Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Jones Bio Scrapped

What an interesting time it is in media land at the moment. Over at Channel 9, Eddie Macguire is demonstrating exactly why he's known as Eddie Everywhere, axing the long-running and influential business show, `Business Sunday', while the even more significant `Sunday' looks likely to be, at worst, cut altogether and at best, dumbed down to the level of the sort of punter who worries more about who will get voted out of `Dancing With The Stars' rather than Parliament. Much has been said in the past about the desire of previous Nine management to retain such shows as a sign of prestige - almost a public service, though always with an eye to the fact that airing an influential show automatically bestows a measure of power to the station that produces it. This doesn't seem a priority under the new management. As a veteran political nerd who looks forward to her weekly dose of political interviews, I've seen Nine's main rival - Channel 7 - turn its own flagship weekend political programme into just another day's worth of proto-Mel and Kochie. To lose a second would be a terrible shame.

Meanwhile on the other end of the dial, ABC Enterprises has pulled the plug on Chris Masters' long-awaited book on radio personality Alan Jones, citing the very silly notion that the book is unlikely to be a commercial success and, therefore, publication would be irresponsible. In both the media and political industries, the Jones book is the most long awaited insight into a public figure since `The Latham Diaries', and would have been a commercial bonanza.

The decision was reportedly influenced by the ABC Board, newly enervated by Keith `White Armband' Windschuttle. A coincidence? So much for the theory that the new composition of the said board will be non-political. This isn't my ABC. At the very least, ABC should come out and admit that Jones is likely to slap them with an almighty defamation suit should anything unfavorable be reported on him (or anything at all, apparently).

Why is someone who bases his career on such influence and such interrogation of public figures allowed to avoid similar scrutiny upon himself? The fact that Jones' life away from the mic is untouchable is a measure of Jones' influence, or more correctly, the fear he inspires in the politicians and public figures who jump every time he instructs them. Is this kowtowing based on actual influence? Does Jones set the agenda? I would argue a programme such as ABC's `Lateline' is far more influential in doing so, yet I'm not sure politicians drop everything to take a call from the other Mr Jones (the always powerful Tony Jones).

I find Alan Jones a fascinating figure, but until Masters' book finds a courageous publisher (and I very much hope it will), he remains a very shadowy figure for someone so prominently in the public eye.

A Challenge to the Liberal Party

It was terrific to see such high attendances at Wednesday's National Day of Action on industrial relations. 30,000 people at Blacktown, up to 100,000 in Melbourne, and healthy showings at the regional centres. And, all too predictably, the usual suspects lined up to say that 200,000 odd people getting out on the streets meant nothing - just as they did when we turned out in droves to protest what we knew would be a disaster in Iraq. Peter Hendy's regular line that `yes, 2% of all Australian workers turned out, but 98% chose to stay at work' is well-worn now (we'll be hearing it again after the next Day of Action).

But it was John Howard's comment that those who stayed home represented the `silent majority' that's really taken me.

Well, here's a challenge. I would like to formally propose that business interests and the Coalition organise a Day of Action calling common people to come out onto the in a show of support (and, foreign concept though it is, solidarity), supporting WorkChoices. I'd like to see banners, multi-generational shows of support, perhaps a slogan. Stay silent no more, majority! We want to hear the passionate speeches from Kevin Andrews and Nick Minchin! We want to see every businessman wearing an orange badge on their Armanis! It'll be beautiful.

Come on, comrades - claim it on the company as a long lunch!

For a party that espouses the philosophy of `small government', WorkChoices more rather than less nitpicking government control (not to mention public expenditure, given that four new members of the judiciary have had to be hired for the expected influx of cases which previously would have been heard in the IRC).

Of course, the real test will be at the ballot box. This far out, it's difficult to tell. While the prospect of abandoning the more extreme elements as the election draws closer is a always possibility, so too is the idea that John Howard's desire to implement the sort of wide-ranging reforms he has waited his whole political life to get through will, at last, overwhelm his political nous.

T'will be interesting.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

AWA: Australian Whacks ALP?

As last week's Insiders noted (I know, I know, I'm not up to date but my uni assignment on OPEC beckoned ... dammit), The Australian's attack on Kim Beazley's decision to make the axing of AWAs a central platform for the next election has been extraordinary. Crikey has suggested that the motive comes straight from the top - Rupert Murdoch himself - which would be ironic given that most of his workers are now employed on the much-maligned contracts.

This sort of clear bias only lends heat to the debate on cross media ownership reforms (which, according to the aforementioned Murdoch, do not go far enough). It also emphasises the importance of the ABC as an independent, non-biased (yes, Richard Alston, it is) news source that does not need to follow an agenda or work according to financial impetus.

As Laurie Oakes notes (hardly a bastion of the hard Left is old Laurie), Beazley's decision brought clarifity to the industrial relations debate and got the government on the run on an issue of genuine - and well-founded - concern to many people. As ABC political commentator Jim Middleton suggested, a vote for Labor will be a vote against AWAs. However, I think it will be important for Beazley to announce soon what he intends to replace AWAs with. The problem he faces is similar to that faced by the NSW Government which is on one hand fighting a heated battle against WorkChoices and on the other, making a concerted effort to woo the business sector. Though, as Beazley points out, it's wrong to assume that business is inherently AWA. The only danger is in influential bodies like Australian Business Ltd beginning a smear campaign (they have already announced a series of WorkChoices `education' seminars). But, then again, a concerted effort by Big Business to derail Labor could lend fuel on Labor's essential argument - the balance has been tipped to the fat cats, not to the worker.

It's interesting to note that following Beazley's announcement, the NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner has climbed aboard, decrying the removal of the no-disadvantage test (something he apparently was not aware of previously) and describing Kevin Andrews as `a dickhead'. Stoner is on Hansard describing opposition to WorkChoices as `scaremongering' that could cost `untold thousands of jobs' in rural Australia. It turns out he was merely misinformed. Perhaps he only reads The Oz ...

Now For The Bleak Midwinter

Federal Parliament has now risen for the mid-winter recess, and I'm willing to bet that the man in charge is going to require a good few cups of tea to recover. One sure sign of Howard getting the willies about something is that he dons the invisibility cloak. Other than an interview on Today (I won't link it, it's all that's wrong with Aussie television) and some truly agonising footage of him watching the World Cup in his favourite green-and-gold tracky dacks, Howard hasn't been very vocal or visible. Perhaps he was too busy in the party room, rushing to put a lid on the dissident MPs who still refuse to accept a revised Offshore Asylum Seekers Bill, which is entirely contrary to the deal negotiated by these same MPs less than a year ago. As it happens, consensus was not reached, and it appears that Howard will either go to his planned meeting with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono empty handed or cancel the visit altogether. Meanwhile, Barnaby Joyce was up to his old tricks, and unlike his vile claim that giving the cervical cancer vaccine to twelve year olds was effectively encouraging promiscuity in pubescent girls, this is one issue on which he and I agree.

Meanwhile, Nick Minchin was speaking out in pretty frank and arrogant terms about the government's plans to change the Senate committee structure, which it could (and apparently should) because the government has the numbers. There was nothing said about what will happen once the Coalition no longer have the numbers, nor any good reason given for dismantling what some have described one of Australia's (if not the world's) best democratic instruments. It's also the instrument which uncovered such inconvenient truths as the Children Overboard scandal, the Stolen Generations, as well as made strong recommendations against the adoption of the above bill on asylum seekers.

This is just the latest of Minchin's anti-democratic initiatives, another of which largely went under the radar (Alan Ramsey has belatedly noted it today) and which I intended to have a good spray about on my blog when it was passed - the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill. Well, if you think `electoral integrity' involves such things as allowing large corporations and wealthy individuals to donate more to political parties (of any stripe) without scrutiny, the banning of prisoners from voting (in contravention of the European Court of Human Rights), the closure of electoral rolls as soon as an election is announced (something about whichc the Australian Electoral Commission has clearly stated its strong opposition, describing it as `a backwards step') give my regards to Chairman Mao, Mr Minchin. The latter element will particularly disadvantage younger voters who have turned 18 since the last election.

I don't pretend that Average Joe knows or cares particularly about the composition of the Senate, but all of the above contributes to the general notion of an arrogant government. Howard has always prized his ability to feign humbleness and keep dissidents on the leash.

Have another cup of tea, John.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Liberals Far Right Take Over in NSW

Sex Discrimination Councillor Pru Goward's run for the seat of Epping appears to have been scuttled, after the Right dominated NSW State Executive voted to allow the outrageously stacked Cherrybrook branch to participate in pre-selections.

The momentous nature of this development cannot be underestimated, because it proves, for once and for all, that the Hard Right have taken over the NSW Liberal Party, riding roughshod not only over the ostensible state leader, Peter Debnam, but the Prime Minister John Howard, both of whom had been working hard to see Goward preselected in the seat of Epping. Thus, the ultimate power of David Clarke and his cohorts has now been definitively asserted. They've already helped depose a moderate leader, John Brogden, as well as infiltrated all state party organisations and stripped a moderate, Patricia Forsythe, of her pre-selection after she spoke out about the filthy tactics that got rid of Brogden.

This development is good for nobody - not the greater public of NSW, but least of all the NSW Liberal Party itself, whom infighting and factional battles have reduced to a rabble. While I don't think there will necessarily be a Pittwater-style backlash against the Clarke-endorsed candidate, Greg Smith, it is a disturbing trend that is likely to continue. The agenda of the Clarke brigade is extreme - anti-gay, fundamentalist Christian, anti-abortion (Smith is a former president of Right to Life), and their propensity for branch stacking wherever another fake member can fit in order to take over formerly left-dominated branches has caused such concern amongst other members of the State party that some have spoken out publically, such as City of Sydney Council's sole Liberal councillor, Shayne Mallard, who said, quite rightly: “I think it should be alarming for most mainstream Australians that any party is going to become marginalised to a very narrow base of issues"

Far be it from me to tell the Liberals how to win, but this certainly isn't it.

Andrews to Go?

Rumours of a reshuffle on the Government benches is again circulating, with Industrial Relations Minister Kevin Andrews now being mentioned. John Howard is said to have (finally) admitted in the Party Room this week that the industrial relations issue is a point of concern, and Andrews is hardly what you'd call an attack dog. Will Howard bring in his most prominent attack dog, Tony Abbott, who has never really seemed to fit in the Health portfolio? I've always thought this was possible. Of course, the danger in this approach to is that it implicitly justifies Labor's position and strength on the issue, in that an attack dog is required to defeat their argument.

The Abbott theory is lent credence by Beazley's attacks on the Mad Monk during today's Meet the Press (the word `bully' was mentioned not a few times). If there's one thing the Government doesn't need, it's a human symbol of those hard-headed unforgiving Big Businesses who the public are increasingly fearful of taking away their rights.

`Mean, Tricky and Out of Touch'

Well, it happened. For the first time since John Howard came to power, a Liberal senator, Gary Humphries, crossed the floor over the overturning of the ACT's Civil Unions Bill. And, according to the ABC's Jim Middleton on Insiders this morning, there was further unrest behind the scenes, with MPs accusing the PM of being `devious' and effected by hubris, one even reportedly quoting the famous 2001 assessment of the government: mean, tricky, and out of touch.

I'm in total agreement, of course, but the most interesting of these is the final point. Is the Prime Minister genuinely falling out of touch with the Australian public - the Midas touch with which he has been credited for so many years? Polls demonstrate that the issue of gay partnerships is at the very most, supported by most Australians and, at the very least, not even on the radar of many more. The question is: why did Howard create such trouble for himself? The overturning of the Civil Unions Bill wasn't an Opposition wedge or the like - it was a problem of the Prime Minister's own making, which caused considerable disquiet within his own government. I'm not saying there were many votes in it, but Howard's ability to keep his dissidents in their boxes has previously been well known. Again, not only have they been let out, but on an issue that the Government has made an issue, and which they just as easily might have turned a blind eye to with minmal impact to themselves.

Was it to win the support of Family First senator Steven Fielding, at one point (before Barnaby Joyce scraped over the line) thought to be the man who would hold the balance of power in the Senate? After all, it was Fielding's vote who got the overturning of Civil Unions over the line after Humphries crossed the floor. If this is the case, why was such effort expended and trouble caused? Is the Howard-controlled Senate not looking as safe as Howard thought?

It's perhaps too early to say for sure, but it will be interesting to see, in the near future, whether this emerging trend continues. The much-delayed vote on the asylum seeker bill (which could, and I believe will) be held over until after the Winter session will be a strong indicator.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Traffic Between the Benches

It's been quite an extraordinary week for the Howard Government, when you look at it. Has there ever been a week where so many Coalition MPs have made serious threats to cross the floor? One of the features of the government has been their extreme discipline. Sure, MPs were allowed out on the leash to pursue contrary theories within their electorate, but Ministers - fall behind Howard or fall.

Kerry O'Brien's interview with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone on last night's 7.30 Report was a cracker - and what's more, Vanstone contradicted the Prime Minister's line, made in Parliament only hours ago, that Indonesia played no part in the decision to implement harsher immigration regulations. Apart from being so implausible (something O'Brien eventually coerced Vanstone to admit), the notion of Howard appearing to appease the same nation that just let Abu Bakar Bashir out of jail is just not a good look. Opposition Immigration Minister Tony Burke was particularly effective in pushing the notion of kowtowing to Indonesia at the expense of human rights, also defending his position later on Lateline. Should all the MPs who have threatened to cross the floor over this issue, it will be easily overturned, not only in the Senate but the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, former ACT Chief Minister Gary Humphries has come out (no pun intended) in opposition to the government's attempts to overturn the ACT's Civil Unions Bill. It's still not clear whether this decision will actually go to a vote, though the Coalition cabinet room did debate it. However, Humphries has made clear his bitter disappointment in the Cabinet's decision, as well as the fact that while this debate took place, Philip Ruddock was already at the GG's house shoring up support for the overturning of the bill, and foreshadowed his decision to cross the floor on it.

Will they actually cross the floor? Or will Howard bludgeon them into submission? It could be a very interesting day in Parliament, given last minute talks are taking place over the Immigration bill, with a group of people who I really can't see agreeing to compromises which do not include abolishing offshore processing.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Bad Day for Johnny

John Howard was looking distinctly uneasy in Parliament today, and his line that Kim Beazley's decision to abolish AWAs would soon be seen as his equivalent to Mark Latham's pledge to get troops out of Iraq by Christmas found very little traction. Instead (and stunts notwithstanding), there seemed to be a new vitality in the Opposition, given that Beazley has finally realised what so many of us have been saying for months: that industrial relations needs to be the cornerstone of the Opposition's election campaign, because the issue is biting. The government has repeatedly failed to justify the economic case for WorkChoices (today it was revealed that the government's own preferred lawyer, Freehills, has found that wages are growing more quickly under collective agreements than AWAs), and the supply of angry workers who have either been sacked or had their conditions slashed under the new regime continues to grow.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's push for harsher treatment of asylum seekers has hit a rough patch, with both Upper and Lower house Coalition members, including Petro Georgiou, Judith Troeth, Judi Moylan and Barnaby Joyce strongly hinting that they could cross the floor on the issue, given that the government's own Senate Enquiry found that the proposed measures would require such severe revision that it would be barely worth going through with the legislation.

But then, the government did manage to put the final kybosh on homosexual civil unions in the ACT, following the unprecedented step of both the ACT Attorney General, Simon Cowell, and Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock dropping by the official residence to get the Governor General to intervene.

Thus, our country will not be over-run by underemployed asylum seekers who are also in a civil union with their same-sex partners. So it wasn't a whole day wasted.

Confirmed: Kevin Andrews `A Bum'

1983: "Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum."
- Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1983, following Australia's historic win in the America's Cup

2006: Federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has refused to urge bosses to show leniency towards bleary-eyed employees turning up late after the Socceroos' victory.

I rest my case.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Guantanamo Suicides

I was pretty appalled (as were the good folks at Polemica) when I heard Rear Admiral Harry Harris describe that the suicides of three Guantanamo Bay detainees as `an act of war'.

But that was before another senior US official, one Colleen Graffy, go one step further and suggest that the suicides were `a PR stunt' designed to rally support for detainees and `the jihadi cause'.

Well, for crying out loud. Let's look at this.

Firstly, America (allegedly) values the notion of `innocent until proven guilty'. That is, all allegations against a person are theoretical until they have been proven by a court of law. Perhaps the men who committed suicide were jihadis - we'll never know, because there is now no chance that they will be tried, and they should not have been held in the inhumane conditions at Guantanamo while they awaited far longer than they should have for this democratic right to trial. It is just as likely that, as with many of the people who have been released after long detentions in the facility, that they were not guilty.

One thing some people seem to find particularly difficult about human rights is that they apply to everyone. They don't get rescinded if you do something bad. Treating even a criminal inhumanely is to lower ourselves to their level. Regardless of whether these men were guilty or not, the Guantanamo Bay facility is a fundamental infraction of the right to trial, as well as an appalling way to treat people while they are awaiting the verdict on whether they are guilty or not.

The fight for democracy goes on ...

Combet Honoured

ACTU secretary Greg Combet has been named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) - one of the highest civilian honour that can be bestowed on an Australian. Though many outlets are reporting that it is (quite justifiably), for his work for sufferers of asbestos diseases, the official gazette reads:
For service to industrial relations and through advocacy for the improved health and safety of workers, including people affected by asbestos-related diseases, and to the community.

Combet is reported to be `pleasantly surprised' by the high honour.

The same, I imagine, could not be said of the Prime Minister, who will probably have to shake the hand of his mortal enemy at some point when he helps hand over an award that recognises the importance of the fight against one of his major policies.

It is also important to note that under WorkChoices, many of the tactics Combet used in his advocacy for sufferers of asbestos related diseases - in particular, utilizing unions in fights not directly related to their contracts (for example, the CFMEU's successful battle to save The Rocks by imposing green bans on the area) are now illegal and can cost a five figure fine.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Beazley: No to AWAs

Kim Beazley has pledged to abolish AWAs should he win the next election, during his address to the NSW Labor State Conference today. Previously, Beazley has refused to commit to such a policy, but perhaps the address by Unions NSW boss John Robertson, reiterating that IR is the key issue that could win the next election for Labor, changed his mind. Given reports of the success of the ACTU and Unions NSW in targetting marginal Liberal seats, it's actually starting to sound like a real possibility. Beazley looked to be in real fighting spirit. Meanwhile, a motion has passed at the Conference committing NSW to an anti-AWA procurement policy.

To my very great delight, a motion calling for public consultation on a NSW Charter of Human Rights was also passed, despite some reservations on the Right (which, as such reservations have tended to, were largely based on misunderstandings of the Charter, such as the notion that it would place ultimate oversight in the hands of the judiciary). If - and I very much hope, when - NSW's Charter of Rights is implemented, there will be parliamentary oversight, just as there is in Victoria, where, as I've reported before, a similar Charter was accepted with overwhelming support.

Given that Australia is the only developed country without a human rights charter or bill to ensure people have basic protections, the Charter will be an extremely important step forward, especially in an age where our rights are under such attack from such things as WorkChoices and sedition laws. The consultation, when it begins, will look very much like this. Bring it on!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

An Uncivil Disunion

I expressed concerns recently that the Commonwealth's latest demonstration of rampant power was manifesting itself in its strongarming of the Territories. These fears were confirmed yesterday when, for the first time ever, the Federal Cabinet unilaterally moved to disallow Civil Unions legislation passed by the ACT.

This is not the first time territorial legislation has been disallowed (the last time was during the euthanasia debate, which raged in both the ACT and the NT). However, it is the first time a law has been overturned at the behest of the Cabinet, rather than following a full parliamentary vote. As ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said on this morning's AM, the Civil Unions Bill was a clear election policy of the ACT government, and he now has a mandate to his electors that he cannot fulfil.

So much for sending Australian soldiers to fight for democracy in the Middle East when you're not even willing to uphold it in your own country.

The legislation was amended before its passage to ensure it did not clash with Commonwealth legislation defining marriage as a legal act between a man and a woman - specifically, it was noted that a civil union is not a marriage. Philip Ruddock and John Howard disagree. So, by their own reasoning, in order to not be entirely hypocritical, they must immediately disallow all Commonwealth and territorial legislation granting any rights whatsoever to de facto couples - gay or straight.

Also on AM, the Prime Minister claimed the overturning of the bill is neither homophobic nor undemocratic. Sorry John - it's both, and what's more (and I won't get into it too deeply here, except to point to the current chaos in East Timor as evidence of what happens under a dodgy constitution), the involvement of the Governor General in the decision - like another such notorious decision involving a certain MP, a political intervention by a figure who is explicitly not supposed to be political - asks some pretty deep questions about our own constitution that have not needed to been asked since 1975.

Nope - not happy John.

Monday, June 05, 2006

WorkChoices - Based on Four Page Summary

It's great to see the impact of WorkChoices getting some much-deserved media coverage in the last week, given the high profile Spotlight case and the revelation that the sacking of the Cowra meatworkers was in fact legal under the new legislation. Today comes the news (via an FOI request by The Age) that the economic case for WorkChoices was based on a four page literature survey summarising sixteen articles about the legislation - many of which support the notion that WorkChoices would mean lower minimum wages. As Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan says - someone with a laptop and Google could have whacked it together in five minutes.

Last year, when Labor urged the government to release its economic modelling for WorkChoices, it hoped to embarrass it by revealing that even its own modelling found no evidence of the productivity gains the Government were talking up. Instead, they found something far more intriguing - and embarrassing: that the government had in fact done no economic modelling whatsoever. This fact has now been confirmed by numerous Treasury sources. Treasury has now spoken vaguely about modelling in the future, which is a clever time to do it, given the legislation has already been passed and people are already feeling the impact.

Ah, WorkChoices - your choice and Buckley's. As John Howard, told us at such length during his Snowy Hydro pull out, unlike all the other nasty politicians, he listens to the people when they speak up about bad ideas. Except when he doesn't. Michelle Grattan continues on this theme, in regards to Telstra and nuclear power.

Goward for Epping

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward has confirmed she will run for preselection in the seat of Epping, following weeks of persistent rumours. The seat was vacated by the former Shadow Attorney General, Andrew Tink. It has been rumoured for some time that Goward would enter politics, either via the State seat of Epping, or the Federal seat of Hume, currently held by Alby Schultz. Since Epping was declared open, a veritable conga line of hopefuls have assembled to step in, from former Young Liberal leaders Tony Chappell and Ben Franklin to Adrienne Ryan, the former wife of Police Commissioner Peter Ryan.

Though Goward is well known for her friendship with John Howard (stop that giggling in the back row, you lot), she has also spoken out against recent Howard Government initiatives, particularly WorkChoices and Welfare to Work, and formed alliances with such unlikely figures as the ACTU's Sharan Burrow. If she does win preselection - and given the support of both the PM, Peter Debnam, and the wider Liberal Party executive, she should be considered a shoo in - her nomination should probably be considered a triumph against the David Clarke forces within the party. It could be argued that if the party was really daring (or, perhaps, really thought it was within coo-ee of an election win in 2007) it would give Goward a marginal seat to win, rather than a safe seat to slide into - but given the lack of talent on the State Opposition benches, they need all the help they can get.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

More on Snowy Hydro

Big Bill Heffernan has come out fighting after the aborted Snowy Hydro sale, calling for a referendum on handing control of all water systems to the Commonwealth, following `appalling mismanagement' by the States. One wonders if this ambitious plan is actually the brainchild of the equally ambitious Parliamentary Secretary on water issues, Malcolm Turnbull, whose desire to poke his nose into State water affairs has distinguished his time in the job. Well Bill (and Mal) - you may argue that such a plan may solve such problems as the ongoing argument between Queensland and NSW irrigators over cross-border water management, but when it comes down to it, you'll still be dealing with the same angry farmers fighting over the same rapidly dwindling water supplies. The States want to fix this problem as much as you do, and the longer you faff around refusing to fully acknowlege climate change or suggesting nuclear power is the only answer to it, the worse it's going to get.

Meanwhile, the Greens are discussing the possible launching of a bill which would require State Parliament to vote on any future sale of the Snowy Hydro (something the current State Parliament were not permitted to do), in response to the `lack of transparency' in relation to the planned sale. This seems pretty reasonable, especially as Federal Parliament was given a chance to vote on the sale.

The Federal seat of Eden Monaro, in which the Snowy Hydro lies, is particularly interesting given that it is the famous `bellwether seat' that has, since the year dot, been closely examined by soothsayers and augurs, as whichever party wins or holds it generally corresponds with whichever wins the election overall. It wouldn't be a good look for the Federal Government to lose this seat. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to note that the Federal Member for Eden Monaro, the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (before being usurped, again by Malcolm Turnbull) Gary Nairn participated in this vote and, despite being on nearly as small a margin as Steve Whan - and despite later lobbying the Prime Minister against the sale - supported the sale in the Parliamentary vote.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Snowy Hydro: The Backdown

You have to hand it to John Winston Howard. He's a bastard, but boy, he's a clever bastard. Today's revelation, made on Alan Jones' morning show, that the Federal Government was pulling out of the planned privatisation of the Snowy Hydro Scheme, was a typical Rattus Rattus masterstroke. In one fell swoop - watch the failed amalgamation of the Queensland Nationals disappear from the front pages! WorkChoices? What's WorkChoices? David Hawker's a crap and biased Speaker? Who cares - they're not selling the Snowy! And what a way to win back dissident Nats and reward Big Bill Heffernan for a career's worth of head-kicking.

Of course, Howard was fully aware of the import of his words when he told Jones: `It's now entirely on Morris Iemma's head'.

Was it what. Or perhaps, shared collectively across the heads of Morris Iemma and his Finance Minister, John Della Bosca, who was taking official responsibility for the sale.

What went on in those minutes following the announcement? The scene in Ye Olde Governor Macquarie Tower must have been utterly compelling. I know that as I listened to the radio and absorbed the news, you could hear a pin drop. What would happen? To cling on after the Feds had dropped away would be political poison - yet to drop out, two working days before the State Budget - with Snowy sale factored in - is handed down ...

The tension broke only ten or fifteen minutes later, when news came through that NSW had also reneged on its decision. Politically, it was the only possible decision - has there ever been such a wedge? But what are the further implications of the sale?

Snowy Hydro was corporatised in 1997. Inarguably, anyone who opposed the sale of the Snowy probably should have opposed corporatisation, because technically, all shareholding governments have been able to divest themselves of shares since this point, and the only reason the sale was proposed in the first place was because Snowy Hydro wanted to do exactly what corporations are legally obliged to do - expand and make more money, not provide services. It was the corporation that approached the government proposing that greater capital investment was required to expand the business, and as they saw it, this might be better funded by the private sector than the government. In essence, the argument is the same as that made for selling a car once the cost of repairing it exceeds either the value of the old car or the cost of a new car.

Was this case more compelling than the argument that if you sell an asset once, it stays sold? It's hard to say. And of course, if we ran our lives following the business case, we would have no beautiful buildings, no film industry (in fact, no artistic industry of any sort), and no state icons. But the real error lies, as it so often does, in the corporatisation of our essential services. As soon as a utility is obliged to make money rather than provide our water, energy, communications or transport, the provision of services becomes a secondary responsibility. And privatisation becomes virtually inevitable.

Steve Whan, the State Labor Member for Monaro, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the sale - not surprising, given that the Snowy Hydro is in his electorate, and that he stood a serious risk of losing his seat over the sale. As part of his campaign, Whan released a question and answer sheet outlining his position, which was this: people will not like this move, because Snowy Hydro is an icon. However, the sale will not mean that the water no longer belongs to the people of NSW, it will not change access to local waterways or National Parks, environmental flows, or the rehabilitation of the Snowy River.

For the upcoming NSW Budget, Whan's answer to the following question is one for which the answer will, ultimately,
Why do the NSW, Victorian and Federal Governments feel they have to sell Snowy Hydro

Snowy Hydro has argued to all three governments that unless they are able to expand the company into gas fired generators and other electricity related businesses their business will start to decline and they will stop making profits and have to lay off staff ... The NSW and Victorian Governments believe that the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to fund this expansion should not come at the expense of new schools and hospitals.

The question is - what will happen to these `new schools and hospitals'? Someone has to lose out as a result of the sale not going ahead. I have no doubt that Treasury boffins are working through the night to balance the books in time for Tuesday's Budget, and what gets the chop might be devastating. Even state icons.

I'm certainly no fan of privatisation, but like so many political decisions, this is one that illustrates the rare brilliant quote from `Commander in Chief' - very much the poor cousin to `The West Wing' - which has stuck in my mind ever since I heard it: the opposite of wrong isn't always right.

Guess Who, Don't Sue

If ever there was a day where I was bellowing `My kingdom for a blog!' it was today. Oh, what a day it has been. And oh, how it started for those who tuned in to Nova 96.9's Merrick and Rosso this morning. Given that the mainstream media didn't cotton on to this story until late in the afternoon, I could have had a nice little blog scoop.

Our friends on the FM side of the dial often enjoy sensationalist ramblings with sex therapists, sex gurus, and frankly, anyone who has had sex, and this morning was no exception. The boys on Nova decided to chat to a `high class call girl', who gave us a long diatribe on her battle with drugs, her experiences with single motherhood, and eventually ... her high profile clients.

"Oh yeah," she said, (or words to that effect) "We may have defamation cases brought against us and, as I'm anonymous, I can say I've seen ****** ******."

And there, on that tantalising and very abrupt note, the interview ended.

****** ******, as the Sydney Morning Herald eventually got round to reporting, is a Labor MP of some high profile. At the risk of being sued for defamation, the Herald did not name said MP (and given the same risks, nor will I. No doubt one of the scandal sheets will eventually lose their resolve and blurt it out - and I note the Herald's playing it both ways by posting the audio, though I wasn't able to download it so I can't say whether they've bleeped out ****** ******'s name). However, it is interesting to note that thanks to new defamation laws, publications such as the SMH may no longer have to withhold such information on the basis of it frankly not being anyone's business, as they once did. Media Watch comprehensively covered the issue a while back - the transcript makes an intriguing read.