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Fractious leaders play an old tune

December 6, 2014 – 12:22AM

Peter Hartcher

Broken promises, stalled reforms, a combative parliament and micromanagement to the point of paranoia: to a weary electorate, it’s all too familiar.

The parliamentary year has ended for 2014, but in truth Australian politics is stuck firmly in 2010.

Australia may have changed government, but the political behaviours that appeared in 2010 to the dismay of the Australian people remain the same.

The people look to the national parliament to solve problems. What do they see? A furious flurry of schoolyard fisticuffs.

The five central characteristics of the 2010 system are familiar.

<i>Illustration: Rocco Fazzari</i>

Illustration: Rocco Fazzari

First, a federal government that cannot win public support or Senate approval for its signature reforms.

Second, a government that breaks fundamental election promises.

Third, an opposition that wages unrelenting warfare on the government.

Fourth, a gratuitous combativeness and puerile pettiness across all the main parties.

Fifth, an electorate that is disenchanted with all the parties and responds by withholding its trust.

The people look to the national parliament to solve problems. What do they see? A furious flurry of schoolyard fisticuffs. The protagonists themselves proudly proclaimed it this week.

The Speaker of the House, the Liberals’ Bronwyn Bishop, concluded the parliamentary year by saying that she likes to “describe this as not a polite debating society and not a classroom but a battlefield.”

“We have given up guns, swords and fists, and we fight with words. It is a fierce and robust place. Indeed, the width of that table there is, I think, two sabre-lengths, which is meant to indicate that we keep our discussion to words.”

The Speaker obviously revels in the ferocity that dismays the voters of Australia.

She’s right about the origins of the width of the table that separates the prime minister from the opposition leader in London’s Westminster Palace.

But it’s also true that swords were banished from Westminster on October 30, 1313. That is, 701 years ago, half a millennium before the Union Jack first crunched into the sandy soil of Botany Bay.

It was such a far and foreign time that the proclamation signed by King Edward II is not recognisable as English.

The Statutum de Defensione Portandi Arma is unreadable by the modern English speaker and has had to be translated, declaring that “the common assent of the Prelates, Earls, and Barons, that in all Parliaments, Treatises, and other Assemblies, which should be made in the Realm of England for ever, that every Man shall come without all Force and without Armour, well and peaceably.”

A couple of things have changed in the last seven centuries, and Australian voters, reasonably enough, think that civil and thoughtful problem-solving should have long since displaced primal bloodlust at the centre of their national parliament.

If Bishop wants feudal fantasy, perhaps she should watch Game of Thrones in her private time.

But it’s not only the woman responsible for parliamentary proceedings who rejoices in the spirit of politics as blood sport.

The prime minister on Thursday paid credit to his personal staff in his 2014 valedictory remarks to the House: “I thank my staff led by Peta Credlin, the fiercest political warrior I’ve ever worked with, for everything they’ve done.”

And the leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, who pleaded guilty to the charge of wall-to-wall oppositionism. In his parting remarks for the year, Shorten said: “2014 has been defined by the force of Labor’s resistance.”

The main difference between the 2010 situation and this term of parliament? Under Labor, the government suffered from chronic mistrust between its leaders.

Yet this week, the Coalition government even seemed intent on recreating this dire condition.

In a remarkable act of mistrust and misjudgement, the Prime Minister ordered a political chaperone to intercept the Minister for Foreign Affairs on her mission to represent Australia at international climate talks next week in Peru.

Julie Bishop is perfectly capable of conducting herself without what, in Soviet Russia, would have been called a “political officer” accompanying officials or troops to ensure political loyalty and to protect against defection.

The decision by Abbott to send his Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, a climate change sceptic, to monitor Bishop is a clear mark of distrust in the deputy leader of the Liberal Party.

It is the equivalent of the moment that Kevin Rudd’s relationship of trust with Julia Gillard broke down, but in different political circumstances.

The immediate consequences will not be the same. Gillard took the opportunity to launch an abrupt leadership challenge against Rudd. Bishop has learned from Gillard’s mistake. Her relations with Abbott remain in working order.

But the consequences could be serious for the government in the longer run if this pattern persists.

Consider the similarities. The Rudd-Gillard partnership was first riven over climate change policy.

A capable and ambitious female deputy was antagonised by the public evidence of the withdrawal of her leader’s trust.

As if this government were not already showing striking similarities to the Labor governments it replaced, the prime minister has now added this too.

Bishop has been one of the star performers and saving graces of the Abbott government. Abbott’s office seems to fear that she has been too successful.

She has been faultlessly loyal. Even over this incident. The story of Bishop’s emissions escort was broken by Fairfax’s Latika Bourke, who wrote that “the Prime Minster has personally requested Trade Minister Andrew Robb chaperone Ms Bishop so he can factor in the economic impacts of any new targets Australia considers.”

It was followed up by the Financial Review‘s Phillip Coorey who reported that Abbott had not consulted Bishop over the decision, that Bishop had demanded a “please explain” from her leader, and that she “went bananas” over it, in the words of an unnamed government source.

It turns out that there was no “bananas” moment exactly, but an unhappy Bishop did question Abbott about the decision.

But, confronted by reporters, Bishop said: “Why would I be angry at being accompanied by a minister to a very important climate change conference? Minister Robb will be overseas next week and I will be in Lima and it is an efficient use of our time to have two ministers at the conference.”

Yet inwardly she would not be human if she were not smarting over the humiliation.

This is the sort of error that begins with the protectiveness of a prime minister’s chief of staff. John Howard’s chief of staff for a decade, Arthur Sinodinos, liked to say that the first responsibility of a chief of staff was to protect the prime minister.

But in the febrile and fetid air of an overworked political office, protectiveness can easily incubate into paranoia. A wise prime minister would overrule such a suggestion from a chief of staff. Paranoia can actually galvanise the hostility it most fears.

It is just another in the long litany of examples of Abbott ministers falling subject to micromanagement and hyperprotectiveness of the prime ministerial office.

Cabinet ministers pick up the morning newspaper to read about decisions that have been made about their own policies and portfolios. They receive a steady stream of orders to appear at one function or another or to cancel planned media appearances.

This is another way that Abbott’s government resembles the Labor government of 2010, specifically that of the micromanaging Kevin Rudd.

Most of the Abbott ministers, most of the time, roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders at what KGB officers used to call “instructions from the Centre.”

All of them, on occasion, rankle at the implied condescension. Yet none of them has fully confronted Abbott or Credlin over this pattern.

This, too, resembles, the first Rudd prime ministership. His ministers resented his highhandedness yet none of them had the courage to confront him. The frustrations mounted and were only vented on the fatal night of lightning betrayal.

To the people, this is all wearily familiar. To the electorate, this is a continuum of the 2010 system, even without Rudd and Gillard.

An ANU politics professor, Ian McAllister, who supervises ANU polling, points out that the 2013 election that brought Abbott to power was different to previous elections in one critical measure: trust.

“Normally the pattern is cyclical,” he says. “Trust goes up when a new government comes in and people have some hope, then it usually declines over time as people become disappointed.

“I noticed since 2013, when there should have been an upswing with the Abbott government, there hasn’t been. All the trust measures remain low.”

All the trust measures? The ones polled by McAllister are trust in politics, political efficacy, and confidence in democracy.

“They should have recovered but they haven’t. They remained at the sort of low levels resembling those of the Rudd government and the Gillard government, and especially the Gillard government.

“Politics,” says McAllister, “is just not particularly different to how it worked under Rudd and Gillard with Abbott as Opposition Leader. It’s not the way to run a sophisticated democracy. It’s to the detriment of good public policy.”

Yet the need for good public policy grown more urgent. The 2010 system came into being at almost the very peak of the mining boom. In the old policymakers’ adage, “good times make bad policy.”

But today the good times are receding fast. This week’s national accounts showed that, for two consecutive quarters now, Australia’s total national income has fallen.

Can the fast-approaching bad times make good policy? Not with the sort of smug complacency that the political class is demonstrating. Bronwyn Bishop concluded her remarks from the Speaker’s chair for the year by saying:

“Most of all I think that the people of Australia can be proud of what happens here, even with our argy-bargy. It is a wonderful democracy.”

As she and the rest of the parliament returns home for the long Christmas recess, they’ll discover that the Australian people have another view entirely.

Peter Hartcher is the political editor.

 

Source : The Sydney Morning Herald

Seafolly: Bastion of Aussie summer strikes out for distant shores

December 5, 2014 – 11:45PM

Andrew Hornery

Private Sydney Columnist

As a teenager, Anthony Halas would happily volunteer his services for the family business, especially when it involved going on set during a bikini photo shoot with a gaggle of leggy swimwear models.

This week Halas and his parents, Peter and Yvonne, took the fashion industry by surprise when they inked a mega deal selling the majority of their family-owned Seafolly business to the Asian arm of global luxury goods behemoth Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy.

“The business has always been part of the family. Our dinner conversations would be dominated by the business, talking about fabrics, designs and markets. Seafolly was always something we lived around, so as you can imagine it was a big decision for us to sell,” Anthony Halas told PS this week.

Success story: Miranda Kerr, past model for
Seafolly.

Success story: Miranda Kerr, past model for Seafolly.

While the details of the deal have not been revealed, PS understands the Halas family will retain about 20 per cent of Seafolly, while LVMH, though its private equity firm L Capital, is estimated to have paid up to $80 million for its majority share. Halas will remain as chief executive officer of the business, and both he and his father will sit on the company’s board.

The story of Seafolly is one of the great success stories of Australian business in the last 40 years,having been founded by Hungarian immigrant Peter Halas and his wife, Yvonne.

Originally marketed under the label Peter’s Folly, the business was a tribute to their mutual love of the Australian summer.

Poolside position: Anthony and Peter Halas.

Poolside position: Anthony and Peter Halas. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

Their first customer invoiced was Myer, while Peter Halas has previously credited Seafolly as being the first brand to introduce aerobics wear to Australia when the Jane Fonda exercise craze began. Since those early days the brand has become one of the major players in the Australian swimwear market, enlisting the likes of Miranda Kerr and Ashley Hart as ambassadors and models.

“There is no way we will be losing any aspect of our Australian heritage as long as I’m involved,” Anthony Halas told PS, though he admitted manufacturing of the company’s swimwear shifted offshore several years ago. However, the company’s design, marketing and “back end” operations had remained based in Australia.

“Bondi Beach is just down the road, the Australian beach culture is very much in the DNA of Seafolly, that won’t change. This is about joining forces with a company which can take the business to the next level, to increase our presence around the world in a very big way.”

No touching Nine in battle of the anchormen

Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy and Christina Applegate in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

You can almost hear “legendary” Hollywood newsreader Ron Burgundy setting down the ground rules for Channel Nine’s Peter Overton and  arch rival Channel Seven’s Mark Ferguson: “OK before we start, let’s go over the ground rules … No touching of the hair or face … And THAT’S IT. Now FIGHT!”

But while Burgundy was getting plenty of laughs, they have been in short supply around Channel Seven’s Martin Place studios following what has been one of the toughest years in the news game, with both Overton and Ferguson going at it hammer and tongs in the ratings battle.

But there can only be one victor – and this year it was Overton and his crew at Nine.

Tough year: Peter Overton at Nine (left) and Seven’s Mark Ferguson.

“The ratings have been appalling and there is no one around here who has not noticed,” an insider informed PS this week amid rumblings within the news ranks at Seven. Indeed, PS hears there are quite a few executives inside Channel Seven’s Martin Place studios, not least network news director Rob Raschke, who are sweating bricks as they try to figure out how to close the gap on Nine.

A year after the network first installed Ferguson in the chair, effectively bumping predecessorChris Bath to read the weekend news, the bulletin is yet to overtake Nine, while the broader broadcast business faces increasing competition from the internet, hybrid television and the audience’s increasing use of mobile devices, from phones to tablets, to get their news.

“They’re forgetting the newsreader is just the icing on the cake, Seven News has had big problems which were around before Mark inherited this situation,” said the insider. However, rumours abound that Seven is looking beyond Ferguson for a solution, with one gaining momentum that former 60 Minutes reporter Ray Martin may soon emerge on the Seven news desk.

The figures speak for themselves. In Sydney, throughout the 40-week ratings year, Nine News achieved an average weeknight audience of 334,000, compared to Seven News’ 256,000, down 9 per cent on its audience from the year before.

That equates to an average lead of 78,000 viewers each weeknight. Seven argues the figures show the gap is narrowing in more recent months and that it was a “long-term game”, but there is no denying that Nine News in Sydney won all 40 of the 2014 ratings weeks and has not lost a ratings survey week since November 2012. While  Seven managed to occasionally close the gap in varying degrees – those moments were all too rare – Nine News in Sydney won the past 82 ratings weeks back-to-back.

And the claws have been out all year. Rumours of no love being lost between Ferguson and Overton are nothing new, but this year Seven’s spin doctors had to fend off claims the network had hired an  “acting coach”. When PS asked Ferguson about it, he casually laughed off the claims as being ridiculous.

However, Seven has poured significant resources into promoting Ferguson, including highly stylised commercials depicting him as a man of the people, from shaking hands with the locals in a supermarket car park at Macquarie Fields to high-fiving random kids on the streets of Campbelltown, complete with endorsements from the locals declaring how much they “love Fergo”.

Chatter within the news department at Seven claims there are big changes planned for next year, especially as it was Seven that was caught on the backfoot in 2014 when Nine extended its news bulletin to a full hour. Seven followed but with a less successful format.

“Mark isn’t the problem, it’s deeper than that, we don’t have any Peter Meakins leading the way anymore,” a senior Seven source told PS. “Sydney is a beast of a market; you need that kind of larger than life character at the helm to compete.”

Potts Point’s turn for bar tsar magic

After a decade of bigger is better beer barns, Sydney is finally enjoying the delights of smaller venues with a new breed of bar tsars taking on the likes of Justin Hemmes and John Ibrahim.

On Tuesday night Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll officially launched their fourth venue in their expanding Applejack Hospitality portfolio, taking over the former site of Potts Point’s ’90s power restaurant Mezzaluna  and relaunching it as hip new bar and diner called The Butler.

Watts and Carroll have quickly established a reputation for delivering successful venues across Sydney with Bondi Hardware, The Botanist Kirribilli and SoCal in Neutral Bay, all now firm favourites on the notoriously fickle Sydney social scene.

They have  combined experience and expertise of over 25 years in the hospitality industry. Watts operated some of the best gastro pubs in London before moving back to Sydney to work for one of Australia’s largest pub operators, the NLG Hotel Group, and won the AHA Master of Bars in 2010. Carroll worked for Hemmes’ Merivale Hotel Group and NLG Hotel Group, where he met Watts, and was responsible for 36 venues.

Carroll told PS they wanted to create places “where locals could go and enjoy themselves, but in an intimate and casual way”.

So, instead of aping their former employers, they have opted for boutique venues reflecting the local neighbourhoods, attracting a loyal following of customers, who includea few famous faces, such as Sam Worthington, Gerard Butler, Nicole and Antonia Kidman, Georgie Parker,Kris Smith, the Stenmark twins, Libby Trickett, Hayden Quinn, pro surfer Taj Burrows, Sydney Swans’ Lance “Buddy” Franklin and Andy Lee.

And just last Sunday, Michael Fassbender was dining in Bondi Hardware.

Bundling in

The concept of travelling light appears a little lost on former Australian supermodel Kristy Hinze, 35, who arrived aboard the family private jet into Sydney on Thursday along with two daughters, Dylan and Harper, as well as her 70-year-old billionaire, Texan-born Silicon Valley pioneer husband, Jim Clark.

While a team of nannies carried the couple’s little bundles of joy down the gangway, Kristy juggled her hat and designer handbag before a team of staff busily disgorged a mountain of baggage out of the jet. Piled high on the truck, the luggage appeared to contain everything from children’s stuffed toys and Kristy’s cocktail gowns to Jim’s golf gear.

The family intends to be in Sydney for some time, with Clark’s new 100-foot supermaxi Comanchi entered in this year’s Sydney to Hobart, with rumours rife Hinze will join the crew on Boxing Day while her husband stays in dry dock looking after the kids. How very modern.

Hug it out, boys

Former union boss turned KPMG high flyer Paul Howes apparently hates publicity but he cannot seem to avoid attracting it. Howes turned up to a room full of journalists for the Walkley Awards on Thursday night only to become the star attraction when the ABC’s Sarah Ferguson told him to hug it out with his former best friend, Senator Sam Dastyari.

The pair had a spectacular falling out 14 months ago, after the Gillard/Rudd coup and the end of Howes’ marriage to Lucy Mannering. Howes has since married Qantas executive Olivia Wirth, who spent much of the Walkleys in hot pursuit of her husband as he back-slapped his media mates. The Walkleys was Howes’ third event for the night after KPMG Christmas drinks and popping in to Lachlan Murdoch’s party.

Relax deluxe

The “savages” of Palm Beach this “season” will be a little more civilised thanks to Sydney catering queen Mandy Foley who has launched a special outpost of her Stedmans empire in the holiday enclave with an all-encompassing luxury concierge/butler service so silvertails really do get to kick off the Louboutins and relax in style.

The service includes everything from housekeeping and babysitting to decorating the family Christmas tree, greeting guests at the Christmas gathering and even cooking and serving the traditional fare, as well as ensuring your Herald is delivered to your bedroom door (you wouldn’t want to miss PS now, would you?).

 

Source : The Sydney Morning Herald

At $40 million Bennelong penthouse is Australia’s most expensive apartment

December 5, 2014

Lucy Macken

Domain Prestige Reporter

The freehold offering includes the whole 13th floor, a smaller apartment below and 325 square metres on level 10 that is commercially zoned.

The freehold offering includes the whole 13th floor, a smaller apartment below and 325 square metres on level 10 that is commercially zoned. Photo: supplied

It was meant to be Sydney’s hottest restaurant set atop the Bennelong building.

But eight years after the Cadmus restaurant closed its doors, the views from the top floor of the Toaster over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are set for more-exclusive use as a private residence with expectations of a sale of more than $40 million, making it Australia’s most expensive apartment.

It’s a telling indicator of how strong Sydney’s residential market is compared with our fine-dining woes that the former Lebanese restaurant is worth more as a luxury Sydney base for high- net-worth buyers.

Bennelong - 1 Macquarie Street, Sydney

Bennelong – 1 Macquarie Street, Sydney Photo: supplied

The super-prime offering dwarfs the $30 million hopes that were pinned on the apartment two floors below of hotelier Margaret Maloney earlier this year.

Mrs Maloney’s apartment is now listed for more than $23 million but may set an apartment record yet. Potential lift access between the former restaurant space and Ms Maloney’s 11th- floor home has opened up the option of an even larger apartment that is now being considered by one wealthy overseas buyer with a combined asking price of more than $60 million.

After rumours of the high-end offering surfaced this week, CBRE agents Ben Stewart and Anthony Bray confirmed the super-penthouse is for sale with interest already coming from buyers in Asia and the Emirates.

The top floor of the Bennelong building and adjoining skybridge is about to hit the market with a price tag of more than $40 million.

The top floor of the Bennelong building and adjoining skybridge is about to hit the market with a price tag of more than $40 million. Photo: supplied

“This marks a whole new era in Sydney’s super-prime apartment market,” said Mr Stewart.

Sydney’s record apartment price was set in November at what is now revealed to be about $25 million for the double penthouse in the Bondi Pacific development at Bondi Beach through McGrath Projects director Steven Chen. That purchase by former Multiplex chief executive Andrew Roberts eclipsed a previous high of $21 million set for the double penthouse next door of Will Vicars, chief investment officer at Caledonia Investments.

Cadmus went into voluntary administration in 2003 closing its doors in 2006. It remained shut until 2012 when it was bought by a company owned by the Moran healthcare family for $24.64 million. It is understood there is an option over the property by the Kazal bar-and-restaurant family, who also own retail interests in the building.

Diners at what was previously Cadmus restaurant.

Diners at what was previously Cadmus restaurant. Photo: Quentin Jones

The Morans already own three apartments on level 12 bought for a total of $22.4 million since 2006.

An application by the Morans to convert the former dining area into two residential apartments or one 837 square metre super spread designed by Allan Jack + Cottier was approved by the City of Sydney in March at an estimated cost of $2.6 million.

The freehold offering includes the whole 13th floor, a smaller apartment below and 325 square metres on level 10 that is commercially zoned with an existing hotelier’s licence that used to be known as the Bridge Bar. It is accessed from the penthouse by a staircase.

The Bennelong listing is just a taste of more super-prime real estate that is set to hit the market in 2015 as foreign buyers take a keener interest Sydney, according to Mr Stewart.

While Mr Stewart wouldn’t disclose details of those offerings, stage two of the Barangaroo development is set to be released in the second half of next year with the penthouse rumoured to have a price tag of more than $50 million.

 

Source : The Sydney Morning Herald

Former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson caught up in new ICAC inquiry

December 5, 2014 – 11:45PM

Kate McClymont

Senior Reporter

EXCLUSIVE

Person of interest: Graham Richardson outside his Dover Heights house this week.

Person of interest: Graham Richardson outside his Dover Heights house this week. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Graham Richardson, one of the Labor Party’s most enduringly controversial figures, is embroiled in a potentially explosive investigation being conducted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Fairfax Media can reveal that the man once known as Senator for Kneecaps is a “person of interest” to the anti-corruption body.

In recent weeks ICAC investigators have been taking statements over a particular property deal in which Mr Richardson was engaged as a lobbyist.

It is understood that the planned public hearing into allegations of corruption involving former independent State MP Richard Torbay has been delayed due to the new avenues of inquiry.

In a separate development, the NSW state branch of the ALP has handed to ICAC a vast amount of emails covering the period 2004 to 2010.

Fairfax Media has been told that the two inquiries have some common features, including a link to Robert Fiszman, whose late father Sam was one described in the NSW Parliament as “a bagman for the Labor Party”.

Mr Torbay, 53, was sensationally referred to the ICAC and dumped as a federal National Party candidate in March 2013.

Part of the long-running investigation into Mr Torbay involves allegations that the then Armidale-based MP was being secretly bankrolled by the Labor Party from funds obtained from developer donations.

Mr Torbay is alleged to have received a suitcase containing $50,000 in cash provided by corrupt former powerbroker Eddie Obeid, a claim which Mr Obeid has denied.

As general secretary of the NSW ALP branch in the late 1970s, Mr Richardson’s legendary skills as a political bagman were honed. His prodigious ability to extract donations from developers and entrepreneurs continued throughout his years as senator.

A series of scandals saw him retire from federal politics in 1994. He worked for a number of years for the late media tycoon Kerry Packer. In recent years he has worked as a lobbyist for a string of developers. Fairfax Media does not suggest any wrongdoing on behalf of Mr Richardson’s clients.

With regard to his lobbying activities, Mr Richardson has previously told Fairfax Media that he didn’t need to lobby planning ministers: “I don’t have to talk to ministers; I can get things done through other means…I have known people in the bureaucracy for years. I have lots of contacts, lots of ways to press for things.”

Mr Richardson is presently listed on the lobbyist register as having one client, property developer Lang Walker’s company Walker Corporation. According to Australian Electoral Commission records, since 1998 Walker Corp has donated $2,253,480 to political parties, mostly to the ALP.

The former powerbroker suffered a financial setback after a prolonged legal battle with the Australian Tax Office over a $2.3 million tax assessment from profits in a Swiss bank account.

Mr Richardson claimed that the funds in the Swiss accounts were a gift from his close friend, the late disgraced stockbroker Rene Rivkin.

He reached a confidential settlement with the ATO in 2010. A few weeks later it was revealed that in 1994 Mr Richardson had sent $1 million from his Swiss account to a bank in Beirut. The Beirut account was operated by a close associate of Mr Richardson’s friend Eddie Obeid. Mr Richardson told the authors of He Who Must Be Obeid that he didn’t recall the transaction but if he did transfer the money, “It was under the instructions of Rivkin”.

In July this year Mr Richardson and his friend Danny Meares, of Danny’s Seafood fame, bought the Watermark Restaurant on The Strand in Townsville for $3.6 million.

Mr Richardson, who introduced Mr Meares to the deal, owns 10 per cent of the purchasing company, Farnorth Properties.

In September Mr Richardson, who works as a political commentator for News Corp and Sky News, used Twitter to post a photo of himself celebrating his 65th birthday at his new restaurant with the Mayor of Townsville, Jenny Hill.

Mr Richardson did not return Fairfax Media’s call.

 

Source : The Sydney Morning Herald

Tony Abbott, our Foxtel Prime Minister

December 5, 2014 – 11:00AM

Sam de Brito

Say what you want about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard but they tried to be free-to-air leaders, whereas Tony Abbott governs only for those who voted for him. He’s our Foxtel Prime Minister, writes Sam de Brito.

When most governments get into power there’s an unspoken truce that occurs where the new leader says something like “OK, OK, I know almost half of you hate my guts and did everything in your power to see me humiliated and beaten, but now we gotta pull together. I will govern for all”.

And that’s what most governments do – or at least try really, really hard to seem like they do.

With the Abbott government, we’re seeing a change in paradigm, where the PM and his office is clearly saying to the people who didn’t vote for him: “You’re not a part of our plans for three years, so you might as well avert your eyes, you’re not gonna like this.”

All smiles: Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, just before the 2013 election.

All smiles: Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, just before the 2013 election. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Comedian Chris Rock said recently of former US President George Bush: “He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?

“He’s the first cable-television president, and the thing liberals don’t like about Obama is that he’s a network guy … He’s trying to get everybody.”

Abbott is our first Foxtel Prime Minister. If you’re not a subscriber, too bad..

Say what you want about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard but they tried to be free-to-air leaders. You could get service in all areas. It might not have been the best picture, but it wasn’t a blank screen.

Of course, the Abbott government will deny this. The unfathomable sequence of broken promises and denials that they’re actually broken promises is akin to them telling you to squint at the snow of static on your telly while insisting it’s actually MasterChef.

“See! You see that faint outline of Matt Preston’s head? Awesome, huh?”

The thing about Aussies, however, is while some of us are pretty stupid, we’re not as stupid as Americans. There are actually vast swaths of the US that rejoice in voting against their self-interest; auto workers and Southern waitresses convinced Republicans care about their jobs because they also hate immigrants, abortion and evolution.

In Australia, you might get the odd western suburbs McMansion owner, with $1 million in the bank, who thinks Abbott cares about his smash repair business. He’ll wake up once his mum has to pay to go to the doctor every week and he realises his nephews and nieces will never be doctors or lawyers unless he ponies up that $1 million for uni fees.

We do self-interest pretty well in this country – something Abbott manipulated mercilessly while in opposition but seems to have forgotten in the last 12 months.

Right about now, I reckon our PM is feeling a newfound sense of respect for Gillard.

You know when an assistant coach goes for a head coaching job, filled with confidence: “It’s all me, I’m doing it all behind the scenes,” they tell themselves.

Then they get the big gig and boom!

Reality. The pressure. Injuries. Players doing stupid things in cubicles on the drink. Salary cap. The board. Post-game interviews.

Something like this was probably going on in Peta Credlin’s office during the last year of the Abbott government: “We beat Rudd and he smashed Gillard (who’d already smashed Rudd) so we’re golden. We’ll do this on our ear.”

Now? I reckon Abbott’s got a sneaky bit of admiration for the way Gillard juggled someone else’s promises (Rudd’s), her own agenda, a volatile crossbench and a bloodthirsty predator (Abbott) in opposition.

Abbott only has to juggle his own promises, agenda and crossbench, and he’s screwing it up royally.

Imagine if he also had to worry about Bill Shorten taking pieces of meat out of him every day instead of gumming him to death?

Make great TV.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

 

Source : The Brisbane Times

Storm passes Brisbane, but Sunshine Coast faces hail

December 5, 2014 – 5:19PM

5f0ef-australia_physical_map

The storm threat has passed for Brisbane this afternoon, but the Bureau of Meteorology has warned of large hailstones, heavy rain and damaging winds for areas to the north.

Queensland’s Bureau of Meteorology says severe thunderstorms have hit parts of Brisbane’s outer northwest, including Mount Nebo, Highvale and the D’Aguilar Ranges.

The thunderstorms are moving towards the northeast and are approaching Dayboro, Lake Samsonvale, Mount Mee and Wamuran.

Just after 5pm the bureau warned that severe thunderstorms would hit Woodford by 5.20pm the area west of Conondale by 5.35pm.

The warning noted that 97mm of rainfall was recorded at Mount Glorious in the hour to 4.15pm.

With AAP

 

Source : The Brisbane Times

Top Parliament House official Carol Mills misled Senate: report

December 5, 2014 – 3:51PM

Matthew Knott

Evidence: Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Carol Mills.

Evidence: Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Carol Mills. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The public servant in charge of running Parliament House misled the Senate when giving evidence about the use of CCTV footage to spy on a senator, a Senate committee has found.

The Senate Privileges Committee has referred Carol Mills, the head of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS), to the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for allegedly providing contradictory and misleading evidence, which the committee noted would be “a serious breach of accountability and probity”.

The committee found it could not reconcile Ms Mills’ evidence with a subsequent submission and documents provided by her department.

In February, DPS officials used images showing a DPS employee placing an envelope under the door of Labor Senator John Faulkner as part of an investigation into a staff management issue.

A furious Senator Faulkner later pursued the issue in Senate estimates hearings.

“This is the most serious breach,” Senator Faulkner said.

“A senator in this Parliament has been spied on in that way as they go about the proper conduct of their duties.”

The Senate Privileges Committee found there was improper interference, or attempted improper interference, with the free performance by Senator Faulkner in his duties.

In the May Senate hearings, Ms Mills said the spying matter had only come to her attention that day. But a submission by the department later said the footage showing the employee placing an envelope under Senator Faulkner’s door had been communicated to Ms Mills in February.

Ms Mills, who is on leave, was previously regarded as the front-runner to become the top official in the UK House of Commons.

In August, Senate Clerk Rosemary Laing sent a remarkable email to British officials saying it would be “embarrassing” if Ms Mills was appointed to the post.

Ms Mills has been approached for comment.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

Unemployment is a $15 billion drag on wellbeing

December 5, 2014 – 6:43PM

Matt Wade

Senior writer

EXCLUSIVE

Nicholas Gruen of Lateral Economics

Nicholas Gruen of Lateral Economics Photo: Rodger Cummins

Australians are feeling the effects of a sluggish national economy with new figures revealing a sharp rise in the social and economic cost of unemployment.

The Fairfax-Lateral Economics Wellbeing Index showed the annual well-being cost of unemployment and underemployment surged 14 per cent during the past year to $15 billion – the equivalent of 1 per cent of the economy’s annual output.

The figures will add to jitters about the health of the national economy in a week when the official growth rate slowed to a crawl and the Australian dollar slipped to a four-and-a-half year low of US83.56c. In the past few days a number of prominent economists have forecast the Reserve Bank will soon cut interested rates in a bid to boost the economy. Also the Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson warned on Wednesday that reforms were urgently needed to stop living standards from falling.

Wellbeing index 2014

Wellbeing index 2014

The author of the well-being index, Dr Nicholas Gruen, said the true cost of unemployment and underemployment was being underestimated.

“Unemployment – and its milder cousin underemployment – don’t just lower output, they depress people’s wellbeing,” he said.

“Also GDP fails to measure the economic damage caused by the way long-term unemployment depresses future earning potential. The wellbeing index includes those effects.”

The unemployment rate has climbed from 5.7 per cent to 6.2 per cent over the past year and the rate of long-term unemployment is well above its 10-year average. The official measure of underemployment has also deteriorated sharply, reaching its highest level since the late 1970s.

The Wellbeing index – which uses a range of indicators to put a dollar figure on national welfare – highlights costs associated with unemployment not picked up by traditional economic measures such as GDP. This includes the skills lost during long periods out of work and other lasting consequences of unemployment.

The index estimated the well-being cost of unemployment in the year to September was $9.3 billion. The well-being cost of underemployment was $3.8 billion and long-term unemployment was a $2 billion drag. The well-being cost of underemployment surged by 14 per cent in the year.

Dr Gruen warned against “policy fatalism” in the face of rising unemployment.

“We’re tightening fiscal policy but the Reserve Bank has drawn up stumps on easing interest rates,” he said.”We’ve come to accept our own mini-version of other developed countries’ malaise. We’re choosing policy timidity not after rigorously assessing the available options.”

Overall, the well-being index fell 0.7 per cent in the year to September despite a most rise in the September quarter. This contrasts with gross domestic product which rose by 2.7 per cent in that period.

The index showed obesity is taking a growing toll on Australia’s collective welfare. The total well-being cost of obesity reached a record $126.1 billion in the year to September, an increase of 6 per cent. Other major drags on national well-being were untreated mental illness, inequality and overwork.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

The 19-year fight to publish uncensored photos from Australia’s Senate

December 5, 2014 – 2:02PM

Andrew Meares

The Senate is a mysterious place.

As Prime Minister Tony Abbott is discovering, getting things agreed to in the Senate is challenging. I know the feeling.

It means we can’t take photographs of senators sitting down – something they spend a great deal of time doing

When he assumed the role in July, the President of the Senate, Senator Stephen Parry, quickly sought to reform photo access in the red chamber to be consistent with what’s allowed in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the long-awaited motion was quietly shelved this week without explanation. Why? Nobody will tell us.

This image of Sentors Jacqui Lambie, Dio Wang, Sam Dastyari, Glenn Lazarus and Nick Xenophon voting in the Senate was captured by Department of Parliamentary Services cameras but would be banned from publication if captured by Press Gallery photographers.

This image of Senators Jacqui Lambie, Dio Wang, Sam Dastyari, Glenn Lazarus and Nick Xenophon voting in the Senate was captured by Department of Parliamentary Services cameras but would be banned from publication if captured by Press Gallery photographers.

Section 50 of the Constitution allows the Senate to make its own rules and orders. This power extends to actively censoring how it is seen by the Australian public.

When going about their work, Press Gallery members are forced to adhere to a 30-page document regulating media access inside Parliament House. The document starts out acknowledging the important role of the Fourth Estate in keeping watch on those in power. It promises “openness and accessibility and “facilitation of fair and accurate reporting by the media of parliamentary proceedings”.

However, when it comes to taking photos in the Senate, openness and accessibility give way to censorship. Rule 5.7 (a) notes photographs of any senator may only be taken by the media whenever that senator is on their feet and speaking – otherwise known as ‘having the call’.

This rule was abolished in the House of Representatives 19 years ago without controversy but is actively maintained by the Senate to protect senators from scrutiny. It means we can’t take photographs of senators sitting down – something they spend a great deal of time doing.

Limiting photographs to only a senator on their feet speaking distorts what actually occurs and makes fair and accurate reporting impossible. Photos of divisions or votes that determine the fate of nationally significant legislation are also banned. Yet these division are broadcast on television and my Press Gallery colleagues are free to report, tweet and broadcast how senators voted. But as a voter, you are not trusted to actually see those senators vote. The irony was not lost on the Press Gallery when the Senate voted in protected visual secrecy earlier this year to extend the investigative powers of our spy agencies.

Eight television cameras constantly cover the Senate chamber, broadcasting proceedings. Images of senators seated without the call are deemed appropriate if captured by these cameras and transmitted on television or the Senate’s own website, but if these very same images were taken by a press photographer and published online or print, punitive action is taken against the photographer and their employer. Senators often cite vanity as a defence, concerned about being snapped sleeping or grooming in a public chamber. It’s worth remembering Kevin Rudd’s infamous ear-wax eating was captured by a robotic camera, not by photographers like me.

A photographer was banned from the building for three days earlier this year for allegedly contravening these bizarre media rules – an unimaginable punishment if applied to another gallery journalist such as Laurie Oakes just for doing their job.

The Westminster Parliament once guarded its proceedings closely, sitting in secrecy and punishing journalists and parliamentarians who dared share information. After a confrontation that led to riots, the parliament allowed the public to view proceedings in 1771. But pens and paper were banned, creating the important role of “memory men” who eventually gave way to note-takers in the 1780s.

As note-takers of the 21st century, the Press Gallery photographers’ coverage of our politicians contributes to the political discourse in an increasingly post-text media landscape.

Our work can help shed light on the mystery of the Senate and promote its vital work for the Australian public. But perhaps we will never get there.

Andrew Meares is the vice-president of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery and chief photographer for Fairfax Media’s federal bureau.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

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