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Federal

Dec 16, 2009

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If your first instinct upon hearing about the Rudd-Conroy plan to censor the internet is to email Stephen Conroy, your local member and Labor senators from your state to protest, wait up.

Or, in fact, do it anyway, then read this.

Let me explain some facts about writing to ministers, drawn from my sordid, blood-soaked and adventure-filled time as a public servant.

For a start, understand that few ministers if any read their correspondence. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that it’s not humanly possible to read even a fraction of the amount of emails, faxes and letters they get. So the chances of you directly influencing a Minister with your particularly brilliant insight into the issue are zip. Deal with it. Things don’t work like that.

Their staff will read correspondence, but only when considering a reply prepared by their Department.

And that is only a small proportion of the actual volume of correspondence received.  Some is answered directly by bureaucrats. But much of it is simply binned. Don’t waste your time sending off a letter pre-prepared by some enthusiastic online advocacy group, where you sign at the bottom, endorsing the nicely-phrased sentiments at the top. They’re called “campaign” ministerials and are binned without being read or replied to (but please don’t tell the Friends of the ABC, who rely heavily on that technique, and haven’t had a letter to Canberra read for two decades).

Most non-campaign letters and emails – some departments still won’t reply to emails but demand your snail mail address, perhaps out of residual loyalty to Australia Post – are answered using what’s called “standard words” – a reply that ostensibly covers the issue raised but which normally says as little as possible. They say as little as possible because the mindset of bureaucrats and ministerial advisers is to keep as many options open as possible, except when there is a particular message that the Government wants to hammer.

Standard words are worked up by bureaucrats and edited and signed off by the Minister’s staff when they’re happy the words are risk-free or convey the desired message. In most departments, they are then loaded into electronic ministerial correspondence systems. This means a bureaucrat doesn’t even need to cut-and-paste into a Word document, merely tell the system to use a particular set of standard words under the name, address, salutation and opening paragraph, which have all been electronically entered already.

So if you send off an angry email or letter about net filtering, all you’ll likely get is an automatically-generated reply giving you the standard words on the issue. There’ll be minimal human involvement in the writing of it until it is stuffed into an envelope and dispatched.

You may not think it’s very democratic or consultative, but it’s a damn sight more efficient than processing correspondence by hand.

But if you can’t have any impact on policy, you can have an impact on the level of resources used to answer your letter. And that resource is the time of bureaucrats – the same bureaucrats who advise Conroy on policy, and implement his decisions. In most Departments, ministerial replies have to be approved by SES Band 1 officers before being sent to the Minister’s office, which means many replies consume the precious time both of senior bureaucrats and ministerial advisers. Many Departments also have formal agreements with Ministers that a certain proportion of correspondence will be answered within a certain period of time. If they’re not, more people have to be put into answering correspondence.

So if you want to consume as much of the Department of Broadband’s time as possible, here’s what to do. There’s not much you can do to avoid receiving a standard reply. But you don’t have to confine your missive to net filtering. Throw in some other topics. That means someone will have to put together a reply using standard words from different areas, which is a lot more complicated and can’t be done automatically. Ask about the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN). That means someone in the NBN area has to provide some words.  Ask about Telstra. That’s another area entirely that has to provide input. If there’s three or four topics in your letter, bureaucrats will start arguing to avoid having to be responsible for it. The NBN area will tell the net filtering area it’s their responsibility to collate the response. The net filtering area will try to off-load it to the Telstra area. A Band 1 in one area will make changes and the whole lot will have to be re-approved by a Band 1 in another area.

Throw in something on Australia Post. Ask about something obscure. They may not have standard words at all and someone will have to actually prepare a proper reply.

You see, once your letter stops being a standard rant about filtering and requires actual work, the amount of time taken to prepare a response can snowball dramatically.

You can also use the Government’s system for allocating correspondence. As a start, always write to your MP first, even if it’s a Coalition MP. They will send the letter to Conroy and ask for a response to provide to you. MPs – even Opposition MPs – must get a response no matter what, as part of the civilities of politics, and it normally has to come from the Minister himself. But write to other Ministers as well. Ask Kim Carr what the impact of filtering will be on Australia’s IT industry. Ask Jenny Macklin what impact she thinks it will have on families. Ask Robert McClelland what the penalties will be for breaches of the mandatory filtering requirements. And ask Kevin Rudd how a Government that understands the need to bring Australia’s online infrastructure into the 21st century wants to drag it back to the 19th when it comes to content regulation.

All of those letters will have to go from the recipient’s department to Conroy’s Department for a response, then back to the originating Department, where they might add some additional material of their own. If you come up with a particularly complicated issue, the bureaucrats might start disagreeing with each other. Innovation bureaucrats might think Broadband’s net filter standard words doesn’t quite answer your question and want something else.

And don’t ask the same questions in different letters, otherwise they’ll bin them and tell you they understand you’ve separately written to your MP/another Minister/Kevin Rudd and here’s your job lot reply. Ask different questions and raise different issues.

And be pleasant. Apart from anything else, if there’s too much abuse in a letter, it gets thrown out (quite rightly). But these are decent, hard-working bureaucrats and regardless of what you think of Stephen Conroy, they deserve civility and respect.

Most of all, get your friends, acquaintances, family members, work colleagues, passing strangers, all writing. The bureaucratic capacity to handle ministerial correspondence is a lot like the net filters trialled earlier this year. At low levels of traffic they work OK, but once the traffic picks up, things start to choke up. That’s when Stephen Conroy and his office might start to notice that things are slowing down.

Print

Nov 24, 2009

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A nasty stoush has erupted between The Monthly magazine and Asian-based freelance correspondent Eric Ellis, with legal threats being thrown by both sides after a commissioned article was spiked.

Editor Ben Naparstek claimed the piece was not up to the magazine’s high standards, but it has since been picked up and published by The Spectator’s Australian edition.

Normally a falling out between an editor and a freelancer over the spiking of an article would not be news. It happens often. In this case, as watchers of the The Monthly will know, there is a history that makes the imbroglio marginally more interesting.

Eric Ellis is the man who wrote another famously spiked article – the lengthy profile of Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng. Only on that occasion, The Monthly was on his side.

And Naparstek is the young man who, at just 23 years old, took the helm at The Monthly after the controversial departure of former editor Sally Warhaft earlier this year. Warhaft fell out with magazine proprietor Morry Schwartz and her former mentor and head of the editorial board, Robert Manne.

The current row is over an article on the Sri Lankan boat people commissioned by Naparstek in October this year. Ellis suggested that a more compelling piece could be written if he visited the refugee camps in Sri Lanka. Naparstek agreed, and asked for 4000 words. All was sunshine and light, with the two meeting for coffee in Melbourne on one of Ellis’s visits, a plan for the piece to be promoted on Lateline, and approval being given for more than $1000 in expenses.

But when the article was submitted, Naparstek told Ellis it was not up to standard. The acrimony began, with Ellis firing off increasingly furious letters first to Naparstek and then to Manne and Schwartz. Ellis was offered a “kill fee”, but demanded more, saying that the only mention of “kill” during the commissioning process had been in relation to the risks he was running in researching the piece.

The extraordinarily acrimonious email correspondence, in which Ellis accuses Monthly editor Ben Naparstek of being “dysfunctional” and lacking in judgement and experience, has been given to Crikey and can be read here.

It was originally given to me by Ellis, author of the most inflammatory letters, who is clearly keen that it be published. But when I approached Naparstek for comment yesterday, he too gave me sections of the correspondence. Both sides obviously think it counts in their favour.

So what’s the history? In 2007, Ellis was commissioned by Good Weekend magazine to write this piece about Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng. Then, when it was submitted, it was spiked. At the time it was suggested that someone senior in Fairfax had lent on Good Weekend to leave Rupert and his family alone. The whole affair got a going over on Media Watch.

Then, with the controversy at its height, the Ellis piece was picked up by The Monthly. It was a triumph for the then Monthly editor Sally Warhaft – even though, when the piece hit the streets, most judged it solid and interesting, rather than earth shattering and revelatory. The allegations of censorship had given it extra notoriety.

Then in April this year, Warhaft had her own very public and acrimonious falling out with Schwartz and head of the editorial board, Robert Manne. She left, and was replaced by Naparstek, while Robert Manne and journalist Gideon Haigh traded blows in the press.

So what about the present show down? Well, perhaps it gives off more heat than light, while telling us a little bit more about the personalities involved.

Ellis claims The Monthly have behaved unprofessionally, and that Naparstek is not up to the job.

Meanwhile, Naparstek provided the following comment.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve spiked a piece and nor will it be the last. When I read the first draft of Eric Ellis’ essay, I made encouraging noises but said that it would need to be reworked to give a fuller picture of the Sri Lankan detention camps and Rudd’s dilemma vis-à-vis the boat people, as per his original brief. He agreed to do this but the second draft didn’t arrive. After some prodding, he emailed to say that he had nothing more to write about those matters.

“Given this, I told him that the piece couldn’t be edited to the standard we require, though I would still pay him a generous kill fee plus his expenses. Mr Ellis replied with 9 aggressive emails and text messages on the same day. In light of this bizarre conduct, I decided not to respond. Over the following week, he expanded this bizarre behaviour by sending my fellow board members increasingly unpleasant emails.”

Read the correspondence, and make up your own mind.

Declaration: I have written for The Monthly in the past, when Warhaft was editor, and have discussed potential commissions with Naparstek.

TV & Radio

Jul 29, 2009

5 comments

A 14-year-old girl disclosed live on air this morning that she was raped at 12, during 2Day FM’s Kyle and Jackie O breakfast show.

The disclosure occurred live on air during a lie detector test, a regular segment during which a person is strapped to a detector and peppered with questions by their partner/mother/sister/best friend, and moderated by Austereo’s Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O.

Sandilands’ nemeses, the “fun police” Media Watch, gave us a run down of 2Day FM’s form on lie detectors last year. According to MediaWatch, “contestants have had their honesty tested on subjects like STDs; masturbation; anal sex; threesomes; and eating faeces during sex.” After one particularly controversial episode, Jackie O said:

JACKIE O: I, I apologise to anybody out there who has been offended with this segment that we’ve done all week, I know it’s probably gone too far and I do apologise about that.

KYLE SANDILANDS: What sort of a dork have you turned into overnight? — 2Day FM, The Kyle and Jackie O Show, 27th June, 2008

This morning the person in question was 14-year-old Rachel, who was strapped to the machine and then interrogated by her concerned mother, who said that she was worried about Rachel indulging in under age sex and drugs [LISTEN HERE]:

JACKIE O: We’re all a bit nervous actually because mum Michelle has brought her daughter in to go on the lie detecto r…

JACKIE O: What’s your worst fear, is it the sex, is it the lying, the possibility of doing drugs, smoking?

MICHELLE: Drugs and sex and older boys …

JACKIE O: Has she told you she’s had sex before or do you think she’s a virgin?

MICHELLE: … I think she might have had sex before.

JACKIE O: Right. But she hasn’t said anything?

MICHELLE: No.

The segment began on an uncomfortable note:

JACKIE O: [laughs] Alright we have her hooked up to the lie detector!

KYLE: Ohhhh!

JACKIE O: She’s not happy! I just saw her listening to that replay!

KYLE: How are you Rachel?

RACHEL: I’m scared!

Undeterred, Kyle and Jackie O pressed mother Michelle to continue. Rachel was then grilled about her school attendance, and insisted angrily that she’d never wagged, even though the lie detector said it was so.

Next up, virginity:

MICHELLE: Have you had sex?

Rachael, sounding uncomfortable and resentful about the line of questioning, answered:

RACHEL: I’ve already told you about this and don’t look at me and smile because it’s not funny! [PAUSE] Oh, OK! I got raped when I was 12-years-old!

**SILENCE **

KYLE: …. right. And is that the only experience you’ve had?

MICHELLE: I only found out about that a couple of months ago. Yes, I knew about that.

RACHEL: And yet you still asked me the question.

MICHELLE: The question was, have you had sex, other than that?

JACKIE O: Rachel, I’m really sorry, we didn’t actually know that that was the case, and I think we might actually abort this segment, I had no idea that you’ve been through that, so I’m really sorry, and we’ll just let you off the hook, I think, I think it’s best not to continue. Are you all right? It’s okay, you just take a breather, it’s fine. We always have counselling services here, Rachel, if you need that. Have you had any counselling over this issue?

MICHELLE: No, she hasn’t.

JACKIE O: Okay, well we have all of the right people in place, if you need any help or support in regards to that, which it sounds like you might. I’m really sorry, I had no idea that this had happened to you. I don’t think we would have gone ahead with that, had we known. Okay, honey, we’ll just let you go for a while. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that was…

KYLE: Okay, mum, sorry, we needed to — that’s something we should have probably known before we started this.

JACKIE O: Yeah, definitely.

KYLE: So let’s do that, let’s get you — if you guys haven’t had any counselling, or anyone to talk to about that, we’re happy to pick up the bill for that, we’ve got them here. Do you want that, mum?

MICHELLE: Yes, that’d be good, that’ll be good.

JACKIE O: Yes, okay.

KYLE: And that might — you know, that might — going through that, might answer some of the questions that, you know, you guys are having difficulty communicating with.

MICHELLE: Okay, yes.

KYLE: Okay, Rach, thanks for coming in, darl, sorry about that. Okay, we’re out, everyone.

Jenny Parkes, 2Day FM General Manager, told Crikey this morning:

Kyle and Jackie and 2Day FM were saddened by the turn of events this morning. In the normal course of preparing the segment all due care and consideration was given to the family and clearly we didn’t know anything about this traumatic incident.

The moment we became aware of it was live on air and we brought it to an end as soon as we possibly could. As is only appropriate, we are offering all the assistance we can to the family, including counselling, in what is of course an extraordinarily difficult situation.

Crikey also put in a call to ACMA but they didn’t get back to us before deadline.

News

Jun 11, 2009

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Politics

Jan 6, 2009

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Keith Windschuttle, the editor of the conservative magazine Quadrant, has been taken in by a hoax intended to show that he will print outrageous propositions.

This month’s edition of Quadrant contains a hoax article purporting to be by “Sharon Gould”, a Brisbane based New York biotechnologist.

But in the tradition of Ern Malley – the famous literary hoax perpetrated by Quadrant’s first editor, James McAuley – the Sharon Gould persona is entirely fictitious and the article is studded with false science, logical leaps, outrageous claims and a mixture of genuine and bogus footnotes.

In accepting the article, Keith Windschuttle said in an email to “Sharon Gould”:

I really like the article. You bring together some very important considerations about scientific method, the media, politics and morality that I know our readers would find illuminating.

“Gould’s” article, which is blurbed on the front cover of Quadrant and reproduced online, (subscribers only) argues for the insertion of human genes in to food crops, insects and livestock.

It contains the bogus claim that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation planned to commercialise food crops engineered with human genes, but abandoned the projects because of “perceived moral issues”.

The hoaxer, who intends to remain anonymous, has provided details of how the hoax was constructed, including a blog-style Diary of A Hoax, liberally studded with ironic quotations from Ern Malley’s poetry.

Diary of a Hoax is published here, and the article submitted to Quadrant is here but, unless it is taken down, can also be read by subscribers on Quadrant’s website here or in the print edition, which hit newsagents in the last few days.

I rang Keith Windschuttle this morning seeking comment. He said that claims the article was a hoax were “news to me” and said he wanted to see the material the hoaxer had provided to me before commenting. A copy of Diary of a Hoax and his own correspondence with “Sharon Gould” was emailed to him this morning.

He rang back a short while ago, and said that he would respond to these events in full on the Quadrant website shortly. More on Windschuttle’s conversation with me below.

“Gould’s” article uses a mélange of fact, misconstrued science and fiction masquerading as science to argue that science research, such as that behind genetically modified foods, should be above scrutiny by the media and the public. It criticizes the Rudd Government for “shameless populism” for inviting “ordinary” Australians to be part of the 2020 Summit. The article says:

What has become unspeakable is that journalists and their publics, like small children reaching for the medicine cabinet, do not always understand what is best.

In a ruse designed to lampoon Windschuttle’s historical research, which began by checking the footnotes of leading historians, the article contains some false references.

In Diary of a Hoax, the hoaxer writes:

Some of the footnotes are completely fabricated. Others are genuine references to science articles, but have nought to do with what’s asserted in the essay.

(The footnotes have not been included with the published version of the article. In keeping with Quadrant practice, a note at the end says that they are available from the Quadrant office.)

The Gould hoax is designed to be a companion and a counter to the famous Sokal hoax, in which the physicist Alan Sokal submitted a paper to a postmodern cultural studies journal to show that post modernists would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”

The Sokal affair became part of the “science wars” which were a series of intellectual battles between post modernists and realists, and a companion to Australia’s “history wars”, in which Windschuttle has been a leading contender.

On the day Windschuttle informed “Gould” that the article would be published, the hoaxer wrote in Diary of a Hoax:

For pity’s sake, Quadrant fell for my ham-fisted ruse! At least with the Sokal hoax, Alan Sokal was a bona fide physics professor. So it’s understandable that a journal editor might unquestioningly publish his nonsense. But so neatly did my essay conform with reactionary ideology that Quadrant, it seems, didn’t even check the putative author’s credentials. Nor it seems did they get the piece peer-reviewed. Nor did they check the “facts”; nor the footnotes. Nor were they alerted by the clues…Still, now my experiment has worked, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Do I feel schadenfreude? Not really. I feel ambivalent. I’m almost embarrassed for you, Windschuttle… I didn’t do this to be unkind to you personally. This experiment wasn’t designed with ill-intent, but to uncover hypocrisy in knowledge-claims, and also spark public debate about standards of truth when anything is claimed in the name of ’science’.

The persona of “Sharon Gould” was constructed with a false e-mail address and a website, which was online but has since been taken down. We publish it here. In it, Gould describes herself as a 41-year- old New Yorker based in Brisbane with a Phd in biotechnology. She claims she is related to the American evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, and has been inspired by his example to embark on a popular science writing career. The website had suggestive links to other “Goulds”.

“Gould” claimed to Windschuttle that the article had earlier been presented at an international conference on genome informatics – but while the conference existed, the paper was not presented there.

The article claims that the CSIRO wanted to put human genes into wheat so they could trigger immune responses to fight pre-cancerous cells, into cows so they would produce milk that would not trigger allergic responses in lactic intolerant infants, and into mosquitoes to render their bites less dangerous.

Commercialisation of both these projects was abandoned…possibly…because of perceived ethical issues in the public and media perception.

“Gould” first submitted the article to Windschuttle early last year, but did not hear back from him until “she” followed up in August. Windschuttle told “her” that the original article had gone missing. “She” resubmitted, and Windschuttle accepted the article enthusiastically. The only contact between the two was by e-mail.

Windschuttle asked for some changes, which involved cutting a lengthy explanation of the Sokal hoax from the first paragraphs – which the hoaxer had intended as a clue.

Windschuttle wrote to “Gould”:

Many of our readers would be aware of the Sokal hoax and its implications, and I think your introduction would lull them into thinking the whole article is another analysis of the follies of constructivism, whereas it is really much more interesting than that.

“Gould” made the changes Windschuttle suggested, but left a reference to the Sokal hoax in the first paragraph. A few other minor editorial changes were made between the version submitted and that published.

Keith Windschuttle is a leading cultural warrior. In recent years he has accused senior historians of falsifying and inventing the degree of violence against Aborigines. He has also accused academic historians of exaggerating the racism involved in the White Australia policy.

This morning in a conversation with me, Windschuttle asked to know the identity of the hoaxer, and was refused. He said that at least some of the footnotes in the article were genuine, and that it was not reasonable to expect the editor of a popular publication to check all footnotes. He asked me to provide him with information on which footnotes were genuine, and which bogus. This will be done by e-mail later today.

Comparing this to the Sokal hoax, Windschuttle made the point that Sokal had been frank about his role in the hoax, and that in that case all the footnotes provided with the article were bogus.

The nub of the Sharon Gould hoax is a play on Windschuttle and Quadrant’s advocacy of empirical research as being divorced from social and political consequences, and therefore beyond question.

Windschuttle said that the hoax would backfire, including on me and on Crikey.

In 2006 the Howard Government appointed Windschuttle to the ABC Board – the last of a number of appointments of leading right wingers, including the anthropologist Ron Brunton (whose term has now expired) and columnist Janet Albrechtsen. Windschuttle’s term expires in 2011.

Windshcuttle replaced the controversial Paddy McGuiness as editor of Quadrant early last year. When his appointment was announced, Windschuttle was quoted as saying that he would campaign against decadence in the arts.

Quadrant is an historically important conservative magazine, praised by John Howard when he was Prime Minister as his “favourite” magazine and as a forum for “fine scholarship with a sceptical, questioning eye for cant, hypocrisy and moral vanity” and a “lonely counterpoint to stultifying orthodoxies and dangerous utopias that at times have gripped the Western ‘intelligentsia”.” Howard said Quadrant was: “Australia’s home to all that is worth preserving in the Western cultural tradition”. Howard described Windschuttle’s articles on Aboriginal history as particularly close to his heart.

News

Jun 18, 2008

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Crikey has been leaked a weekly progress report on the Northern Territory Intervention almost a year to the day that then Prime Minister John Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough called a press conference to announce a “National Emergency” in response to the Little Children Are Sacred report.

The document leaked to Crikey, entitled ‘Northern Territory Emergency Response Situation Report as at 1500 hrs Wed 14th May 08’, paints a picture of an incomplete roll out of the Northern Territory Intervention, an emergency response that Mal Brough recently admitted to ABC Darwin radio was put together in 48 hours. ( listen here.)

According to the document, only 63% of children in remote communities have received health checks, and only roughly one third of indigenous adults in remote areas are under income management.  And despite Howard’s promise that all government funded computers would be audited for p-rnography, no computer audits have been carried out as yet.

The document details progress on areas such as Child Health Checks (CHC), Schools Nutrition Programmes, Financial Management, Work for the Dole, P-rnography, Community Clean Up and Government Business Managers.

As Saturday’s anniversary of the Intervention looms, a Northern Territory insider has told Crikey that with the exception of the Northern Territory police and the Commonwealth’s Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Health Services (who are working to a two year fully funded program), every other group that come under the intervention umbrella “have been playing it by ear.” Given that the Howard government only costed the intervention for one year, groups have been operating with no notion of a timeline for task completion or of when the funding will run out.

 

According to the document, dated mid May:

  • CHCs had been undertaken in 70 of 73 prescribed communities. (note: Crikey understands these health checks were already underway by Aboriginal Medical Services before the intervention and have been in place for a two years…)
  • 93% of communities have had CHCs undertaken.
  • total coverage rate of children through Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER)   and Medical Benefits Service (MBS) CHCs is 63%.
  • Income management (IM) is in place in 42 communities (of 73) and associated outstations in seven Town Camp regions as at 14 May
  • Pornography — no computer audits have been undertaken so far, despite Howard’s promise that all government funded computers would be checked.
  • Centrelink have received approximately 40 Ombudsman’s complaints, mostly around a lack of understanding concerning the IM (income management) process.
  • 5 SA POL will complete their deployments and will be replaced by AFP officers on 28 May.

But while the intervention roll out is lagging in almost every area of implementation, the Northern Territory’s economy is looking remarkably robust, partly due to the population influx as a result of the Intervention.

Access Economics predict that the Northern Territory is set to boast the highest economic growth rates over the next five years of any other jurisdiction in the country. 

According to an NT News report in April, the Territory’s economy is surging ahead of the national rate with an expected 7 per cent growth next year:

The Access Economics March quarter business outlook said much of this growth would come from the Federal Government’s spending on the intervention.

NT growth will dwarf the national rate of 3.9 per cent.

The documents leaked to Crikey indicate that as of mid-May there were 810 federal public servants in 72 Aboriginal communities as part of the Intervention, not counting 52 Government Business Managers.

Conservatively, this would come to an annual wages bill of around $90 million if the public servants were in their home towns, but each of these 810 public servants is also being paid accommodation and travel allowance and quarterly airfares to their home base. These figures also exclude contractors and consultants ranging from Community Employment Brokers, cadastral surveyors and builders.

As a result, the local hotel industry is experiencing record hotel occupancy rates, as whole floors of rooms have been taken up on long term hiring for federal public servants. Restaurant, hire car companies and bottle shops are also enjoying the run off.

Meanwhile, Crikey understands that the federal Finance department has been raising concerns about many aspects of the Intervention that they inherited from the Howard government.

An NT source told Crikey that Lindsay Tanner was raising questions within weeks of his accession to the Finance ministry over the fact that virtually none of the Intervention had been forward funded in the federal budget beyond 30 June this year.

When asked about the cost of the Intervention, then Prime Minister John Howard said:”it will be some tens of millions of dollars. It’s not huge but there could be some costs in relation to the extra police.” 

The source told Crikey that the cost of income management alone is currently running at $3000 per person per annum — to manage average welfare payments of around $10,000 per recipient. The documents point out that there are around 10,500 people under income management.

Going by ABS figures, this suggest that approximately only 1/3 of indigenous adults in remote areas are under income management.

But as the NT economy flourishes from the side effects of the Intervention, Crikey understands the job prospects for Aboriginal people have — if anything — declined. According to the documents, over 1700 people have been “transitioned” off CDEP.

Only 667 have been able to be employed in Australian and Territory government funded jobs. The other 1000-odd people, and their dependents, have been moved on to welfare payments.

Politics

Jun 13, 2008

5 comments

The Queensland Opposition has referred to the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission serious allegations relating to attempts to conceal a relationship between then-Premier Peter Beattie and his Tourism and Racing Minister Merri Rose.

In May 2007, Rose was sentenced to eighteen months gaol for attempting to blackmail Beattie. She was released after three months. There was considerable speculation at the time about the nature of Rose’s blackmail threat.

Yesterday, Nationals frontbencher Rob Messenger wrote to the Crime and Misconduct Commission with allegations from a former Rose staff member that Rose forced staff “to shred official documents, sign off on invalid overseas and intrastate trips, schedule unofficial business and official business and process false parliamentary leave requests to conceal a relationship between former Premier Peter Beattie and Merri Rose.”

Read the full letter here.

The allegations were made by Ms Barbara Daddow, Rose’s former personal secretary, who died in May 2006. Daddow prepared an extensive statement relating to the activities she was required to undertake for Rose, which Crikey has seen, along with Messenger’s letter. Daddow’s statement alleges extensive bullying and offensive behaviour by Rose, as well as repeated requirements to falsify documents facilitating and concealing meetings between Beattie and Rose.

The material does not suggest that Beattie ordered any illegal or inappropriate activities or even knew of efforts to conceal the relationship. However, efforts to bring Rose’s behaviour toward staff and others to the attention of the Premier’s office and Beattie’s chief of staff, Rob Whiddon, were unsuccessful.

Crikey understands that the material was brought to Messenger’s attention by another former Rose staff member in the context of a Parliamentary debate over the right of public servants to speak to MPs.

Ms Daddow’s statement indicates that her role in assisting Rose to conceal the relationship, as well as Rose’s behaviour, placed enormous pressure on her. The stress is considered by a former colleague to have directly contributed to her death.

The statement said in part: “Many times in the lead up to my breakdown I told the Minister I was finding it difficult to handle the demands of the workplace and the additional work that I had to carry out as a result of being ‘the only person’ who could manage her relationship with the Premier and other liaisons. I also realised that I had been instrumental in many illegal and corrupt activities.

“I had to shred documents, sign off on invalid overseas, inter/intrastate trips, scheduled unofficial business as official business, process false parliamentary leave requests so that she could meet with the Premier on Parliamentary evenings. He also filled in parliamentary leave forms for fictitious functions for her to represent him so that they could meet on Parliamentary evenings.. I found it offensive, immoral and unethical that so many people in public office were so unaware that staff such as myself were being imposed on.”

Rose was appointed Emergency Services minister in 1998-99, Minister for Tourism and Racing from 1999 to 2001, and later Minister for Tourism, Racing and Fair Trading. There were repeated allegations that Rose bullied staff, and two successful compensation claims against her. She lost her seat of Currumbin in the 2004 election, after which she demanded that Beattie provide her with a high-paying public sector position.

The statements seen by Crikey paint a sad picture of a woman wholly out of her depth and incapable of managing her staff or her life. This dysfunctional minister’s office inflicted a massive toll on Daddow, as well as another staff member who has since died. The real story here is how a Premier could decide that a women like Rose was capable of performing effectively as a Minister – or whether her appointment reflected other motivations on the part of Beattie.

Politics

Jan 24, 2008

5 comments

The moment I saw the name – Extended Stay Hotel Charleston Airport – I knew I just had to stay here. Number 5,125 on a street that didn’t exist five years ago, on a row of chain hotels, a perfectly pleasant slab tilt commuter chain hotel, the name is so honest, so perfectly… Maoist in its expression of a civilisation now expressed largely through brands and chains, that I just couldn’t resist.

Across the featureless boulevard is the sprawling shopping centre – identikit buildings of identikit chains in low rise buildings in a half-hearted pseudo-southern style. Alienated isn’t in it – the place makes Jeffrey Smart look like Grandma Moses.

I’m all for challenging postmodern landscapes, thrilling in their brutal emptiness, but this is ridiculous. Every town, every city seems to be like this, its old high street dilapidated and boarded up, its old shaded neighbourhoods of wooden houses under willows broken up by sporadic Subways and Pizza Huts, its shops and stores strung out along a highway that takes you past a place where the town used to be.

This is where America lives now, in these sub- and ex-urban webs, of tracts of housing disconnected from any centre, of megastores marooned in carparks, the whole thing tied together by cable, the web and the freeway. It’s happening everywhere, but elsewhere there was more resistance from some notion of community, of place and history. Here, in a country which takes a pride in ripping it up and starting again, it all happened so fast that people never realised it was happening – and still have not. Yet everything that is happening, or not happening, in America, is a consequence of this great social self-deconstruction, the fact that the country has essentially fallen through a hole in itself.

What it means is that every candidate, save for Huckabee, must essentially talk to people as either individuals, or as individual members of the nation as a whole. The days of the intermediate group being spoken of, at least explicitly – of race, region, gender, and above all class – are over, and what must be appealed to in people is their inner goodness, their inner patriotism, their inner desire for “hope” and “change”. Even John Edwards, the closest thing the campaign has to an old style politician, willing to use the “c” word, is running on the idea of fixing something “broken”.

Because no candidate can do what politicians used to do – give an account of how things work, whether that be class struggle, or king and country, or whatever, which connects to what should be done. There is poverty because… you are perpetually struggling because… these are the things you need to say to arm people for the struggle. When you are talking to your constituency, hope, change, etc, leave them with little place to go.

Thus the strange feeling – energy with nowhere to go – of last night’s Obama “Stand For Change” rally in mid South Carolina. Here, in an auditorium named after three students who died in a desegregation rally, a thousand or so jumping, shouting, mostly-young black people, introduced by comedian Chris Tucker and rapper Usher – and sh-t even I know who Usher is – Obama gave a pretty good speech about hope, and change, summoned up MLK’s electric phrase “the fierce urgency of now” and “being the change you want to be”, and drummed up the need to fill in the volunteer pledges (half of them white northern kids, young political semi-professional activists).

What Obama didn’t do, wouldn’t do, was really talk about what has happened in America – about what is in effect a war between corporate America and its population, who are squeezed for wages, for health insurance, for loan shark mortgages, in an ever-more desperate search for sources of profit in a silted-up economy. God knows if your own country had a health system like America’s you’d be occupying insurance company offices, like those brave young men occupied a whites-only bowling alley forty years ago.

But the double challenge faced by anyone wanting to get the place really moving is to make these more amorphous, less obviously immoral conditions visible as such – and in conditions where the whole notion of gathering and place is slowly dissolving. True, Obama has built an impressive grassroots community-based organisation, which has helped him overtake Hillary in South Carolina (he’s now leading her around ten points, on an even fifty per cent), and match her deeper war chest. But it’s a movement of activist-professionals, switched-on kids, projecting the appearance of a mass movement. In face of that, Hills has left the state to Bill, who was right up and down the coast today, taking time off only to unload once again on the press.

The Republicans of course are not faced with these problems because they are still dealing in fantasy – Mitt Romney peddling the idea that America can be re-industrialised by market forces alone, John McCain tapping into exceptionalist jingoism (“we are Americans and we never surrender”).

Their pitch is barely to the “people” at all, so much as to an audience – up and down Florida, ahead of the Tuesday 29th primary, they’re talking to small groups of people, in delis and lobbies, their staff frantically ringing around to get a quorum. And if the economy continues to tank, their increasing delusional smiley rhetoric will lead them into electoral disaster.

Only Huckabee has a real organisation on the ground – and if he hadn’t he would have been out of the race long ago – evangelical Christianity being the perfect counterpoint to atomised life, the last source of social solidarity in concrete, antimodern myth.

But Huckabee is on the clock. As is Edwards. It would be wildly wrong to say that there is no difference between McCain and Obama or Clinton – this contest has a greater left-right split than the recent Oz or UK elections – but nor does there seem to be anyone on the ground who can yet get people out of the mall or the Maccas and up on their feet to tear the joint apart.

It’s not easy to see where the country is, but that problem is not unique to the view from Extended Stay Hotel No 23.

For comprehensive coverage of the US election read Guy Rundle’s campaign trail here.

News

Nov 2, 2007

5 comments

One thing George Orwell never said about the Two Minutes Hate is how much fun it is. All London is revelling in the deep, deep tissue massage of loathing Heather Mills McCartney, following a bizarre breakfast TV interview in which she announced that she had papers secretly stashed away which would be released in the event of her suspicious death.

God knows it would be the first McCartney release in years to be of interest, and the woman is clearly unbalanced, unbalanced geddit, and doesn’t have a leg to sta-… and so on. It’s all so very ugly, and so very irresistible.

Mills-McM must have achieved one of the great anti-triumphs of modern times – no-one but no-one will defend her.

Journos hate her for rat-pack reasons – there is an Observer scribe named Heather Mills, who Mills-McM pretended to be for years in order to get into A-list events, score freebies etc – to the point where Mills proper would be left at the velvet rope, getting “yeah course you are luv”.

Liberal feminists hate her, because her attempt to grab a half-share of Macca’s money – she’s knocked back a £50m offer – is making laws of property division look ridiculous. Plus, it seems pretty likely she used to be a high-price hooker, which makes the four year marriage look like a carefully planned operation.

Boomers hate her for putting McCartney through hell and souring their 60s memories and making Linda look good.

And Gen-X hate her for making them feel sympathy for the composer of “Mull of Kyntire”.

In fact, so great is the hate that there was collateral damage – part of the suspicion that descended on Kate McCann was because she increasingly looked like a creepy bottle-blonde media addict in the Mills mould.

It’s a measure of how singularly loathable is that you begin to hate how much you hate her. When she talks of the 4,400 negative articles that have made her suicidal – these 4,400 articles she’s clipped out and kept in a scrapbook that she brought into the interview – only the hardest hearted could refrain from giggling over cornflakes.

And only a saint could refrain from pointing out that her preferred charity is “adopt-a-minefield”.

In other Beatles news Ringo is still not dead.

News

Aug 30, 2007

5 comments

In 1998, I visited Brazil. In the world’s largest Catholic country, I saw icons of Jesus and Mary everywhere. There was one not-so-subtle difference between these and the icons I see in Australia. For millions of Brazilian Catholics, the Blessed Virgin with child both had black skin.

Of course, we all know that Jesus wasn’t a negro.

He was, after all, born in a place called Beyt Lahm, an Arabic/Aramaic phrase meaning literally “House of Lamb Meat”. He spoke fluent Aramaic. His mother wore (at the very least) a traditional head scarf worn today by many orthodox Jewish and Muslim women.

A delegation from Jesus’ town is currently visiting Australia. All delegation members are Christians. All are accused of being terrorists. All no doubt look like Middle Easterners. All look like Arabs. Usama bin Ladin is a Middle Easterner. The Mayor of Bethlehem is a Middle Easterner. Jesus was a Middle Easterner. No doubt Jesus probably bore some resemblance to other Middle Easterners.

Yet for some reason, American-owned tabloids in Sydney and Melbourne are behaving in a very Middle Eastern fashion over one entry to an art prize. One that shows Jesus’ mum in traditional arab garb (see right). Even the PM joined the fray.

“The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians,” he said.

Yes, it is offensive if you believe Jesus looked something like Merv Hughes and Mary looked like Jennifer Hawkins. Yet the fact is that Mary wore something on her head (and, given her noble ancestry and her cultural heritage, quite likely something over her face).

What all this shows is how far the far-Right evangelical view of Christianity has strayed from the reality of Jesus. Allegedly conservative mono-cultural fruitloops keep referring to Australia’s Christian heritage. Yet how would they react if the real Jesus returned and arrived in Australia?

Well, for a start, they’d probably think he was a terrorist. He wouldn’t be speaking English, and would suddenly appear from the wilderness looking rather dishevelled.

Jesus’ photo would be splashed across our American-owned metropolitan tabloids. Piersed Akumen and his colleagues would be waxing unlyrical about this latest foreign threat. Gerard Henderson would attack the “civil rights lobby” for defending Jesus. Janet Albrechtsen would castigate lawyers and judges for defending a man who wants to establish the Kingdom of God (read sharia law) in Australia. The AFP wouldn’t understand a word Jesus was saying but would charge him anyway. Some magistrate would grant Jesus bail, and the good Catholic Kevin Andrews would cancel Jesus’ visa and send him back to … um … er … God The Father?

As William Dalrymple keeps reminding us, Christianity (like Judaism and Islam) is a Middle Eastern religion. And Jesus was a Middle Easterner. Just accept it.