Sunday, February 28, 2010

Flick of the Week: “My bathmat means more to me than you!”

This week’s Flick of the Week takes us with Kevin Spacey in his bit-part role as a Wall Street sleazebag in Working Girl to that of uber Hollywood studio exec, Buddy Ackerman in quite possibly the blackest Hollywood satire ever – George Huang’s Swimming with Sharks.

Wining the Oscar for Best Actor for his work in American Beauty killed Kevin Spacey’s career. The guy was easily one of the top 3-4 actors working in film in the 90s; since his win in 1999, he has become a waste of celluloid. Here are some of his roles prior to winning the Oscar:

  • A Bug's Life (1998) (voice) .... Hopper (best thing about the film)
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) .... Jim Williams
  • L.A. Confidential (1997) .... Jack Vincennes
  • Se7en (1995) .... John Doe
  • Outbreak (1995) .... Maj. Casey Schuler
  • The Usual Suspects (1995) .... Roger 'Verbal' Kint
  • Swimming with Sharks (1994) .... Buddy Ackerman
  • Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) .... John Williamson

    Ok, Outbreak was not real great, and yes I’ve left out some films like The Negotiator and The Ref and A Time to Kill: but the point is his best work was mostly as a supporting actor. Here’s a snap shot of his work since American Beauty:
  • The Big Kahuna (1999) .... Larry Mann
  • Ordinary Decent Criminal (2000) .... Michael Lynch
  • Pay It Forward (2000) .... Eugene Simonet
  • K-PAX (2001) .... Prot
  • The Shipping News (2001) .... Quoyle
  • The Life of David Gale (2003) .... David Gale
  • Beyond the Sea (2004) .... Bobby Darin
  • Superman Returns (2006) .... Lex Luthor
  • Fred Claus (2007) .... Clyde
  • 21 (2008) .... Micky Rosa
  • Moon (2009) (voice) .... GERTY
  • The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) .... Larry Hooper
  • Gotta say there’s not a lot I’d watch even for a bet. The Men Who Star at Goats finally has him getting back to where he should be – a character actor! Not a lot of character actors make the leap to lead. Dustin Hoffman did it, Jack Lemmon (Spacey’s idol) sort of did, but he generally worked best with someone else – eg Walthar Mathau. Mostly character actors may get lucky and score a couple good leadish roles, but by and large stay in the support roles – and by and large they kick arse in those roles.

    Perhaps the main problem has been that Spacey just has not had good scripts to work with – unlike when he played Buddy Ackerman in Swimming with Sharks.

    Swimming with Shakes is an utterly pitch black look at what it takes to succeed in Hollywood. Ackerman is the worst boss ever put on film. He constantly abuses his assistant, Guy (played by Frank Whaley), pushing him well past breaking point, and in the denouement pressures Guy to make a truly horrific choice – one which will decide whether or not he becomes a Hollywood player. The only other satire of Hollywood that could compete for the title of blackest ever is Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust, which ends with the main female character going from wannabe starlet to whore; another character (a guy called Homer Simpson) mercilessly beating a child that causes a riot at a Hollywood premiere; and the main protagonist going insane and screaming as he is carted away in an ambulance.

    Swimming with Sharks doesn’t have anyone going insane, rather the ending suggests you would be insane (perhaps criminally so) to ever want to be involved with these people or the industry. As a character says at one point:

    “This is not a business, this is show business. Punching below the belt is not only all right, it's rewarded.”

    Spacey is magnificent in the role of Buddy – suggested to have been modelled on either Hollywood producer Joel Silver or Scott Rudin. That no one is quite sure who it is modelled on gives an indication that abusive bastards are not exactly in short supply in Hollywood.

    Frank Whaley does his level best to hold ground with Spacey, but his role is that of the bland everyman and he is totally dominated both in the script and on the screen by Spacey. The film also gave Beniccio del Torro a small role (both he and Spacy would be reunited a year later in The Usual Suspects).

    Weirdly this is the the first film of writer-director George Huang, and it is also his high point. After writing such a smart script, and obviously being so aware of how Hollywood ticks, it is odd that he really has gone on to do bugger all. It’s a pity: anyone who can come up with the line, “You are nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn't bother flushing it” surely had another film script in him!

    Watching Swimming with Sharks is an interesting experience – it is so well done, but dominated as it is by such a repulsive character and so dark is its message that it’s not exactly a date movie. Its ending is as bleak as another film in which Spacey played a supporting role – Glengarry Glen Ross. But if you ever have any ambitions about getting into the movie business, and think perhaps you’d like to have a go at becoming a success in Hollywood, buy this DVD (it generally can be found four about $6 in JB Hi Fi), strap yourself in for some Buddy Ackerman love and remember “life... is not a movie. Everyone lies. Good guys lose. And love... does not conquer all”.

    For some reason the clips on YouTube are unable to be embedded, but check out this one to get a taste. The trailer also sets up the film very well:

    Previous Flicks of the Week:

    Working Girl – Sigourney Weaver
    Aliens – Bill Paxton
    Apollo 13 – Ron Howard
    American Graffiti – Richard Dreyfus 
    The Graduate – Dustin Hoffmann
    All the President’s Men – Jason Robards
    Once Upon a Time in the West – Henry Fonda
    Mister Roberts – Jack Lemmon
    Some Like it Hot – Billy Wilder
    Witness for the Prosecution – Marlene Dietrich
    Touch of Evil – Orson Welles
    The Third Man – Trevor Howard
    Brief Encounter - David Lean
    Lawrence of Arabia – Claude Reins
    Casablanca – Humphrey Bogart
    The Big Sleep – Howard Hawks
    His Girl Friday – Cary Grant
    Charade – John Williams
    Schindler’s List – Liam Neeson
    Love Actually – Emma Thompson
    Sense and Sensibility – Ang Lee
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Michelle Yeoh
    Tomorrow Never Dies – Pierce Brosnan
    The Thomas Crown Affair – Renee Russo
    In the Line of Fire – Clint Eastwood
    Where Eagles Dare – Richard Burton
    Zulu – Stanley Baker
    The Guns of Navarone – Peter Yates
    Breaking Away – Dennis Quaid
    The Right Stuff – Ed Harris
    The Rock – Sean Connery
    The Longest Day – Richard Beymer
    West Side Story – Ernest Lehmann
    North By Northwest - The first one

    Friday, February 26, 2010

    Score one for the ignorant and for politics

    Well Garrett has been demoted. Despite no one in the media or the opposition actually being able to explain just exactly with any level of intelligence what he did wrong, he was deemed to have “bungled”.r327835_1473110

    The media wrote the stories before the evidence came out, and when the evidence did emerge, they ignored it and kept writing the same drivel.

    Only a few in the Canberra Press Gallery have displayed any sense on the issue. The one who has been most on top of the actual issue has been Bernard Keane of Crikey. This isn’t surprising as he would likely be the only one in the Press Gallery who has actually written a risk assessment, let alone read one (I’d wager half of them still haven’t read one yet – and a good 90 percent haven’t understood what they did read). 

    Keane has written a perfect summation of the issue:

    Despite (contrary to the claims of the mainstream media) overseeing the insulation program perfectly competently, Garrett lost control of the politics as the Opposition homed in on him, and while he was able to fend off demands for his sacking this week, Rudd must have had grave concerns about his political effectiveness as the face of both the new energy efficiency program and the Government’s efforts to placate business and workers.  Garrett has also suffered for having no power base or substantial factional support within the ALP.

    Garrett wasn’t demoted because he did anything wrong. No one has been able to point to anything except a vague “oh but he should have done something – say more inspectors” blah. The program introduced a national safety standard that didn’t exist before, and which was more strict than which previously existed in any state; he responded to any risks that were highlighted by changing the guidelines as better advice emerged – here is the Master Electricians Association in February after Garrett banned foil insulation from the scheme:

    Master Electricians Australia today welcomed the announcement by Environment Minister Peter Garrett that the Federal Government would fund safety inspections on all houses fitted with foil insulation under the Home Insulation Program.

    Master Electricians CEO Malcolm Richards also thanked Mr Garrett for his commitment that the Commonwealth would fix any safety problems identified by the inspections, and pursue the installers for the costs of repairs.

    “This decision by the Government today will lift a major burden from the minds of thousands of home owners across Australia,” Mr Richards said.
    “More importantly, it will also cut the risk of further electrical deaths associated with the insulation scheme.

    “This is a very good outcome for installers, home owners and any tradespeople who may need to access the roof spaces of these houses in the future.”
    Mr Richards said Master Electricians continued to endorse the Home Insulation Program, and believed it had the potential to deliver significant energy savings across Australia.

    This scheme was designed to create employment, and it succeeded in bringing a large number of new players into the insulation market.

    “Unfortunately, we have witness some terrible tragedies as a result of inexperience and poor safety standards on work sites.

    “Since this issue came to light last year, the Government has listened to the concerns raised by Master Electricians and demonstrated a willingness to act to improve safety.

    “Today’s announcement is a continuation of that cooperation, and Master Electricians stands ready to work with the Government to ensure the safety inspections are completed quickly.”

    Yep, he really dropped the ball – he demonstrated a willingness to act to improve safety. What a complete idiot.

    The economic impact of the scheme helped Australia survive the global financial crisis AND the number of house fires linked to insulations massively decreased in real terms since the introduction of the scheme.

    But that’s all irrelevant, because the media has swallowed in one gulp the media releases and pronouncements of the Liberal Party. For example today in the Senate Committee it was “revealed” that Rudd did not ask for a briefing after the deaths of the workers. This was reported breathlessly on the ABC:

    Rudd didn't ask for insulation deaths briefing

    The journalist in question obviously gave no thought as to why the hell would the Prime Minister of the country be wanting a briefing on an industrial death. He’s the Prime Minister, not some freaking work supervisor! It was revealed to the committee that Garrett had received briefings on the death – and that is as it should be – he was the responsible minister. But Rudd? Geez, apparently now he is supposed to micro-manage everything that happens in the nation; and here I thought the media was criticising him for being too hands-on. Sigh.

    And what would Rudd’s department brief him on anyway? They weren’t running the program, they were just co-ordinating the whole of Government issues. What would they be able to say? The deaths had yet to be the subject of a coronial hearing, so they wouldn’t be able to advise what caused the deaths nor who was responsible (if anyone). Here’s my bet as well: when the coronial hearings are held, and no mention is made of Garrett being at all responsible or liable (as Abbott would have it of industrial manslaughter for God’s sake), the media will bury it. It will be too late for Garrett anyway. Oh well. Not news anymore.

    The odd thing is however that in reality the end situation is good for the government.  The Department of Environment had grown well beyond its traditional size and scope. Garrett either needed to lose some responsibility or get a junior Minster to help out. With the ETS on the back burner at the moment, Wong and Combet had only water to deal with, and thus were being underutilised. Combet is an absolute gun. Had he not entered politics so late in life (he’ll be 52 in April) he would be future PM material. I said late last year that Combet was my pick for “star performer of 2010”. I am even more sure of that prediction now. So the newly configured Ministerial responsibilities are actually better than they were (I’d give more to Combet, but that’ll have to wait till after the election).

    One final thing. There has been some pure gutter shite suggested by some in the Opposition and media that Garrett was uncaring of the deaths of the four men, or about the house fires. What most would not realise is that Garrett’s mother died in a house fire in 1977 when he was 23. He actually was in the house at the time and tried unsuccessfully to reach her and drag her to safety. But here’s the thing – Garrett didn’t make mention of it once in the last three weeks; and neither did any of the Government (or if they did I certainly missed it, and I’d bet were told to shut it by Garrett). It would have been easy for him to play the sympathy card – the “I know how you feel” card, the “take it easy on me my mother died in a house fire” card. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if he was being advised by some in Government to play the card. He didn’t. And that is to his absolute credit.

    I don’t know how many other Ministers and Shadow Ministers would have tried to use her death for sympathy were they in his spot – my guess is a hell of a lot.

    Garrett was the victim of politics – and yes that is the name of the game, but for mine, he has no reason to feel ashamed.

    Those who should feel ashamed? All those who wrote joke headlines with Midnight Oil lyrics such as “Who’s gonna save me?” and “Who do you blame when the roofs are burning” (both from The Australian) while the articles themselves were full of overwrought righteous indignation over the deaths of the  four men. Hypocrites.

    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    On the QT: Lock the Doors (or they’ll all leave early)

    Ask any teacher, and they’ll tell you that teaching a class after lunch on Friday’s is never a period of great productivity, so it is with Question Time on Thursdays before a week off.schools_out

    The House was a bit of a rabble today – not in terms of massive amounts of abuse, but just in the general demeanour. Almost all speakers had to put up with a high level of hubbub. Andrew Laming, who earlier in the day had revealed himself to be a complete fool by telling journalists he thought Kevin Rudd had major psychological issues (not that he “wanted to trivialise the issue”), got himself named by the Speaker during a response by Nicola Roxon. Unfortunately such was the level of noise in the chamber I couldn’t pick up what he said, and thus when the call went out by Harry Jenkins to lock the doors, I was at a loss as to why he was getting the boot. When he left, no doubt a few MPs looked on with envy.

    The main thrust, if you can call it that, of the opposition, was to again blame Rudd for the job losses of a scheme the Liberals didn’t even think would create any jobs. Yes it was hypocritical, but that is the Liberal Party’s main calling card at the moment. For example, when Rudd pointed out that the number of house fires caused by insulations had actually decreased since the introduction of the Government's scheme (thank you Possum), Joe Hockey (remember him – he’s apparently the Shadow Treasurer) tweeted that Rudd was disgracefully treating 4 deaths “as a rounding error”. He then followed this up by tweeting: “I have never seen such an insensitive response as KR today on batts in 14 years in Parl”. Apparently though he has no problem with the leader of his party using the four deaths for political point scoring in interview after interview.

    Hockey hasn’t had any credibility for a long time now, and given that his contribution in Parliament is now limited to tweeting, I think we can comfortably ignore anything he has to say on any subject. That this guy was recently thought to be the one most likely to lead the Liberal Party is astonishing. Rarely has any MP ever been so massively over-rated. 

    Abbott’s blaming of Rudd and Garrett for these four deaths is quite extraordinary given the coronial inquests into their deaths haven’t even been held. One of the four apparently died of heat exhaustion – I’d like Tony Abbott (or his second banana Hockey) to explain how Garrett could be at all responsible for that? There was no time limit on getting the insulation installed – it wasn't as though you need to get the batts installed in under 2 hours or the rebate was void. Dying from heat exhaustion is all about OH&S, and everyone should be waiting until the coroner makes a ruling on who was to blame (if anyone was – it may for example have been due to a pre-existing and undiagnosed medical condition). Nowhere in the scheme were companies asked to breach state OH&S rules – in fact new national guidelines were brought in.

    Apparently the Liberal Party now stands for people not taking responsibility for their own businesses.

    Here’s Heather Ridout, from the Australian Industry Group last night on Lateline putting some sense back into the debate:

    HEATHER RIDOUT: Well, look, I think one of the things that we are very concerned about, we have a very high commitment to safety as employers.
    I mean, I find it really very distressing that employers have played fast and loose with the lives of employees, apparently through this scheme. We take a very dim view of it. And that worries me.

    I mean, it's all very well to shift the blame to politicians, but as an employer you have a duty of care to your employees and I feel that very, very strongly. And it's a major ethic and value in our organisation, among our membership.

    Exactly right. What Governments should do is put in place adequate health and safety regulations. The Government did that in this case – they actually went further than the previous Australian Standards for insulation!

    But still. Sigh, Abbott and a plethora of back benchers went on with their “tactics”. No one was listening though. Garrett is safe, Rudd is getting his footwork back, and Abbott is continuing his habit of being all talk, no thought.

    This morning the big story was that of three faked or forged Australian passports being used in an alleged assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai.

    Tony Abbott was asked about this issue this morning. Here’s his response:

    TONY ABBOTT: Obviously I think it is an issue. I think that the security of our passport system is important and I guess I would want to know why the Government hasn’t ensured the security of our passport system. I mean, why didn’t the Government put in place a passport system that could not be subjected to this kind of scamming?

    Problem is Tony, as Stephen Smith pointed out during Question Time, the three passports were all issued in 2003 – which if my memory serves me correctly was when John Howard was still very much Prime Minister.

    What an utter fool. Together with the issue of the doctors’ golf balls, that makes it two times in one week that Abbott has tried to blame the Rudd Government for things that occurred during the Howard years.

    One day the media will wake up to just how loose Abbott is with facts and accuracy.

    For now the ALP will wait, and no doubt keep adding to its already massive “Dumb things Abbott has said” file.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    On the QT: Dumb and Dumber meets Caddyshack

    caddyshack-rodney1It would be nice to report that today in Question Time the heights of wit heretofore only reached by Oscar Wilde were attained. Alas no; it was more Rodney Dangerfield in action. Still funny, but perhaps not the level of maturity one would hope from our members of parliament – that is unless one regularly watched parliament and thus realised the place is essentially a school ground. 

    The topic for the opposition was still the insulation scheme; however they have officially given up trying to get Garrett’s head. They tried for a weeks or so – not very well, mind – and they had bugger all to work with once the Minter Ellison report was shown to be a damp squib rather than a smoking gun. Today they asked not one question of Peter Garrett. Not one. If the Minter Ellison report actually did mean anything, they would have continued to hammer him till there was nothing left but the top of his skull sticking ever so slightly above the green carpet of the House of Reps. But as far as the report goes, there was no there there. Incidentally Possum over at Crikey wrote an excellent blog on the Report, in which he goes into more detail than I did. I highly recommend you read it.

    The opposition instead focussed their “attack” on Rudd. The questions (mostly which came from back benchers – geez even Wilson Tuckey!) were all about poor insulation workers who have now lost their job because the insulation scheme has been closed. Yes once again the Liberals were caring about the jobs created in a scheme which they voted against and which they had said would not create one job.

    Even more unbelievable is that at the moment the Libs are considering voting against the Renewable Energy Bonus scheme which is to replace the insulation scheme. So they not only voted against a scheme which gave these people a job, they are now complaining that the people have lost their jobs AND are also considering voting against a scheme which will give them their job back!

    So I ask you, in light of all that, do you think Rudd was troubled by any of these questions?

    If you answered, “not unless hell has entered a mini ice age”, give yourself a chocolate frog.

    Hunt and Abbott did try a nice one-two punch where Hunt asked Rudd what part his Department had in the implementation of the insulation scheme, and then Abbott referred to a meeting between industry stakeholders and Rudd’s Department a year ago which apparently raised safety concerns. Abbott wanted to know when Rudd was made aware of the meeting. Rudd not surprisingly didn't know, and said it didn’t matter because he stood by all the risk minimisation strategies implemented by Garrett.

    And that was as close as it got to Rudd having to block a delivery – the rest he was scoring runs – especially as he was able to use the questions to announce new measures of support for the industry in the transition to the new scheme. The last few questions from Abbott put emphasis on the fact that Rudd had “accepted personal responsibility” for the scheme. Unfortunately they were all pathetic: lacking any swing, movement off the pitch or pace. Rudd was scoring easy runs, and then bizarrely Abbott moved another censure motion.

    There was a time censure motions meant something; there was time they were done to catch the Minister on the hop, to pretty much deliver the last rites. Since the last election however the Libs just use them when they have seemingly run out of questions. Abbott and Julie Bishop were their usual ranty and shrill selves. I suspect the censure was only moved because Bishop hadn’t said anything for a while and she the tactics committee give her a moment in the sun.

    Rudd by contrast was calm, and used the occasion to outline all the new measures that were being brought in. By the time he finished you could be forgiven for thinking he was responding to a Dorothy Dixer, not a censure motion.

    Thankfully Question Time was filled with some real Dorothy Dixers which allowed the government to have some fun at the opposition's expense. There was Jenny Macklin  making the most of the leak in today’s Sydney Morning Herald that Abbott was considering making it tougher to get the dole and disability pensions and also that “all welfare-dependent families with children should have half their income held back for food and essentials”. The story was by Lenore Taylor – previously one of the very few sensible journalists working for The Australian (hers is a huge loss for The Oz). Later in the day it was suggested by Vexnews that the story was leaked to Taylor by Malcolm Turnbull. True or not, it does highlight that Turnbull is not expected to go quietly.

    The most fun was had by Nicola Roxon. Yesterday she had noted that one of the great schemes of Tony Abbott to help fix the doctors’ shortage was to come up with a lot of golf balls with “Doctor Vacancy” written on them. Yesterday at the end of Question Time, Abbott had tried to actually suggest the golf balls were a Rudd Government initiative, except Roxon quickly explained that they were produced in May 2007, which unfortunately for Tony, was when he was Minster for Health.

    Today Roxon produced the balls and (rather like Gillard and the WorkChoices mouse pads) announced that there were 2,700 of the balls in storage, and she wanted to give them away. She referred to Peter Dutton, the Shadow Minister for Health, and said “I note the member for Dixon is a golf fan and I am prepared to offer some balls if he wants some”.

    Yes it was a bit schoolyard, and it’s really only something a female can get away with saying. But it got a huge laugh – especially as Dutton is the kind of sook who a good number on both sides probably don’t mind having a snigger about.

    She did actually give a ball to Dutton who was holding it while interjecting to Warren Snowden as he answered a Dorothy Dix. Snowden proceeded to tell him to just take hold of Tony’s balls. Which was a tad less funny, and Chris Pyne quickly got up to complain to the Speaker, because if anyone was going to hold Tony’s balls it would be … err no.. he asked that it be withdrawn – the statement, not Tony’s b… oh look let’s just move on shall we?

    We also got to see Julia Gillard, fresh off a very impressive performance at the National Press Club, absolutely nail Abbott over the Liberal’s voting against the National Youth Allowance – in defiance of pretty much everybody who is anybody in the education sector. At her Press Club speech she has also announced that every school student will be getting an ID number to allow the system to track them if they move schools etc.  Abbott immediately responded that he thought people’s names were good enough to track people, which makes me wonder why as Health Minister he didn’t scrap Medicare numbers. Perhaps he was advised that quite often people have the same name which makes it all rather confusing (and also hell on a database). But that’s Tony: all talk, no thought.

    The other bit of fun to be had on the Government's side was Wayne Swan thanks to (guess who) Barnaby Joyce. At the Parliamentary doors this morning he was talking about debt, unfortunately when asked if he was talking gross or net debt he said:

    Net debt gross public and private”.

    Which, lets be kind, is about as odd an answer as you could give. Oh for the days when John Kerin resigned as Treasurer after stuffing up the acronym GOS (Gross Operating Surplus) in a press conference. Now, well if you’re Barnaby you get away with any old guff. Swan had a lot of laughs – the biggest coming when he said that problem is when Joyce “speaks many people think he knows what he is talking about”. The roars of laughter from the Government benches suggested that Swan may be over stating the case when he said “many people”. Swan then pointed out the problem was that Joe Hockey didn’t know what Joyce was on about either, and it was a case of the two of them being “Dumb and Dumber”.

    Now it’s a pretty easy line, but you just know there is one person above all others who hates the appointment of Joyce to Shadow Finance, and that is Hockey. Hockey, as has been the case all week, had no questions, and was reduced to tweeting questions. Poor bugger. The thing is with his physique he is more Rodney Dangerfield than Jim Carrey, and at the moment he would also be very familiar with Dangerfield’s signature line: “I don’t get no respect, no respect at all”.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    On the QT: No Smoking Gun to help this Dead Sheep

    In last night’s 7:30 Report Chris Uhlmann made mention of “a second MinterEllison” risk report provided to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, that was apparently not released to the public last Friday. I thought ok, here we go, they’ve found a smoking gun. I waited to see this morning what damage would befall Peter Garrett.

    In the morning AM, reported on this second MinterEllison report (actually a risk register):

    It raises as potential risks poor quality insulation, possible house and fire damage, an insufficient number of auditors and the capabilities of installers.
    It quantifies the cost of the risks in the hundreds of millions of dollars but also spells out the steps being taken to manage those risks.

    Wow, hot stuff one might think. And then you read it. And what you find is it is not a smoking gun at all. All it is is a pretty standard risk register done for any type of program that any Government department would run. It is hardly a “damning report” (as suggested by Mark Colvin on ABC’s PM). Yes it does mention the risk of house fire under Point 6:

    Installation quality and compliance:
    quality of installation / control by installers and compliance structures may be inadequate
    • Poor quality installations
    • Compliance cost (to Dep’t or industry) may be excessive and process may be ineffective
    • Safety - house fire/damage
    • Insufficient number of auditors

    But so what? What we have here is a standard risk report – ie it lists the risks associated with the program. It is not “damning” to mention the risk of fire, the whole point of a risk report is to list the risks!

    What is important is the management strategies put in place to minimise the risks (risk is never zero). And the Department did put in place such strategies. Here’s what the risk management strategy for this issue was:

    • Developing links with ACCC and other regulatory bodies
    • Information available through call centre and is being reviewed as the business model is being developed
    • Strategic communications strategy in place
    • Communications channels with industry have been identified and are being developed
    • Regular communications with States and Territory regulatory bodies in place
    • Early installation guidelines include specific quality and safety requirements – installers must be verified – hooked into Australian Standards
    • Breach reporting system in place. Site inspections – planned to begin early 09/10
    • Assessing training requirements and discussing with DEEWR
    • Internal compliance and monitoring system under development
    • Technical Working Groups with industry covering safety and quality of product

    And how did MinterEllison assess the Department’s management strategy?


    Far from being damning, the report showed that the Department had recognised the risk of house fires and poor quality installations, and had come up with strong measures to address that risk.

    And yet apparently this is damning…

    There were three points which MinterEllison stated the risk management was weak – two related to the fast introduction of the program, and the other was “political risks”. Does the media and opposition really think the Government shouldn’t have gone through with the program because it may face “political fallout”?

    The problem with the first two risks which MinterEllison graded as having a weak management response is that they do not consider the reason for the introduction and speed of the program in the first place – to create jobs to combat the global financial crisis. MinterEllison recommended holding off for 3 months; the problem was that holding off 3 months would have meant the program would have failed to be a quick and targeted response to the GFC. Now that’s ok, MinterEllison were not asked to consider such economic costs – but the Government certainly did.

    The cost of the two risks highlighted by MinterEllison were put at $20m-$60m and $20-$145m – so at worst about $200m, this out of a $2.5 billion program. The report does not make mention of the cost of not implementing the program in terms of unemployment and reduced GDP, reduced business and consumer confidence, all of which benefitted strongly from the program.

    Does the risk register make any mention of loss of life? No.

    Does it make any mention of fraud? Yes (Point 5). Was the Department’s management of the fraud risk adequate? Yes.

    Was this the only advice the Department used to come up with it’s own risk assessment? No – and a bloody good thing too.

    The MinterEllison risk register actually has bugger all for the Opposition to work with – especially given the disgusting work by Abbott and Greg Hunt to accuse Garrett of being responsible for the deaths of four insulation workers.

    Which brings us to Question Time.sheep1

    During yesterday’s Question Time, Fairfax journo, Tony Wright tweeted that the work from the opposition reminded him of the line by Paul Keating that the attack was “like being savaged by a dead sheep”. So it was again today.

    Abbott opened up the “attack” by asking Garrett if he expected the Parliament to believe his previous claim that the Department received the MinterEllison report 6 days after it was commissioned. Garrett stood by his statement. As well he should, having read the document, if it took MinterEllison more than 6 days, then I’d accuse them of dragging their chain. I’m not sure how long Abbott thinks it should have taken them to do it.

    The point was however that in all of the eight questions they asked Garrett, not one actually went to the contents of the report. They all were of when did you read it, when were you informed of it line of attack. It was completely inane and lacking in venom, especially as Garrett made it clear again, and again (and again) that the MinterEllison report was but one of a number of reports/advice from stakeholders that the Department had used to advise him on the risks of the program.

    It is common bloody sense that this would happen. But no, sigh, according to the media, the report is “damning” because it mentions house fires. Does the media want us to get to a point where Departments are scared to list a risk because the mere mention of it is enough to damn their Minister?

    The hide of this Liberal Party took a greater turn when Sharman Stone got up to ask about the poor hardware store owner in a town in her electorate who had got into the insulation business because of the scheme and who now would have to lay off workers.

    Yes, you heard right – the Liberal Party is complaining that the stopping of a program is causing the loss of jobs despite the fact it voted against the program, said the program would not create one job, and which it then demanded be stopped! 

    Good luck with that logic. No wonder Garrett accused them of having crocodile tears. He was absolutely spot on – in fact I think he should get bloody angry.

    Well done Liberal Party (and the media). All your huffing and overblown shite has ended a program which had actually created masses of employment for low-skilled workers at a time when they were the first to be sacked, and which had actually been managed pretty bloody well given the size of the industry prior to the program beginning and given that it caused the introduction of tighter safety standards than were in place before. Bravo. You should all feel so proud.

    You can talk all you like about the Liberal Party’s terrible tactics during Question Time – and you’d be right – but even with such pathetic attacks, if there was anything that showed the Minister was negligent in his handling of the risk, if he was aware that deaths could occur and yet did nothing about it, if he had done nothing to ensure minimisation of fires from insulation, then he would be gone. 

    And yet he is not (though geez, you have to wonder what the prosecutorial mind of Turnbull would have done with this report…).

    If the Opposition really had some brains (and the media as well) they would be using the report to ask questions about the risk management strategies, eg:

    • Did the Department “develop links with ACCC and other regulatory bodies”?
    • What came out of discussion with the Department of Education, Employment and Work Place Relations (DEEWR) about “assessing training requirements”?
    • What was the “internal compliance and monitoring system under development”?
    • How many meetings with “Technical Working Groups with industry covering safety and quality of product” were there, and what were their recommendations?

    You see it’s not enough to come up with the strategies – you actually have to do them. Did the Department? I would assume they did, but it would be nice to know. And it would be interesting to know if the Minister knows, though not crucial – he would only be advised that the risks were being managed as planned – if they weren’t it’s the Department which would bear most of the responsibility for explaining why. 

    Instead all we got was faked sorrow for the loss of jobs from a scheme the Liberal Party didn’t even think created jobs. We got inanity about wondering when was the Minister informed of a report which has nothing in it which suggests the Department or Minister was negligent.

    After the Grech Affair, you’d think the media and the Opposition would have learned to actually wait for the gun to be smoking before they say they smell something.

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    On the QT: The Minister for Doing Nothing But Reading Reports

    Today’s Question Time was preceded by the Secretary of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Robyn Kruk, appearing before a Senate Standing Committee Inquiry into the Efficient Homes Package. r518654_2857582

    In the committee Kruk was asked repeatedly about a risk report done by law firm Minter Ellison, which Garrett revealed he had only read 11 days ago. When asked why the Department hadn’t provided the report to the Minister, Kruk responded that the report was embedded in the advice provided to the Minister. On the level of risk in the programme she said:

    “There is probably only one way of ensuring a risk free environment in this regard and that is not to go into ceilings to put in place insulation.

    “The risk mitigation strategy was intended to actually look at what could be done to mitigate that risk. The changes that were made to that program made significant changes to what needed to occur for workers to go into ceilings. They were not in place before. If your standard is for a program of this type to be totally risk free that is not an achievable goal”.

    With regards Garrett not seeing the Minter Ellison report, she said:

    "I don't think there is anything untoward about the minister not having seen the risk assessment earlier. I would anticipate that his office and he were aware of the risk assessment process being undertaken early on in the piece. I don't think there's an issue about him not having sighted [the report]."

    This is actually pretty standard. There is no way on earth Ministers would (or should) read every report their Department receives. My God the amount of reading that would be! It would be all he or she would be doing. In this case, the Department commissioned the report from Minter Ellison (they also received other reports) and they used the report to frame their advice to the Minister.

    That is how the public service works – the public servants read all the boring (but necessary) reports, have all the boring (but necessary) meetings with industry stakeholders, and they then advise the Minister.  The Department will attach the report to the brief if the briefing is actually about the report – such as Annual Reports of Government agencies, or if it is a major review – such as the recent one into the funding of sport, in which case the Report would actually have been presented to the Minister. Risk assessment reports for programs however are strictly bureaucratic level stuff used to feed into the Department’s own advice to the Minister on the program.

    The question should not be if or if not Garrett has read the actual report, but whether the Department used the report to inform its advice to the Minister (which it did), and then whether the Minster acted on that advice (which he did).

    The rest is just a media beat up. I’m sorry, but it is.

    A Department gets a report, uses it to advise the Minister, the Minister acts on the advice. What the hell else is he supposed to do? Is the Minister supposed to think – nope, the Department isn’t up to it, give me all of the reports, I’ll do the risk assessment myself, I’ll meet with all the industry groups, and then I’ll advise myself on something which I am not actually an expert on.

    Please. Maybe if he was a local councillor, or head of a school council.

    If the Department had not done a risk assessment (or not commissioned one) for the scheme, that would be a major issue. If the Department had received the report but ignored it completely, that would be rather dodgy and people in the Department would need to explain why. If the Minister had received advice based on the report and ignored it, resulting in the program failing, then he or she would be the one deserving to be sacked.

    However, none of these things happened, which is most likely why the LNP was once again totally inept in Question Time.

    Prior to Question Time both Rudd and Abbot praised the announcement of Mary MacKillop being made a saint. Abbott oddly took the occasion to say that MacKillop didn’t ask for the Government to help the poor, she did something about it herself. I guess he’s trying to suggest that MacKillop was anti social security, but I’m not sure. It was weird to use such a moment to make a political statement, but that is Abbott in a nutshell really.

    Today, the opposition only asked questions to Peter Garrett. There were seven of them, and not once did Garrett look troubled. For all but the last of his responses the opposition were mostly quiet.

    Greg Hunt actually used one question to ask Garrett why he didn’t mention the details of the safety hotline in a radio interview he gave! Unbelievable.

    Tony Abbott went the gutter route and asked his question on behalf of the four people who died while installing insulation – as though Garrett is responsible for their deaths. What utter bullshit. If Garrett is responsible, then so is every Health Minister, both Federal and State, for any death that occurs in public hospitals through malpractice – for I am sure they have been advised that malpractices do occur, and I am sure Health Ministers put pressure on hospitals to increase the numbers of surgeries done, the numbers of patients seen etc etc.  

    It wasn’t surprising that QT led to a censure motion. This allowed Abbott to go completely off the deep end and say:

    "The minister didn't kill them but he didn't take the action that would have kept them alive."

    How big of Abbott to suggest that Garrett isn’t guilty of murder. Abbott as usual then got all squeaky and ranty, threw in bizarre lines that made little sense, such as: “The Minister is in electrocution denial”. And he ended by appealing to Garrett’s morals and conscience saying:

    “If he had a shred of the conscience he used to display in his former life, [he would resign].”

    You know when the opposition refer to Midnight Oil, they’re struggling to make a meaningful case – but they know it plays well to the media.

    Garrett’s response was cogent, calm and reasoned. It’ll no doubt get no positive coverage in the media – after all a 20 second rant is so much easier to use.

    Greg Hunt then stepped up to the plate, looking for all the world like a Year 12 student ready to represent his school at the regional debating competition. He decided today was the day he’d show that Tony Abbott is his new mentor, and so went to an even more stupid level than Abbott.

    He came out saying that this was the worst example of public policy failure in 20 years. I’m not sure what was so bad about things prior to 1990, but Hunt seemed pretty keen on the 20 year mark as he said it a couple times. He also decided to name the four men who had died, once again suggesting Garrett was responsible for their deaths.

    You see according to the Liberal Party, the Government should be not only putting in safety measures stricter than were actually in place prior to the scheme commencing (which they did) , but that it should also be watching every single company in the insulation industry every day – because the free-enterprise Liberal Party just suddenly loves Governments interfering with small business (except they are against unfair dismissal laws because small business know when to sack someone, they just don’t know how to follow safety guidelines… come back to me when you understand that logic).

    Hunt even suggested this was the worst case of public mismanagement that would be seen in this country for 100 years. This I guess means he is predicting no future Liberal Party Government will follow America into a war based on nothing but dodgy intelligence reports and a desire to look tough.

    After Hunt sat down, Anthony Albanese got up to deliver a pretty bizarre rant about all things Abbott.

    And that was it. 

    Cue the media to let fly with “Garrett under pressure”, or stories that Rudd won’t sack him because it’s an election year, or “Garrett failed to read report”, or “Abbott savages Garrett” (yep savaged with a lettuce leaf). As Bernard Keane wrote in an excellent piece last week, Peter Garrett and the Perpetual Present of Politics (a must read for all):

    You’d think press gallery journalists would have a clue about how bureaucracies in Canberra work, but no.


    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Flick of the Week: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear”.

    This week’s Flick of the Week takes us with Sigourney Weaver in Aliens to her role as Wall Street bitch Katharine Parker in the Mike Nichols’ romantic comedy, Working Girl.

    working-girl - melanie griffithYou could make a good case that Working Girl is the ultimate 80s film. It has Harrison Ford who was pretty much the biggest star in the world at the time, it has shoulder pads, it is about making money on Wall Street, it has a big theme song (Carly Simon’s “Let the Rivers Run”, which won the Oscar), it is about sisters doing it for themselves, and it has a number of actors at the start of their careers – Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, David Duchovny, Oliver Platt. It is also the first and last movie after which people would think Melanie Griffith could become a huge star. 

    The story of a secretary from Staten Island (Griffith) who tries to move up in the world by pretending to be a  high powered executive is about as Capraeque as you could get in the “greed is good decade”. It is also an unthinkable storyline to contemplate now. Oliver Stone is bringing out a sequel to Wall Street, but there is no way in hell you could do a sequel to this film. A romcom about investment bankers? A love story about people who buy and sell companies and are into leverages and derivatives and what not? Inconceivable.

    Could you imagine the tag line? “A love story about two people who helped bring about the Global Financial Crisis”.

    But in the 1980s money was god, and if you were going to succeed, you had to succeed in New York in the business world. It was a time before the irony of American Psycho and Patrick Bateman working in “murders and executions”. In the world of Working Girl, investment bankers do good deeds – helping a family business to be bought out by a bigger company in a way in which ensures everyone is happy. Yep it’s all make believe.

    But it is fun. Sigourney Weaver is a delight playing uber-bitch Katherine (when asked why she thinks banker Jack Trainer will marry her, she replies “We're in the same city now, I've indicated that I'm receptive to an offer, I've cleared the month of June... and I am, after all, me.”). Harrison Ford as Trainer pretty much sets a template that George Clooney has copied for the last decade. Alec Baldwin is perfect as the sleazy boyfriend (when caught naked having sex with another women - “It’s not what it looks like… ok it is what it looks like, but I can explain!”), and Joan Cusak gets the best lines and delivers them with relish - “Can I get you anything, coffee? Tea? Me?). The script is so nicely paced, with such good dialogue, that it is hard to believe the screenwriter, Kevin Wade, would go on to write such absolute stinkers like Junior, Meet Joe Black and Maid in Manhattan (and he also created the short lived Cashmere Mafia).

    But when watching the film now, apart from the power dressing fashions, what strikes the viewer is that Melanie Griffith is actually half decent. OK she was probably playing the limit of her range, but the role fit her perfectly and when she says she has “a head for business and a bod for sin” it’s hard to disagree. Of course she, like everything else at the end of the 1980s, lost it all. Her role in Bonfire of the Vanities only two years later is now remembered more for the fact you can see the changes in her breast size during the movie due to her having a boob job half way through filming.

    It is also good to see Harrison Ford at work in his prime. Given his last few outings it is easy to forget just how big, and how good he was. Here’s his list of movies in the 1980s:

    The Empire Strikes Back
    Raiders of the Lost Ark
    Blade Runner
    The Return of the Jedi
    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
    The Mosquito Coast
    Working Girl
    Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

    Now that is a good run – two great franchises, one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time, Peter Weir’s first Hollywood film, a rather poorly paced thriller by Roman Polanski, and an excellent romcom – take away these films and the 1980s is markedly different. Sure his acting style is more of the “invisible school of acting” – he doesn’t really go in for the method acting style, and he has only gained one Oscar nomination, but film in film out he kept turning in quality work, and in Han Solo and Indiana Jones he played two of the greatest film characters of all time (and made George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg very, very rich).

    Should you rush out and buy the DVD now? Well not unless you saw it in a bargain bin (which I’d suggest is where it would spend most of its time). While it is in no way great cinema, it is a great time capsule of how movies were made in the 1980s and how success was viewed at that time – it’s also just interesting to see a film set when women all seemed to work as secretaries (and were called that), it seems so antiquated now. It is an excellent time capsule of the 80s, and it remains a good couple of hours of fun.

    Here as well is the video for “Let the Rivers Run” which is another nice time capsule of videos in the 80s that were on soundtracks – the video is a virtual trailer for the film, and it also shows that Carly Simon has an incredibly wide mouth.

    How did I miss The Beautiful South?

    carry on up the chartsLate last year when I was thinking about coming up with a 1995 song for my series of “A Song a Year” I was talking with my sister and she mentioned that for her, two of the albums that brought back the 90s were Oasis’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and The Beautiful South’s Carry on Up the Charts. I looked at her blankly, wondering who was this band The Beautiful South.

    My sister during the mid 90s was doing her stint as a good Aussie of living and working in England (something I regret I never did), and the greatest hits collection Carry on Up the Charts hit Number 1 there in December 1994, and also in January 1995. In Australian it didn’t even chart – I don’t know if it was even released. 

    This type of thing could happen a lot back in the old pre-internet, pre-itunes age. I can recall in the 80s watching the Grammy Awards and wondering who the hell were half the bands getting awards. Now music travels much quicker, and is thus more homogenised. There are the odd exceptions, but I’d argue now there are less bands that are successful in the UK or US that don’t get a good run here. The UK definitely has a different taste in popular music to Australia – the current number one album there is Paolo Nutini’s Sunny Side Up, which only made it to Number 22 here, and the previous number 1, Florence and the Machine’s Lungs, peaked in Australia at Number 12.

    But this aside it is harder now for a band to completely slip past the radar as did The Beautiful South for me in the 1990s. Back then my sister may have mentioned them in a letter but so what? I would have had to go to a record store and buy the CD to find out whether or not I liked them (that’s if I remembered to bother to go looking for it). Now of course, were the same to occur, she could email me a link to some of their songs on youtube, and while sitting at my desk (or wherever if I had an iphone) I would be able to hear their music, and buy it if I so desired.

    When she did mention the band to me last year I did go on youtube, I did listen to their songs, and I did download an album from itunes, and all the while I kept wondering how the hell did I miss this band?

    For those who were ignorant like me, The Beautiful South was formed in the late 1980s by former member of the band The Housemartins (thank you wikipedia).

    The key to their music is songs with wonderful sweet melodies that counter the incredibly sharp and often spiteful lyrics. They were in effect the forerunner to Lilly Allen.

    Their lyrics (mostly written by Paul Heaton and Dave Rotheray) are often spectacular and sarcastic. Take this from “A Song for Whoever”:

    I love you from the bottom of my pencil case
    I love the way you never ask me why
    I love to write about each wrinkle on your face
    And I love you till my fountain pen runs dry

    Deep so deep,
    the number one I hope to reap
    Depends upon the tears you weep,
    so cry, lovey cry, cry, cry, cry

    Oh Cathy, Oh Alison, Oh Phillipa, Oh Sue
    You made me so much money,
    I wrote this song for you
    Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
    I wrote this song for you
    Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
    I wrote this song for you

    I absolutely love the first line, and melody is such that it sounds like a love song, and it’s only on listening to the words do you realise the cynicism of the song. Similar is their great song about break ups – “A Little Time”. The song is sung by a man and a woman. The man talking about needing a little time, and the woman responding.

    I need a little time
    To think it over
    I need a little space
    Just on my own
    I need a little time
    To find my freedom
    I need a little...

    Funny how quick the milk turns sour
    Isn't it, isn't it
    Your face has been looking like that for hours
    Hasn't it, hasn't it
    Promises, promises turn to dust
    Wedding bells just turn to rust
    Trust into mistrust

    The tune is so sweet that you wonder if some foolish couple has ever thought it a good song to dance to at their wedding reception.

    One of my favourite songs of theirs – “Don’t Marry Her” (about a women trying to convince a guy not to marry another woman by describing the horrible life he would have if he did) contained the line:

    She'll grab your sweaty bollocks
    Then slowly raise her knee

    This was deemed too offensive for radio (as was the refrain at the end of each chorus of “Don’t marry her, f--k me”), so they changed it for the radio and video version to “She’ll grab your Sandra Bullocks”. Such humour is the key to The Beautiful South; when they broke up in 2006 they sighted “musical similarities”.

    So no, they won’t ever be a band that will bring back memories for me, and I can’t say they changed the face of music. Other bands like The Pixies I missed as well – but mostly because I couldn't stand the people who kept banging on about how great were The Pixies. But The Beautiful South certainly are one band that I discovered late, and am glad I did.

    Below are the video clips for “A Little Time” (truly, an amazing representation of a break up) and “Don’t Marry Her”. Enjoy

    Saturday, February 20, 2010

    400 Posts Not Out

    This is my 400th Blog Post.

    I really don’t have anything to write about, so in the great tradition of bad US sit-coms, I’m going to do a bit of a recap of favourite things.

    When I started this back in July 2008 (no, not exactly ancient times, even in the internet age) I had no real idea what I was doing, nor how long I would do it for. I had read that the best way to do a blog was to pick a subject and write only about that – ie be a politics blog, or a sport blog (or better still an AFL or a cricket blog), or a music or a film blog.

    Well buggers to that says I, and so I decided I’d write about everything I was interested in. I also told very few people about it. Not sure why; mostly because I wasn’t real sure whether I’d keep doing it and thought I might find I had run out of things to write after a week.

    My first post was on the Tour de France, I went with one on a Newspoll which contained this line about the then Shadow Treasurer Turnbull:

    I thought he would be better in opposition (lawyers are good at asking questions), but too often he falls into the trap of trying to be clever, and instead comes across as being too clever by half. In retrospect this should also not have been surprising – it was the great failing of his performance during the Republic referendum.

    I enjoyed writing about politics (which I hadn’t done since 1992) and 2008 was also a good time to be doing so – given the Global Financial Crisis and the US election. By my fifth post I was comparing Obama to U2 to explain why I wasn’t fully on board with the Senator for Illinois:

    If I were 20 years old and at uni, I know that I would be all for Obama. I would be crazily inspired by his “yes we can” speeches. …
    Yet although I know my 20 year old self would support Obama, I just can’t get electrified by the man from Chicago and his apparently inspirational speeches. To me he seems rather ... can’t believe I’m saying it... all style, no substance.

    My Ninth post compared Peter Costello to Brad Pitt and George Clooney (the result – he was closer to Brad than George), and my 11th post was the first to be linked by someone and was called “Attack of the Killer Liberals”. It concerned Nelson, the ETS and Turnbull. Back then I wrote:

    And let me tell you this [climate change and the ETS] will be the issue of the next election.

    I’m not so sure about that now… But that’s the good thing about a recap you can see the dopey statements you made, and also the rather prescient ones.

    By this stage half of my posts were on politics, the rest divided among sport, television and film, and it pretty much continues to be the case.

    My tenth post was my first “Flick of the Week” post (North by Northwest). They are perhaps the most favourite ones for me to write, and yet they are also the ones which I despair over the most. As a guy who has written a few academic papers on film studies I always feel I come up well short in my analysis of the films – mostly because I am working off memory rather than a recent viewing. I’ve written 33 of those posts in the 82 odd weeks I’ve been doing the blog, so flick of the week is also a bit of false advertising. That said, I hope to keep doing a few posts on the film industry – as it’s what I did actually study at uni (well one of the things), so it’s nice to make some use of all that so-called knowledge.

    Soon after I started the blog I began my first analysis of Question Time in my regular On the QT post. I’ve done 55 of these and they are by far the hardest ones to write, given as I don’t get paid to sit in the press gallery and watch, so my analysis is based on what I can glean by watching the Parliament stream in between doing work, a few notes that I make at the time, and then (thanks to the glory of Foxtel IQ) by watching a replay that evening as I write the post. Sometimes if a particular issue sticks out I’ll have written the thing in my head as I drive home; more often it’s a struggle to stop it from becoming a boring ball-by-ball commentary. I usually don’t bother with attempting a “sketch” type column – I actually like analysing the questions and the tactics. But I have to say after a couple sitting weeks, I’m pretty well buggered. It’s not the writing that is the problem, it is the fitting it in between the time from doing the dishes to when I’d actually like to be able to have some time to relax and watch TV. It’s even harder if I’m trying to watch the 7:30 Report at the same time.

    Nearly 40 percent of my posts are on Australian politics, and thus they have become my bread and butter – and they are the ones that probably are read the most. Sure they’re biased; but I figure if Dennis Shanahan can write day in day out biased drivel that is barely in touch with reality, then why can’t I?

    But in my never ceasing attempt to be a one man Time Magazine, I’ve also thrown in quite a few posts on other topics – such as in September 2008 when I did 33 posts in the one month, doing a day by day coverage of the Beijing Olympics, as well as some of my most favourite posts – the countdown of the 10 Olympic events I wished I had seen. Such posts – like the one of Peter Norman coming second in the 200m at Mexico City are me in full Simon Barnes mode. While I write mostly on politics, my posts on sport are often the most heartfelt. I usually write on sport only when an issue has really grabbed me – such as Robert Allenby failing to win the Australian Masters for his dying Mum:

    Alas, sport is not written by playwrights who know what the audience wants to see. Greg Norman doesn't win the US Masters, Ron Clarke doesn't win a Gold Medal at the Olympics, Pat Rafter doesn't win Wimbledon, and Robert Allenby doesn't win the Australian Masters for his Mum.

    After hitting his tee shot at the 16th, he goes to his mum sitting in her golf cart and they hug - her tears obvious; his hidden, as ever, behind his sunglasses. His face attempts to keep the expression of the inscrutable, professional golfer, but it is obvious it is that of a heartbroken son who wanted to give his mum one last present to say thanks for everything.

    But sport is not scripted; any fairytale victory requires the same amount of hard work and skill and luck and luck and skill and hard work that any victory requires. And that is as it should be.

    Some categories of the series of posts have run out of puff. I was doing a series called “A Song a Year”, and while it was good from 1983 to 1994; when I started thinking about 1995, I realised at that stage in my life I had stopped caring about the music in the charts – my listening was primarily non-radio music, and thus very few if any songs that came out in any particular year held any memories for me. I might try again, but I think I’ll do a different type of music themed posts from here on.

    By the start of 2009, I was getting probably only around 25 individual hits a day; now it’s closer to 100 (and thanks to a couple links from Crikey, recently it is nearer to 150). The main reason for the increase in hits has been Twitter – a truly magnificent resource for not only alerting people that a blog exists, but for also finding out what others think on all manner of issues – it certainly produced my most read post – a recent one done on the media reaction to Dale Begg-Smith, that generated most of the hits from North America.

    I wish I had more time to write posts on books. One of the most enjoyable posts to write was in April 2009 on my favourite book covers. One of the first people to link to this site was Angela from Crikey’s Literary Minded blog, and I feel woefully undeserving of being listed under her “literature + writers” link list.

    I also like to do odd posts such as the one which introduced non-Adelaideans to the delights (and origins) of the AB at the Blue and White Cafe, or on the old local soft drinks that were around when I was young. But rare is the day I have time to write more than one post, and so usually current events take centre stage.

    And so after 400 posts, I look back with a sigh – too many typos; too many poorly structured sentences that make me wish I had done a second draft; too few posts like the one where I discovered the Patient Zero of the Global Financial Crisis which have a better than average degree of humour; too few posts like the one on the 10 Books needed for the perfect bookstore that had been percolating in my head for a few years (such things are much easier to write!). I see the posts where I have been indignant and wonder if I should have more like them – but I hate being indignant, and I would hate to be a blog that keeps banging on about certain issues.

    Whenever I see a comment has been left, I always have a bit of trepidation, expecting someone to give me a blast for being some left-wing apologist, but for the most part they’re nice comments, and they’re nice to get.

    This blog probably now takes over far too much of my life – I mean what the hell am I doing writing this on a perfectly wonderful Saturday afternoon? I find I average about 5 posts a week, and part of me would like to cut down. But I know coming up is more Question Time, and then the AFL season begins, and there’ll be films to see, books to read, dumb things done by Sarah Palin or Julie Bishop and I’ll write about them all, because well… it’s just so much fun!

    So for those of you who come in and have a bit of a read, cheers to you all – and I promise, no more recap blog post till I hit number 1000.

    Now if I can just think what to write about for post 401…

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Winter Olympics and TV for Sport Lovers

    I have never enjoyed the Winter Olympics as much as I have the Games going on at the moment in Vancouver. Sure there are still far too many events with judging, and far too few like the snowboarding cross where the winner is the first person over the line, but it has been great watching. In fact I’ll go so far as to say I have enjoyed these Winter Olympics more than the last Summer Olympics in Beijing.

    There is only one reason I can say this: Foxtel.skating

    Foxtel’s coverage (get ready what follows will sound like an advert) has been nothing short of amazing. They have had four channels dedicated to 24 hour coverage of the Games – four channels, one for each of the venues, to ensure every event is shown live and in full. I’ll repeat that for those of you who have had to endure Channel 9’s coverage, or for those who remember Channel 7’s work during the Beijing Olympics – LIVE and IN FULL.

    Every morning the events are shown live, and at night they are replayed IN FULL. Central commentary position? What’s that? At most you’ll see of the central people is occasional quick bridging work between events, and a regular bit at 7:30 that recaps a few things, but doesn't ever give anything away. Heck the other day one of the channels had the two talking heads chatting and one of them even told the audience to switch over to the live events!

    This cost me $65 (it should have been $50 but I didn’t get around to buying it until after the early bird special had closed). That is of course $65 over my monthly subscription for Foxtel.

    Now I know you’ll say that’s ok for rich people like me, but what about the honest battler. And sure there was a time I would have thought that; now I think, if the honest battler wants to see great coverage of sport then I’m sorry you gotta pay for it. Free TV just isn’t up to the task of showing sport the way sport should be shown – live and in full. And the fact is they don’t really want to do it. 

    Think back to the Beijing Olympics and remember how Matt White in the central commentary box lied to the Australian public when he said Steve Hooker had yet to jump in the pole vault final. (for those who missed, here’s part of my running blog post from the night):

    Steve%20Hooker%20GOLD%202_w430 11:07pm: Pole vault update, Hooker clears 5.60m on his first attempt, and thereby goes into the lead as the only vaulter to have not had any misses. (Kinda time to start showing it wouldn't you think?)...
    11:21pm: Oh geez, give me a break, Hooker is in the lead in the pole vault final, and instead we go to a qualifying session of the diving? Disgraceful. (And even better is that the diving is delayed... I wish this was a one off mistake, but as we all know, Channel 7 have done this over and over this week). In protest I shall continue to not watch Dancing with the Stars and instead watch Australian Idol. (Apparently they're going head to head).

    Matt White tells us the men's pole vault is coming up soon. lol. No doubt next White will let us know that up soon Carl Lewis will be going for gold in the 100m.

    11:31pm: Matt White tells us the bar is at 5.60m and Hooker is yet to jump. So that's just a blatant lie.

    Steve Hooker's "first jump" at 5.60m ...oooh will he make it??!

    Channel 7, 9 and 10 pretty much don’t give a stuff about sports fans – they care about viewers, and they know there are actually more people who watch TV who are not sports nuts; people who like montages and highlights packages rather than having to sit through the entire event.

    Just look at how Channel 7 telecast the recent Australian Open. The cut to the news and bloody Home and Away during a match involving Samantha Stosur and also during the quarter final between Roger Federer and Nikolai Davydenko. In all states not on Eastern Daylight Savings Time, the night sessions were all shown on delay.

    The cold hard facts are that free TV stations don’t give a stuff about sports fans, they give a stuff about eyeballs – and if more people want to watch Home and Away, then so be it – they’ll cut the tennis, or cricket, or golf off dead.

    The reason for this state of affairs is the
    anti-siphoning legislation. This is legislation which lists a number of sporting events which:

    Pay TV licensees are prevented from acquiring a right to televise a listed event until a right is acquired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) or the Special Broadcasting Services (SBS) or by commercial free-to-air broadcasters reaching more than 50 per cent of the Australian population. The scheme aims to give free-to-air broadcasters priority over pay TV licensees in acquiring rights to listed events.

    Here is the list of sporting events:
    , but there is no way in hell Rudd and Co will ever get rid of it. They are far too scared of the TV stations. And it’s a pity. Because the real losers are the ones they’re supposed to be protecting. We’ll keep sport on Free TV, and we’ll keep seeing as much as the Home and Away viewers will let us.
    1 Olympic Games
    1.1 Each event held as part of the Olympic Games.
    2 Commonwealth Games
    2.1 Each event held as part of the Commonwealth Games.
    3 Horse Racing
    3.1 Each running of the Melbourne Cup organised by the Victoria Racing Club.
    4 Australian Rules Football
    4.1 Each match in the Australian Football League Premiership competition, including the Finals Series.
    5 Rugby League Football
    5.1 Each match in the National Rugby League Premiership competition, including the Finals Series.
    5.2 Each match in the National Rugby League State of Origin Series.
    5.3 Each international rugby league test match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by the Australian Rugby League, whether played in Australia or overseas.

    6 Rugby Union Football
    6.1 Each international test match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by the Australian Rugby Union, whether played in Australia or overseas.
    6.2 Each match in the Rugby World Cup tournament.

    7 Cricket
    7.1 Each test match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by Cricket Australia played in either Australia or the United Kingdom.
    7.2 Each one day cricket match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by Cricket Australia played in Australia or the United Kingdom.
    7.3 Each one day cricket match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by Cricket Australia played as part of a series in which at least one match of the series is played in Australia.
    7.4 Each World Cup one day cricket match.

    8 Soccer
    8.1 The English Football Association Cup final.
    8.2 Each match in the Fdration Internationale de Football Association World Cup tournament held in 2006.
    8.3 Each match in the Fdration Internationale de Football Association World Cup tournament held in 2010.

    9 Tennis
    9.1 Each match in the Australian Open tennis tournament.
    9.2 Each match in the Wimbledon (the Lawn Tennis Championships) tournament.
    9.3 Each match in the mens and womens singles quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals of the French Open tennis tournament.
    9.4 Each match in the mens and womens singles quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals of the United States Open tennis tournament.
    9.5 Each match in each tie in the Davis Cup tennis tournament when an Australian representative team is involved.

    10 Netball
    10.1 Each international netball match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by the All Australian Netball Association, whether played in Australia or overseas.
    11 Golf
    11.1 Each round of the Australian Masters tournament.
    11.2 Each round of the Australian Open tournament.
    11.3 Each round of the United States Masters tournament.
    11.4 Each round of the British Open tournament.

    12 Motor Sports
    12.1 Each race in the Fdration Internationale de lAutomobile Formula 1 World Championship (Grand Prix) held in Australia.
    12.2 Each race in the Moto GP held in Australia.
    12.3 Each race in the V8 Supercar Championship Series (including the Bathurst 1000).
    12.4 Each race in the Champ Car World Series (IndyCar) held in Australia.

    It is an incredibly dumb list. The FA Cup? Give me a break. Go down to any pub and ask 10 people who won the FA Cup last year. If you find more than one person I’ll say you have just run into a group of English backpackers. The Ashes Tests, but not tests against India (which have actually been more interesting of late). All of Wimbledon, but not the US or French Opens. The US Masters, but not the US PGA. The British Open but not the US Open Golf.

    It is a quaint list that still believes the country is in 1950 and we all think of the damn mother country as dear old England.

    The problem as well is the actual policy is a crock. It is meant to ensure all these events are shown on Free TV. Ask yourself if you felt the benefit of this legislation when during Wimbledon you had to wait till 11:30pm (2 hours after the start of the day’s play) to see the first ball hit over a net? Yes this legislation meant that you had to wait while watching the Footy Show or some damn repeat of CSI before getting to see tennis.

    You see Free TV stations don’t like sports viewers; but they sure as hell don’t want the Pay TV stations to get it – because they know they’ll show the actual sport and thus Channel 7, 9 or 10 will lose those viewers who want to watch sport but who would otherwise have sat through the news while waiting for it (and grumbling). The primary reason the Free TV stations get sporting events is to stop Pay TV from getting them. It’s purely done to hinder their competitors. Remember as well in this fight 7, 9, 10 ABC and SBS are on the same side – they even have a little club called “FreeTV” which does their dirty work for them. The were quite successful of late, scoring a $250m gift from the government in
    terms of reduced licence fees.

    The great irony of the anti-siphoning legislation is it actually hurts sport’s fans. The FreeTV stations acquire the rights, and then show as little as possible to ensure they don’t breach the anti-hording provisions. And so they delay things, they wrap it all up in montages for people who like Home and Away and wouldn’t know Usain Bolt from Roger Federer (remember there are more Home and Away lovers than sport nuts).

    The best situation should be like the Winter Olympics – Nine has the rights to the free TV – it shows what it wants (very little) when it wants (hardly at all), and Foxtel can show everything. Had this happened with the summer Games I would have been a pile quivering joy – I would also have taken two weeks off work to glue myself to the couch and soak up every joyous minute of it. The good thing is
    it will happen for the London Games in 2012.
    wimbledon-1 The irony of the anti-siphoning legislation is that Wimbledon, which is on the list gets worse coverage than the US and French Opens which aren’t. Foxtel shows all of the main tennis matches of the French and US Opens, but for Wimbledon it is reduced to showing matches on Court 14 while over on Channel 9 Fatty and guys are yucking it up over some dumb thing.

    The Olympic Games, tennis Grand Slams, World Cup events, AFL and NRL rounds are too big to be able to be covered by one channel – it’s why the AFL has worked so well with 7 and 10 sharing the rights. But you know what works even better? Having Foxtel so you can again be treated with respect. As I don’t live in Victoria, WA or SA I see every Friday night game LIVE! Imagine that – seeing a match live and not after Better Homes and Gardens (remember there are more fans of Better Homes and Gardens than there are AFL nuts).

    Now the FreeTV stations would say they would love to show AFL, the Olympics etc on more than one channel – after all they all have 3 channels each now, but they can’t as the anti-siphoning legislation prohibits them from showing the sporting event on just one of the digital channels. The argument being we haven’t switched over to Digital TV yet. To which I say boohoo, go out and buy a bloody set top box and get in the 21st Century. Of course the stations should be allowed to show events just on the non-main station – Imagine if 7Two had on only tennis throughout the Australian Open. Ah bliss. The problem is of course, they most likely wouldn’t do this – why not? Well have a look at the ratings of 7Two and Go! compared to OneHD – people prefer to watch reruns of The Nanny or Bewitched than they do say the NBA. Sport is actually not as popular as you think it is. Sure the big events – the AFL Grand Final and Rugby League State of Origin matches rate big time; but they’re not sporting contests, they’re events.

    And so I say yeah allow the stations to show sport events on any channel they want, but scrap the anti-siphoning legislation for all but the events; which I’ll say there are only four of: the AFL Grand Final; the Rugby League Grand Final, the State of Origin matches, and the Melbourne Cup. Let the Free TV stations have first dibs at broadcasting them (they rate so well, they actually will show them). But the rest? They’re up for grabs to all and sundry.

    And here’s the reason why. The items on the list are there because supposedly they’re crucial to our way of life – we as Australians apparently love them so much the country would be up in arms without them. Well here’s the test. TV stations never turn down a chance to get good ratings, if a sport is so essential and popular no Free TV station is going to want to let it go. I guarantee you if the AFL and NRL were taken off the list, there would be next to no change. They rate good enough for the stations to make enough advertising revenue, and they’d go in with Foxtel to let them show all the matches they think no one wants to watch. The cricket? I’d also say they’d be no change. If Cricket Australia thinks it is vital for the test matches to be on FreeTV then they do not have to sell them to Foxtel. And the fact is Foxtel have done a much better coverage of the domestic Twenty20 competition than Channel 9 has done of the international Twenty20 matches (for a start Foxtel realises it is a sport).

    I am an Adelaide Crows fan who hasn’t lived in South Australia for 15 years. If I didn’t have Foxtel I would see them play about 3 times a year on average. So don’t come crying to me about how it’s not fair you can’t watch your footy team on Free TV. I pay for the privilege of knowing I’ll see my team play every single week. And guess what – the coverage is better – there are no adverts in between goals.

    The fact is you get what you pay for. Sport on Free TV is not really free. You pay for it by having to pander to the wishes of Home and Away fans. You pay for it with adverts between every change of end or after every goal. You pay for it by the station deciding to show another dodgy mechanic getting chased down the street by some bloke on A Current Affair instead of the cricket. You pay for it through having every Friday night and Saturday night footy match delayed. You pay through it by seeing Steve Hooker win his Gold Medal an hour after it actually happened. You pay for it by seeing everything repackaged made into a montage with music by Puccini instead of live. You pay for it by having to see sport the way people who don’t actually like sport want to see it.

    All of that you have to pay as a sports fan instead of paying actual money.

    I love sport. If I’m watching the tennis, or the Olympics, or the golf, or the footy, no one but now is allowed to take the remote and just switch the channel. And yet that in reality is what happens at the moment to all sports fans, because of a dumb piece of legislation that does nothing but give the Free TV stations a leg up that they don’t need (and for which they certainly don’t repay the viewers).

    The Government is currently
    reviewing the anti-siphoning legislation