Government and business are not the same. Public administration has gone through a period when governments, Labor as well as Liberal-National, were keen to flick a lot of responsibilities from ordinary departmental administration to what was believed to be a more efficient form based on a private enterprise model. Nowhere was this change more pronounced than in aviation where the once omnipotent Department of Civil Aviation was first merged into an overall Transport Department and then had most of its functions split off into separate corporations. Where once there was a Minister and a Departmental Secretary looking after everything from airports to air traffic control licensing of operators and setting and administering safety standards there are now privately owned airports, Air Services Australia with an eye to its profitability and failing to provide adequate numbers of air traffic controllers, a Civil Aviations Safety Authority setting the rules and regulations and an Air Traffic Safety Bureau still in the Transport Department headed by a chief executive with considerable independent powers. That there is a downside to all this deregulation and private enterprise methods is wonderfully (or should that be horribly?) illustrated in the recent report by Mr Russell Miller into the relationship between CASA and ATSB. The Miller inquiry followed critical comments made by the Coroner in his consideration of the Lockhart River aircraft crash and the report released by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Anthony Albanese is quite an indictment of how badly the split system actually works in practice. A sensible Minister would put the whole system back under his own departmental control.

Down the back end. Fat cat public servants flying around the country are a perfect symbol for a Government keen to show us what conservative economics means and the Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner is taking to the task with relish. His Department put out the official word on economy flying with a circular back in February instructing public servants to use the “best fare of the day” for all official travel. And, the circular warned, “in assessing the BFOD, it is not appropriate to consider preferences for jets, access to airline lounges or accumulating frequent flyer benefits.”

Since then Minister Tanner has raised the issue of cutting down on air travel several times in interviews which have been documented this morning on the public service union website under the headline “PS Air travel brought to Earth”.

No word from the ABC but another run for the turtle. I am grateful to a correspondent for reminding me that I still have not received a reply from the ABC internet editor about the authenticity of the turtle with the blue plastic bag picture that still appears on the web site. Two weeks have passed since we ran the picture in Crikey with its suspiciously blue tinted turtle and in the meantime it has appeared again — this time in the free newspaper, Central Sydney, in its 19 March 2008 edition.

My correspondent is a diligent fellow and reports that some more searching discovered the same photo being used by:

And many other websites of commercial, news/blog, and conservational nature. Additional research found the myspace page of a Darcey Prendergast, claiming to be the son of Ron Prendergast, a Melbourne zookeeper for 20 years. Can any other reader help me? Who is Ron Prendergast and has his picture been doctored to make a plain bag a more striking blue?

The Daily Reality Check

Hypocritical politicians plundering the public purse always make good reading and so it is that the choice by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin to spend a night in Aurukun on a “luxury boat moored offshore rather than sleep in town” soared to the top of the most read story list on The Australian’s website this morning. Ms Macklin visited Aurukun yesterday and will start her day there today as part of her first trip to the Cape York community, the story said. “But instead of staying the night in the community’s basic eight-room guesthouse, behind razor wire next to the council chambers, she chose the MV Pikkuw, a $680-a-night boutique fishing charter boat moored off the western Cape York coast. The boat, which caters for the lucrative recreational fishing market, claims on its website to be “a spacious, modern, comfortable, custom-built vessel with accommodation for up to eight passengers”. And that was pretty much politics for the day when it comes to what people actually read on the net. Only in The Advertiser was there a mention of today’s COAG meeting and I suspect that has more to do with wondering if there will be enough water coming down the Murray to have a bath in than any real interest in federal-state relations.

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

That there is a danger for journalists in being too definite with their predictions is perfectly illustrated this morning by The Australian. Over breakfast people would have read in the print edition that Kevin Rudd and the states were on the verge of a breakthrough over the management of the Murray-Darling Basin. “Deal close on Murray deadlock” proclaimed the page one headline with journalists John Wiseman and Matthew Franklin sharing a byline for a story that there were hopes a compromise “could win Victoria’s acceptance of the $10 billion federal takeover of the ailing river system.” Come morning tea time and the internet version was substantially different. By now Samantha Maiden had her name added to the byline under the headline “Victoria ‘blocking’ $10bn Murray plan” and the story accused Victoria of blocking a breakthrough at today’s COAG meeting.

Peter Fray

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