trouble getting out of the studio, the Parrot ceaselessly pecking at him as he tried to leave.

And ever since, he’s been attacking Peter Costello on the subject. Only $70 million on one of the most defenceless groups in our society, he squawks.

Well, let’s see what happens next week. My betting is the Prime Minister will be in one day next week, announcing the extra money has been granted. Then, after two weeks of bagging Costello, suddenly it will all be “what a great Prime Minister we have in John Howard”.

Is this a good cop, bad cop routine by the government? Probably not. It’s simply the Parrot playing favourites. Again.

ends

The Crikey Bird-watching team can be contacted at [email protected]

And now for the last word on the Parrot, let’s throw to Crikey cartoonist Mark Cornwall:

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