Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Vegemite name smart or stupid?

They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. If true, the stupid name is in fact a winner. Most Australians feel some ownership of their beloved spread so there is great interest in the matter

IT MUST have seemed like a good idea at the time. But no sooner had Kraft trumpeted the name of its new Vegemite variant, iSnack 2.0, than it was met with almost universal condemnation by customers. On Saturday, the internet bristled with indignation at the name chosen from 48,000 suggestions by Vegemite fans as part of a public relations campaign to name its new cheese-based spread.

But the internet-savvy generation that Kraft sought to court with the new name appears to be turning on it with a savagery not seen since Coca-Cola changed its recipe in 1985 and rebranded it New Coke.

By last night the number of negative comments on Twitter, the microblogging site which has 700,000 Australian users and where consumers have collectively vented their spleen, numbered in the thousands. A website, Names That Are Better Than iSnack 2.0, has also sprung up.

Even Kraft appears to be hesitant to give unqualified support to the name - chosen by a 27-year-old West Australian and announced on Saturday. A spokesman, Simon Talbot, admitted it was polarising consumers but said the negativity was confined mainly to older consumers. Kraft has shipped its 3 millionth jar since the competition's launch in July, he said, so the product was proving more popular than the name.

But he left open the possibility of change. ''I can't say that we are not changing it. All I can say is that we are listening to consumers and, yes, there are some strong feelings towards it. It has taken us by surprise.''

Nick Foley, managing director of the branding agency Landor Associates, said the idea of asking shoppers to come up with a name was excellent but ultimately the name failed. ''They are taking the 'i' that is associated with the iPod and 2.0, which is a term for the web. So what does any of that have to do with a food product?''

Other marketing experts said Kraft was being canny, citing the adage that all publicity is good publicity. Paul Harrison, a lecturer in marketing at Deakin Business School, said the product was gaining valuable awareness and if people liked the product then a ''daggy name'' hardly mattered. ''I remember people questioned what Tim Tam meant when that was launched … it takes time for a brand name to be accepted.''


Political dishonesty in search of the grey vote

Are you appalled by the greedy decision by the state governments to appropriate a quarter of the hard-won $32-a-week age pension increase from singles living in public housing? Do you share the view of the federal minister Jenny Macklin that the states' behaviour is ''totally unacceptable''?

If you do, you probably see yourself as one of the more caring members of society. Sorry, I don't agree. Your sympathy's too selective. If you really cared you'd give the matter a bit more thought and not be such an emotional easy touch. When it comes to ''hard head, soft heart'' you flunk on both.

As for the Rudd Government, its outrage is confected. This isn't compassion for the needy, it's vote-seeking populism. Macklin, who's been expert in this area for decades, should be ashamed of herself.

The minority of needy people who manage to make it into the hugely under-supplied public housing are on a relatively good wicket. Whereas those who don't make it struggle to pay a rent based on what the market will bear, those in public housing are charged an amount geared to their ability to pay. In most states this is 25 per cent of their income, up to a cap at the market rental. How many private renters do you know spending only a quarter of their income on rent? Although virtually everyone in public housing is needy, not all of them are on a pension that's just been increased by $32 a week.

When you demand that those who have received such an increase be exempted from paying higher rent, you're saying they deserve a concession the others don't get. Why? Why should their rent contribution drop to 23 per cent while everyone else pays 25 per cent? Why are single age pensioners more deserving than the unemployed or sole parents?

And what about all the needy people on the waiting list for public housing? By arguing for some public tenants to get a concession, you're leaving the housing authorities with less money to spend on additional housing. Why's that fair?

The knee-jerk reaction against the supposed iniquity of applying a fundamentally generous rule to age pensioners is symptomatic of a deeper problem. The NSW Opposition's Pru Goward accused the State Government of ''attacking the most vulnerable in our community''.

Do you agree with that? It's nonsense - as I'm sure Goward is smart enough to know. People on the age pension are nowhere near being the most vulnerable. That dubious honour goes to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. After them are the unemployed, sole parents, the disabled and carers of the disabled or frail aged.

Only then come age pensioners - and even among them there are gradations. The great majority who own their own homes are comparatively well-off, those in public housing are next, leaving those in private rental the most needy among the elderly.

But the game we're playing isn't about who's most vulnerable or needy, it's about who we feel most sympathy for. And when it comes to the deserving poor, age pensioners win hands down. They're the most socially acceptable among the needy, the ones most like you and me.

Although like all successful interest groups they feel greatly put upon, the aged are hugely powerful politically. That's because there are so many of them, they have so much time to worry about the deal they're getting - there's something about old age that makes people greedy - and they get so much sympathy from their children and grandchildren.

Every politician understands and panders to the political power of the aged. That's why Kevin Rudd gave them a big pension increase even though it wasn't an election promise, was granted after the budget had plunged into deficit and will be an ever-growing burden on taxpayers for decades to come.

The aged were the backbone of John Howard's electoral support and he threw them bones throughout his time in office, without ever being reckless enough to give them a big, continuing pension increase. The increase was Rudd's attempt to bribe the elderly over to the Labor side.

The proof that this was motivated more by vote-buying than genuine concern for the needy can be found in the fact Rudd was far more generous than the report he commissioned recommended he be.

The Harmer report concluded only single pensioners living alone were greatly in need of an increase to recognise the costs they face. Neither married pensioners nor singles living with others needed a rise. The exception was those, whether married or single, living in private rental accommodation.

The report recommended the single pension be raised from 60 per cent of the married rate to between 64 and 67 per cent. So what did Rudd do? He ignored the recommendation for special assistance to private renters. He ignored the recommendation that the married pension was adequate and awarded a $10 a week increase.

He ignored the finding that singles living with others weren't greatly in need and chose to raise the single pension to a top-of-the-range 66.3 per cent of the married rate. And because he'd unnecessarily increased the married rate this meant the increase in the single rate had to be even bigger.

Sole-parent pensioners were specifically excluded from the increase, as were the unemployed. Harmer was not permitted to inquire into the adequacy of their payments. Because pensions are indexed to average earnings rather than prices, they rise by a per cent or two more each year than the dole does. The latest increase puts the gap between the single age pension and the single dole at $108 a week.

What makes the jobless and sole parents so undeserving? Their lack of political clout. Being either bludgers or immoral, they get little sympathy from the public. And since the voters have no sympathy for them, neither has Saint Kevin, the great social democrat. You may call this compassion. I don't.


Mining magnate attacks 'racist' treatment of Chinese

There could be something in this accusation. The unions have never liked the Chinese (they work too hard) and unions do have weight with a Leftist government

THE nation's fifth-richest man, Clive Palmer, has denounced the federal government's foreign investment rules as racist, claiming they are weighted against Chinese companies seeking to buy into Australian resource projects. The Queensland-based mining magnate warned that Chinese investors would not tolerate "the idea of being discriminated against because of the colour of their skin".

Contrasting an exemption allowing US investors to invest up to $953 million in an Australian business without foreign investment approval with the tight controls applying to the Chinese in the resource sector, Mr Palmer said the absence of a "level playing field" could cause Beijing to spend its estimated $1.8 trillion in cash reserves elsewhere. "We've got the opportunity to grab that if our politicians could only be fair and treat the Chinese people and Chinese government with the dignity they deserve," Mr Palmer said. "Why should the average American, regardless of his education or qualifications, have the right to invest $950m in Australia but the average Chinese person, regardless of how much money he has, is not allowed to invest without our Treasurer saying so?"

His comments, to a business lunch in Brisbane yesterday, come at a time when the standoff over the detention in China of Australian businessman Stern Hu, knockbacks under foreign investment rules of a series of Chinese resource investments and a defence white paper identifying China's military build-up as cause to boost the Australian navy have strained Sino-Australian relations.

Foreign Investment Review Board director Patrick Colmer last week warned Chinese investors to talk to the advisory body first, before signing deals.

Two Chinese government-backed companies, Wugang Australia Resources and China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Co, have been on the wrong end of recent national interest decisions on resource investments in South Australia and Western Australia respectively.

Australia's ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, yesterday sought to further calm tensions on the eve of the ruling Communist Party's 60th anniversary celebrations tomorrow, saying Australia did not see China as a military threat. "Obviously China's own defence spending is rising very rapidly," Mr Raby said in a rare interview via online video with the China Daily. "We think that is as it should be, given the growth of the Chinese economy and the need for modernisation of the Chinese armed forces. "Our white paper is not about any particular nation, or source of threat, but rather looks at the range of contingencies that the Australian government needs to look at in the next 10 to 20 years."

Mr Raby said the bilateral relationship was "excellent", with Australia and China's leaders meeting "regularly either bilaterally or at the margins of major international conferences". "China is our second-largest trading partner, and there are something like 120,000 Chinese students studying in Australia," he said. "So which ever measure you want to use, it's a very busy, dynamic relationship."

Mr Palmer this week returned from an investment mission to China, where he was drumming up support for his company's $7 billion development in central Queensland's Galilee Basin, combining a giant new coalmine with a purportedly "clean" power station, rail and port upgrades.

The larger-than-life businessman has a personal wealth of $3.42bn, making him Queensland's richest and the fifth-wealthiest nationally. Mr Palmer let fly at Wayne Swan, who is responsible for the Foreign Investment Review Board, referring to the Treasurer as a "goose ... or waterfowl of some description" and warning that he would go to the High Court at the first opportunity if one of his developments was affected.

Mr Swan's office hit back last night with a statement playing up Mr Palmer's financial support for the Liberal National Party in Queensland.


"Tough love" welfare policies work -- as quarantining parent payments cuts indigenous truancy

INDIGENOUS leader Noel Pearson's tough welfare reforms in Cape York, which financially punish the parents of children who repeatedly miss school, have dramatically boosted attendance rates.

A report to be tabled today in Queensland parliament shows that school attendance in one of the nation's most troubled Aboriginal communities, Aurukun, has almost doubled since the introduction last year of the Family Responsibilities Commission in four Cape York communities. The report on the FRC, which links welfare payments to social responsibility, allows a comparison of school attendance in the four Cape York communities that are taking part in the welfare reform trial, one year on from its introduction.

The communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge are all part of the $48million four-year Cape York Welfare Reform Trial, which is being funded by the federal and Queensland governments in partnership with the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, founded by Mr Pearson. It aims to tackle school attendance, drug and alcohol abuse, health, child safety, economic development and housing.

The FRC is a key plank of the Cape York reform agenda, with a magistrate and respected Aboriginal community members sitting on a commission that has the power to direct that a person's income be managed by Centrelink. The FRC is notified if a person's child is absent from school three times during a term or is not enrolled in school, if a person is the subject of a child safety report or is convicted of an offence in the Magistrates Court, or if someone breaches their tenancy agreement. The project is aimed at restoring social norms through collective responsibility.

Figures contained in today's quarterly report show that school attendance has increased in Aurukun, which had an average attendance rate of 37 per cent 12 months ago and now is achieving an average rate of 63 per cent, while Mossman Gorge rose from 60.9 per cent to 81.6 per cent.

Attendance at schools in Coen and Hope Vale have experienced a slight reduction, with Coen's attendance rate falling from 96.8per cent to 93.6 per cent, and Hope Vale's attendance falling marginally from 87.6 per cent to 86.9 per cent. Those two communities have remarkably high rates of indigenous attendance compared with poor attendance rates in remote schools across the nation.

The Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Desley Boyle, said the commission had been working with local schools, parents and case managers during the first six months of this year to devise ways of getting children to come to school. "I want to applaud all those involved, including parents and community leaders," she said. "As a result of this concerted effort, there are important improvements in school attendance."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday research indicated that education and employment made the largest contribution to closing the life expectancy gap. "The latest report from the commission shows a promising upward trend in school attendance, and demonstrates what can be achieved when parents take responsibility for their child's future," she said.

Figures contained in the quarterly report reveal that the commission has been following through vigorously on the punitive aspects of the welfare reform project. Between April and June this year, there were 31 conditional income management orders issued. More than 252 school attendance notices were issued, together with 46 child safety notices, 336 magistrates court notices, and two housing tenancy notices.

Those who are issued with such notices are referred to the FRC, which sits periodically in each of the four Cape York communities. When the FRC receives a referral it typically holds a conference in an informal setting with the notice recipient, who is encouraged to come an agreement with the commission about an appropriate response to the issues that have led to the notice being issued. If the person is unwilling to change their behaviour, the FRC can issue warnings, refer the person to community support services, or order income management.

The FRC is a crucial aspect of the Cape York Institute and governments' efforts to reinforce indigenous community values of respect and responsibility, as well as determining what actions will be taken at a community level to address dysfunctional behaviour.

The federal government has also moved to link school attendance to welfare in certain communities in the NT.

But Mr Pearson's tough model measures to instil social norms have not been popular with all Aboriginal leaders. Indigenous education expert Chris Sarra yesterday slammed government attempts to combat truancy through welfare quarantining as ill-conceived and a waste of taxpayers' money. Dr Sarra said the policies -also being trialled in the NT and scheduled for testing in suburban Brisbane - were ill-conceived because they are based on flawed assumptions. "The assumptions are that parents are actively trying to keep their kids away from school, that parents don't want quality education for their kids, and that schools are the kind of places that are really exciting for every child," Dr Sarra said. "That's simply not the case." Dr Sarra is the executive director of the Queensland University of Technology's Stronger Smarter Institute and is the former principal of Cherbourg primary school.

A fortnight ago, Federal Minister for Families Jenny Macklin and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced that a year-long trial would begin in Brisbane's urban southern fringe, which could see parents lose welfare payments if their child was routinely and inexplicably absent from school. The trial will also run in the remote indigenous communities of Doomadgee and Mornington Island and follows a trial in several Northern Territory communities.

The Queensland and Northern Territory trials are separate to the Cape York welfare reform trials.


Muslim stupidity again

And official stupidity in pandering to it. The health and welfare of a patient should always be the first priority of paramedics. Muslim males are incredibly insecure about their women -- a sign of weak character, it seems to me

A PRIVATE ambulance crew who stopped at a major accident where a baby's life was in the balance claim they were abused and ordered to leave the scene. Rian Holden chanced on a Melton crash scene where eight people were injured after their people-carrier flipped on Sunday. He said that he and his partner stopped to help Ambulance Victoria crews, who gladly accepted. Mr Holden said paramedics were struggling to attend to all the injured -- with both a mother and her child in a critical condition.

The private operator, who runs Event Medical Solutions, said he followed instructions of paramedics, helping move the child on to a spine board and administering first aid to others while his partner sat with an injured Muslim woman in traditional dress.

But Mr Holden said problems arose as he took the blood pressure and pulse rate of the injured woman. Ambulance Victoria operations manager Paul Holman had ordered him to leave. "It was in bad taste," Mr Holden said. "We copped a gob full of abuse. It makes you not want to do that in future. "It's all because he has a problem with me. Everyone was helping and we rendered basic first aid."

Other trained medical professionals stopped at the scene, including two nurses, while bystanders sheltered the injured from high winds. As helicopters transported the critically injured mother and child, police were asked to ensure Mr Holden left the site.

Mr Holden has written to Police and Emergency Minister Bob Cameron and to Ambulance Victoria chief executive officer Greg Sassella, demanding an apology. But Ambulance Victoria's Mr Holman said he was only short with the private operator because he had the welfare of patients on his mind. He said one of the injured men was becoming irate that Mr Holden was treating his wife -- that created a culturally sensitive situation. "I don't know him (Mr Holden) at all," Mr Holman said. "These people are Muslim. I asked him to get out of the ambulance, thanked him and asked him to leave.

"I was probably short because I had eight critically ill patients. I wasn't in the mood to have a long conversation. "He was asked to leave politely. And I did get the police to make sure he left." Mr Holman said he was concerned about Mr Holden's credentials but insisted he had not been rude to him.


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