Posts tagged ‘media’
This is the second part of my post about Rachel Buchanan and Tim Dunlop’s new books about the media. See Part 1 here.
If Buchanan’s book Stop Press is apolitical, Dunlop’s The New Front Page is a polemic. Dunlop was one of the earliest Australian bloggers, deeply impacted by living in the US in the wake of 9/11. Dunlop’s attitude to journalists and the media is grounded in other life experiences. As a youngster working in his father’s garage and later as an adult running record and video stores, it was all about customer service. Dunlop admits media has more complex relationships and needs to relate to its audience as citizens as well as customers. The problem the media never faced up to, says Dunlop, was that customers alone didn’t make them money but selling those customers to others did.
This attitude of audience as product, affected the way the media dealt with them and led to significant failures which has deeply eroded audience trust. Newspapers have been in a slow decline since the 1920s as other media like radio and then television took away advertisers. But classified ads were still profitable until the Internet destroyed that business model. Dunlop sheds few tears for these developments. Journalists were complicit in their own demise, believing too much in their own invincibility and relying too much on reputation that reality rarely lived up to. Dunlop was one of the earliest to understand the new technology allowed to audience not only to talk back but create their own media narratives.
Dunlop was one of many writers across the world who found their muse in 9/11. The day and its many consequences galvanised opposing views of history. The “mainstream media” as Dunlop and other bloggers called them, lined up almost to a masthead on one side of the argument. Too captive to their sources and too addicted to the drip of insider information, they were unable to connect the dots of the wider picture. Its failure to talk truth to power was epitomised, argued Dunlop, by the groupthink that supported the US President GW Bush case for war in Iraq. The casus belli presented by Bush supporters was swallowed almost whole by the MSM. They were shown up by a variety of amateurs enabled by newly invented blogging technologies, who pointed out the faulty reporting. Dunlop and others were a rare counterpoint to what was otherwise painted as a national consensus for war.
The result were a lack of trust between media and audiences, hostility between the professional and amateur producers, and paranoia and barely concealed contempt from the professionals who saw the newbies as leeching on their work. They were interlopers that had to be resisted rather than challengers to be embraced. The later News of the World scandal confirmed for many the perfidy of the press who treat their audience solely as a commodity.
Dunlop’s own blog The Road to Surfdom, inspired many in Australia to follow his path. He charts his own inspiration to journalist Margo Kingston. Kingston was one of Fairfax’s best journalists but her always slightly outsider status was tested to breaking point when she covered Pauline Hanson’s failed 1998 election campaign. Kingston and Hanson seem unlikely bedfellows but they were both maverick women who refused to play the usual media games. Kingston’s disillusionment with the politico-media alliance at the expense of their audience/voters led to her setting up Media Diary as an online portal for news and discussion. Media Diary became all-embracing and ultimately died when it wore out Kingston but it led the way for many in the audience to find their own voice, Dunlop included.
Dunlop had just done a PhD on democracy, citizenship and public debate. A blog like Surfdom allowed him to eloquently put those ideas into practice. Its success eventually led to a surprise job offer from News Ltd. Despite being an ardent critic of Murdoch’s Empire, Dunlop jumped at the chance to talk to the large audiences News Ltd portals offered. Dunlop quickly learned news.com.au was treated as a second-class citizen in the News Ltd power structure but it still attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. Some said he was selling out, but Dunlop accepted on the condition he would not have any editorial interference. He was a poaching blogger who was now a gamekeeper in the nation’s largest estate. Dunlop became obsessed with issues of moderating comments and curating the unruly conversation that swirled around him. It led to 18 hour days that were both exhilarating and exhausting. Eventually it was undone. His insistence on complete independence proved untenable when sooner or later he criticised the Empire itself. The relationship was terminally damaged after a post criticising the Australian’s editor was deleted. You shouldn’t be surprised, fellow blogging trailblazer Tim Blair advised him, you cannot bite the hand that feeds you.
Now fully independent again, Dunlop’s main concern remains democracy’s ability to allow a variety of voices to be heard. Social media has further muddied the waters, empowering audiences and yet offering new ways for media to show leadership. Newspapers are among the most-connected places in a city or town but their employees can no longer take their audience for granted. Nor can they just troll them for clicks. Dunlop says media practitioners must accept power relations have changed. They must engage audiences or as Dunlop says, according the “respect of talking to them, not down to them.” Otherwise journalism will have little role to play in the continuing evolution of democracy.
Two authors writing on similar themes but with radically different perspectives are taking a discussion of their books on a national tour at the moment. I caught up with them – Tim Dunlop, author of The New Front Page and Rachel Buchanan, author of Stop Press – in Brisbane recently where they were quizzed about their books by the ABC’s Paul Barclay. The books published by Scribe are in a series of first person accounts about the changes underway in what Barclay called a “now emaciated” media industry. Dunlop is well known blogger and political commentator while Buchanan has been a journalist for over 20 years. Dunlop’s forte is the media’s relationship to politics, written from a left-wing perspective. Buchanan’s politics are private but what she does wear on her sleeve is her abiding love of newspapers.
The book subtitles reveal their perspectives on the industry. Dunlop’s New Media and the Rise of the Audience looks forward to a re-shaped landscape while Buchanan’s The Last Days of Newspapers is a valedictory for a dying industry. Buchanan and Dunlop occasionally talked at cross purposes with Dunlop’s focus on political journalism of less interest to Buchanan than newspapers as a whole. Barclay had a tough time find unifying themes but eventually the life-long learning that informed both their views made it a mostly fascinating discussion of Australia’s media landscape in 2013.
Buchanan, in her mid 40s, describes herself as a “paper girl” who has lived most of her life in the “dirty imperfect city of newspapers”. She was first published aged 16 in her native New Zealand and she ruefully remembers her first byline miscaptioned as Richard Buchanan. Starting out as a journalist in the mid 1980s, she landed in a slowly declining but still profitable industry. She loved the wonderful variety of the job with everything from court reporting to heli-skiing. Her peregrinations led her to London before landing a job at The Age in Melbourne. The Age was the toughest paper she ever wrote for. Buchanan said her time there was a stressful competition with other journalists for a spot in the paper.
Buchanan tried to leave the industry several times. She wrote fiction, she did full time study, she eventually became an academic. But whatever she tried, she would eventually return to the fold of newspapers. As the years rolled by, she found the industry shrivelling around her though she was disturbed by the hypocrisy of continually expanding university programs for jobs that no longer existed. After several years in academia, she returned once again below the fold to newspapers in 2012. The reason was an unexpected return to New Zealand for family reasons where she picked up a job as a subeditor, fighting off accusations of being a scab in the process. In 2007 Fairfax Media sacked their sub-editors in Newcastle and Wollongong and outsourced the production work of the Newcastle Herald and Illawarra Mercury to NZ at lower rates and with less people. The decision caused shock not only in the two NSW cities but resonated across the entire industry. Sub-editing, said Buchanan, was “once the hidden creative and technical grunt behind a newspaper.” Subbies were the ones who turned “nude” copy into published prose, house-style. They usually had a compendium of knowledge about the newspaper and the city they served. Now they were gone, replaced by contract labour, working hard and cheap and knowing nothing of their faraway markets.
It wasn’t their fault but Buchanan and her colleagues in Wellington had no feel for the Mercury or the Herald and knew little or nothing about local issues or personalities. Sub-editing was always a stressful job and in older times they often had to write to four deadlines a day. Now those peaks are gone, evened out by an incessant demand for daylong copy, done fast and non-stop. After 12 exhausting months in the job, Buchanan quit and came back to Australia to write her book.
Buchanan says the book is about the cultural and economic implications of the death of newspapers. Too much of the public conversation has been about the impact to the journalists and everyone else who worked in the industry has been forgotten. The job losses have affected all aspects of the supply chain from the newsprint makers to the deliverers. It included the printers, the switchboard operators and the advertising execs. Most departments, said Buchanan, “were denuded, centralised or shut.”
As part of her research, Buchanan paid a visit to The Age’s space age printing plant at Tullamarine. In June 2012 Fairfax announced it was shutting Tullamarine and Chullora (Sydney) and moving metro printing to regional plants. Tullamarine was a massive operation encased in glass which had only opened in 2003. It housed three new German double-width printers and state of the art post-press equipment. Architect Ken Sowerby was showered with awards for design, construction, lighting, steel work and environmental friendliness. Designed to make 46,000 newspapers an hour, it was down to 40,000 by 2013 and dropping. Printer numbers too are dwindling. As one printer told Buchanan, “There was little skill left in the job…These machines do everything.” When Sowerby designed Tullamarine in the late 1990s, Australian newspapers were still expanding and the newly evolving online world was still a novelty. Buchanan remembers reading Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital when it came out in 1996 and thought it “super wacky, even absurd”. She now admits most of his predictions have come true.
Buchanan denies she has written a “history book” but admits even her journalist friends think it is. Stop Press is an elegant and wistful eulogy to an age that has passed. Journalism will survive, but the large-scale newspaper industry it lived in is on its last legs. Rachel Buchanan may be in mourning but Tim Dunlop, meanwhile is very much comfortable in the digital realm. For his take on the new front page replacing newspapers, see Part 2 of this post tomorrow.
With the election now a week old, I thought it was about time I re-read the Advisory Guideline on Reporting Elections from the Australian Press Council. But as much as I tried to take it seriously, I couldn’t help chuckling after reading the first section headline which was on “newspaper bias”, I immediately conjured up a vision of Rupert Murdoch or Col Allan snorting and enjoying a good belly-laugh in the unlikely event they ever read this section together. Murdoch brought Allan from New York to report this election in the way the owner wanted, not the way APC wanted.
Both men would agree with the first sentence in the advisory guideline. “The Council,” it began,”upholds the right of a newspaper to have its own political position, to accept certain beliefs and policies and to reject others; and to favour the election of one party and to oppose the election of another.” The subclauses were a bit unnecessary but it was a sentiment most owners would agree on (however at odds with the various codes of conduct for television and radio broadcasters).
The second sentence was more likely to attract guffaws from Murdoch and Allan, saying newspapers which claim to inform people on politics were under an obligation “to present to the public a reasonably comprehensive and accurate account of public issues”. The News Ltd men would immediately tell you their newspapers are under no under no such obligation. Their only obligation is to their own survival in tough times. The spate of anti-Government front pages in the Murdoch tabloids since Rudd called the election serve two purposes, one political and one commercial. The political aim to overthrow a government Murdoch does not like. The commercial one is to increase newspaper circulation by having their ideas front and centre in the supposed zeitgeist to bump an unpopular government.
In either of these purposes, the Australian Press Council is not a consideration. This is despite the fact News Ltd is a constituent body of the APC and accept their jurisdiction. They know the APC is a pale ombudsman. The complaints procedure goes through vague strictures which are easily overcome while the more egregious crime that can’t overcome it, attracts at most a mild censure, that is at the paper’s discretion to publicise widely. If all the APC wants is to keep the paper’s editorial viewpoints and advocacy separate from its news columns, News Ltd could simply claim their openly biased call to action front pages are easily identifiable as advocacy.
It is not just the front page that are calls to actions. The signs outside the newsagent saying Kick this Mob Out http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/election-2013/daily-telegraph-front-page-no-news-to-rudd/story-fn9qr68y-1226691275942 are neither an “an editorial viewpoint” nor a “news column” but simply a blatant ad for a political party. The open cynicism was probably too much for a corporate flak like Kim Williams, but when push came to shove, it was Williams that was shoved, not the campaign.
What it shows is that the Press Council is a joke again, in a year when News successful fought against its reform. When it comes to the nitty gritty of what the council demanded when it comes to “unfairness and lack of balance”, News simply were abysmal failures. The APC calls for equal space for parties, equivalent photography, a selective right of reply and a “balancing response”, none of which the Government is getting in the current campaign. Yet breaches of these demands could all be easily be batted away by an experienced company lawyer who, in the worst of circumstances might simply advise to take the censure of a mild slap on the wrists.
The Murdoch campaign is rich irony for Labor. It was their idol Paul Keating who got them in this mess. His infamous “princes of print or queens of the screen” line which allowed Murdoch a 1987 Herald and Weekly Times takeover left Keating’s party horribly exposed should the princes of print decide to exercise their royal privileges against them. What ever about his unimaginative failure not to predict media convergence, Keating had no excuse for not predicting likely bias given he saw first hand how Murdoch destroyed Gough Whitlam in 1975.
This supine acquiescence a quarter of a decade ago may be enough in 2013 to haunt his party into opposition in a tight election.
THE thing politics has over policy is that it is a sport. When The Age tried to call this out in its editorial asking for the head of Julia Gillard, it was roundly condemned for not setting the agenda of policy themselves instead of focussing on palace politics. But would The Age have sold as many copies if it focussed too much on the what when the who is infinitely more interesting?
We all profess to be tired of the Gillard-Rudd business but you can be sure the hashtag spill would go ballistic if and when the long drawn-out battle actually ever takes place. Everyone would want to know the result. The Age know the personal drama is infinitely more interesting than the 55 or so pieces of legislation yet to pass in the final week of the 43rd parliament of Australia.
But here where I don’t have to pander to profit or personal drama, I can take the time to look at all 55 remaining bills, in alphabetical order. They cover a full gamut of legislative issues such as environment, the world economy, employment, education, tax reform and agriculture.
You may or may not find these interesting reading and they are mostly ignored by the media.
But this is what parliament is for: to change and enact law. Each of the 55 bills is important to someone or something; a truth the independent members of parliament (who raised most of them) know all too well. I’m hoping you’ll feel a little more informed if you read them; I did for writing them down.
Enables Australia to become a member of the African Development Bank Group by authorising the payments required to subscribe to membership shares in the African Development Bank and meet membership and ongoing subscriptions to the African Development Fund.
According to Bernie Ripoll (Lab) the bank promotes sustainable economic growth to reduce poverty in Africa. The bank currently has 78 member countries, comprising 54 African and 24 non-African countries. In 2011, the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness recommended that Australia join the group as it would represent value for money, and be a high-level indication of Australia’s commitment to development in Africa.
The far-reaching bill would require private and public projects of half a billion dollars or more to develop an Australian Industry Participation plan. A new quango, the Australian Industry Participation Authority would be set up to administer and monitor compliance of the plan reporting back to parliament. In the first debate, Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly saw an obvious problem: The measure would see government officers embedded in business, “just like it used to be in the Soviet Union”.
The planning regime itself will cost $1 billion dollars to implement, so I wonder if it will be subject to an Australian Industry Participation plan if it passes.
This Katterbill wants to limit foreign investment in Australian agribusiness and agricultural land. It would do this requiring the Foreign Investment Review Board to take “the national interest” (a contested concept if ever there was one) into account in foreign investment and also prevent non-Australians from owing half or more of an agribusiness or land more than four hectares.
Another Katterbill to amend air acts to ensure Australian international and domestic air services are at least 51% Australian owned and operated, do at least 80% maintenance in Australia and use only Aussie crews.
Greens bill to amend the 1992 broadcasting act to prohibit ads on odds, restrict betting ads to after 9pm, and prohibit “non-ad ads” and freeze betting ads before sports broadcasts. Given the 1992 act is ludicrously pre-Internet, this seems papering over some enormous cracks.
This one from the Greens wants to amend the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to: specify country of origin on food with labelling based on the weight of the ingredients.
7. Competition and Consumer Amendment (Strengthening Rules About Misuse of Market Power) Bill 2013 is an adjunct of 6 to strengthen the act to protect people in complicated supply chains eg where a $1 litre of milk to the customer is a net cost to the producer.
Amends the Customs Act 1901 to prohibit the export of coal mined in the water catchment valleys and district of Wyong (NSW) and enable the minister to prohibit the export of coal mined “in other areas”. This is Craig Thomson’s attempt to shut down a possible Wallarah Two underground mine despite no politician ruling it in at the moment. “People in electorates trust the laws, they don’t necessarily trust the politicians,” Thomson said. “And that’s why I tabled a bill today that looks to restrict the export licences of miners in the Wyong Shire in particular, but more broadly any other area that the minister by legislative means, deems to be appropriate.”
Katter’s call to register dairy regional representative bodies and Fair Work Australia to determine a modern award for dairy farmers with dairy farmers and processors to establish enterprise agreements and collective negotiations.
This one from Peter Garrett. Establishes the Early Years Quality Fund Special Account to provide $300m over two years to long day care services to pay employees wages, costs and expenses and is an early pay off for Gonski in an attempt to make kindy-teaching a better paying job.
Townsville LNP’s George Christiansen’s “Making Marine Parks Accountable” bill amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to allow Government to set an area of sea, or land and sea, as a Commonwealth reserve with the help of an independent scientific reference panel and a stakeholder advisory group. Christiansen wants to protect his fishing constituents access to marine parks.
Amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to place a two year moratorium on aquifer drilling connected with coal seam gas extraction; and impose penalties for any contravention. Katter wants to ban CSG mining for 24 months.
Katterbill to index military retirement benefits the same way as Australian age and service pensions, currently based on a higher-end consumer price index.
This Greens bill amends the Fair Work Act 2009 to expand enterprise agreements, settle disputes, and make provisions on industrial action. The object is to consider items of job security, full employment and work/life balance when the full bench makes a workplace determination.
Katterbill to remove the restriction of Fair Work Australia dealing with disputes by arbitration, mediation or conciliation, or by making a recommendation or expressing an opinion.
Katterbill to stop the foreign takeover of Cubbie cotton station near Dirranbandi, Qld.
Ag Minister Joe Ludwig’s bill to create a new Grape and Wine Authority by merging Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (GWRDC) and the Wine Australia Corporation. The merger would align strategy and achieve efficiency gains.
Social inclusion minister Mark Butler’s bill introduced with the Homelessness Bill 2013, to repeal the Supported Accommodation Assistance Act 1994 and makes an amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The bill ensures homeless people can still vote in elections.
Butler’s main bill which provides for the recognition of homeless people and those at risk of homelessness. There is a recognition of homelessness and an aspiration everyone should have a home. The aim is to remove barriers in social inclusion and improve service delivery.
This Katterbill imposes penalties on those who don’t label imported food properly.
Bill Shorten’s bill – Combined with the Superannuation Legislation Amendment, the bill amends the Income Tax Rates Act 1986 to impose a 45 per cent tax on superannuation benefits that are illegally released early. See also 50.
Greens bill to amend the Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 to prioritise Commonwealth rail funding over roads, with the exception of road projects designed to fix an urgent road safety issue or on which construction has already begun.
Greg Combet’s bill to tighten IP laws on crown use, implement a TRIPS protocol to supply developing countries with generic versions of patented medicines, protect plant breeder IP and bring in joint patent regime for Australia and New Zealand. Despite its international importance, this huge bill affecting several acts of parliament has got zero attention in local media as far as I can tell. It features in International Business Times which said the law would enable Australian companies to respond to future health crises in less developed nations.
Bob Carr’s bill to amend the International Organisations (Privileges and Immunities) Act 1963 to give privileges and immunities to the International Committee for the Red Cross and the International Criminal Court. The first part is required because Australia has signed an MOU with the Red Cross making it a legal entity while the second provides support for victims in ICC trials and removed a roadblock to Australia’s accession to the ICC Agreement on Privileges and Immunities.
Andrew Wilkie’s bill calls for the end to live animal export by 2017 and in the interim ensure “satisfactory treatment” before slaughter.
Minister for State Gary Gray’s bill provides for the protection of Malabar Headland following divestment to New South Wales. Malabar Headland is in south-east Sydney and was declared a 70 hectare national park in 2010. It was transferred to NSW in 2012 after remediation of the site. The bill ensures Commonwealth oversight of the site.
Andrew Wilkie’s bill to amend marine regulations to ensure Australian standards are followed despite the rundown of Australia’s merchant fleet.
Greens bill to allow gay marriage. Likely to fail due to Liberal block of conscience vote. We may have to wait a few years yet for parliament to catch up with public opinion on this.
The Coalition’s Scott Morrisons’ bill to restore two new temporary protection visa classes lasting three years. One is the offshore entry TPV for refugees entering at an “excised offshore place” (eg Christmas Island) but who meet Australian protection obligations, the other a “secondary movement” offshore visa which is the same as above except the person is a non-citizen who transited in a country other than Australia where the person could have sought protection.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor’s variation on the TPV bill and one of the few bills gathering media attention due to the furore over 457 visas which are a subclass of TPVs. It require sponsors in the TPV program to do Australian labour marketing testing with Fair Work inspectors oversight before employing someone on these visas.
Nicola Roxon’s bill (from her time as A-G) to establish the Military Court of Australia as part of the Federal Court to overcome the High Court challenge to the 2007 Military Court to deal with widespread military abuse. Interestingly, the court case Lane v Morrison that sank the previous court came out of a recruitment drive here in Roma in 2005. After a round of golf and drinks, Lane supposedly ”tea-bagged” an army sergeant but denied the charge before the military court. Lane successfully argued the court was unconstitutional.
Greens amendment to the ill-fated Minerals Resource Rent Tax Act 2012 to disregard increases in state royalties after 1 July 2011 when calculating royalty credits for the tax. Adam Bandt’s objective is to protect tax revenue from being eroded by increased State Government royalties.
Rob Oakeshott’s bill to make the national electricity law a Commonwealth law rather than state law. Oakeshott said the states electricity networks have seen the biggest increases in electricity prices and still have the biggest say in how the pricing rules are set.
“There’s a clear conflict of interest in states owning monopolies and regulating monopolies at the same time,” he said.
Amend definitions in the 2011 National Health Reform Act to allow the new National Health Performance Authority report on the performance of hospitals and primary health care organisations.
Nicola Roxon’s A-G bill to amend the Native Title Act 1993 to disregard some historical extinguishment of native title and broaden the scope for voluntary indigenous land use agreements.
Families Minister Jenny Macklin’s bill to clarify provisions related to ‘keeping in touch’ days. This means that they can come to work for up to 10 days during their parental leave, without it affecting their unpaid parental leave entitlements.
Wayne Swan’s bill imposes a pay as you go (PAYG) withholding non-compliance tax on directors and some associates where their company has a PAYG withholding liability for an income year and the director or associate is entitled to a credit for amounts withheld by the company during the income year. These amendments reduce the scope for companies to engage in fraudulent phoenix activity or escape liabilities and payments of employee entitlements.
Joe Ludwig’s bill amends three acts to form the new Australian Grape and Wine Authority (see 17).
Ludwig’s bill removes product specific maximum rates for R&D charges and marketing charges as changing them is difficult, slow and expensive. See also 42 and 48.
Another Ludwig bill changing three acts to form the new Australian Grape and Wine Authority (see 17 and 39).
Another Ludwig bill to implement the government’s rural R&D policy, to remove product specific maximum levy rates for R&D levies and marketing levies. See 40 and 48.
Wilkie bill and companion to number 44 with consequential amendments to four acts.
Wilkie’s bill provides a comprehensive definition of public interest disclosure and provides protections to public officials to make such disclosures.
Katterbill to reduce market share to 20% by enforced divestiture over six years and establish a Commissioner for Food Retailing.
Katterbill to regulate renewable fuel and mandate 5% ethanol by 2017 and 10% by 2020.
Katterbill to establish an Australian Reconstruction and Development Board to fix financial arrangements of stressed Australian agriculture businesses and associated industries.
Ludwig’s third R&D bill affecting 8 acts. See 40 and 42.
Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen’s bill to introduce a national student id from 2014. Needed because there is no single repository of records for vocational education and training.
In conjunction with 21, Bill Shorten’s complex bill to ensure civil and criminal penalties for promoters illegal early release of superannuation benefits, part of his “stronger super” reforms.
Joe Hockey’s bill to provide an exception to the prohibition imposed on taxation officers about the disclosure of information regarding the tax affairs of a taxpayer. Hockey wants to remove doubt tax officers can provide information about the MRRT when the Minister wants to make it publicly available. The intention is to reveal how much the mining tax has raised, without breaching tax privacy laws.
Treasurer Swan’s bill to amend taxation legislation to restate the ‘in Australia’ special conditions for income tax exempt entities. The bill is raised after the High Court found charities are considered to be pursuing their objectives principally ‘in Australia’ if they merely operate to pass funds within Australia to another charity that conducts its activities overseas.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s bill amends the Do Not Call Register Act to clarify who is responsible for making telemarketing calls and faxes where third parties are involved, vary industry codes and tighten the ombudsman standards.
Julia Gillard’s own bill to amend the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to extend the time period for lodging a claim for non-treatment related travel expenses from 3 to 12 months and enable further extensions of time in exceptional circumstances.
Greens bill to establish the Office of Animal Welfare as an independent statutory authority which was originally planned by Labor. Bandt said the Office would be a centre of excellence for animal welfare science and law and work to harmonise and improve animal welfare laws across the country. He also said it would give animals a voice in parliament, independent of the Agriculture Department and Ministry, to reduce animal cruelty.
Easily the most intriguing thing I read in the last 24 hours was the massive sheep-eating plant about to flower in the UK. It sounded so much better than a venus flytrap. I needed to know more but now that I do, I’m now thinking the BBC, Huffington Post and others have likely served up a dud.
The story surfaced on Tuesday when Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society’s media centre put out a gem of a press release. Their South American plant puya chilensis was about to flower for the first time in 15 years. The plant, they said, lived in the wild on the fertiliser provided by dead animals, including sheep, which decomposed trapped in its thick spines.
For the RHA this was a “gruesome secret” where dead animals become the “grizzly (sic) equivalent of a bag of fertiliser”. This is a big claim for garden in the green heart of Surrey and sheep are big animals to get stuck in bushes. Yet the simplicity of the tale was far too enticing to media eager for an off-beat story, and in a great setting. RHS Garden Wisley is so much a flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society it even sounds like one. There, irises and candelabra primulas line the long ponds, roses and salvias sway in the Country Garden, and glorious peonies dazzle and bloom. But does something more sinister live in this part of England’s green and pleasant land?
In question is Puya chilensis, a hardy plant surviving on mostly waterless hills in Chile. It is a terrestrial bromeliad, which means it has one seed-leaf not two and is a cousin of the pineapple. Puya chilensis is common enough in the Mattoral region. However because the Mattoral also contains Chile’s largest cities including Santiago, the constant land-clearing and the plant’s high flammability is making it rare.
What’s also rare, says the RHA, is the striking flowering of puya chilensis: It produces enormous spikes of neon bright, greeny-yellow flowers. The blossoms are gigantic. Individual blooms measure 5cm and they contain enough nectar for a person to drink. Wisley is particularly delighted as it said few UK specimens have flowered, a fact the nursery puts down to difficulties in replicating its natural diet in Chile.
Yet on the Scilly island of Tresco, the Abbey Garden’s puya chilensis has been thriving since 1848 and flowers annually. “Each spring the clumps of puyas send up great spikes of flowers 2-3m high, the flowers clustered at the top,” the garden’s website said. “The actual flowerhead is about 1m long and packed with racemes of chunky flowers, the sterile tips of which stick out, affording a perch for thirsty birds.” There is no mention of puya’s taste for animals, something you’d think the Tresco gardeners would have noticed in 160 years.
The RHA say puya chilensis uses its razor-sharp hook-like spines to ensnare animals. The animals starve to death and decompose. Finally, after perhaps years, the plant feeds off the fertiliser. Chilean shepherds on the Matorral, they claim, are all too aware of the danger and they usually burn the plant when they see it. Because of the “problematic” food, Wisley fed their puya chilensis with a liquid fertiliser rather than sacrifice a sheep or two.
On the carnivorous plants UK forum, no-one had heard of this strange diet of the bromeliad. “Osmosis” raised the topic on the forum about speculation the plant may derive an advantage from the decaying carcasses of animals it snares in the wild. “I know this is not strictly carnivory,” Osmosis went on, “but with only a slight embellishment it makes a sensational answer to what is the largest carnivorous plant.” Another, vraev, made the point carnivory was no longer such a big deal. “It seems almost one plant or another is trying to take advantage of the vast reservoir of animal nutrients,” he/she said.
I’m no botanist but I could find no evidence of carnivorous bromeliads either in scholarly publications or from talking to scientists who work in the field. In fact there is no evidence at all, earlier than the RHA media release of June 18. It is possible this is new science but I’ve not seen any papers. I asked the RHA “if this information has only recently came to light and if so, how?” They have yet to answer my query. The Beeb and Huffpo may have oversold puya chilensis but it doesn’t need to be sheep-eating to be an extraordinary creation of nature.
UPDATE: June 26. I got this response overnight from Stephanie Shepherd, Senior Press Officer, Art and Gardens:
Thanks for getting in touch. You can find references to the idea that the Puya chilensis derives a benefit from nutrients that leech into the soil from the decomposing carcasses of small animals (particularly farmed sheep) that become caught in its spines in Sharp Gardening byChristopher Holliday and in Maberley’s Plant-book. A Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classifications, and Uses. 3rd Edition by David J. Mabberley. It has also been referenced by the National Botanic Garden of Wales, The Eden Project and BBC Wildlife Magazine and you can find a piece from Tresco here which references the plant’s reputation for snaring sheep. All of these pre-date the press release announcing the flowering of our Puya chilensis.
As you could probably tell from the tone in which the press release was written, the story was intended as quite a light hearted one and a way of drawing the attention of the wider public to some of the fascinating and peculiar plants that live in our world.
I picked up the book Murdoch (1993) by William Shawcross in the cheapie bin at Lifeline book sale in January. The book is an unauthorised biography and does not hold back criticism though Shawcross is recently on the record saying Murdoch saved journalism, at least in the UK. The front cover of my copy of his 1993 book is torn – an eye is scratched out of the subject’s portrait on the front cover. While there were those protesting against him outside the IPA dinner in Melbourne last week that might have deliberately torn it, it looked more like a label had been removed. I didn’t hold much hope I’d find a tattered 600-page, 20-year-old volume on Rupert Murdoch interesting, so it lay unread for several months under a pile of other books.
By coincidence it filtered back to the top of the pile as the media baron made a rare return to his native land last week. As he appeared at the Melbourne gig, he was greeted by a protester wearing a mask of Murdoch as the devil. The image of Murdoch as Satan won’t bother a Catholic/wee free 82-year-old whose gods are money and power but the protester was not the first nor last to imagine him as evil incarnate.
Forbes ranks Murdoch as only the 91st wealthiest person in the world though the 26th most powerful person. In this category Forbes tucks him in one spot ahead of Jeff Bezos of Amazon and one behind Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Yet it hard to imagine similar hatred against Bezos or Zuckerberg. Despite a silver spoon upbringing, Murdoch has always been an outsider. He is also a different era to the two Americans that have built international empires in his wake and his modus operandi has always been blatantly ‘my way or the highway’.
Only 200 pages in, Shawcross’s book has a gripping read following Murdoch’s footsteps, from out of the giant shadow of his father Keith and into the world of international communications. Murdoch snr was one of the most important people in Australia in the first half of the 20th century. In 1915 young Keith’s reports from Turkey to the Australian Prime Minister precipitated the end of the Gallipoli campaign. He grew as an editor in the 1920s under the tutelage of British press baron Viscount Northcliffe, Alfred Harmsworth.
Harmsworth showed Murdoch snr the importance of keeping a paper lively, a virtue Keith passed on to Rupert. Keith Murdoch was a hugely influential managing editor but at his death in 1952 aged 63 he only owned two newspapers: the Adelaide News and the Brisbane Courier-Mail. The titles passed to his only son. Young Rupert was still at Oxford University but already well mentored in the successful ways of newspapers by Harmsworth through his father: explain, simplify, clarify.
His mother Dame Elizabeth was immensely powerful in her own way and it was the widow’s recommendation they should sell the Courier-Mail when the Herald and Weekly Times came calling. Still overseas, Rupert acquiesced but was furious and was determined to build up what was left of his inheritance quickly. The Adelaide News was the minor paper in town compared to the Advertiser. But Murdoch’s inexhaustible energy pumped it up.
Never with much time for “elites”, Murdoch delighted in stoking up the News’s anti-authoritarian voice. But in conservative Adelaide, the News never strayed too far from accepted opinions. Murdoch was left-wing at Oxford and had a strong interest in Communism and a bust of Lenin in his dorm room. But once established as a newspaper owner, instinctive love of the ways of capitalism grabbed him by the throat. Even more than his managing editor father, Rupert became obsessed by the bottom line. He learned quickly how to pick winning politicians and then back them all the way.
Murdoch was more than just an astute proprietor; he had great knowledge of all area of his business. Often he and his senior managers would put out the paper when journalists went on strike. He impressed the printers in London when he climbed onto a machine and found the bar that would fold the pages to ensure the presses could run in tabloid format. Murdoch had inexhaustible energy and would run his business by telephone, constantly looking for deals to expand his footprint. His specialty was purchasing loss-making operations and turning them around.
He quickly outgrew Adelaide and brought his racy tabloid format to Perth before breaking into the Sydney market. Fairfax’s boss Rupert “Rags” Henderson preferred to sell a down-at-heels Mirror to Murdoch in 1960 ahead of more established rivals (to the chagrin of his Fairfax board). Murdoch seized the chance to buy in to Australian’s premier market-place. He could not immediately break into Sydney television but his Adelaide station was making plenty of money.
In the late 1960s, Murdoch was already looking toward the UK and USA. He bought the News of the World after a protracted battle with Robert Maxwell and later The Sun. The News of the Screws was already a product of the gutter before Murdoch bought it, but the Dirty Digger (as the unforgiving British establishment called him) took it that step further. While his papers were successful, he and especially his second wife Anna Torv, hated London. Anna was the intended victim of a kidnapping and the wife of an employee died in her stead. They were more anxious than ever to get a foothold in the US.
Murdoch started with two papers in San Antonio, Texas. The papers performed solidly though Texans were slow to appreciate Murdoch’s formula for success: exaggerated headlines, a lively style and infatuation with sex and crime. But it worked better once he got his foothold into New York through The Post, the third paper in the US’s biggest city behind the News and the Times. But the summer of 1977 and the long-running Son of Sam saga, gave Murdoch the chance to dominate news. The powers-that-be and his rivals detested Murdoch’s hyped story-at-all-costs but he couldn’t care less. What did they know, they were just elitists or “pipe smoking journalist academics” and he was giving the people what they wanted. Murdoch’s power in his native land grew as his international interests expanded. He could even afford a loss-leader: The Australian.
Founded in 1964, the Australian was unique as a national paper in a country with deep metropolitan divisions. Its early years quickly established itself as a serious force and under editor Adrian Deamer an important part of the national political conversation. But Deamer was too independent for Murdoch. Deamer was good (and Murdoch grouchily acknowledged him as the paper’s best editor 20 years later), but he was too far removed from Murdoch’s growing conservatism and was sacked. Murdoch wanted editors who knew how to implement his formula, not set a path for social revolution.
Though he supported Whitlam in 1972, Murdoch was actively plotting against him three years later. Malcolm Fraser was the beneficiary (just as New York Mayor Ed Koch was two years later) of Murdoch political largesse. As a US watcher of that Koch election put it, “When the New York Times gives its support you’ll be lucky to get an editorial but when Murdoch supports you, you get the whole paper”.
Murdoch was gaining the reputation of a king-maker, something that prospective kings would quickly learn to take into account in their dealings with him. Australia is now small potatoes in Murdoch’s global reach but he remains the dominant figure in the local landscape. The Greens may call Murdoch’s News Ltd hate media, but Prime Minister-in-waiting Tony Abbott was in the IPA audience last week listening to the Sun King. In 2011, former News Ltd editor Bruce Guthrie suggested Murdoch has let it be known within his organisation that Australia needed a change of government and his editors were simply doing his bidding. Guthrie had a spectacular falling out with Murdoch and is likely biased but he makes a good point about the extent of his company’s power: “Given News controls about 70 per cent of Australian newspapers, which, in turn, feed talkback radio and evening news bulletins, that’s a fight most politicians want to avoid.”
At the IPA dinner, Abbott called Murdoch ”probably the Australian who has most shaped the world”. Abbott was on less firmer ground when he said Murdoch’s opinionated but broad-minded publications had “borne his ideals but never his fingerprints”. “He’s influenced them but he’s never dictated to them”, Abbott claimed. The point is, over the years Murdoch hasn’t had to dictate to his editors. With a few courageous exceptions like Deamer and Guthrie aside, most of them have known exactly what to do to keep their job.
Our media sent themselves hurtling further towards irrelevance this week with an exaggerated response to modest proposals to strengthen an under-regulated industry. The reaction followed last week’s announcement by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy on the Government’s response to the Convergence Review and Finkelstein Inquiry. The Convergence Review was about policy and regulatory frameworks in a converged media and communications landscape while Finkelstein examined media codes of practice in the Internet era.
Conroy proposed five reforms to deal with issues raised in both inquiries. They were: a beefed-up press standards model for print and online news media, the introduction of a Public Interest Test for mergers and acquisitions policed for diversity by a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA), upgrading the ABC and SBS charters for online and digital activities, allocating the sixth free-to-air channel to community television and offering a rebate for more Australian content.
Conroy proposed three other reforms to be sent to parliamentary committee: The abolition of the 75% local reach rule, on-air reporting of ACMA regulation breaches and whether ACMA should consider news program supply agreements when determining if someone is in control of a commercial television broadcasting service.
University professor and media policy commentator Terry Flew calls the reforms low key and a “ very cautious, and in many ways piecemeal” response to the two inquiries. “It has probably not modernised media laws sufficiently to ‘tackle the challenges of the future’, although it does make some overdue changes to existing law,” Flew said.
But the Australian media that will be subject to the change saw it very differently. For them, the five proposals were nothing less than an assault on freedom of speech. The Sydney Telegraph put Conroy in a rogues gallery of dictators likening him to Stalin, Mao, Castro, Kim, Mugabe and Ahmadinejad. News Ltd group editorial director Campbell Reid defended the Telegraph’s chutzpah as a “provocative tabloid presentation of an incredibly provocative act by a Government.” The Telegraph later issued an “apology” for printing a picture of Conroy dressed as Stalin. The apology was to Stalin who although “a despicable and evil tyrant who was responsible for the death of many millions,” he at least was “upfront” in his efforts to control the media.
This notion of control was picked up by many of the Tele’s News stablemates. Without a scrap of evidence, the Herald Sun turned Conroy’s package into “a deplorable assault on freedom of speech.” This glossed over the assaults on freedom of speech practiced by the company that owns half the Australian media landscape.
James Paterson expressed the view of his bosses at The Australian to reveal the laws’ real purpose: to punish and rein in the federal government’s critics in the media. News Ltd boss Kim Williams said the proposals were “government sanctioned journalism” and “dangerous policy” while the PIMA would be an “unnecessary novel creation”. Fairfax boss Greg Hyland was more measured but still saw the PIMA as a bridge too far.
No wonder Conroy took to the airwaves to describe Williams’ reaction as “hysterical”. He quoted at length from both inquiries from submissions which went to the heart of News Ltd’s huge penetration in the Australian market – something no-one from News was willing to admit was an issue. Conroy admitted the public interest test was contentious but said News and Fairfax had 86% of the market, “one of the most concentrated media sectors in the world.”
However in many respects the battle is irrelevant. Conroy has joined the bald Williams in fighting over a comb. Only a few media commentators like Alan Kohler understood the pointlessness of the struggle. He says regulating for diversity and complaint handling is irrelevant and unnecessary in a world that is quickly moving past the monoliths of print and broadcasting.
“Rebuilding trust with customers and keeping it is the greatest of all the challenges facing the media in the digital age, and dealing properly with complaints is an important part of doing that,” Kohler said. “The pity of it is that the PIMA and the complaints handling body will probably just be another set of slow, clanking bureaucracies that serve only to highlight the contempt that much of the media have for their customers.”
The latest in a long line of Aussie hoaxes was perpetrated to great effect this week though its creator might yet pay a penalty of ten years and half a million bucks. Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan is in the wars for putting out a press release in the name of ANZ Bank on Tuesday. The release said the bank was divesting its $1.2b loan to Whitehaven Coal for its Maules Creek Coal Project. It was an important announcement. In Whitehaven’s own words, Maules Creek is “one of only a few remaining tier 1 undeveloped coal assets in Australia. It is also one of the largest coal deposits in Australia with 362 Mt of recoverable reserves.”
Before it could be exposed as a hoax, it triggered a stock market collapse for the coal company. While almost all of the losses were subsequently recovered before the day was out, Moylan’s actions raises serious political as well as ethical and legal issues. Using dubious means, he focussed attention on the important question about whether we should be investing in major coal projects in a time when fossil fuel emission is the biggest issue we face as a species.Maules Creek is in the heart of the rich Gunnedah Basin in NSW. That state and Queensland produce 97 percent of Australia’s black coal. It is an industry in decline with Australia producing 405 million tonnes of raw black coal in 2010-11 down from 471 Mt. in 2009-10. Yet Australia remains the world’s fourth largest coal producer and the world’s leading exporter with markets in Japan, South Korea, China, India and Europe. Coal fired generators are leading contributors (20 percent) to a greenhouse effect as heavy-grade emitters of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
The Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions acknowledges fixing the coal issue will be difficult. Coal is cheap, is important for meeting energy needs in the developing countries, and has good lobby groups in countries like the US, which is the “Saudi Arabia of coal.” Coal-fired generators could still play a role if carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology ever takes off, possibly 10-15 years away. There would also be a need for a carbon market, priced at around $30 a ton of CO2 and a way of retrofitting CCS into existing technology. An ANZ that truly considered its customers interests, would ensure such boxes were being ticked. But it has no plans to do so and there is no scrutiny of whether such interests are considered.
Instead, the argument focussed on Moylan with those dividing into two sides on whether his hoax ends justified the means. Those that supported him like Bob Brown identified Moylan’s action as a necessary civil disobedience that brought out in the open ANZ’s investment in coal. That brought out the coalition’s Eric Abetz saying the ends did not justify the means. He turned it into an attack on Lee Rhiannon and the Greens’ “extreme political tendencies.”
Whoever is right, there is one thing for certain – Moylan planned his attack well. He put together a fake ANZ press template, a website and dummy email inbox online. The press release was a remarkable use of managerial language to frame an argument that would be quite unusual and brave in an Australian business context. Moylan used the voice of ANZ Corporate Communications to announce the bank would not support the project. Toby Kent, “Group head of corporate sustainability” was quoted to say the company wouldn’t invest in coal projects that cause “significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict.” The decision was made after “a careful analysis of reputational risks and analysis of the returns on this mine in the current climate of high volatility in the coal export market.” The released concluded with the statement ANZ was undertaking “a review of coal and gas investments on productive agricultural lands and areas of high biodiversity.”
Moylan’s fake ANZ release was quickly picked up by AAP Newswire who failed to conduct any of the basic identity checks that would have exposed the hoax. At the bottom of the emails are phone numbers for Toby Kent and Joanne McCulloch “Media Relations Advisor” which if anyone had bothering phoning would have quickly exposed this email as a hoax. Either that or a quick check of ANZ’s database of media releases would have been enough to dispel, or at least doubt, the information.
Instead AAP swallowed the news whole and provided it directly to the markets. When traders in the Australian Stock Exchange saw the newswires shortly after midday Tuesday, they went ballistic. Whitehaven bore the brunt as 85% owners of Maules Creek Coal. Maules Creek is 18km north-east of Boggabri on the Kamilaroi Highway between Narrabri and Gunndah. It is also just 16km from the railway line servicing the coal terminals at the Port of Newcastle, 360km to the south-east. Maules Creek’s current resources are expected to support a large open cut mining operation for 30 years at an average saleable coal production rate of 10.8 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). Subject to approvals, the first coal production will commence in mid 2013, with saleable production exceeding 10Mtpa from 2016 onwards.
But it was a dead duck without ANZ’s investment, and within minutes Whitehaven shares plunged almost 10 percent from $3.52 to $3.21. Whitehaven Coal lost more than $276 million in market value. It capped off a bad year for the company since it merged with Nathan Tinkler’s Aston last April giving him 19.4 percent ownership. The share price has lost over half its value since then with CEO Tony Haggarty and the board blaming it on uncertainty due to Tinkler’s financial woes - they want him to divest to institutions. Tinkler was quick to return fire on Haggarty and the board saying he wanted to increase his holding not decrease it.
That plan may be in tatters after Tuesday. The price did not recover until the real ANZ responded with a media release (pdf) entitled “Fraudulent media release regarding Whitehaven Coal”. This release (which looked remarkably like the fraudulent one) said ANZ remained “fully supportive of Whitehaven Coal.”
At the end of trading, Whitehaven was just 2c down on the day reflecting the fact there were other issues with the project. The damage done to Tinkler, was variously estimated to be anywhere between $50m and $180m (assuming it wasn’t him who picked up the shares when they were on the rebound).
Whatever the damage to Tinkler or Whitehaven, Moylan will suffer significant collateral damage. There is a strong prima facie case his actions were illegal according to Section 1041E of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). That act states it is an offence if a person makes a knowingly false statement that is likely to make people dispose of shares. The maximum jail term for individuals is 10 years, with fines of up to $495,000. Organisations face fines of up to $4.6 million.
The Australian Securities Investment Commission said it would be investigating whether there had been a breach of Corporations Act rules on false or misleading statements. According to dean of law at the University of Western Sydney Michael Adams the legislation that deals with corporate fraud imposes a high penalty on false or misleading statements about traded securities on the ASX. Adams believes a successful prosecution will hang on the difference between a public nuisance and civil disobedience. “A protest normally provides publicity for a cause and brings the matter to the general public’s attention, but causes little harm to the community,” Adams said. “A fraud – and in particular one that impacts on the share market – has huge consequences”.
Research fellow on ethics Edward Spence picked up on Abetz’s argument about the ends and the means. Spence said Moylan’s ethical failings were harmful to the “integrity of the digital informational environment”. This is the environment whose trustworthiness, Spence said “we all rely on to conduct our legitimate informational transactions.” We are not only biological beings, he said but also and increasingly informational beings. “When the informational environment is harmed we are also harmed.”
Spence may be exaggerating the harm here as it ignores the fact that checks and balances such as AAP did not do its job properly. Nor did any of the rest of the media use the hoax to expose ANZ’s dealings with the coal industry. Why didn’t anyone ask the bank if they would do “a review of coal and gas investments on productive agricultural lands and areas of high biodiversity”.Why is it acceptable for the bank to continue to invest in projects that cause “significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict?”
However the journalists there were not interested in the good news, they were more interested in a bad news change that came in on January 1. This change was a follow on from a change John Howard made in 2006 which was to end the supporting parent allowance when the child turned eight. Howard exempted those already receiving the parenting payment before July 2006 who were able to keep it until their youngest turned 16. This meant there would be exemptions until 2014. However the Gillard Government has now ended that immediately, saving $728 million over four years.
This change shifts 80,000 single parents from the parenting payment to the Newstart allowance when their youngest child turns eight. Some parents will be up to $110 a week worse off with the new arrangements and it was this issue that journalists turned to when one asked Macklin if she could live on the dole on $246 a week. Macklin could have done many things at this point, including refusing to answer on the grounds it was a very stupid question. Fellow Minister Tanya Plibersekwould later answer the question “properly” by saying “I don’t think anyone thinks it’s easy.”
But no such luck for Macklin, who gave the worst possible answer. “Yes I could”. Macklin then made matters worse by omitting her answer from the transcript issued by her office. Macklin tried to push on by telling journalists they had simply applied existing rules to people who had on the payment since 2006. “What’s important for people who are unemployed is that we do everything possible to do everything we can to help people get into work and that’s what we’ll be doing with these single parents as well,” she said.
But it was too late. The damage was done by the killer quote. TV cameras captured that answer which immediately provided the headline for broadcast and print media and the subsequent non-appearance in the transcript merely fuelled speculation of a cover-up. Susie O’Brien in the Herald Sun went so far as to call it “obscene”. Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie also took Macklin to task, but ridiculed calls for the minister to try surviving on the Newstart allowance. “You can’t replicate that experience if you are a senior member of government,” she said.
Goldie’s comment came as Greens’ leader Adam Bandt repeated tragedy as farce by announcing he would live on the $246 allowance for one week, challenging Macklin to do the same. “Once you take into account your rent your bills, your food, there’s not much change left over from $35 a day,” he told reporters in Melbourne, but didn’t elaborate how much of his modern lifestyle and well-tailored suits would be pushed to one side to make ends meet in that week.
Bandt’s stunt had little to do with the Newstart Allowance and everything to do with his struggle to retain Melbourne at the next election. But the whole affair does highlight issues with the low benefit rate when there are systemic problems of under-employment Australia has not solved. While the current rate of unemployment is low at 5.2 per cent by historic and international standards there is a high degree of volatility within this rate. In March 2012 the unemployment rate in Tasmania was 7.0 per cent, nearly twice the 3.7 per cent rate in the Northern Territory. Similarly, in March 2012 the unemployment rate for those aged 15-19 is 18 per cent, more than three times the national average.
There are “dole cheats” but for the vast majority, the dole queue remains a humiliating experience for most people. Economist John Quiggan said that instead of completing the Howard agenda, the Gillard government ought to be looking at increasing the real value of benefits, “allowing the unemployed to share in some of the growth in incomes for the community as a whole”. Even thinking about the absurdity of living on $246 a week, reminds us that many people have to do exactly that and some parents of those aged eight and over will now pay the price for the Government’s budget balance obsession.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Julia Gillard preferred to focus on solving the inequities of employment in the “patchwork economy” rather than increasing dole payments. “Some today see a problem, they offer blame”, Gillard told the Sydney Institute last year. “I see a person, a person who can work. I offer only opportunity, I ask only responsibility in return.” If Gillard gets the public space to tackle that agenda, she might yet be grateful for Macklin’s mistake.