Victorian Division Liberal Party power-brokers Michael Kroger and Peter Costello were seen yesterday (Monday) chatting away at the Tower of Power, 101 Collins Street, where Kroges holds court at JT Campbell and Co, the investment bank of which he is the Chairman.

Kroges and Cossie had a huge falling out in the aftermath of the 2007 election and were understood to not even be on speaking terms. This reconciliation between once best-friends is a positive development for the Kroger-Costello faction, as it prepares for State Council elections in April 2010.

Dr Kemp, the current State President, is about to retire, and Kroges is very keen to have Cossie take the helm of the Victorian Division.

Interesting to see that, despite 2GB’s decision to immediately suspend presenter Chris Smith for allegedly inappropriate behaviour towards women, and today’s story in The Telegraph that Smith’s female co-workers will stage a walk-out if he’s allowed back inside the building, Smith still has an active presence on the 2GB website.  It even says he’s presenting the Morning show over summer.  And have a look at the first two photographs featured in Smith’s ‘Rockdale Outside Broadcast’ spread… two “classy” shots of a pretty young Packed to the Rafters starlette cavorting on his knee. Pretty insensitive … given the allegations of Smith’s long-term tawdry conduct around women.

They did it last year and it is worse in 2009! The alarming situation of arts funding for NSW 2010 still not being announced by Arts NSW has placed a substantial amount of arts activity and employment for many arts workers, venues, producers and artists in the state at great risk. We are only three weeks from the start of the year without funding advice, and I am advised that many projects are now at a critical stage of being lost.

Today’s Age has nice big ad for Deakin Uni over half of its front page and then, on page 5, a story with the caption “Brenton O’Brien […] is hoping his ENTER will be good enough to get into Deakin University.” That’s a nice coincidence for Deakin Uni.  With the inclusion of the University of Melbourne Voice in the same edition, it’s hard to tell where the advertorial begins and ends.

Fiona Hudson’s article in Herald Sun on 11 December regarding the Australian Film Industry quotes Ruth Harley the CEO of government agency Screen Australia as saying this year “has been the most successful year for Australian films in a decade”.

Yet it appears that the biggest box office for a film Screen Australia invested $4 million in, is Mao’s Last Dancer. The film while written and directed by Australians has no cultural relationship to Australia at all. It has nothing to do with Australian stories and identity other than that the Chinese dancer in the film migrated to Australia long after his career was after and became a stockbroker.

Further research reveals SA invested a similar amount in Disgrace, the story of a South African academic. And the coup de grace appears to be that there is a film about to be released called Accident’s Happen. The suburb of St Ives in Sydney is doubling for Boston, Gena Davis is the lead and the Australian cast are speaking in American accents.

Screen Australia has invested over $2 million in it. Is this really true? Could someone please clarify what is an Australian film and why tax payers funds are subsidising the above?  I would suggest the starting point is what goes on in front of the camera (i.e. the story) rather than behind it.

Last Friday evening I attended the memorial service for the anniversary of the police shooting of 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy in a Northcote skate park. MCing the event was one Jon Faine. Not wanting to intrude on the space of Tyler’s family and friends, I stood a little back at a discrete distance.

In the ten minutes leading up to the service, Faine did the lap around the skate park and asked those of us at a distance to move in close to “look better for the cameras.” If it hadn’t been so dark he might have noticed that the group of teenagers and middle-aged men close to me, who he had just asked to hustle in, were sporting, to varying degrees, kicker boots, suspenders, shaved heads and a variety of, um, kind of zig-zaggy red badges.

Just prior to Faine’s arrival, I’d heard one of them loudly bemoaning, “They’re just trying to make us look like Nazis. We’re not, we’re fucking white and fucking proud, it’s not the same thing.” At Faine’s departure, one of the teens turned to another, “I think that’s that guy off Sixty Minutes, or Current Affair or something.”

To be fair, Faine’s subsequent MCing was modest, thoughtful and genuine in spirit.

The exposure by the Sun Herald and the Sydney Morning Herald of the questionable relationship between The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) and one of Labor’s donors (the Kazal family) has at last brought to light an unseemly relationship. Apparently the night club premises (100 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney) refurbished for $6 million by SHFA were handed over to the Kazals quite some time ago.

The fact that it hasn’t opened and as I understand it won’t until mid next year, is to some in SHFA lower echelons, puzzling. Is rent being paid? The widening of the George Street footpaths in The Rocks (some $9 million dollars I believe) was lobbied for by the family. This “pedestrian facilitating” widening quickly became a “trading out” area, to the benefit of whom? Yes, the Kazals food and beverage areas. This in spite of business community outrage at SHFA’s mendacity.

Similarly for the best part of a year a Kazal family cafe frontage was enclosed by barriers whilst excavations were made into the sandstone below a heritage listed building. This shop height barrier intruded into George Street by the width of the old footpath alignment. Again outrage from the business community for the disruption, visual eyesore and demonstrable inconsistency dealing with The Rocks stakeholders.

Sharif Kazal apparently claimed some $2 million of their money was spent on the exercise. For a cafe? The bitter joke in The Rocks from commercial tenants is “one rule for us, one for them”. In the meantime the alternate government remains as usual, mute.

There are some very upset former St George Bank business clients now that Westpac has taken over and rewritten their loan deals and cut the amount of credit they will be allowed. What has gotten so many of them upset is that St George under Gail Kelly, chased their business very hard (the so-called middle market) and offered attractive loan deals to move over from Westpac, NAB etc. Many did, and now that Kelly is running Westpac, the rules have been tightened and the pips are screaming.

Westpac is forcing many small business owners to put their houses up as collateral. St George under Kelly did deals that excluded houses. SThe Westpac board should start taking a good hard look at itself, its new CEO and the conduct of its management team. A lot of small business clients are not very happy, Gail.

Peter Fray

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