Saturday, July 16, 2011


Gillard and Brown are both trying to shoot the messenger

The push by Bob Brown and Julia Gillard for a parliamentary inquiry into the media is so cynical, manipulative and transparently biased that if we really were as evil as they believe we’d congratulate them both for joining the dark side.

We're useless! Let's blame News Ltd!We're useless! Let's blame News Ltd!

Both leaders are seeking to establish a connection in the public’s mind between the obscene and illegal practices exposed in the UK and perfectly conventional and legitimate journalism and commentary in Australia with which they just happen to disagree.

It is extraordinary both how blatantly they have hijacked the issue and how seamlessly the more naïve and ideological sections of the community have followed them to this at best offensive and at worst dangerous illogicality.

The UK phone tapping scandal is about a British newspaper or newspapers engaging in illegal activity against ordinary citizens, most disgracefully, in some cases, the victims of crime.

This is now being used as justification by the Prime Minister and Senator Brown for a parliamentary inquiry into the local media. But why?

Do they have any evidence of phone tapping here? No.

Do they have any evidence of illegal activity here? No.

Do they even accuse reporters of behaving in a dishonest fashion or employing dishonest practices to obtain information here? No.

Yet still Brown wants an inquiry into media practices and ethics here.

That, it appears, is Australian journalists’ reward for not engaging in dirty and unscrupulous practices and generally being fairly decent types: A McCarthy-esque fishing expedition based on not a shred of evidence. Not even an allegation.

This absurd logic is the equivalent of police officers walking up to random people in the street and forcing them to prove they are not criminals.

And how will it work? Will rumpled press gallery scribes be dragged from their beds to testify which politicians they were drinking with the night before? Who said what? What was on or off the record? Will they have to give up sources? Expose whistleblowers? Will they, as Senator Joe encouraged so enthusiastically in the 50s, have to name names?

And of course media ownership will be scrutinised. And why is that again? Were the dodgy practices engaged at News of the World caused by concentration of media ownership? Er, no.

In fact the running theory as to why such dirty tricks were employed is that competition in the UK newspaper market is so fierce and so cutthroat that papers would resort to anything to get the edge on their rivals – even those in the same stable.

So no, it’s not that there’s any indication of dodgy behaviour or that media ownership has caused dodgy behaviour, so what is it? Why are we having this inquiry again?

Well gosh, no one can really say. But there might be a teeny-weeny clue in the fact that Brown describes the Murdoch press as “hate media” and that Gillard this week told the press gallery: “Don’t write crap.”

Now it’s one thing for a politician to point to a news report or editorial or opinion piece and say “that is crap” and tell the world why, but it’s a tad chilling when a Prime Minister instructs reporters not to “write crap” in the middle of a debate about a new regulatory framework to govern the media. Who’s going to enforce that edict? The Ministry of Truth?


Anti-Murdoch politicians can't stand the heat

David Flint

I AM no toady of the Murdoch empire. Its newspapers were tough on me in the years leading up to the republican referendum.

I remember The Courier-Mail saying the only reason people took any notice of what I said was not the content but the fact I was chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority.

On one occasion I wrote an open letter to Lachlan Murdoch dissenting from his position on the referendum. It didn't exactly win me plaudits in News Limited newspapers but, to their credit, they published it.

Later, when John Laws mistakenly thought I was behind moves against him at the ABA, some key News Limited opinion writers jumped gleefully on to that bandwagon. The point, of course, is no public figure should complain when the media applies the blowtorch. As the saying goes, "If you don't like the heat, don't go into the kitchen."

I mention this only to point out I don't owe the Murdoch empire anything. Like many readers I have often disagreed with its papers' editorial line. I thought their campaign against the Whitlam government was too one-sided and that they obsessively magnified any small error of judgment by the Howard government.

The Australian's support of Kevin Rudd in the 2007 election was particularly inexplicable. The paper was committed to labour market deregulation but everyone knew Rudd and Julia Gillard were not only going to wipe out Work Choices, they were going to take labour market regulation back to before the Hawke and Keating governments.

More recently, I think The Australian's support of the carbon dioxide tax on the basis of the so-called precautionary principle and on the primacy of market solutions misses the point. This is not a real market but an artificial construct concocted by bureaucrats and academics to be rorted by merchant bankers.

In the meantime Sky News Australia, unlike the US Fox News which is screamingly right wing, is to the left even of the ABC. A typical example: on July 15, who did it choose to comment on the carbon tax? Two well-known supporters of the tax, John Hewson and Graham Richardson, with a sympathetic interviewer. And although The Daily Telegraph is doing a sterling job in exposing politicians of all sides, its prominent photo column Street Talk seems to meet mainly left-wing people.

The point is News Limited is not a monolith with opinions settled centrally by Rupert Murdoch as a latter-day Lenin. It is richly diverse, more so than the ABC or Fairfax Media. And while Murdoch is no saint, he has done great things for the media. His move to Wapping saved the British press from the slow death to which the print union bosses had sentenced it. His creation of a national Australian newspaper was visionary.

But with the emergence of the latest anti-Murdoch bandwagon I smell not one rat but two.

Let me say the phone hacking indulged in by the News of the World and possibly other British newspapers is reprehensible.

But why were the latest revelations withheld until News International's bid to take over BSkyB was almost put to bed? Why were they leaked to a left-wing opposition newspaper?

This inspired some weak British politicians suddenly to find sufficient courage to challenge the bid. Now some Australian politicians who've been subject to perfectly legitimate attention in the Murdoch media are jumping on the News of the World bandwagon with demands that Murdoch be investigated here and possibly curtailed or even punished.

Wheeled out to defend the carbon tax, Paul Keating is calling for the immediate enactment of a privacy law. But there is no pattern in Australia of massive intrusion by the Murdoch media into the private lives of public figures. In fact the last significant improper media intrusion that I can recall was that of a Fairfax newspaper into the private life of Richard Pratt, who died in 2009.

I was chairman of the Australian Press Council for 10 years and after that chairman of the ABA for six. I cannot recall one occasion when a journalist alleged they had been directed by Murdoch to do something illegal or unethical. That included journalists who no longer worked for News.

When I was at the Press Council I did oppose a proposal that we support the establishment of a special press takeovers tribunal to stop Murdoch's takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times. This was not to favour Murdoch; my argument was this was a matter for the general competition law and there shouldn't be a special competition law or government tribunal for newspapers. The last thing we should ever do is give politicians any greater control over speech than they have, for it will be used only to restrict it.

For years defamation law was abused, mainly by politicians, to stop the investigation of matters of legitimate public interest.

And when Canadian Conrad Black asked for permission to increase his share in Fairfax to make it defensible against hostile takeovers, a political condition was put on it. If a privacy law were enacted the principal beneficiaries would be politicians with something to hide.

The point is some politicians who can't stand being challenged are now hoping they can use the News of the World debacle to nail the Murdoch newspapers, especially The Australian and The Daily Telegraph. No doubt they also hope to silence, or at least intimidate, talkback radio.

The problem for the Prime Minister and Greens leader Bob Brown is they are failing -- monumentally -- to explain what most people find inexplicable. In Gillard's case this is exacerbated by the fact most Australians have stopped listening to her because they think she lies.

The answer for both of them is more speech, not taking away freedom of speech and of the press.

The last thing we need are more laws or inquiries. What we need is good limited government and, if they can't give us that, an early election.


Feds backing off a witchhunt into the Oz media

THE government has moved to downplay the scope of any inquiry into the Australian media, instead putting an overhaul of privacy laws back on the agenda.

As Greens leader Bob Brown stepped up his calls for an investigation into local media ownership and regulation in the wake of the British phone-hacking scandal, Tony Abbott warned that threats of an "inquiry into the media when it is reporting the government's difficulties marketing a new tax smacks of official persecution".

The Opposition Leader said there was "no evidence -- none -- that the Australian media have engaged in any of the practices that rightly closed a UK publication".

"Politicians criticising the media resemble footballers criticising the referee. The media rightly hold us to account and we have to take the rough with the smooth, the fair with the over-the-top when it comes to media outlets' news judgment and commentary," Mr Abbott, a former journalist, told The Weekend Australian.

Senator Brown is yet to discuss his push for an inquiry with Julia Gillard or Mr Abbott. However, his call for full-scale investigation won the backing of federal independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said he was confident Australia's telephone interception laws were already strong enough.

He also ruled out government regulation of media ethics. "I think it's a very important aspect of democracy to have an independent and robust media and there'll be no suggestion of the government regulating the media," he said. "However, it may well be that there is an appropriate dialogue between the community and the various press councils and electronic media organisations."

The Prime Minister left the option open on Thursday to consider a parliamentary inquiry into Australian print and broadcast companies, but Wayne Swan said yesterday he did not believe an inquiry was needed into whether Australian journalists were involved in phone-hacking practices.

John Hartigan, the chairman and chief executive of News Limited, the publisher of The Weekend Australian, said this week he was "hugely confident that there's no improper or unethical behaviour in our newsrooms".

The Treasurer said he accepted Mr Hartigan's statements that News Limited was not engaged in these practices. "I think it's good to have a healthy debate about the quality of journalism, about ethics, and I'll leave it at that," he said.

But he used the debate over the media to take aim at News Limited's The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, accusing it of campaigning against a carbon tax.

"It's their right to do that, but they can't pretend that the coverage is balanced when all they do is oppose a price on carbon continuously and include that in their coverage in a way which isn't balanced," Mr Swan said.

Senator Brown is also pushing for Australians' right to privacy to be enshrined in the law, and the government has placed the issue back on the agenda.

Mr McClelland said it was "inevitable" that the Australian Law Reform Commission's review of privacy would be revisited. The ALRC recommended in 2008 that courts should have the power to make an order for damages, an injunction or an apology in cases where individuals suffered a serious invasion of privacy.



Global Warming - Worse than Hitler

An absurd letter in today's Melbourne Age:
When sacrifice is the right thing

HOW many of us are so selfish that the first questions we ask when confronted with change, are along the lines of: why should I have to pay a carbon tax? Why do I have to look for another job? Who's going to look after me? Why isn't my compensation higher? Who says $150,000 a year makes me so rich that I should have to pay this tax? Why should I change my lifestyle?

Obviously, these people are unwilling to make any kind of sacrifice. Did our forefathers question why they should fight Nazism and fascism? No, they put aside petty arguments and self-serving questions and went off to fight the enemy. Not because they wanted to, but because it was the right thing to do. Today, we are fighting a different and infinitely more dangerous enemy - global warming. This enemy will kill millions of people through famine, flood, drought and other disasters, unless we start fighting it now.

Tony Abbott is like Neville Chamberlain, who refused to believe that there was an enemy who must be defeated until it was too late. Abbott is just as blind when he says we shouldn't have a tax on carbon. Abbott will go down in history as being just as foolish and misguided as Chamberlain.

Chris and Jacki Burgess, Port Melbourne

Meanwhile, in the Sydney Morning Herald, a letter argues:
If a demonstration outside a chocolate shop, and a crucifix appearing in an anti-Abbott advertisement, are the worst examples of anti-Semitism and sectarianism that the ever-vigilant Gerard Henderson can garner, we should rejoice in Australia's tolerance ("Jews know acceptance still has its exceptions", July 12).

Jack Sumner Eastwood

So there you have it. Global warming is a bigger threat than the Nazis, yet a bunch of antisemites forming a violent mob outside a Jewish business is no big deal.


The sad, sad demise of Greenpeace

GREENPEACE WAS ONCE a friend of science, helping bring attention to important but ignored environmental research. These days, it’s a ratbag rabble of intellectual cowards intent on peddling an agenda, whatever the scientific evidence.

It was once the most active, independent and inspiring civilian group for the environment. Whether riding zodiacs alongside boats carrying barrels of toxic waste to be dumped in the open sea, or campaigning against CFCs and HFCs that were depleting the ozone layer, Greenpeace did admirable work.

But in the last decade or so, Greenpeace abandoned the rigour of science. When the science has been inconvenient, Greenpeace chooses dogma. Which is why it has a zero-tolerance policy on nuclear energy, no matter how imperative the need to remove coal and gas from electricity production. Or why it is adamant organic farming is the only way forward for agriculture, when organic could not feed the world’s population today.

And why, in the early hours of July 14, a group of Greenpeace protesters broke into a CSIRO Plant Industry experimental station at Ginninderra, north of Canberra, and destroyed an entire crop - half a hectare – of genetically modified wheat.

Greenpeace has always been media savvy, but over the past decade this has become an addiction, leading it to launch campaigns that generate lots of publicity, but have doubtful merit: witness its attacks in 2007 on Apple’s iPhone as being toxic and hazardous. It later admitted these had been exaggerated, and that it had targeted the iPhone in order to grab headlines.

The CSIRO break-in was also a stunt, complete with hazmat protection suits and the ever-present video camera to record the action.

No GM wheat has been approved for human consumption in Australia, but the CSIRO did have permission to conduct trials. And what was so ‘toxic’ about this wheat strain it had to be destroyed? Its genes had been modified to lower its glycemic index and boost fibre content, creating bread and other wheat products that would improve bowel health and nutritional value.

Greenpeace has lost its way. Its former glory rested on the righteousness of its actions in support of real evidence of how humanity was failing to care for the environment. Now it is a sad, dogmatic, reactionary phalanx of anti-science zealots who care not for evidence, but for publicity.


Green bureaucrats galore now

A GREEN brigade of bureaucrats assigned to environmental programs around the country has grown by 20 per cent since Labor won power four years ago.

And the commonwealth public service has breached some of its own energy-saving targets, with the Canberra headquarters consuming 25 per cent more electricity than a decade ago.

The number of public servants employed by the federal, state and territory environment departments has risen to 23,466, as green agencies recruit new staff at the rate of 1000 a year.

The green workforce has grown by 75 per cent in the key federal environmental agencies, which have almost 4000 permanent staff.

The bureaucratic blow-out will intensify as the Gillard government creates six new federal agencies to administer 20 new programs tied to the introduction of a carbon tax next year.

At least 200 more public servants will be recruited by the new Clean Energy Regulator. Staff numbers at the existing Climate Change Authority have already risen tenfold, to 1027, since its establishment less than four years ago.

Companies to be slugged by the carbon tax demanded that governments cut the "green tape". "The growing green bureaucracy is a concern for our members," Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said yesterday.

Staff numbers have soared by one-third in the federal Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, which has 2549 permanent staff on the public payroll -- excluding 264 working in the national parks division.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has more than doubled its workforce, to 295 staff.

New green programs, ranging from solar power schemes to greenhouse reporting laws and waste reduction schemes, have also swollen staff numbers in the states and territories.

In NSW, the number of employees in the Department of Environment and Climate Change -- recently renamed the Office of Environment and Heritage -- has risen by 23 per cent, to 4321, in the past four years.

Staff numbers have risen by 18 per cent in Western Australia, where the Department of Environment and Conservation has 1235 employees -- not counting those working in national parks and forestry management.

The biggest bureaucracy is in Queensland, where 5630 public servants work for the Department of Environment and Resource Management. The figure excludes 3000 "Green Army" jobs, which the state government boasted yesterday it had delivered a year ahead of schedule.

The federal government's latest report on energy use in the public service reveals that greenhouse gas emissions fell almost 6 per cent in 2007-08. However, the intensity of emissions grew 3 per cent in the year, and 16 per cent over the decade, due to soaring electricity use.

The Environment Department was one of the worst performers, with its emissions rising more than 5 per cent in a year. Energy use in public buildings rose by 17 per cent between 2000 and 2008, while central offices used 24 per cent more power.

Excluding the Department of Defence, energy use in the federal public service rose by almost 6 per cent in 2007-08, and 17.5 per cent between 2000 and 2009.


Carbon tax a 'get rich scheme for foreigner traders', says Tony Abbott

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Julia Gillard's carbon tax is "a get rich scheme for foreign carbon traders".

Mr Abbott vigorously attacked the Prime Minister and the Government's "failings" at the Liberal National Party's annual conference in Brisbane today.

He said the only way the Government can reduce emissions under this tax plan is to buy carbon permits abroad. "I'm all in favour of doing the right thing by the carbon traders of equatorial Guinea and Kazakhstan," Mr Abbott told the conference. "And all the other places Kevin Rudd likes to visit. "I am sure they are very decent honest people. I'm sure the last thing they want to do is rip off Australian business."

Mr Abbott said government documents show $57 billion will be sent abroad under this scheme. "Whatever else this thing is, it is a get rich scheme for foreign carbon traders," Mr Abbott said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is meeting workers from Victoria's Hazelwood Power Station, which will probably close under the Government's carbon tax plan. With the Latrobe Valley set to feel the biggest impact from the plan, locals had called for Ms Gillard to personally explain the package to them.

After selling the package around the country since it was unveiled last Sunday, Ms Gillard today went to Morwell, 150km east of Melbourne.

The Federal Government's carbon tax plan states that 2000 megawatts of the nation's dirtiest power generators would close by 2020. Hazelwood, which employs more than 800 workers, produces about 1600 megawatts of electricity - about 25 per cent of Victoria's power supply.

Ms Gillard is meeting workers at the CFMEU's office in Morwell, next to Hazelwood.


Dinky toy modelling behind carbon tax

THE government has been accused of being unrealistic about global action on climate change, with critics declaring it is banking on the United States and other key countries to take significant action despite evidence those countries will only make limited efforts.

The opposition will today demand that Treasury be asked to prepare new modelling on Julia Gillard's clean energy plan, arguing the modelling released with Sunday's carbon plan is unrealistic in expecting Australia's major trading partners the US, China and India to join in global action.

An internal analysis for Tony Abbott's office, obtained by The Australian, criticises the government for "evidently rushed" modelling that fails to consider the impact of the $10 billion clean energy fund or the impact of the government's plans to strip 2000MW of dirty brown coal power generation from the electricity grid.

The document, expected to be released today, also warns that some of the modelling is at odds with details of the package struck with the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee.

While the modelling assumes the carbon price starts at $20 a tonne, the government has set a starting price of $23 a tonne.

The Coalition analysis also claims that some changes made since the 2008 modelling produced for Kevin Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme result in the modelling showing a lower cost to the economy for emissions abatement for most fuels.

"The implication is that Treasury is now assuming that a given carbon price will achieve much more 'bang for the buck' in terms of reducing emissions intensity, for all of gasoline, diesel, LPG, air fuels and other fuels," the note says.

On global action, economist Henry Ergas writes in The Australian today that the modelling implies that the US will act by 2016 and China by 2021, and there will be no backsliding on the promises at the Cancun summit.

"Why these assumptions are plausible, much less compelling, is never explained in Treasury's report," he writes. The modelling states that "global co-ordinated action emerges from 2016".

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said the government should reissue the modelling in full. "There are some extraordinary assumptions about the development of the international systems in the next decade," he said.

But government sources insisted that the modelling was based on the commitments made by nations at the Copenhagen and Cancun climate change summits, and denied they had been too bullish on global action.

Sources said the modelling assumed that major countries met their commitments and that there would be a global market by 2016.

It was assumed that the US met its Cancun commitments but the US was not necessarily required to join a global market as there was a market within the European Union, the source said.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

1 comment:

Paul said...

More recently, I think The Australian's support of the carbon dioxide tax on the basis of the so-called precautionary principle and on the primacy of market solutions misses the point.

Murdoch many years ago announced his intention to support the Global Warming (as it was then) agenda. That's why his flagship papers like the Australian are ultimately for the Carbon tax agenda (even if his joke papers are superficially upset about it). Murdoch, Gillard, Brown, its all theatre because they all in the end work for the same side, and that side isn't us.