As predicted in Crikey a few weeks ago, the Board of the ABC has signed over ABC Books to Harper Collins Publishers and sacked the entire staff of the Books department. The deal was announced on January 6 with effect from May 1. Harper Collins will establish a new division at Pymble to run ABC Books and have already appointed ex Fairfax staffer, Michael Vistontay to manage it. The Visontay appointment calls into question assurances made by Lynley Marshall, Director of ABC Commercial, that the sacked staff will move to positions at Harper Collins.

Negotiations to sell off the publishing arm of the ABC have been protracted and lengthy while the announcement of the deal was ruthlessly efficient. Staff, authors and agents had barely put away the Christmas tree when they were summoned to meetings, emailed or phoned with the news and within hours a media release announcing the “new partnership” was circulating. Then on the day after the announcement, an elated Marshall summoned the stunned staff to a “celebration” to meet the new owners.

Lynley Marshall and Harper Collins Publishing Director, Shona Martyn quickly phoned key authors and agents with vague assurances about their contracts. However, several authors spoken to this week are very unhappy that they have effectively been “sold” without consultation. For at least a year, ABC Books staff had asked questions about how the proposed agreement would affect authors and their books but were coldly advised by management that business was to continue as usual, books to be signed and nothing was to be discussed with anyone outside.

Why is NSW VETAB trying to destroy the overseas student sector in Sydney? An export industry, worth billions of dollars per year, and heavily promoted by the Federal Government, is under siege by NSW VETAB. At least five major Registered Training Organisations (RTO’s) in Sydney have been blocked from enrolling any students for indefinite periods, some are under pressure to refund millions in fees to international students already on their way to Sydney, and some have faced three-day draconian audits without notice.

VETAB’s charter requires it to highlight areas for improvement and guide RTO’s towards improvement. Instead they are putting RTO’s in danger of going into receivership. Despite the fact that there have been some dodgy operators in the industry over the years, there are many genuine RTO’s providing a decent service to students, employing Australian teachers, paying millions in company taxes, and contributing to the tourism dollar. Students are left without a college to enrol in. And where are the stranded students going? To Melbourne. Another triumph for the NSW government.

The main issue is that VETAB requires “continuous improvement” which is vague and ill defined and therefore subject to the personal whim of the auditor. Tough luck for any RTO that doesn’t have the right “vibe”. The irony is that NSW VETAB is a grossly inefficient organisation and wouldn’t have a hope in hell of passing one if it’s own audits.

Remember back 12 months when Wesfarmers had just taken over Coles and Richard Goyder and the Wes team were making bold statements about what areas they would focus on to turn the retailer around? Just to remind you — it was a few key things that needed to be done — focus on Supply Chain and IT, and remove about 75% of the current senior management team. We assume that this view was formed from some deep and enlightened analysis that the Wes team had done before investing $20 billion. Nope, appears not.

The Supply Chain and IT areas at Coles have been left largely unchanged and only a few senior execs have gone with pretty much the same team apart from Fletch and his inner sanctum. So, was the analysis wrong, or just not done? Methinks Wes probably were just regurgitating comments that had been made in the media over the years and had done little if any analysis of their own — why do you ask? Well, because nobody at Wes seems to have had or been able to develop any real knowledge of supply chain or IT and even the new retail team they have brought out from the UK don’t have knowledge in those areas.

The only thing the new team have done is basically continue with the new fresh food strategy that Coles already had underway.

Crikey/Media Monitors radio and TV rumour watch reports:

  • Caller “Job Losses” claims a major Perth company with 1900 staff will soon make 650 redundant. — 3AW (Melbourne) 7.12am
  • The Tasmanian parliament’s Superannuation Committee has met to consider a request from an unnamed MP who wants to retire on health grounds. It’s rumoured to be ex-cabinet minister Paula Wriedt. — HO FM (Tasmania) 8.00am
  • Caller Steve claims a Qantas flight to the US has been delayed due to ex-Prime Minister John Howard being on board. Baggage is being checked twice. The flight was due to depart at midday and is delayed with passengers not even allowed to board yet. Presenter Tim Webster agrees it’s inconvenient. — 2UE (Sydney) 12.15pm

Peter Fray

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