Immigration’s detention centre blackout:

Sandi Logan, Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokesman writes: Re. “MEAA responds to Immigration’s detention centre blackout” (yesterday, item 13). Let’s get this straight: what the media neglects to report is that deeds of agreement for access to Australia’s detention facilities are nothing new. They have been around in one form or another between the department and the media back to 2000 when the last wave of asylum seekers attracted increasing interest. Deeds were signed by every major media outlet as part of the process then to enter Port Hedland, Woomera, Baxter, Maribyrnong, Manus Island and other detention facilities.

Work began in July 2011 at the request of Chris Bowen, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, on recasting DIAC’s previous detention media access policy, which was dated, given the size and scope of the current network of 20 facilities around Australia. Bowen was keen we formalise a more appropriate means for the media to educate the community about what goes on inside detention facilities. Since the revised deed was introduced in October 2011, there have been visits to Villawood, Maribyrnong, Inverbrackie and Wickham Point. This latest deed, too, has been signed by outlets from every major metropolitan media group — TV and print — with the exception of The West Australian.

How does Margaret Simons reconcile her reporting that only a few media outlets have signed up when the reality is every major metropolitan newspaper publisher (except The West) and every major news network — ALL of them — has worked with us within the terms of the deed, successfully entering, reporting on and photographing/filming the activities within our network?

Despite the ill-informed views of some media critics, the deed does not gag or extend to editorial control over how a visit is reported. The obligations are with regard to the identification of individuals, whereby editors/news directors must seek the department’s approval before putting any material shot under the terms of the agreement to print/air.

It is also worth noting that similar deeds of agreement have been in place for some years and used for Customs and Navy ride-alongs in Australia’s northern waters — 60 Minutes and A Current Affair are two outlets that have agreed to such arrangements in recent years. The department’s revised media access policy seeks to strike the right balance between two very important ideals: the freedom of expression and freedom of the press on one hand, and the right to privacy of all people including immigration detainee clients. (This is of course related to, but quite separate from the submission DIAC made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority in late 2011.)

The policy is consistent with those of other agencies or institutions with a duty of care to vulnerable people for whom they are responsible. When the media enters hospitals, schools, aged care hostels or prisons, there are similar controls placed on them around what they can photograph and identify, either because they are dealing with minors and/or because they are dealing with people in a vulnerable state who do not have the power to refuse to be photographed/identified.

Along with the MEAA, the department also consulted, on a confidential basis, with a dozen journalists in the working media, in Australia and overseas, as well as journalism academics. We sought their feedback on the draft deed of agreement. Feedback varied from quite positive to allegations the deed was overly legalistic and restrictive. Despite being told it was a step in the right direction, it was, however, interesting that the editorial line from some segments of the media differed quite markedly from what their journalists told us.

George Calombaris v the Fair Work Act:

Don Wormald  writes: Re. “Calombaris has MasterChip on his shoulder over penalty rates” (yesterday, item 2). George Calombaris doesn’t have a MasterChip on his shoulder. He raises a valid point. In fact, he should think himself lucky he is in hospitality.

I am a retailer — in retail hardware. The Fair Work Act‘s new penalty rates for retail following the transitional period provides that casual employees receive $53.09 per hour on public holidays.

This wage is clearly unsustainable. What it means is that on a slow day a retailer will lose money being open yet competitive pressures require you to be open or risk losing your regulars to a competitor on a permanent basis.

Even on a good day the high wages cost means profitability will be, at best, marginal.

The practical effect in my business, like many others, means the high cost of wages reduces employment opportunities. Why? As a small business I have had to cease employing staff on public holidays and am staffing my shop with family members rather than employees.

As one of the first retailers to open seven days a week (for 34 years now) I have not met a casual who would justify the extra impost. They are happy to receive it for sure but they do not think the level of the surcharge is practicable.

All in all, the act is a disaster for small business yet small business is the largest employer, last to shed staff when times get tough and first to hire when conditions ease.

Peter Ferraro writes: I’ll ignore as bleeding obvious the failure of logic when George Calombaris complains about the costs of inputs (such as penalty rates) for a business that still makes profits, and indeed profits large enough to attract him to open yet another restaurant hiring staff who attract penalty rates.

But Calombaris’ suggestion that “You know I can eat at Fat Duck cheaper than I can at some fine dining restaurants in Australia.  But I know why it’s like that … because of our labour laws” almost made me choke on my $7.40 sandwich.  My mate went to Fat Duck about a year ago and said that the set-menu degustation (I understand that’s the only way you can order there) for two cost about $A700.  And that was with one glass of wine and one beer between them.

Where does food at any fine dining restaurant in Australia cost $350 a head sans booze?

John Richardson writes: Andrew Cook’s exclusive interview with “straight-talking multimillionaire”, George (gimme a break) Calombaris, represents a lazy start to the year for Crikey, while demonstrating that the fabled restaurateur is obviously a graduate of the Gerry Harvey business school, where facts are never allowed to get in the way of hyperbole.

While the average rate of pay in this country is presently running at $35 an hour (before on-costs), George’s casual Sunday pay rate for his waiters of $40 equates to a base rate of only $22.85 an hour.

While George might call himself a “restaurateur”, like Gerry, I think he would be better described as an “entertainer”.


Eamon Waterford writes: Re. “Housing shortage or a glut — just who do you believe?” (yesterday, item 18). Hang on Adam Schwab — there’s a few holes in your argument. Fairly large ones at that. So the Earthsharing study found heaps of unoccupied houses in Melbourne. Great. If only we could live in them, but they’re presumably being left vacant by the owners. That hardly adds to the housing stock, unless we can find a way to force them to let people live there. So, the Supply Council numbers are probably more realistic in the sense of “dwellings available for rent/purchase” as opposed to “dwellings that a family could squat in”.

Secondly, the population in 2030 the Supply Council appear to have used is based on ABS predictions — granted they’re using the largest prediction, but they only rely on an immigration rate of 125,000 per year — much less than our current migration level. These things (population) tend to grow exponentially, you see. So I’m not sure what the problem with them extrapolating from that figure is — it seems pretty reasonable to rely on the ABS.

Love your stuff normally, but I worry you’re looking for a conspiracy when there just isn’t one — Australia just needs more houses.