White rabbit action. Thanks to some swift testing in New Zealand our food safety authorities have finally issued a warning about the dangers of eating too many White Rabbits. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand waited before acting until the confectionery was found by a laboratory in its own jurisdiction to be contaminated with melamine. Why it did not take the results of the Singapore authorities who made that finding days ago is beyond my comprehension.

Even better than embedding. It’s a big day for the Australian Defence PR team. The two Fairfax broadloids this morning have let our army cover its own war. Both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age carry lengthy reports based on a PR press release with pictures kindly provided by the defence force.

The statement tells the story of efforts by the Australian military to assist the victims of a roadside bombing in Afghanistan which killed five civilians and injured four. Not surprisingly the efforts are treated in a rather heroic fashion but that is probably justified given the nature of the engagement. It must be frustrating for our service men and women when there are no actual foreign correspondents from their own country to report on their dangerous deeds.

Not that such a helping hand to newspapers too bored or too poor to have their own person in Afghanistan was provided last week following an encounter in which a district governor and two Afghan security officials were killed in an apparent raid by Australian special forces. That unfortunate accident is still being investigated.

It does seems to me, however, a dangerous practice for journalists to cover a war simply by rewriting official handouts and even more dangerous when it is not acknowledged as the source of the report.

At least Jonathan Pearlman, Defence Correspondent for the SMH, was upfront about where his information came from. His story began:

” THE Australian military has released images of its efforts to assist the victims of a roadside bombing in Afghanistan which killed five civilians and injured four. A Defence Force statement said the bombing …”

Brendan Nicholson in The Age had a rather more breathless account which would surely have some readers thinking that he had actually spoken to a Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Yeaman and Corporal Chard Mortimer.

Please give a lesson to Dennis. The focus in the United States on the economic crisis certainly seems to be benefiting Senator Barack Obama with all but one of the last 10 polls in the Real Clear Politics survey of pollsters showing him in front. The average lead is now back out to 3.5 percentage points and the prediction markets have Obama a firming favourite as well.

The very well written Quick Read on the Election by the Gallup Organisation (I wish they would give Dennis Shanahan a lesson on how to make sense of numbers) says the top voter issue this year is the economy. The relevance of the economy has intensified since Sept. 15, with the extraordinary crisis on Wall Street and the nation’s deteriorating consumer confidence. Gas prices, Iraq , healthcare, and terrorism remain important, but are taking second seat to the economy. Obama’s perceived strengths: domestic issues, compassion, empathy, bringing about change. McCain’s perceived strengths: experience, international issues, terrorism, viewed as capable commander in chief.

Gallup says the pattern of candidate support is similar to 2000 and 2004 elections. Obama’s strengths: non-white race and ethnic groups, including blacks and Hispanics; 18-29; those with postgraduate educations; women; those with very low incomes; those who have no religious identification/for whom religion is not important/do not attend church; those who are unmarried. McCain’s strengths: non-Hispanic whites; 65 and older; those who are married; white Protestants and non-Catholic Christians; whites who attend church frequently/for whom religion is important.

An arrogant action. Kevin Rudd’s growing reputation as a know-it-all was given a boost when he decided to tell the United States Congress what action to take to deal with the world financial crisis.

Mr Rudd was asked by a journalist it he would like to see the Bill before Congress with its bail-out measures passed as quickly as possible and whether it is time for whoever takes over the US president to implement better transparency in US financial systems similar to measures we have in Australia? “Firstly,” said our PM, “America is a robust democracy and the debate in the Congress will be fast, fierce and hard. But can I say that we are facing a global financial crisis and my appeal to our colleagues, Republican and Democrats, both sides of the aisle and the House and the Senate, is that the global economy needs these measures to be dealt with quickly. Secondly, on the broader question of transparency could I say that through the Financial Stability Forum, where Australia has been active for a long period of time, the transparency recommendations there are very clear. We in Australia have been in the process of implementing those and it would be good if all economies, large and small across the world, did the same because transparency is a core part of the long term stabilisation of global financial markets.”

Later in the same press conference, Mr Rudd went further in endorsing the $700 billion package that an increasing number of Congressmen and Senators have doubts about. When he left home our man might have said he was going to find out what others thought but after a day in New York he knew what was best for the United States. The advice of Kevin Rudd the international financial expert was: “I have already said that we welcome this package. I think it is a good and strong measure from the US administration at a time when the global financial crisis, global financial markets are under considerable stress. I have also noted by the way, a debate between moral hazard on the one hand and a financial crisis on the other. Can I say that at a time like this, when you have the global financial system in severe crisis, the important and enduring consideration here is to act decisively to restabilise the system. That is the first responsibility of Government and I would commend the administration for what they have done. ”

Peter Fray

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