Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies and ... Surveys

Ultimately you have to feel sorry for Solomon Dennis Trujillo III. All he's done is accept the invitation of the Telstra Board to be CEO and run the show exactly as any one who has reviewed his career would have expected him to.

So today we see news stories that BRW has rated him as the least admired CEO of the CEOs of Australia's top 100 companies. It really is a dodgy measure being based on surveys of faceless investment analysts - all of whom are a bit narked because the Telstra CEO does seem to spend more time managing the company than spruiking the stock (though on some reports both are less than his overseas forays).

No doubt the academy of spin known as the nowwearetalking website will have some new conspiracy theory about the survey, but I think you can't dispute that it measures what it measures. But the Telstra CEO we see is the Telstra CEO the Board hired, so if the investment community wants to draw its knives its the Telstra Chair and Board they need to invite to be the turkey at Christmas (or thanksgiving) dinner.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


John Quiggin in his blog on the Howard/Costello stuff says:

Costello says there was a deal, Howard says there wasn’t, but, as the government’s supporters will no doubt hasten to point out, the whole idea of a ‘one size fits all’ truth, the same for everyone, smacks of socialism. In a modern market system of politics, everyone can pick their own truth, as desired, and have more than one available for different occasions.

I don't buy this at all. Howard's fellow traveller's are the Quadrant right - the arch enemies of relativism.

Howard and his Education Minister Julei Bishop are determined that more "history as narrative" should be taught - that is one correct version. This postmodern idea that two people can "read the same text and get different meanings" is not for them - a fact is a fact, especially a historical fact supported by a document.

More Dems News

The ABC runs a headline Political analyst predicts Democrats' demise on their Just In feed.

Observers of politics who read a bit of history would remind all political commentators that the ALP went through many similar trevails in its first fifty years. Admittedly they had enjoyed the spoils of office, but the essential ingredients are there - the relationship between the executive and the parliamentary party, the differences between State Divisions and the national organisation.

It remains the bizarre truth that the Democrats are the natural home for a whole pile of disaffected Liberals and ALP supporters. A simple read of their charter is so much more rewarding than the objects of the ALP. Yet they simply can't establish traction.

Possibly one reason remains the origins of the party around the messianic Don Chipp, and its subsequent failure to recreate that image till the brief rise of Natasha Stott Despoja till that was rendered useless under the battles over the role of the National Executive.

Not only is it too early to call the result, we should all be concerned if that is the outcome.


Well, the Prime Minister believes that the leadership of the liberal party is the unique gift of the elected parliamentarians and that "any member of the parliamentary Liberal Party who forgets that is indulging hubris and arrogance."

As a suburban solicitor maybe John Howard is better placed to understand "contract" (which is what we mean by an agreement) than I, but my interpretation of the sequence of events is that Howard made an offer to Peter Costello, "for your consideration of not standing for the Leadership, I undertake to resign the position of Leader after one and a half terms". While the negotiation of that position may have been still going into late December, it doesn't mean that when Costello did decide not to stand that he wasn't accepting the offer, unless Howard expressly repudiated the offer.

Now, I don't think you can contract over something like agreeing to resign, but the discussions have all the hallmarks of "agreement" as would seem to be required under law.

And I don't think I've ever heard Costello actually claim that the PM has to resign for Costello. I'm sure Costello is well aware that if the PM resigns it would be open to any member to nominate. I think Costello can reasonably expect Howard to support his candidacy, and certainly not to work against it. But at no stage has Costello suggested that no one else can challenge him.

I had to get in on this early - cause hopefully there will be more to follow after Cabinet.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

How the ABC Board creates a best seller

The Jonestown story just keeps running. The David Marr item in this morning's SMH provides some more detail about the current state of play on the legal advice.

However, the article does remind us that managing risk is the Board's job. And as I said elsewhere, the ABC should and does have a different appetite for legal risk in Enterprises versus Broadcasting. Consequently I don't think the cautious approach of the Board here is a particular cause for concern for, say, Four Corners.

But it is interesting how the final chapter is playing out. The Board decision is giving the book more free publicity than anything short of actual litigation would have. So, if the new right wing ABC Board really thought they were protecting the Parrot, they should think again. Jonestown has now become one of thos things publishers love - an eagerly awaited book (and I'll want my copy on day one, just in case it does get pulped on day two).

And hopefully I'll get an answer to a question - has old Kings boy John Anderson had the gumption to say what he really thinks of Jones on the record now that he is departing the political stage?

The Democrats in the News

Great line from Andrew Murray - that he would resign more often if he could. The SMH today has a story about the demise of the Dems.

Unfortunately, I think Andrew Murray is wrong - as is the adage that "all news is good news". Yes, at last the media is taking an interest in the party, but for all the wrong reasons. And while I feel sorry for the facts Murray expresses late in the article that as a Senator he has been working feverishly away but nothing gets reported, I don't feel sorry for the fact that Andrew Murray has not really wanted to work as part of the team since he partnered Meg Lees in the GST debacle.

What's that you say - I'm a hypocrite? I want the GST to be 15% but don't think the Democrats should have voted for it? Absolutely, because the public knew what it (thought) it was doing in 1999 and the Democrats let them down. And the same weak defence is the one that might yet bring Barnaby Joyce undone - I did the dea that made the proposal better than it was to start with.

The Democrats of all the parties are the ones I'd have thought believed that as leaders you bring the public on a journey of ideas, not that you say anything to get elected then make different decisions claiming changed circumstances. And to do that you need to be clear on the motivating philosophy, not (like Andrew Murray) bogged down in verbose explanations.

GST Windfall or Fairytale

Peter Costello and John Howard have underpinned their centralisation crusade with a simple message, the States have never had it so good (fiscally) since we introduced the GST and gave the revenue to the States.

I've always wanted to test that out - because the corollary would be profligate spending by the States, which in NSW at least I can't see.

At last Ross Gittens in the SMH has - and as I suspected the truth and the Howard/Costello team are not companions.

Nor should this surprise anyone, since so many of the taxes that were wound back were State taxes.

Underneath all this there is the more distressing fact that in 2000 we went through all the political agony of the GST without getting most of the potential economic gains. The GST at 10% represented primarily an administrative simplification of consumption taxation, and not the shift to greater reliance on consumptio tax that it could have been. And let's not forget that a GST acts like a "negative tarriff" as it makes exported goods cheaper than goods consumed domestically, that is, it creates an incentive to export (which we still dearly need). Further higher consumption taxes makes restructuring of income tax to include "negative tax credits" as a substitute for multiple welfare programs viable.

I'll tell anyone who'll listen that the GST needs to be 15% to really attract benefits. But I doubt we'll ever here that out of this coalition Government. Not because they think it is unsalable, but because they are full of hubris about the genius of their economic management.

The death of the Democrats?

That's what Crikey is claiming following the little contre temps the party is having in SA. They also picked up on an Oz editorial.

It is hard to really make the call, given that sensible voters need somewhere to go and surely people have noticed that the Greens are half made up of unreconstructed Trots. Family First and the whole religion thing doesn't look like the emergence of a Christian Democrat tradition, no matter how much Fred Nile might like the name.

But Crikey is right that the Dems need to look more like what they originally were as offshoots of the Australia Party and the Liberal Movement. That is, believers in economic progrsss with a human face. Unfortunately they have allowed their economic credentials to rest exclusivley with the dour and fractious Andrew Murray, and they haven't really recovered from the disappointment of those voters who thought the way they voted in 1999 would give them John Howard PM but no GST.

So as a consequence they do come across as a bit of an odd collection of schizoid single issues rather than what they really are - great liberal democrats, more in the tradition of Deakin and Menzies that John Winston Howard (who truly is the first "conservative" this country has ever seen).

We need a "Save the Democrats" campaign - our nation needs them.

ARM still sounds like a stifled cough

Have just returned from the Australian Republican Movement's 15th anniversary dinner. Hard to describe really, you can't call it a celebration because I think they thought we'd have the republic by now.

Their new great idea is to get to a republic with a series of "plebescites", first on do you want a republic then secondly what kind.

They sort of forget that we got into the first mess because the monarchists forced the debate to be about how you couldn't ask people if they were for or against a republic until they knew what kind of republic it was. Then once there was one chosen, the monarchists effectively campaigned to get other republicans to vote against the model.

And the ARM identifies six alternate models. I recall previously seeing a poll on these in which my preferred model (Executive Presidency) only scored 6% support. Now they just refer to having included the other five in a submission to a Senate inquiry having dropped the sixth (my preference) due to lack of support.

Anyway, I think all this plebescite stuff is a nonsense. Way too many options to run through, and too much information presented in uninteresting ways. I think we should give modern technology a shot and try for "Republic Idol" or "Singing for the President".

This is a game show/reality show construct. You start out with six teams of three whose job it is to promote one of the models. Over the first two or three shows you just introduce the models, include a bit of a travelogue on places that currently use one of the models (you know, shots of the Place de la Concorde and this is where modern republics began and the guillotine got a work out, cut to Washington with Jennifer Hawkins or Catriona Rowntree explaining the US republic).

After that each week the teams are given one aspect of democracy to discuss and explain why their model is best to deal with it. So the first week could be all about controlling executive power, the second week about leadership in crisis, the third about tolerance and freedom. At the end of each show we put up the SMS and phone numbers and the audience can choose to "vote off a model" or "vote for the model you most like" (you can actually have both the positive and the negative option). Each week a model gets eliminated till we come down to the final show where the republic model is chosen. Clearly you'd want to think through the issues so that the last show is really dealing with something big.

After that there could be a super final show - republic versus her maj. Mind you, you could have her maj as an option all the way through but I'm not sure its particularly fair nor is it likely you'd get the really credible monarchy prosletysers out for the whole show.

Of course, at the end you still need the referendum.

Only problem I'm told is that no one would watch the show - but it sounds like a goer to me!!!

PS I don't usually post my ideas for TV shows here, but with John Hinde passing away yesterday I am reminded of the ABC Christmas party where I suggested to Hinde and Libby Gore that it would be a hoot to have him do a review of, I think a sports video, on Elle McFeast. Anyway I loved it when he did appear.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sparks Fly around Jonestown

Where thee's smoke, there's fire - and I guess where there is flint, there's sparks (or is that the other way round). But we are talking about Flint, David Flint - agent double O double O and his licence to thrill.

Flint, under the heading The ABC never goes after leftie celebrities in the Oz on Thursday, wanted to have his say on the ABC decision not to publish the Chris Masters book Jonestown.

At the start of his opinion piece Flint asked "WHY on earth was the ABC so foolish as to contemplate publishing a book on Alan Jones?". The very short answer is because the ABC some time ago set up a division called Enterprises which primarily makes its money from "re-purposing" ABC production material.

Typically this is audio and video reproductions of aired shows, but it is not unusual for it to run to books related to aired shows. Chris Masters undertook research for a Four Corners episode called Jonestown, and reached the unsurprising view that extending that research to a book was probably a profitable transaction.

For the Board to now take the commercial decision that there is too high a degree of unmanaged risk should not be read by partisans of either the left or the right as being a consequence of a change (in the political sense) of approach by the Board. The left should not read this as interference in editorial decisions - that would have been the case if the original Four Corners episode was not aired - but Enterprises has always been a strictly commercial division. But equally the right is wrong to see this as the Board stopping an attack on a right wing poster child.

But it was Flint's claim, repeated in the headline, that the ABC never goes after "lefties" that struck me. The night before I had been reading Graeme Freudenberg's "Cause for Power" which is the official history of the NSW Branch of the ALP. I had just read the section covering the Four Corners show "The Big League" and the repercussions for Neville Wran of that show. The show did uncover some significant corruption, it was just that the accusation about the Premier was untrue (this was, by the way, Chris Masters first story for Four Corners).

So on a sample of one, and admittedly twenty years ago, the core accusation is wrong.

But Flint has another gripe - that there are plenty of publishers for leftie books but not of the right. He somehow doesn't seem to understand the comment he quotes from a publisher that "only books from the Left sell and a book about them would not." Similarly, in book publishing the ABC is not attempting to be a voice for the otherwise unpublished, but a commercial venture.

But even then I'm not sure the premise is correct. The Freudenberg book is published by Pluto Press, a speciality left house. Flint found a publisher in Freedom Publishing who seems to play a similar role on the right.

Meanwhile, I'm perfectly happy that the ABC seems to be making perfectly sensible decisions, first to commission the book as an extension of the TV program and then to decide that the unmanaged financial risk in publishing was too great. A pity more private sector firms aren't as well managed.