Saturday, 14 April 2007

Sunrise on a Receding False Dawn

Saturday, 14th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
Kevin Rudd
Do you doubt Kevin Rudd’s Honesty? That’s the question the Sydney Telegraph posed this morning at the end of its story on Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd having told a porky about neither he nor his staff being involved in plans by Channel 7’s Sunrise program to stage a "fake" dawn service at Long Tan on Anzac Day.
The Tele’s anger is understandable. It broke the story of the Sunrise shenanigans on page one on Sunday under the headline "Rudd's insult to Vietnam vets" and accompanied it with a blistering editorial criticising the Labor Leader for cheapening the Anzac day of remembrance - "a national disgrace" and evidence of "miserably flawed leadership". Vietnam veterans, the paper reported, have been offended by Labor leader Kevin Rudd's request for a "fake" dawn service so he can commemorate Anzac Day live on Channel Seven's breakfast show from Long Tan in Vietnam. The plan for an earlier 4.15am service to coincide with the peak 7.15am morning TV ratings period were hatched by Mr Rudd's office and staff of the Sunrise show several weeks ago.
The paper had barely hit the streets before AAP was reporting that the report Mr Rudd asked Vietnamese authorities to hold an Anzac Day dawn service early so it could be broadcast live on television was fabricated - "absolutely false and without foundation". A chastened Daily Telegraph quickly dropped the story until it obtained evidence in the form of emails showing Mr Rudd’s personal secretary Mary Mawhinney was directly warned two weeks before the story broke that the plan would offend Vietnam veterans. It was with seeming delight that "Rudd’s False Dawn – Labor leader admits office knew of fake Anzac Service" was back on page one of at least the first editions this morning although the version on the paper’s internet site differs slightly.
The opportunity of raising again questions about Mr Rudd’s ability to tell the truth was to much this morning for Federal Health Minister and chief government head kicker Tony Abbott. While Mr Rudd was making another of his weekly appearances on Sunrise, Mr Abbott appeared on Nine’s Today program to join the Tele in raising the question of the Opposition Leader’s truthfulness.
Having failed with earlier attempts to attack Mr Rudd’s character through an association with a former Labor Premier of Western Australia, Brian Bourke, who most eastern states residents have never heard of, the Government had been laying off the personal foibles. Now, with the Tele onside and the Nine Network happy to put the boot in to its rival Seven network, doing some character assassination is back on the agenda.
Mr Rudd has surely given them the ammunition. While he can blame his staff for the Anzac Day affair, he has to take personal responsibility for exposing himself as a politician not prepared to practice what he preaches when it comes to the climate change caused by global warming. In short, Mr Rudd earlier this week showed he is a hypocrite. While outlining plans for the rest of us to change our lifestyle to lessen carbon dioxide emissions he admitted driving himself around in a gas guzzling Ford Territory provided by the Government.
According to the assessment of the Federal Government’s Green Vehicle Guide it would be difficult for some one concerned about environmental damage to make a worse choice than the Territory. It rates but 2.5 stars when CO2 emissions, fuel consumption and air pollution are taken in to consideration. The Toyota Prius, which Mr Rudd incorrectly pretended on radio yesterday that he could not get on the government’s freebie motor car for MPs plan, gets six stars. Even the large Ford Falcon rates better than the Territory.
From Glug

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Do as I Say Not as I Do

Thursday, 12th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
Kevin Rudd should be hoping this morning that members of the Government really have become reluctant to attack him on personal grounds. For yesterday the Opposition Leader exposed himself as a politician not prepared to practice what he preaches when it comes to the climate change caused by global warming. In short, Mr Rudd showed he is a hypocrite. While outlining plans for the rest of us to change our lifestyle to lessen carbon dioxide emissions he drives himself around in a gas guzzling Ford Territory.
According to the assessment of the Federal Government’s Green Vehicle Guide it would be difficult for some one concerned about environmental damage to make a worse choice than the Territory. It rates but 2.5 stars when CO2 emissions, fuel consumption and air pollution are taken in to consideration. The Toyota Prius, which Mr Rudd incorrectly pretended on radio yesterday that he could not get on the government’s freebie motor car for MPs plan, gets six stars. Even the large Ford Falcon rates better than the Territory.
This is the kind of incident that really can begin to ruin an image.
click to enlarge...

A Jolly Chinese Aid Party

Thursday, 12th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
Annmaree O'Keeffe
In Beijing at the end of last month a group of Australian government officials got together with some counterparts from the Chinese Department of Commerce for a celebration to mark 25 years of co-operation. Annmaree O'Keeffe, AusAID's deputy director general and Yu Jianhua, director of the Ministry’s Department of International Trade and Economic Affairs toasted the $1 billion given in foreign aid to China since the first Aussie dollar was spent in 1981.
With China now having some trillion dollars in currency reserves and having become the largest lender to Africa, reportedly loaning at least $8 billion to the continent, it might have been an appropriate occasion to mark the end of this aid relationship but it was not so.
On the future direction of Australia's programs Ms O'Keeffe told the happy gathering "our partnership will be focused on supporting equity in China's development and addressing the factors that underpin poverty and less on direct poverty alleviation... The strategy is aligned with China's economic reforms and supports China's own agenda of balanced development", Ms O'Keeffe said.
The AusAID website shows that in 2007-07 Australia is spending $41.8 million on foreign aid to China. A new China-Australia Country Program Strategy agreed on 23 November 2005, provides what AusAID describes as "a framework for development cooperation from 2006 through to 2010."
At least we now know one place where a razor gang of a new government could begin its work.

Dysfunctional Defence

Thursday, 12th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
The black tie the Prime Minister wore yesterday to announce that Australia will be sending troops to actually shoot their guns in Afghanistan may well reflect a sense of foreboding about giving an increased task to a military when a government report released last week claimed "the current range and nature of military operations is causing stress in Defence, and excessive pressures on senior people."
The damning report released late on the eve of the Easter holidays, and thus barely reported so far in the press, certainly warned John Howard that all is far from well in the Department of Defence which was described as an organisation which "has confused its accountabilities."
The Labor Shadow Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was not exaggerating in describing the report of the Defence Management Review as highlighting "the dysfunctional relations between the Minister, his staff and defence planners and managers."
Behind the restrained language to be expected in a report to government, commissioned by government, is a story of a department with so much money to spend "there is now less concern about efficiency than in the past. Management information is inadequate, and many of the processes we would have expected to find to support such a large, complex organisation (information technology and human resources) are also deficient and in some cases not aligned with the desired future direction of Defence."
The report reveals the breakdown of relations between the Defence ministers and the public servants and military officers supposed to be serving them. It said:
The perception is that Defence performance in quality, reliability and timeliness of advice remains poor despite having many of the better practice processes in place. In examining the issue, we concluded that the factors behind this were:
• The lack of common understanding between ministers’ offices and Defence can mean that expectations are not always met.
• The size, complexity and hierarchical nature of Defence can delay responses.
• A culture in Defence which emphasises due process over timely responses.
• Lines of communication to the Minister and his office are limited to very few people (the Secretary and CDF, for example) and not many others.
The Review committee gave some examples of the evidence it received to illustrate these points.
"Defence management will continue to be a problem for successive Defence Ministers until they develop a climate of partnership founded on trust and mutual respect."
"I believe that at times Defence sees the Government as an ‘obstacle’."
"The information flow can be frustrating. The Minister’s saying "I am informed that…" but other things tend to turn up later. Abu Ghraib was one instance of this."
"Only a change of culture will prevent problems recurring."
"There is a significant lack of responsibility and accountability in Defence. I have observed over a long period of time that people in Defence insist on having processes set out for them so as to escape accountability—this is a systemic problem."
"There is evidence of corporate fragmentation— groups doing their own thing and getting away with it; behaving as owners rather than tenants; looking after their own interests with no regard to cost or the difficulties they cause other Defence stakeholders or the portfolio as a whole."
"As a general problem across the organisation, people just don’t take accountability."

A Contract to Say Farewell With

Thursday, 12th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
Andrew Peacock, AC
Andrew Peacock, the former Liberal Party Parliamentary Leader, Foreign Minister and Australian Ambassador to Washington, retired back in February from his position as President of Boeing Australia. In early March the Minister for Defence, Dr Brendan Nelson, made the surprise announcement of a decision to spend $6 billion with Boeing on a batch of Super Hornet fighter aircraft for the Australian air force.
That Boeing should win a major contract is not surprising. The American company, after all, is the world’s leading aeroplane manufacture and a substantial supplier of defence equipment to countries around the world. What has made this acquisition different, and the recent connection of Mr Peacock to Boeing potentially embarrassing for the government, is the direct involvement of Dr Nelson in making it. For the purchase of the Super Hornets is not the result of some orthodox procurement policy where teams of military and public service officers spend months, or even years, weighing up the alternative options. This purchase was very much the minister’s own decision.
Dr Nelson made it to avoid the risk of the air force being caught short between the phasing out of the F111s planned for 2010 and the arrival of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft which Australia is all but committed to buying from the United States when it is finally built. Since the announcement that 24 Super Hornets will be the insurance policy against JSF delays, air force experts have been bobbing up everywhere criticising the purchase on the grounds that it is not capable of doing the required job.
Dr Nelson would be wise to quickly make it known that he had absolutely no discussions with Mr Peacock about the purchase.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The PM’s Younger Look

Wednesday, 11th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
He might be a New South Welshman but Prime Minister John Howard made sure he was captured by the television cameras on Sunday night in the winning ACT Brumbies’ dressing room with the great George Gregan and not next door with the pathetic losers from Sydney.
There was a little light hearted banter about the rugby union world cup to come later in the year and the PM having something else to do around that time but the significance of this rare weekend visit to Canberra by Howard was his dress not his words. For on this night at the football John Howard abandoned his tie.
What the gentlemen of the Australian Rugby Union thought of a tie-less guest in their hospitality box is unknown but the casual look is not the normal one for officialdom at this code where even the long haired Canberra coach and his staff wear suits while supervising the pre-match warm up.
No one would be aware of the protocol better than Mr Howard who has a long history as a cheerer in chief at sporting events. The decision to go open-necked was unlikely to have been a deliberate attempt to upset his hosts which puts a desire to present a relaxed and youthful image as the most likely explanation.
Sunday night, in fact, was the second time in a week that the Prime Minister has appeared on television sans tie. He had a similar casual look when he toured Roxby Downs although viewers of the nightly television news would not have known that because the clips used from that day’s "doorstop" were not about mining and uranium.
Clearly the image makers are at work again on the man who famously had his front teeth capped and his eyebrows trimmed in an earlier pre-election period. Stand by for further appearances of our PM in the leather jacket he wore on his recent visit to Iraq. The Liberals are out to show that a man does not have to be as young as Kevin Rudd to be a youthful leader.

A $300 Million Pre-Election Advertising Spree?

Wednesday, 11th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
** From budget estimates
Based on the experience of the last two years there is a good chance that next month’s budget will see $300 million allocated for spending on advertising by the Federal Government in the coming financial year with most of it concentrated in the period before this year’s election is officially called.
From the $46 million paid to media organisations in the first year of the Howard Government, the current budget provides nearly $251 million for putting messages on television and radio and in print.
The startling growth in the efforts of Government to manage public opinion through paid advertising is shown in the following table kindly sent to me by a Labor staffer who has updated the figures prepared by the Parliamentary Library I referred to earlier this month.
Spending of this kind certainly gives a great advantage to an incumbent government but the published figures understate the actual advertising spend by not including the cost of pre or post campaign expenditure, such as: advertising agencies, public relations, market research, printing, direct mail, call centres or even fridge magnets. These costs are hidden away in the budget estimates of the departments carrying the campaigns. In the example of the Worchoices advertising campaign these "extras" added $23 million to the $32 million spent on the media to make a total of $55 million.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Murray Darling Agreement Still Leaking

Thursday, 5th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
The spur of the moment decision by Prime Minister John Howard to try and take over management of the Murray Darling River system is looking more and more like one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. At the moment the Victorian Government is still refusing to agree to the Howard plan that was developed without even going to Cabinet and the Secretary of the Treasury, Ken Henry, according to this morning’s Australian Financial Review, has given a scathing assessment of the Howard government's recent water and climate-change policies.
Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull is the man with the difficult task of rescuing what his leader planned as a key plank in his efforts to establish the environmental credentials of his Coalition Government. Yesterday Mr Turnbull was down by the river in Victoria trying to persuade irrigation farmers to back the $10 billion Commonwealth plan but, as the Age reported, he was having some difficulty. The Victorian Farmers Federation told him it wanted a written guarantee that Victorian irrigators would maintain their existing water entitlements and property rights and a written guarantee that bulk water entitlements — legal agreements that divide the water in the Murray-Darling Basin between environmental, agricultural and urban users — would not be reviewed until 2020, as enshrined in state law.
Until the VFF is satisfied, the Victorian Premier Steve Bracks is not inclined to join his fellow Labor Premiers from NSW, Queensland and South Australia and give the Commonwealth the powers it is asking for. Federation president Simon Ramsay is in no hurry saying that "the view by industry is that there is some urgency for the Prime Minister to get all the states signed up. I've said to Malcolm (Turnbull) we won't be pushed into trying to meet their election deadline merely to satisfy the PM."
Nor will the Treasury Secretary be as acquiescent as Mr Turnbull might like. Ken Henry was reported as telling an internal department forum back on 14 March that there is a "greater than usual risk of the development of policy proposals that are, frankly bad" ahead of the federal poll with the Murray Darling proposal being an example. Mr Turnbull this morning tried to defend the lack of Treasury involvement in the plan by saying information had to be gathered from people on the ground. "The Treasury does not know how much it costs to pipe a channel, how much it costs to replace a Dethridge wheel with a computerised flume gate, and how much it costs to line 10 kilometres of leaky pipe along the Murrumbidgee River," he told ABC radio.
Unfortunately for Mr Turnbull and Mr Howard, what the Treasury does know is nonsense when they read about it after a decision has been made. The Ken Henry assessment will just make the Victorian Government more determined than ever to hold out for a sensible solution.

A Reminder of Catch 22

Thursday, 5th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
Yossarian, as portrayed by Alan Arkin
I am grateful to Brian Miller, one of my esteemed readers, for the following extract from Catch 22 where Yossarian was told he could go back home, released from the army, on one condition:
Colonel Cathcart: All you have to do is ... like us.
Lt Col. Korn: All you have to do is be our pal.
Colonel Cathcart: Say nice things about us.
Lt Col. Korn: Tell the folks at home what a good job we're doing. Take our offer Yossarian.
Colonel Cathcart: Either that or a court-martial for desertion.

Bad News for Unions Not Bad for Labor

Thursday, 5th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
Confirmation by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that the trade union membership decline is continuing apace was bad news for union leaders but not necessarily for Labor Leader Kevin Rudd.
For a start the union movement knows that the coming election will be a last chance to stop sliding to virtual irrelevance. The return of a Coalition Government would increase the trend which has seen the proportion of Australian workers in a union fall from 35% to 20% since 1994 so there is no point in keeping money in reserve. Every available dollar must be spent by the unions in an effort to get Labor in to office. This should see Kevin Rudd in charge of a record advertising war chest.
With the figures on declining trade union power so stark, the Opposition Leader has the opportunity to tailor the Labor Party message on industrial relations law changes to the broader community. He himself looks a lot different from the traditional labour type of Labor leader and he can use the coming party conference to manufacture some issues where he boldly defeats the union delegates. Knowing that a Rudd victory against John Howard is their only hope of maintaining at least some of their power, the union bosses will gracefully cop hearing that the new modern Labor Party is no longer the political wing of the labour movement.
Mr Rudd can, however, gain an advantage from talking about how the changes that have seen a decline in the past conflicts between capital and labour, and a decline in trade union membership, have increased, rather than decreased, the need for government to adopt the role of ensuring fairness in the labour market. His new way can be guaranteeing that those least capable of negotiating on their own behalf still receive decent rates of pay and conditions.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Waiting for the Positive Ads

Wednesday, 4th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
The biggest electoral advantage of the Liberal-National Party Government is about to unfold and the television industry is looking forward to it with an eager anticipation. The pre-election Government campaigns are now in the final stages of preparation and the spending is about to begin.
Advertising managers for the commercial networks expect that the next six months will see a new expenditure record reached and there is no reason to doubt their prediction. Every pre-election period seems to bring a greater need for the public to be informed of government projects than in the pre-election period that preceded it.
Accurate figures on government advertising expenditure are difficult to establish but the Parliamentary Library produced the following summary:
The Parliamentary Library research found that the 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2001 federal elections were preceded by sharp increases in government advertising outlays:
• the bulk of the Keating Government’s $3 million advertising campaign on Medicare Hospital Entitlements was spent the month before the 1993 poll
• the Keating Government spent $9 million in the three months prior to the 1996 Federal election campaign
• the Howard Government spent $29.5 million in the three months before the 1998 election campaign. Half this expenditure ($14.9 million) was on the GST campaign. Still, pre-election spending on GST advertising accounted for only 13 per cent of total expenditure on the GST campaign, and
• in the four months before the 2001 election, the government spent roughly $78 million.
The advantage for the incumbent in such massive spending is enormous. In the guise of providing public information is allows the government parties to conduct the positive part of their campaigning – explaining all the good things in their record. Their own political party funds can thus be predominantly used for the negative aspects of pointing out the failings and shortcomings of their opponents. Those opponents, without the benefit of the public purse, must use their own resources for both the positive and negative aspects of their campaigning.

Listen Out for Healthy Forests While Fanaticism Spreads

Wednesday, 4th April, 2007  - Richard Farmer 
The influence of that little worm Australians were introduced to when the Nine Network started televising political leadership debates is growing. Measuring the immediate public reaction to words is now beginning to dominate the public debate as our leaders embark on their triennial effort to confuse and obfuscate. We can gauge the findings by listening to the daily grabs on television and for the Liberals the latest in word is fanaticism.
Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull started using it during television interviews on Sunday as in this description of climate change: "Labor is verging on becoming fanatical about this issue in the sense that they do not care how poor we have to become as long as we become pure. I think religion is a very poor guide to public policy." Mr Turnbull was repeating it again this morning on ABC Radio National: "The problem with labor is that they have locked themselves into essentially an ideological exercise… Now Kevin Rudd is so determined, he and …Peter Garrett are bordering on fanaticism now. Because they are blind and a fanatic is someone who is obsessed with a particular goal and pays no regard to any of the facts or any other distracting things like reality."
We can expect to hear a lot more about the fanatical Messrs Rudd and Garrett in the weeks ahead as the American Republican Party guru famous for stressing the importance of emotional words is a great believer in the power of repetition. Frank Luntz is the pollster credited with getting the Bush administration to stop talking about global warming, because the term is frightening to people, and speak instead of climate change which is far less threatening. He described his technique in an interview on PBS television:
I've got a certain rule that I always teach my staff: It's not what you say; it's what people hear that matters. I may respond to you effectively, but if you edit it in such a way that they only hear the negativity of what I do, then that's all they're going to know. And so they're going to conclude that my profession isn't an honorable profession. And that's why how I say it has as much of an impact on what people think of me as what I say.[Regarding consistency,] there's a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you're absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time. And it is so hard, but you've just got to keep repeating, because we hear so many different things -- the noises from outside, the sounds, all the things that are coming into our head, the 200 cable channels and the satellite versus cable, and what we hear from our friends. We as Americans and as humans have very selective hearing and very selective memory. We only hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest.
Kevin Rudd has not quite got the Luntzian message though. There was nothing simple this morning when he spoke of climate change being the first post partisan political issue. Most people would not have a clue what he was talking about with that expression and for a party trying to scare people in to believing that new policies are needed, global warming should be the description of choice. Climate change is for those who want us to believe that things are not really all that serious.
What Mr Rudd might like to appropriate is the phrase Healthy Forests that Mr Luntz tested as being a wonderful way of describing a policy that allows the clear felling of native forests. Labor will surely need something clever if it is to appease the workers of Tasmania while attracting the environmentalists of the cities.