Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maccas defeats the haters

The self-elected elite despise Maccas but the people know a good deal

The reinvented fast-food chain McDonald's has bounced back from the Super Size Me controversy to serve a record number of Australians in the past year. An average of 1.2million Australians [out of a total population of 20 million] a day walked through the golden arches in 2007. The franchise, which has 762 restaurants across the nation, notched double-digit growth over the calendar year, a McDonald's Australia spokeswoman said. But only 15percent of sales were its healthy eating options such as salads and fruit juices. The top seller was the cheeseburger.

"Last year was simply our best year ever," Helen Farquhar, McDonald's director of marketing and senior vice-president, said. The fast-food giant has prevailed despite the negative publicity generated by Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary Super Size Me, which highlighted the filmmaker's 11-kilogram weight gain and associated health problems after he ate nothing but McDonald's for 30 days. "There's no doubt that there was huge media coverage given to Super Size Me but it applied more to the US than here," Ms Farquhar said.

"The claims made in that film were untrue in Australia because we were already on a journey of reinvention and had already expanded our menu . and put nutritional labelling on our products when that [film] came out in Australia."

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed last year that Australia had the fifth highest adult obesity rate behind the US, Mexico, Britain and Greece. Dr Linda Schachter, a physician at The Centre for Bariatric Surgery in Victoria, which specialises in the surgical treatment of obesity, said it was "incredibly disappointing" to hear that more people than ever were eating McDonald's. Dr Schachter said while some people might choose healthier options at McDonald's, the fact was many still ordered fries, which were high in fat. "Society is getting more overweight and obese and it's disappointing to think that nearly 5percent of Australians are eating McDonald's every day," she said.

Ms Farquhar said the reason for strong business growth was because McDonald's was "not just about burgers and fries any more. "We've broadened our appeal and are responding to consumers who are demanding high-quality products," she said. The $2.5 billion company has been transformed over the past six years after a decade of declining sales. Its menu now features lighter options such as salads and sandwich wraps and food is cooked in an oil blend that has 85percent less trans fatty acids. Since 2006 McDonald's has had "percentage daily intake" information on its packaging, so that customers can see the energy content and nutrients in its food.

Andrew Koch, director of independent Sydney agency The Marketing Factor, said McDonald's had repositioned itself in the fast-food market by addressing the issues of fatty food and obesity. "Their advertising used to be aimed at kids, whereas now they offer a broader range of products and are bringing the whole family in. They've convinced the parents too now," he said.

Susie Burrell, an obesity dietitian at Westmead Children's Hospital said, "At the end of the day, McDonald's is a fast-food restaurant." She said while there were healthier options available, children were not going to go to McDonald's and choose a deli choice option over a cheeseburger. But Ms Farquhar said: "We actually sell more salads than any other [fast-food] restaurant or convenience store across the country."


More hopeless government "security" at an Australian airport

Cairns International Airport is not secure, with knives and even firearms regularly slipping through security checks, an airport insider has revealed. The whistleblower told The Cairns Post he had seen scissors and knives overlooked by security officers checking baggage. The baggage checkers had once failed to pick up a 9mm pistol stashed in luggage as part of a Department of Transport security check. "It's ridiculous," he said. "If I wanted to, I could take a bloody machinegun through there."

Airport security contractor ISS Security has rejected the claims that Cairns' airport checks are not up to par. A company spokesman described the failure of staff to detect the fake firearm as a "systems test". "While the test items resemble prohibited items, they are harmless," he said. The firm has been at the centre of recent claims it failed similar tests at Brisbane airport.

But the Cairns airport insider said that despite his repeated protests about lax security and poorly trained employees in Cairns, none of his complaints had been passed on to management. He also alleged that:

* A baggage handler threw a passenger's suitcase on their bag and swore at him when the passenger complained about how long it took to check baggage.

* A security officer suggested an Asian tourist should slap his wife to keep her quiet while they were arguing.

* Security firm senior staff failed to notice a 9mm pistol stashed in a bag as part of a routine security test - despite X-raying it.

* Management failed to act on reports of scissors and knives not being spotted by security staff.

The allegations come only days after the Queensland branch of the Transport Workers' Union called for an investigation into the security of major international airports, including Cairns and Brisbane. TWU branch secretary Hughie Williams said major international airports, including Cairns, routinely failed to meet minimum security guidelines. "With terrorism a real concern, the Government should be following up on these reports," he said. "The TWU demands a full investigation." The TWU also claims it had received numerous reports of inadequately trained security staff last year.

The Australian Federal Police said they provide additional security and logistical support to 11 major international airports, including Cairns, but day-to-day baggage scanning and security checks were all handled by private security firms.

ISS Security's spokesman said the firm was happy with the security standard it provided. "In the many tests carried out, (there) is no indication of low standards of security, nor can it be used to claim there is any threat to public safety," he said. "Standards at Cairns are consistent with world's best practice."


A corrupt government health boss with a bad memory

There seems to be an epidemic of bad memories among West Australian officials and politicians

THE return of WA Inc was felt with full force yesterday when Australia's highest-paid public servant was forced to resign following a damning corruption report linking him to former premier Brian Burke. The West Australian Government is now bracing itself for nine reports, to be released in the next three months, by the Corruption and Crime Commission, all involving Mr Burke's lobbying activities.

The CCC yesterday recommended that the Director of Public Prosecutions consider legal action against Neale Fong, the state's $565,272-a-year director-general of health. Dr Fong resigned shortly after the report was made public, saying he was embarrassed that he had not recalled 33 emails between himself and Mr Burke, but that they had been "totally innocuous". Dr Fong had told the CCC under oath that there was no personal or professional business relationship between himself and Mr Burke and that he had no recollection of any of the 33 emails.

The CCC recommended that consideration be given for Dr Fong to be prosecuted "arising from his representation of his relationship with former premier, Mr Brian Burke". The CCC claimed Dr Fong had engaged in three cases of misconduct, the most serious being that he disclosed to Mr Burke that the CCC was investigating a fellow senior officer in the department.

Corruption authorities have recorded and listened to about 13,000 phone conversations of Mr Burke related to several major lobbying deals. The calls were intercepted for 18 months from the beginning of 2006. Mr Burke himself was unaware all his phone calls and computer traffic was being monitored until he called before the CCC last year to give evidence under oath....

Yesterday's report stated that Dr Fong engaged in serious misconduct by disclosing a restricted matter to Mr Burke, namely that the commission was investigating a senior Department of Health official, Michael Moodie. The health chief was also reported to have engaged in misconduct by telling his minister, Jim McGinty, that he had no recollection of any emails between himself and Mr Burke and that he had no personal relationship with Mr Burke. The commission found evidence to the contrary. The report also found Dr Fong engaged in misconduct by failing to report the disclosure to him by Mr Burke of what the former premier claimed to be confidential cabinet information.

Commissioner Len Roberts-Smith QC said it was inconceivable that Dr Fong had not, could not and did not recall that there were any emails between himself and Mr Burke. A statement by the CCC said: "Although the investigation concerned the facts of Dr Fong's relationship with Mr Burke, there was no allegation against Mr Burke, his conduct was not the subject of the inquiry and the commission expresses no opinion about it in this report."

Dr Fong said: "I am embarrassed that I did not recall the emails from Mr Burke. However, I receive approximately 2000 emails and send 650 emails per month. I receive thousands of text messages, telephone calls and messages and pieces of correspondence every month."


Ratty Australian Leftist becomes a Muslim menace

PICTURE the sitting room of a modest two-bedroom flat at Lakemba in southwest Sydney. Neatly covered floor cushions lean up against the wall beside a shelf full of brass ornaments from the Middle East, while a tank of goldfish bubbles in the corner. It doesn't look like a terrorist's lair. The occupant is a 54-year-old mother of six and grandmother of two, retired and living on a disability pension. She doesn't look like a terrorist.

But this is the most-watched woman in Australia, monitored for the past 20 years by ASIO and described by intelligence analysts as the "matriarch" of radical Islam in Australia. Rabiah Hutchinson snorts with laughter at the description. "They've got it wrong. I am not important. I'm just a 54-year-old granny with diabetes and arthritis. What are they so worried about?"

Ms Hutchinson has been closely watched by Australian authorities since October 2003, when she returned to Australia from Iran, where she had spent nearly two years in hiding after fleeing from Afghanistan amid the US bombing raids that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US. Her passport was subsequently cancelled, based on advice from ASIO to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that she was "likely to engage in conduct that might prejudice the security of Australia or of a foreign country (and) endanger the health and physical safety of others".

Ms Hutchinson remains barred from travelling overseas, believes she is under constant ASIO surveillance and claims her family and friends are continually harassed. After years of silence, she has decided to speak out to deny any involvement in terrorism and accuse the authorities of persecuting her and her family. "It's not just me they're targeting. Now it's my children and even my grandchildren," Ms Hutchinson says. "It's absolutely ridiculous - to think I had any personal knowledge of or contact with Sheik Osama bin Laden. I am absolutely nobody. I just happened to be there."

As she recounts her life story, Ms Hutchinson laughs, sometimes shouts and occasionally weeps - at the memory of friends killed by US bombs in Afghanistan, or the hardship endured by her children because of her activities. She is passionate, funny and articulate, a natural story-teller and eloquent advocate of her faith. Born of Scottish stock and raised in Mudgee, in central NSW, she is also very Australian, describing in a broad Aussie accent how she carried Vegemite on all her travels, even to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

She is certainly extreme - in her absolute and unwavering devotion to Islam. And she is also angry. "When we left Afghanistan, we became among those classified as the most hated people on the face of this planet," Ms Hutchinson says. "And being one of those people means that there are a lot of people on this planet who believe you have less rights than an animal, that you can be tortured, raped, maimed, renditioned and have the most horrific things done to you in the name of anti-terrorism."

Rabiah Hutchinson has been of interest to Australian intelligence since the 1980s, when she was living in Indonesia and joined the rising Islamic resistance movement opposed to the Suharto regime. She had arrived in Indonesia as a 19-year-old backpacker visiting Bali in the early 1970s. There she converted to Islam and married an Indonesian man, with whom she had three children. When they divorced, she returned to Australia, but later went back to Indonesia to study Islam, which she says transformed her life.


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