Sunday, July 01, 2012

An owner must not be allowed to run his own business?

That clearly Fascist point of view seems to apply among many journalists

by David Flint

It is only in recent years that is has been suggested that the operation of a newspaper should be beyond the control and influence of those who actually own it.

The curious system of a charter of independence, written by journalists, was allegedly introduced at Fairfax  after the departure of the family in 1987. This followed young Warwick Fairfax’s ill-advised attempts to take over the company.

But the charter doesn’t mean the board has no role. The charter is only a promise to maintain standards and an affirmation that the editor is independent. This is balanced by the fact that the editor is not tenured. He or she can be dismissed at any time. That’s the key. That is why judges were given tenure during England’s Glorious Revolution. It was to make them independent of the King.

Instead of Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Stephen Conroy insisting on their interpretation of the Fairfax Charter, why don’t they practice what they preach? Why don’t they restore tenure to the top public servants so they can start getting independent advice as governments once did? 

For two decades now, successive Fairfax boards have hidden behind the charter. To them it has not been a charter of independence – it has been an abdication of responsibility. The board has abandoned the running of newspapers to the journalists while they have concentrated on “growing” the company business.

Instead, the business declined, exacerbated by the drying up of those famous rivers of gold, classified advertising. Roger Corbett’s Canute like defiance of the advertising drought, as recounted by Eric Beecher, would be funny if it were not so tragic. That the classified drought was coming was obvious. But successive boards and management were unable to rise to the challenge in the way any capable media mogul would have.

Fairfax has been run too long by a board full of accountants and management men most of whom - with the exception of the passing appearance of John Fairfax - knew absolutely nothing about the running of newspapers. Worse, they seem to have had little interest in doing so. Contrast that with the typical media mogul who is totally obsessed with and entranced by the media. The fact is, to make any media outlet a success, you have to know the media intimately.

Faced with the abdication of responsibility by the Fairfax board, the journalists went their own way. A succession of charter based editors accepted that they were at most first among equals in these cosy, politically correct collectives. They result was those once great journals of record, the Age and the Herald, were converted into fey mouthpieces of the bicycling vegan inner-city elites whose lives are far removed from the mainstream.

The journalistic collectives took the papers in a direction which first irritated and then outraged their traditional readerships. For years I have been told by countless numbers of people that they have given up their subscriptions to the Fairfax papers. Invariably, they mention the letters page which they see as a forum for the inner-city left. In both papers conservative, suburban, Australians are the subject of condescension and ridicule.

What has happened at Fairfax is not the dawning of some new paradise. It is an aberration and it is doomed to failure. This is not about the adoption of some Charter of Independence, but an abdication of management in favour of a journalistic collective.

The only equivalent experience among great papers was at the Paris based newspaper, Le Monde. There journalists were empowered with shareholdings and the right to vote in the management. It ended in tears, with white knights having to come in to save the paper from bankruptcy.

In fact most great newspapers have enjoyed powerful proprietors. Indeed they were probably great because of that formula for success - powerful proprietors who were fascinated by the business and who were determined to get good journalists and put them under strong and capable editors.

As with so many other human institutions, there is need for a strong hierarchy, notwithstanding all the claptrap about horizontal organisations. The only problem is when the hierarchy is not up to the job. The media mogul is today an endangered species in Australia. Now there's no identifiable single dominant proprietor at Fairfax, most commercial TV and, of course, the ABC and SBS.

And the point is there is nothing wrong at all with a proprietor intervening. The question surely is what the purpose of the intervention is. On one occasion, Lord Wakeham, then Chairman of the British Press Complaints Commission, asked Rupert Murdoch to intervene to persuade a recalcitrant News Limited editor to observe its rulings. Murdoch did. And what was wrong with that? But under a charter it is said he shouldn’t.

Today the Fairfax board is in a state of panic. Do they seriously think they will sell significantly more tabloid Heralds than the broadsheet version? The issue is not size. It’s quality.

They should be trying to get back the vast number of subscribers turned off by the left bias and condescension of the past, and a young market keen for an outlet which is just not a mouthpiece for the inner city elites. Their first aim should be turn their two mastheads back into the journals of record they once were.


"Green" cars hit hardest by Australia's new carbon tax (?)

The most environmentally focused cars on the market will cost more to run from tomorrow when the carbon tax is introduced.

As the reality of the carbon tax - initially set at $23 a tonne - kicks in, motorists seem likely to absorb some price increases, although exactly how much isn't clear.

With petrol, LPG and diesel exempt from the tax, though, it's drivers of electric vehicles likely to be hardest hit.

In dollar terms, and the average motorist will be up for about an extra $97 in carbon-related costs a year - if we had to pay it.

Yet all motorists may notice a range of incremental increases in the costs of running - or buying - a car, as manufacturers and retailers settle into a bold new era designed to steer consumers to cleaner, greener energy.

Big industry starts paying the carbon tax from tomorrow, and it will be us, the public, who are likely to carry the cost, especially if you're considering one of the new breed of electric cars.

There are three EVs on the market - the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Tesla Roadster and just-released Nissan Leaf - with at least two more due by the end of the year.

    I drive a plug-in/hybrid/electric car, don't I deserve a break? No. Using green electricity to recharge a car reduces the theoretical emissions to zero. But electricity companies charge a premium for "green" power and it is inevitable that prices will rise. However, Origin Energy has announced it will cut the cost of its renewable electricity surcharge from July 1.

So far sales of electric cars have been minuscule, with the biggest seller - the i-MiEV - last year accounting for just 30 of the 1 million-plus new cars sold. That's less than 0.003 per cent of the market; for an idea of how niche the $50,000 hatchback is, Ferrari outsold it by more than four to one in 2011.

The $23 carbon tax sum doesn't sound like much, given that the most economical Holden Commodore emits only 210 grams of the odourless, colourless, climate-warming gas for each kilometre it travels. However, over an average 20,000 kilometres of annual driving that's a massive 4.2 tonnes of the stuff coming out the exhaust pipes a year.

Put that in dollar terms, and the average motorist will be up for about an extra $97 in carbon-related costs a year - if we had to pay it.

We won't, though. That's because the government has quarantined fuel from the carbon tax, which would otherwise have added more than 6¢ to each litre of juice squeezed in the tank, saving the average V6-driving motorist about $100 a year.

However, the motorist will eventually pay more to run a car longer term because of the carbon tax - even though automobiles are not the biggest polluters.

According to federal government data, cars account for about 8 per cent of total CO2 emitted, a figure that rises to about 13 per cent once you add trucks and buses. By comparison, coal-fired power stations are responsible for about 50 per cent of Australia's greenhouse-gas emissions, while agriculture (that's the back-end of cows and so-on) accounts for approximately 27 per cent.

The executive director of motoring interest group Australian Automobile Association, Andrew McKellar, thinks cars are unfairly tainted, especially when other industries use them as a benchmark for pollution by saying closing a factory is the equivalent of taking a certain number of cars off the road.  "Cars are far from a major source of emissions," he says.  "It's worthwhile putting into perspective how little cars contribute [to] CO2 emissions."

Cars, then, aren't quite the environmental vandals they're made out to be.

So, what aspects of car ownership will change under the carbon tax? Walk into a showroom and slap your money down on a locally made car, and something will be different.

Because Ford, Holden and Toyota all build cars here, the carbon tax will bite - and for one of them, harder than the others.

The only Australian-based car maker that will need to pay for its carbon outputs directly is Toyota. That's because it's the only one of the trio that makes it on to the federal government's list of 294 of the country's largest polluters - those producing more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year - that will need to pay for their carbon output.

According to a Toyota spokeswoman, Beck Angel, the only reason the car maker is listed among the highest polluters in Australia is because of the "carbon intensity" of its operations, which includes casting engines as well as building the V6-engined Aurion and four-cylinder Camry and Hybrid Camry for both domestic and export markets.

Toyota has calculated that the tax will add about $15 million to the company's bottom line, or about $112 a car built on its Melbourne-based assembly line.

Angel says the car maker will wear the extra cost rather than pass it on to buyers.  "Given the competitive and price-sensitive nature of the Australian market, we would find it very difficult to pass these costs on, especially when most vehicles imported to Australia come from countries that do not impose a carbon tax," she says.

Costs at Ford and Holden are also expected to increase as the price of components - particularly raw materials such as steel - from larger corporations subject to the tax jumps, eroding their competitive edge against fully imported models benefiting from the strength of the Australian dollar.

"The new-car market remains extremely competitive and it is that competitiveness in each segment that drives pricing more than any single tax or tariff," a Ford Australia spokesman, Martin Gunsberg, says.

Holden says it will face a bill of up to $30 million on its locally made Commodore large car and ute, and Cruze sedan and hatchback range - but only once the tax takes hold, and there's no word on when that may be.

Ford has quoted similar numbers for its Falcon large sedan and Territory soft-roader range, which would add between $200 and $400 to the sticker price, depending on the model.

But the situation gets even trickier for Holden, which plans to introduce its first plug-in hybrid car - the petrol-electric Volt - to Australia later this year.  The car won't be made here, but with the carbon tax sure to add to household power bills, the standard benchmark of costing only a cup of coffee a day to recharge the Volt's bank of batteries may extend to include a coffee scroll with that cup of java. Not even Holden is sure yet what will happen come tomorrow.

But while Australian car makers suffer, the importers will get a free ride. Imported brands don't build cars here, so buyers shouldn't notice a jot of difference.

Everyone that Drive spoke with about the carbon tax - other than Toyota - could not give a straight answer as to exactly how much motorists will pay.

In short, it's because no one knows. The knock-on effects of the costs that the 294 biggest polluters accumulate are just too hard to measure while there are still so many unknowns.


Freedom to play

Sara Hudson

A few days ago, I was watching three children under the age of nine happily play unsupervised in the mud on the foreshore of a bay. No adults were in sight and the children were laughing as they poked sticks into the muddy water. The freedom they were experiencing reminded me of my own carefree childhood when I was allowed to roam my neighbourhood streets until it got dark.

Unfortunately, most children in Australia no longer experience such freedom. Their time is so strictly regimented between school and structured activities after school that they are losing the art of play. According to a MILO State of Play study in 2011, 45% of children in Australia don’t play every day. Curtin University research claims that in just one generation, outdoor play has decreased from 73% to just 13% of total play time. Such are the time limits on children today that some parents are structuring in time for unstructured play!

We don’t organize anything and the kids play. You know? Like, we just sit around in the back yard and let the kids be kids. We still watch them, of course.

One reason for this is over-anxious parents who worry that if they let their children out of sight, some calamity will befall the kids. This obsession with safety is permeating all aspects of Australian society. A recent article in Crikey suggests that some people actually like Australia’s ‘nanny state’:

When I get back to Australia and I’m not allowed to throw a Frisbee at the beach and I have to get a special council permit just to mind my own business ... I’ll say a prayer of thanks to Nanny, and enjoy the freedom - that’s right, haters, freedom – of feeling safe and protected.

Australia is fostering a risk-averse culture where people are reluctant to put themselves or their children ‘at risk’. What is deemed risky has become more tightly defined – so the independence granted to children in the past is now viewed as parental negligence. For example, children using a public toilet without an accompanying adult, walking to school by themselves, or simply crossing the street unaided.

Of course, children below a certain age do need supervision, but it seems the age children are considered old enough to do things independently is getting older and older.

It is time to take a stand against the paranoia gripping parents and remind them that although the worst-case scenario might happen one day, most of the time it doesn’t. Meanwhile, their children are losing out on developing valuable skills such as resilience, imagination and independence that come with unstructured play.


Indigenous education – a poor performer

Emeritus Professor Hughes

Indigenous education in Australia has made little or no headway since NAPLAN testing began in 2008. The number of Indigenous students failing NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests is increasing and will not meet COAG targets for many more decades.

Our latest report, Indigenous Education 2012, shows that while the majority of Indigenous students in Australia are performing well, the significant minority who are failing come from either low socio-economic backgrounds and attend under-performing mainstream schools, or attend Indigenous schools.

We know that children from welfare-dependent backgrounds are subjected to a family life that lacks the routine found in non-welfare dependent families. Children who witness their parents staying at home and not working have less to aspire to, compared to regular families with a working mother and father.

Chris Sarra has shown how the critical role of low expectations in Indigenous educational failure is fuelled not only by students themselves but also by their parents, teachers and schools. With 40% of Indigenous students coming from welfare-dependent families, it is clear that welfare dependency plays a role in the poor NAPLAN results.

Even more of a problem are the under-performing mainstream schools, which have high failure rates for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. About 40,000 Indigenous students attend these poorly performing schools. Their performance, like those of the poorly performing non-Indigenous students, is linked to the substandard education they receive at these ‘residualised’ schools.

Indigenous schools (schools where more than 75% of students are Indigenous), however, are some of the worst performing schools in Australia. About 20,000 students attend these schools, and only a handful of them are attaining mainstream education outcomes. Poorly performing schools are subjugating our young to a less-than-average education. This robs them of future opportunities and means the cycle of welfare dependency is likely to continue.

At this rate, on Australia’s education ministers’ timetable, Indigenous children will not achieve the same education outcomes as other Australian children until 2028. This is unacceptable. Indigenous children deserve the same standard of education as their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Government needs to respond to these results by bringing non-performing and under-performing schools up to speed within the decade. Giving principals greater autonomy in hiring and managing staff and doing away with programs they see as unproductive would contribute greatly to improved educational outcomes.


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