Monday, August 12, 2013

Voters not buying bogymen fantasy

Paul Sheehan

When the Prime Minister announced the federal election in Canberra eight days ago, he made some references which, in retrospect, were ominous portents of the campaign he planned to run: Kevin Rudd v the Bogymen. He is running against "vested interests", tobacco money, the Murdoch empire, a non-existent GST increase and a rise in the price of Vegemite.

"Clinging to the past is not going help build a national broadband network of the future," he said.

It was strange that the broadband network got a mention right near the start. Since then, Rudd has made great play out of something I wrote that was published that same day. He has used it to concoct a political smear campaign.

In a tactic that now appears planned some time ago, Rudd has sought to neutralise the negative coverage coming from the News Corp newspapers by referring to News Corp's chairman, Rupert Murdoch, as Tony Abbott's "mate". He has given interviews claiming News Corp has a vested commercial interest in bringing down his government.

He told the ABC's 7.30 program on Wednesday: "He [Murdoch] says through his own direct statements that he wants Mr Abbott to replace me as prime minister.

"But the question that I've posed is simply as follows: what is underneath all this? I've only just been looking back on the files today and discovered that, in fact, Mr Abbott's NBN policy was launched at the Fox Studios here in Sydney. I would like to hear some answers as to what discussions Mr Abbott may have had with Mr Murdoch on the future of Australia's national broadband network."

The person who gave the Prime Minister the ammunition for his conspiracy theory was me.  In two columns published last Sunday and Monday, I made four main points:

 *  Murdoch had dispatched one of his most trusted field generals, Col Allan, to ramp up coverage of the election and get stuck into the Rudd government with more intensity. (Confirmed, spectacularly.)

 *  News Corp Australia chief executive Kim Williams was in trouble. (Confirmed, spectacularly.)

 *  Williams' advisers, Boston Consulting Group, were in trouble and Allan would shake up the company's lagging performers. (Confirmed.)

 *  News Corp's unrelenting hostile coverage of the broadband network squared with the company's commercial interests because the network represents a threat to the business model of Foxtel, jointly owned by News and Telstra, whereas the Coalition's less ambitious broadband alternative presents less of a threat. (This produced a raging debate, with emphatic denials by News Corp and Telstra. This does not alter the reality that the fibre-to-the-home service being built by the government represents a greater challenge to the status quo than the copper-to-the-home alternative offered by the Coalition. Having followed the debate for a week, I would add that Labor's broadband network could help Foxtel make more money, not just open it to more competition.)

What my columns did not say was that the arrival of Allan had anything to do with the broadband network. It was about Rudd and Williams. Nor did the columns claim, suggest or imply that the Coalition's alternative network was designed in any contrivance with News Corp.

Malcolm Turnbull, as opposition communications spokesman and an experienced business executive, led the crafting of an alternative policy with an eye to budget realities. The Coalition's model is thus a scaled-back version, which it believes will cost half as much and be faster to install.

Even though there is zero evidence to suggest collusion between the Coalition and News, that is what Rudd is suggesting. Let us return to his premise: "I've only just been looking back on the files today." No, Rudd and his fixers have been pushing this conspiracy from day one. As for the Coalition policy being launched at Fox Studios, that is supposed to be a smoking gun. That's all he's got. Pathetic.

My argument last week was that News Corp has a long record of blurring the lines between journalism and commercial interest. But this was a dust-up between Fairfax Media and News Corp that Rudd has taken to pure distortion and diversion, a tactic foreshadowed when he announced the election: "Mr Abbott's advertising campaign will be massive, funded by a massive war chest he has amassed from a whole range of vested interests in industry, not least the tobacco companies."

As if the deep pockets of the unions are not vested interests. Or the federal government has not spent $30 million advertising Rudd's anti-asylum seekers election ploy. Or that Rudd did not accept a first-class round-trip airfare to Europe last year and five-star accommodation from the Korber Foundation, which happens to own the world's largest supplier of cigarette-making machines. Or that Rudd was not endorsed by some News Corp newspapers in 2007, did not seek advice from Murdoch, have numerous meetings with News Corp executives or give multiple background briefings to News Corp journalists.

In claiming underdog status, Kevin v the Bogyman, he offered the concoction that News Corp controls 70 per cent of the print media in Australia. In the real world, the combined weight of newspapers and websites owned by Fairfax and the ABC is larger, and has greater reach, than News Corp's operation. No one has ever credibly accused Fairfax or the ABC of being, overall, cheerleaders for Abbott.

Rudd has spent the first week spinning a fantasy, running against bogymen. He's not running on his record. He's taken us for mugs. The result, after week one, is that the polls have drifted away from him, as he has drifted away from reality.


Another solar scheme gets nobbled

WA opposition leader Mark McGowan will confront the premier about the state government slashing the solar feed-in tariff rate.

Mr McGowan tweeted on Sunday: "Anyone unhappy with Mr Barnett ripping up their families solar contract should come to parliament at 2.45pm Tuesday where we will take him on."

It follows Thursday's state budget in which Treasurer Troy Buswell announced that the government would halve the residential solar feed-in tariff rate to save $51 million.

The state government believes it is safe from legal action over the decision, despite many householders expressing their outrage on talkback radio.

The program, introduced in 2009, was such a success that the Liberal government had to admit in 2011 the take-up cap had been breached, costing about $46 million more than planned.

The Sustainable Energy Association says more than 75,000 WA households will be affected.

Mr McGowan described the solar backflip as another "broken promise" from the Barnett government.


New route for illegals

ASYLUM seekers have found their own PNG Solution with two Somalis the latest to sail from Australia's nearest neighbour across the Torres Strait to far north Queensland.

The state's Premier Campbell Newman warned the new front across the border would open up after the Federal Government vowed to send all boat arrivals to PNG or Nauru.

Customs and immigration officers found the two Somalis on remote Boigu Island, 6km south of PNG, on Saturday morning.

They were taken to Thursday Island for health checks with the government vowing to send them to Manus Island or Nauru for resettlement.

Hundreds of Somalis have arrived on asylum boats off Christmas Island this year.

Another boat was intercepted at Saibai Island, 4km south of PNG, carrying two West Papuans on Friday.

A Syrian asylum seeker, who was believed to have flown to Indonesia and onto PNG before travelling by boat, was recently treated in a Queensland health centre.

"Kevin Rudd has very much turned an Australian problem into a Queensland problem. The Premier raised concerns about this policy in July, and was accused by Immigration Minister Tony Burke of peddling hysteria.," Mr Newman's spokesman said yesterday.

"The Federal Government has yet to address the many serious issues that we've raised.

"This latest incident demonstrates the ease of passage from PNG into Queensland, which is what we've been saying since the start."

Since the Government announced the PNG solution just over three weeks ago, 2270 people have arrived with the latest a vessel carrying 52 intercepted near Christmas Island on Saturday night.

Queensland officials have raised concerns that it is possible for asylum seekers to fly, without a passport, from Horn Island to Cairns and onto capital cities.

When Mr Newman warned of an impending influx three weeks ago, Immigration Minister Tony Burke said: "it's hard to imagine anything more hysterical than this one."

On Sunday his office referred questions to Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare.

Mr Clare's spokesman said "Customs and Border Protection continues to maintain a strong presence in the Torres Strait."

There are 13 Customs staff with a flying squad of six available in Cairns to respond if more resources are needed with staff in the Torres Strait having access to two helicopters and multiple vessels.

The spokesman said ten people had arrived so far this year, the same number as in all of 2012 with just one in 2011.

"Clearly if the government is going to continue down this path, then clearly there are going to be calls on the Federal Government to increase the border protection position on the Torres Strait," Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Immigration chief Martin Bowles was ordered by Immigration Minister Tony Burke and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to continue the domestic component of its $30 million PNG Solution advertising rollout during the election campaign.

Mr Bowles replied he would obey the Ministers but it is understood senior department officials were uneasy at the direction made during caretaker government.

The Opposition had opposed the continued local promotion of the resettlement solution but head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said in a letter to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that the conventions were "not legally binding" and "the department does not have the power to enforce the observance of the conventions."

Mr Burke said: "Nothing that he (Scott Morrison) has said changes the irrefutable fact that there are people in Australia in contact with people in the pipeline and if we are going to advertise to every relevant part of the smuggling pipeline then Australia has to be part of that."


Lebanese Muslims caught stealing handbags

It was to be Sydney's latest "glam raid" - $400,000 worth of handbags and other luxury accessories stolen from Louis Vuitton's flagship city store.

With a stolen Audi parked out the front for their getaway, three would-be thieves allegedly smashed a side door of the George Street premises just after 12.45am on Thursday to gain entry and grabbed all they could.

But in doing so they set of an alarm and within five minutes police were at the store, which was the target of a successful ram raid in February. Officers surrounded the area but it still took another hour before the three were caught.

They were allegedly found with their haul of handbags in the basement car park trying to steal another car.

Among those arrested was Bassam Hijazi, 33, a member of the Middle Eastern gang Brothers For Life, who was shot as he sat in a car in Greenacre in October. His friend and fellow Brothers For Life gang member Yehya Amoud was shot dead in the same attack.

Adam Achrafi, 18, and Naef Chaouk, 19, were also arrested over the alleged Louis Vuitton heist.

All three were charged with aggravated break, enter and steal and were refused bail when they appeared in Central Local Court on Thursday afternoon.

Detective Inspector Simon Jones of The Rocks local command praised the work of the police.

"We're excited the work that they did last night has resulted in, as I said, a quick arrest but ultimately putting three accused persons before the court fairly promptly," he said.

Sydney's high-end retailers have been the target of a spate of glam raids over the past year.

Kaftan queen Camilla Franks lost more than 700 garments in two raids on her Bondi store and once at Paddington last year. They were worth more than $240,000.

Italian fashion label Prada was struck last October when thieves reversed a car into its Castlereagh Street premises in the middle of the night and filled the boot with 15 racks of accessories.

Then in February came the first raid on Louis Vuitton.

Investigations into these other thefts are continuing.

A Louis Vuitton spokeswoman said the average price of the standard handbag range was between $1500 and $2000.

Exotic Brea bags made from alligator, snake and crocodile skins retailed for between $30,500 and $50,000. Made-to-order bags and one-off editions could fetch even higher prices, she said.


No comments: