Wednesday, 31 August 2011


I have a confession to make. Not only did I used to write cigarette ads, but I also used to make heaps of TV commercials for KFC. By the bucketload. In fact, when it comes to egging on the obesity epidemic in our community, some would say my CV is second to none.
And so it was with some sadness that I read last week that KFC have decided to stop giving out free toys with their kiddies’ meals. ("There goes the nutritious bit," quipped a friend of mine.) The reason for the decision, explained the earnest-sounding Corporate Affairs Manager Zac Rich, was that the idea of free toys had "had its day" and "belonged to another era." Zac went on to explain that KFC were “doing the right thing” and hoped "this will support parents in making dietary decisions on behalf of their children which aren’t influenced… by pressure to choose the meal that has a toy."
He also pointed out that KFC are “a founding member of the Australian Quick Service Industry Initiative for Responsible Advertising to Children.” Hmmm.
The entire announcement sounded uncannily familiar, and then I realized it reminded me of the phony concern we heard only recently from the tobacco marketing industry saying how they were desperately worried about sales of smokes going up.
And eerily similar to the faux-sincerity of the alcohol marketing industry’s self-regulatory body DrinkWise, who announced in May that they had decided to slap health warnings onto bottles of booze. DrinkWise’s stated aim is “to influence a cultural shift in the way Australians drink, so that the next generation of drinkers may view intoxication as unhealthy and socially unacceptable.” Really? Good luck.
For years, irate nutritionists and health activists have criticized the free toys and the "pester power" that they supposedly provoke as one of the great evils of the advertising industry. Get rid of the toys, ran the argument, and kids would no longer drive their parents insane in order to go to KFC or Maccas. Wishful thinking, I'm afraid. Zac was only telling us half the truth when he said that KFC were “pleased to be taking the lead in removing (the toys).” In Australia, yes. But KFC and other fast food chains in the USA got rid of them nearly a decade ago, and - surprise, surprise - it made not a jot of difference to their bottom line, or indeed, to America’s waist line. Moreover, the toys themselves were always regarded as a pain in the butt from a marketer's point of view. Not only were they an added expense on the production line, cumbersome to stock in store, a pain when they ran out and little Jessica was left standing at the counter balling her eyes out, but also there has been the ever-present health and safety risk that a child would inadvertently put an eight-legged wiggly purple monster in his mouth and choke on the damned thing. They were more trouble than they were worth and KFC franchisees will not shed a tear to see the toys disappear.
But the reason for my disappointment is that this is yet another tokenistic and almost certainly forlorn effort to stave off more and more government interference in the marketing of legal products. As with the health labels on alcohol, the recent banning of a tasteless Roger David ad, and other over-reactions, the advertising self-regulatory bodies are increasingly cowing in fear of the plethora of "nanny state" lobby groups.
It’s no surprise that KFC’s altruistic move comes only four months after the Obesity Policy Coalition demanded the banning of junk food advertising during peak children's viewing times, and less than two months after the Australian Medical Association claimed that self-regulation of the fast food industry isn’t working.
So increasingly, we are seeing fearful marketers disguised as concerned self-regulators nervously throwing their opponents a bone to chew on. But by so blatantly accepting the argument that marketing activities – rather than individual parental responsibility, lack of self-discipline and freedom of choice - are to blame for excessive consumption, the industry merely encourages ever-more intrusive rules and regulation. The end game of the lobbyists is unequivocal: "Greater government regulation of fast food advertising is needed to cover the failure of industry self-regulation," claims AMA president Professor Dobb, demanding “junk food ads should be banned altogether.”
Clearly, the bureaucrats’ hunger for ever-stricter regulations won’t ever be satiated. Like a kid at KFC, health activist groups are never going to say "that's it, we've had enough, thanks."
So look forward to more and more token gestures from the ever more desperate self-regulatory marketing bodies. Graphic images of cirrhotic livers on bottles of wine, perhaps, or photos of dying diabetics on your buckets of nuggets?
Until the nanny state succeeds in banning ads altogether.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


They’re called ‘‘teaser ads’’, and their purpose is to tease you in the old-fashioned sense. A sly wink and a hint of exciting things to come. Advertisers spend money on teaser ads when they wish to raise anticipation and intrigue about an upcoming event, such as a gigantic sale or a new product launch.
Qantas have launched a mega-teaser campaign, the likes of which we rarely see these days. But as unions, politicians and pilots step up the war against Alan Joyce’s restructuring plans, was it the right strategy?
You couldn’t avoid the lavishly presented, beautifully crafted promise of a ‘‘new spirit’’ last week: a full colour wrap-around of every major national and metro newspaper that kicked off a multi-million dollar print and online campaign to run for the next couple of months.
The ad intrigued readers. It got tongues wagging. It looked extremely impressive, and tantalizing. But there was one problem. When the temptress stepped out from behind her veil… there was nothing to see.
What on earth were Qantas on about? A long-lens pic of a pretty young lifesaver; the quintessential blonde and blue-eyed Aussie Anglo-Saxon kid. A beautiful blue sky and… lots of evasive, obfuscating blurb.
Having written many corporate ads myself, it was easy to spot the craft of the copywriter, as he or she desperately resorts to familiar feel-good phrases and reassuring sentiments to avoid actually informing us what this “new spirit” comprises. “Competitive” gets a mention, as does “stronger” and “rewarding.” Whatever it is will “make us all proud” with “better connections” and “new levels of comfort.” But still the question remained – what is it?
And then, right towards the end - by which point most readers would have given up - there’s a clue, when the copywriter refers to the “vast majority of our operations (being) based in Australia.” Aha! Gotcha. You’re moving overseas.
QANTAS are clearly relying on a fluffy, blockbuster campaign to “sell” something they know will be unpalatable to many. But by leaving the meaty details out, the campaign raises more questions than it answers. What on earth is the consumer supposed to “buy”? If there’s a new airline, what’s its name? Is there a new logo? Will it mean cheaper flights? If not in Australia, then where is it going to be based? A “new spirit of partnership” - but with whom? Having pricked our interest, but failed to satisfy our curiosity, the teaser campaign forces us to look elsewhere for the answers.
And there they are, all over the news. Job cuts. Thousands of them. The Greens up in arms, reminding us all to check out the Qantas Sale Act of 1992. The unions having a fit, claiming “they’re expanding the airline but getting rid of Australian jobs, and that’s a very fundamental mistake.” Rivals Virgin Australia cheekily grabbing the opportunity to steal some coveted “Aussie spirit” for themselves by offering jobs to those made redundant by Qantas. Calls by shareholders for Joyce to go. Daily strikes threatened by unions, and subversive announcements made to passengers by pilots and hosties. Joyce forced onto the back foot, defending the redundancies whilst standing in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (proving he “still calls Australia home”, presumably).
News that Neil Lawrence, he of the iconic ‘‘Kevin 07’’ slogan and the successful anti-mining tax ads, is behind the teaser campaign comes as no surprise. Qantas wanted to pull out the “big guns,” and they don’t come bigger. The opening salvos have been fired in what will be a drawn-out struggle for the hearts and minds of Qantas loyalists.
‘‘I think the first message is the most critical and that is that Qantas international has to change or perish,’’ said Lawrence.
Maybe, but that’s not what he says in his teaser ads. Perhaps it would have been better if he had. Honesty in advertising is a far more powerful tool than obfuscation.
The details dribble out. We learn one of the new airlines will probably be called Jetstar Japan, while another doesn’t have a name yet but will be based “somewhere in south-east Asia.” Joyce has a Malaysian solution, perhaps. But lacking a single-minded and positive message to sell, Joyce is struggling to deliver the wonderful “new spirit” the campaign promises.
Today the tease continues, even on Twitter. So does this mean there will be four different brands, four different product stories and four different logos? Sounds like an ad man’s nightmare.

Thursday, 18 August 2011


Good evening,
Let’s start with banana skins. Slipping on them is extremely dangerous. Latest figures show that over 63% of people who slipped on a banana skin suffered spinal injury, paraplegia, concussion or some form of brain damage.  The cost of looking after a person who has slipped on a banana peel can run into the millions of dollars, including medical equipment, mobility assistance, physiotherapy and home care. Yet everyday literally thousands of bananas are sold throughout Australia with scant regard for the damage they can do. At the very least, we should be encouraging people not to eat bananas without adequate grip on their footwear or protective padding and head gear.
Supermarkets should place barriers around the banana aisles to protect their employees, and banana growers should be forced to pay a levy towards the victims of peel slippage. TV shows featuring real or dramatized versions of people slipping on banana skins for the purposes of visual entertainment should either be banned outright or at the very least only be shown after midnight so as not to encourage copycat ‘slippings’ from impressionable youth or slapstick comedians.
Fines, including stiff prison sentences, should apply to people who deliberately or inadvertently place a banana peel on a perambulatory surface for malicious or comedic purposes. The consumption of bananas should be discouraged where possible, with peel stickers depicting people in wheelchairs or in traction visibly displayed upon each piece of fruit.
Smaller bananas, such as lady fingers, are not exempt and must at the very least display the “banana peels can lead to spinal injury” government warning and Department of Public Health logo.
Sounds absurd? Not nearly as ridiculous as some of the many health and safety regulations that the nanny state has already inflicted upon people here and overseas.
Such as the fireman who couldn’t change a little old lady’s smoke alarm because he’s not allowed to stand on a chair at work.
The school Christmas party cancelled because there were no nut allergy warnings on the mince pies.
The taxi drivers who cancelled their annual outing for needy kids because each cab would need a risk assessment, each child would have to be accompanied by an adult, and each adult would need a six-week criminal record check.
A mother fined for feeding the ducks at her local park because of complaints about children slipping over on their way to school on duck turds.
The library where you can take your laptop but can't plug it in without an electrician’s licence.
The school where kids can bring frisbees to the playground but they can't throw them; they must run to each other with the frisbee and hand it across.
Parents banned from supervising their children at a playground in case they are pedophiles.

Council workers permitted to enter peoples homes to check that the children’s toys are safe to play with.

A policewoman banned from looking after her neighbors child because she was not a registered child minder.

Council workers using anti-terror laws to catch a man who had illegally pruned a tree.

Parents not allowed to drop their kids off outside the school in order to force them to walk up the hill in order to “tackle childhood obesity.”

Thinly cut chips being banned because thick cut chips are relatively healthier

Public address loops that endlessly announce such profundities as:


Do we need this stuff? Are we not capable of recognizing a handrail and understanding what its function is? Do we really need a nanny state to choose the cut of our chips?
Of course not, but the nanny state is a bit like the Rolling Stones. It’s a powerful, well-funded gigantic machine that had a couple of great ideas back in the 60’s and now doesn’t know when to stop.
Once you’ve moved past the early big hits – namely tobacco and seatbelts – you quickly enter a world of Alice in Wonderland silliness and absurdity. A world where control of our own lifestyle choices has been handed over to an undemocratic cabal of academics and bureaucrats who have a vested interest in constantly coming up with new controls on our behavior. Because the areas where a nanny state can interfere are literally infinite.
Recently, the alcohol industry buckled to pressure to put health warnings onto bottles of booze. What next? Cerotic livers and peptic ulcers plastered all over every six pack of Tooheys and every bottle of Jacobs Creek? Graphic images of the morbidly obese on every Big Mac wrapper? Photos of dying diabetics on your Tim Tams?

Already, there are numerous silly rules regarding the advertising and marketing of alcohol. For example, if you use an extra in a TV ad who is under 25 you will be penalized and the ad pulled off air. Alcohol advertising may not imply in any way that drinking alcohol will, shall we say, enhance your appeal to the opposite sex. In ads screened before 9pm, people may hold a glass of alcohol in their hand but they are not allowed to drink it.
It’s the nanny state that has become intoxicated with its own success stories and never knows when it’s had enough. The nanny state, that like a drunk at a party goes on and on prodding you in the chest saying “And another thing – you cant do this. And you cant’ do that. And you shouldn’t do this.”
There is no activity anywhere that is enjoyable, challenging, adventurous or pleasurable that could not – somehow or other – require a government health restriction, warning or regulation slapped on it.
What we are facing in Australia is an ever growing mountain of regulations, restrictions, warnings and punative measures telling us what food to eat, how to dress, what pleasures we can and can’t enjoy, where and how we can entertain ourselves and ultimately, what we are allowed to do, say and one day - even think.
In the name of “public health”, or “health and safety”, an unelected, unaccountable mix of well-meaning and equally well-funded academics at the behest of jobs-for-life bureaucrats and public servants are able to sneak new legislation through the back door of government marked “nanny” - and impose upon us – without any say or electoral mandate - their ideas and their decisions.
Governments have limited resources. Sadly, every hour and every dollar wasted on this nanny state frivolity is time and money our public servants are not spending on the things that actually matter, like helping the elderly, fixing up mental health, providing carers for the disabled, building new hospitals and genuinely looking after those who need help. Nicola Roxon recently devoted hours of media time boasting about her plain packaging legislation. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw her opening the new mental health wing of a hospital.
But there is a dark, sinister side as well.
In the recent London riots, the father of a teenage looter blamed her complete lack of morality – her inability to decide for herself what is right and what is wrong – upon the nanny state. Parents, he said, are powerless to discipline their children for fear of being reported to police or social services. Every time he tries to criticize or correct his daughters behavior, she loudly accuses him or either verbal or physical abuse.

Coming here this evening on the radio was a story from Germany about a young kid who contacted authorities to complain that his mother making him do forced labour. It turned out shed insisted he do his chores.

Whether you intend to work in education, in the alcohol industry, the fast food industry, IT, the entertainment industry, sports, or simply look forward to taking pride in your everyday skills and activities such as bringing up kids or even just dropping them off at school, you should be afraid. The nanny state by definition, can never be satisfied. Because there is no end to the things that might just possibly pose a threat to us. It’s called being human.
Beware: the Nanny State can seriously damage your democratic health.

Thank you


Goldilocks, Peter Pan and Humpty Dumpty were all there, along with a distinguished British Lord, former Liberal and Labor leaders and ministers and the odd scientist or two. When it comes to climate change emissions, Australia is clearly leading the world - in the quality of debate. Asking the pertinent question, "Do we really need this carbon tax?" the answer was given to us on a balmy winter's night in Sydney at Wednesday's inaugural debate hosted by The Spectator magazine and the Institute of Public Affairs: in an oratorical contest about climate change that unleashed a tidal wave of analogy, emotion, economic hypothesizing and even a few temperature rises amongst the crowd. But, strangely, not much science.

To be broadcast on the ABC, the debate was riveting, and managed to transcend much of the "here-we-go-again" hyperbole and statistics of the climate change talk-back discussion. Held at the prestigious Tattersalls club in Elizabeth street, which is well over a hundred years old (as indeed were many of the audience,) it would be fair to say the event attracted a largely greyer, more conservative demographic, although a few hot heads had obviously caught the bus down from Broadway to support the "yes" case. Star performer was former Thatcher minister and father of the world's curviest TV chef Lord Nigel Lawson, who was accompanied by former Labor minister Gary Johns and geologist and author Ian Plimer persuading us that the carbon tax is a no-no.

Opposing them, and bravely arguing against an occasionally hostile crowd - there was a distinctly audible hiss when the ABC's Q and A programme was mentioned - were former Liberal leader John Hewson and UNSW climatologist Benjamin McNeil.

Stuck somewhere in the middle was former Labor leader Mark Latham, who despite believing both in climate change and the need for an emissions pricing mechanism, argued convincingly against the carbon tax, maintaining that in it's present form (exempting fuel and so on) it will prove futile and ineffectual. Given the political pain she is suffering, Mark shrugged his broad shoulders and wearily asked his former deputy "Julia, why are you bothering? What's the point?" He then drew an analogy with tobacco, imagining a tax on cigarettes that didn't include half of the brands, compensated Big Tobacco, and gave extra money to smokers,

To climate change advocate and businessman John Hewson, who presumably no longer drives to work in a Ferrari, it was all about economics. Oddly claiming that he was taking advice these days from Humpty Dumpty, John asserted that the move away from carbon-based energy forms is "inevitable" so we may as well get on with it. John, who is chairman of Global DC, a firm involved in the design and building of energy-efficient data centres, claims the tax will drive investment into renewables (just like it says in the ads) and create "new income streams" that will be good for business. And for John, too, presumably. His best line, and one of the best laughs of the night, came when he said he hoped he wasn't being asked the carbon footprint of a birthday cake. (You had to be there.)

In a decision he probably now regrets, Brendan McNeil, the one accredited climate change scientist on the panel, airily proclaimed that he wasn't there to talk about "the science." Oops! If there's one thing guaranteed to fire up the climate change skeptics and deniers it's scientists being evasive about the science. Brendan nonetheless presented a compelling argument in favor of innovation and technology to solve climate change. But by citing Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and other inventors (who all managed to get by without government intervention) he risked undermining his own case.

The one person who did want to talk about "the science" was geologist and climate change denial pin-up boy Ian Plimer. Attracting a fair degree of hostility from the science graduates in the audience, he went to great pains to detail what he maintains is the geological evidence that dismantles the theory of carbon-based and human-induced global warming. He and Brendan then got into a tiff about whose science degree was more impressive.

Retreating to the theme of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, former Labor minister Gary Johns briefly brought Goldilocks into the debate, (when is the planet too hot, too cold, just right?) before delivering an eloquent, well-reasoned and compelling argument about risk assessment. Concluding that it is pointless to embark on a grand scheme that you know can't possibly achieve it's goals, his best line was "It's not cost-effective if it's not effective."

But the night belonged to Nigel Lawson, former chancellor and energy minister in the Thatcher years. He doesn't quibble with the science. He despairs of the policy response to it. Addressing the "moral" question head on, he decried the fact that "hundreds of millions of people" throughout China, India and Africa were being condemned to lives of "the direst poverty, disease and malnutrition" thanks to the climate change agenda. There are "real problems in the world that exist" that are being ignored thanks to the West's obsession with climate change.   

His was a tour-de-force of reason, compassion and economic intelligence. And he even managed to get Peter Pan into the debate. Along with most of the audience, he got my vote.       


“I suppose you’ll try and blame the London riots on climate change believers,” said a friend of mine to me, scathingly, the other day. It’s true. It does seem like anyone who’s got a drum to bang has clutched at the riots like a looter grabbing a pair of trainers. Everyone wants to jump on the who’s-to-blame bandwagon, with theories ranging from the nanny state to an outbreak of “let’s-get-even-with-the- hedge-fund-managers.”

The London riots have come along just at the right time for all sorts of people. For News Ltd, a welcome opportunity to get back to writing about the news rather than making it. For David Cameron, the chance to fight his own Falklands – at home. For Labour politicians, the moment to moan loudly about “the horrific cuts”, forgetting of course that the worst ones were self-inflicted as people gleefully punched their way through plate glass windows.

Personally, I think someone should study the psychological similarity between the January sales and most computer games. Wandering innocently down Wandsworth Road after a relaxed afternoon spent snorting crack cocaine and playing “Mayhem and Carnage 3”, and then suddenly being confronted by excited crowds pouring out of every High Street store with their arms laden with freebies, it would be easy to get confused. “The chance of a lifetime!” as they say in the ads. “Everything must go!”

But back to climate change. Maybe it’s true! Maybe climate change really is to blame.

Got kids? Watched as they've been indoctrinated - sorry, I mean educated - about global warming over the last decade? Then you'll know what I mean. They come home from school moodily depressed about the future of our planet and, of course, what that means for their own lives. What's the point? We're all doomed! Why study? Why bother getting an education? It's futile. Sea levels are rising. Temperatures are soaring. Soon we'll all be living in a polluted hell-hole constantly battling the equivalent of the Queensland floods or the Victorian bush fires year upon year. And you want me to waste what precious time I have left studying accountancy?

It's called nihilism, and it's even more terrifying to witness in your teenage children than hickeys, drunkenness, truancy, insolence, idleness, bad marks or bullying. Nihilism, or the conviction that life on earth is totally pointless, saps the young of their energy, their ambition, and their will to strive, struggle and triumph.

Any amateur psychologist (or even better, parent) will tell you how easy it is to demotivate a child. So as parents we go out of our way to imbue our children with a sense of self-worth and optimism. We try and tell them what a great life lies ahead of them.

Yet at the same time, our teachers and our politicians are determined to do the complete opposite. To convince an entire generation that life on earth as we know it is, well... stuffed. There is no worthwhile future.

The Sex Pistols are famous for coining two phrases., other than “God Save The Queen, which wasn’t strictly theirs. “Anarchy in the UK” and “No Future.” Unsurprisingly, the two go hand in hand. As in Australia, the UK education authorities have spent the last dozen years or so doing their utmost to persuade our kids that they have no future. No future for the planet, which equates to a very bleak future for themselves. Combined with an unrelenting culture of consumption and acquisition, the average child grows up believing a) life is shit and b) grab whatever you can whenever you get the chance. Combine that philosophy with a stimulative diet of violent computer games and a "bling" culture that prides overt materialism above all else and you get, um .... Give me a moment while I figure it out.

Oh yeah! Got it! Anarchy. No respect for authority, an instant "thrill" addiction, no interest in long-term consequences, and a very real understanding that "the system" will never dare blame you for anything that you have done. Awesome, dude!

"We're just getting our taxes back!" yelled one over-excited young woman as she happily looted a corner store the other night in full view of the TV cameras. “This was the best day ever!” yelled talented athlete and (now disqualified) Olympic ambassador Chelsea Ives after allegedly rampaging through Enfield smashing and stealing.

“Children now have the power over their parents, not the other way around,“
said the father of another middle-class teenage looter. Every time he tries to criticize or correct his daughters behavior, she has been taught to loudly accuse him or either verbal or physical abuse.
Clearly, today's "rioters" aren't actually interested in changing the world with catchy slogans and idealistic sentiments. They're far too busy helping themselves to shoes, clothes, electronic goods, alcohol, chips and cash.

Only a few weeks ago, Pink Floyd offspring Charlie Gilmour was sentenced to 16 months for his role in the “student riots” of last year. “We’re very, very angry!” he proclaimed, smashing his way into Oxford Street’s Top Shop, presumably grabbing the opportunity to get some new clothes. “You broke the moral law, we are going to break all the laws,” he carried on, as he then set about attacking Prince Charles’ convoy and desecrating the Cenotaph.

All because of cuts to student fees? Um, his step-dad made one of the biggest selling albums of all time. I don’t think so. Nihilism is a pernicious, debilitating and self-fulfilling doctrine. In the UK, as here, the "authorities" have been preaching it relentlessly for the last decade. It comes at a price. Al Gore, I hope you watched the riots in a London as avidly as our kids were all forced to watch your breathless prophesies of global gloom, doom and destruction.

It's not rising sea levels we have to worry about. It's a rising tide of nihilism, thrill seeking and moral ambiguity.

And the January sales.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


"Why do you all hate Thatcher so much?" I asked a visiting British academic the other night. He looked at me in disbelief, as if the answer were self-evident. "Look what she did to the coal miners," he retorted. "She deliberately put thousands of them out of work, threw them onto the scrap-heap. Fathers driven to suicide, families plunged into poverty. Twenty thousand working families sacrificed for pure ideology, nothing more."

If this sounds uncomfortably familiar, that's because it is. According to NSW Treasury figures, 20,000 is almost the exact number of coal mining jobs that will be lost – and not replaced – in the Hunter Valley by the carbon tax. Like Thatcher before them, Julia Gillard and Greg Combet are prepared to sacrifice these jobs and livelihoods for the sake of the “greater good.” For ideology.

The OED definition of ideology is “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” All political parties require an ideological framework on which to base their decisions. The point at which a set of beliefs moves from ideology to a legitimate political agenda is, of course, at the ballot box.

Thatcher never specifically asked the electorate if they wanted her to crush Arthur Scargill and his National Union of Mineworkers. But she never pretended the real battle was over anything other than ideological beliefs. "Economics are the method;" she said, "the object is to change the heart and soul." Gillard is equally clear about the ideology of her carbon tax. "I believe climate change is real," is justification enough. Like Thatcher, she is using an economic tool so we "all change our behaviour." For Combet: "this is a difficult political environment at the moment but this is a critical reform for the future of the country and future generations." In other words; 'even though we don't have a mandate, we have our ideological beliefs.'

Although Combet disputes the figures, the NSW Treasury modeling is unambiguous. The carbon tax will hit NSW harder than any other state and cost at least 31,000 jobs, particularly in regional areas. The analysis shows $3.7 billion will disappear from the annual output of the NSW economy by 2020, rising to $9.1 billion by 2030.

It predicts the loss of 1,850 jobs in the Hunter region alone and 7,000 fewer jobs in the Illawarra, a thousand less in the central west. "The reduction in jobs in the Hunter is absolute, not a mere reduction in growth prospects," it concludes.

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell says the Treasury predictions are "disastrous" for the Hunter Valley. NSW Minerals Council CEO Dr Nikki Williams concurs: “The federal government said we were scaremongering when we flagged our concern for the 3000 NSW coal mining jobs that are at risk, but the NSW Treasury modeling now shows that loss could be replicated tenfold across the state’s economy,” she said.  “It is becoming increasingly clear that the carbon tax will cripple economic growth and put thousands of jobs at risk, especially in regional NSW."

Aha, you say, but we are sacrificing the coal miners and their livelihoods to save the planet. So our grandchildren will inherit a cleaner world. Those mining jobs would have gone anyway, your argument runs, when coal becomes obsolete, which it must eventually do. Besides which, there will be an equal number if not more new jobs created in the renewables industry.

This "greater good" argument, worthy as it may appear at first blush, is uncannily similar to that put forward by supporters of the Thatcher government to justify the closure of 20 mining pits across Britain’s north in 1984. The greater good, in that instance, was the British economy. The mines were closed so that today's Britons could inherit a more prosperous world. A plethora of jobs were created in London's freewheeling financial services industry as the British economy took off on the back of the defeat of the left-wing unions. London quickly became one of the economic powerhouses of the world. All well and good.

Except it wasn't. Many of the Yorkshire miners never found work again. For decades, poverty, depression and suicide blighted their lives as the booming economy that their defeat ushered in to the south-east failed to have any positive impact on the mining ghost towns of the north. Strange as it may seem, you can't just put down your hard hat and shovel, pick up a calculator, and become a hedge-fund manager overnight.

Equally, just because you were good at digging up coal doesn't mean you'll be any good at putting up windmills.

Combet claims that sufficient money is being set aside to compensate for job losses. Maybe. But these are working Australian families, not just a set of numbers. When do they sell up and move? Now? Should they quit work and start looking for new skills? New schools? Leave behind their homes, history and communities? What about Mum? Do they move her too?  Combet maintains the Hunter will be one of the areas to benefit from a growth in renewable energy sector jobs. Let's hope so. Thatcher made similar commitments about a revitalized north which sadly never came to pass.

Ironically, Greg Combet rose to prominence in the Australian equivalent of the mining strike; fighting on behalf of the wharfies’ unions in the 1998 waterfront dispute, where he famously maintained that "the laws were made against workers, and bad laws have to be broken." It will be interesting to see if he gives the same advice to the coal workers of NSW.

Combet and Gillard have made clear that the carbon tax will go ahead, regardless of adverse public opinion polls, the concerns of those with jobs to lose, and without being mandated at the ballot box. It’s a question, purely and simply, of ideological belief.

"The government is going to stick to its guns," Greg says. Sounds awfully like Margaret Thatcher's "the lady's not for turning."

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Editorial writers, the PM and numerous cabinet ministers have attacked Tony Abbott for his “mindless negativity.” But could it be that “mindless positivity” is even worse?
From indigenous welfare to climate change, mindless positivity is the political strategy that cries out "just do something, anything, quick!" It springs from a mind-set that believes "doing anything is better than doing nothing," and it places a premium on highly visible actions first, and complicated questions later (such as "is this thing actually going to work?")
This week, Aboriginal leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu said: "Please, no more welfare handouts. It's a killer to the Yolngu society." Like Noel Pearson before him, Yunupingu recognizes that the feel-good, poorly thought-through policies that created indigenous welfare dependency have backfired. Sounding like a “good thing”, they squandered billions of dollars on handouts, rather than enabling proper Aboriginal education.
Mindless positivity has been around for a long time. Costello’s baby bonuses and Clover Moore’s bike paths spring to mind. But it blossomed in the heady days after the election of Kevin 07, where it slipped onto the national agenda in the guise of the 2020 summit.
“Something positive must be done,” declared the assembled boffins, dreamers and actors when confronted by the issues of climate change, boat people, broadband, indigenous Australia, the health system, grocery prices, fuel prices, internet porn, junk food, tobacco advertising, binge drinking, and the lack of good Aussie films. (I made the last one up.)
The doctrine of mindless positivity became the eager creed of a Labor government not entirely confident in its own skin. “Something-positive-must-be-done” quickly morphed into "something-positive-must-be-seen-to-be-done," thanks to today’s media-obsessed world. Sitting in their offices gazing at Lake Burley Griffin, senior bureaucrats became adept at putting forward extravagant, highly visible, easily PR-able solutions to a myriad of issues.
Early examples of mindless positivity were Grocerywatch and Fuelwatch, quickly followed by the alcopops tax and the Green energy rebates. Once the Rudd-Gillard team developed a taste for mindless positivity, it quickly spread. Peter Garrett gave us his pink batts and Julia Gillard her superfluous school halls, while Wayne Swan seized the first opportunity to blow every penny in the Treasury coffers “stimulating” us with things that nobody really needed. Like a new Bravia. 
Not to be outdone, Stephen Conroy designed his national broadband network as a glorious example of mindless positivity at work. The NBN sounds awesome, yet will squander an eye-watering amount of taxpayer dollars, has had almost no uptake by consumers, and will probably be rendered obsolete by DIDO wireless technology.
Julia Gillard's putsch demonstrated the addictive nature of mindless positivity. Clearly, "something positive had to be done" about Kevin's (entirely predictable) downturn in the polls. The cautious approach would have been to patiently listen to the concerns of the electorate and subtly fine-tune policy accordingly. But mindless positivity demands the grandiose, headline-grabbing, knee-jerk action with no time to consider the consequences. Sack the PM, confound the public, call an early election, lose your majority and hand power to the Greens and independents.
Abandoning Nauru and relaxing border protection was always a risky idea. But mindless positivity made the decision infinitely worse. First the Timorese solution was hurriedly introduced, then abandoned, and now the Malaysian solution, introduced to great fanfare, is a mess.
But the incident does give us a clearer understanding of how and why mindless positivity works. As former Labor minister Gary Johns has said, "governments will never admit they don't have a solution to everything. They always have to be seen to be doing something, no matter what." Even when doing absolutely nothing is probably just as effective as doing something “positive.” Belgium has operated for the last twelve months without any government activity whatsoever. And nobody's noticed.
The Cate Blanchett and Michael Caton carbon tax ads provided the perfect slogan for mindless positivity: "say yes to feeling good about doing something positive about climate change." A prime example of the doctrine, the carbon tax ticks all the right boxes. Sounds like a good thing. But it will be enormously costly and can’t possibly solve the problem of global warming.
Even the apology to indigenous Australians met the criteria. On the surface; a good thing. On closer inspection; nothing achieved. In fact, according to a recent Department of Finance report the entire history of Aboriginal welfare has been one of mindless positivity, with “Large investments (in) well-intentioned policies and programs which have failed to produce their intended results.”
Which is exactly what Galarrwuy Yunupingu is telling us. And not a moment too soon, either.

Monday, 8 August 2011



BARNABY Joyce should sue Tony Abbott for unfair dismissal. And the Canberra press gallery should hang their heads in shame. 18 months ago, the Queensland senator, in his newly appointed role as shadow finance minister, was brave and prescient enough to make a very big call. He warned the US could soon go belly up.

Like a bunch of kids hurling abuse at the village idiot the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, and the media immediately ridiculed Joyce to the point where Abbott, in an atypically cowardly act, turfed him out of his job. A job, it now appears, Joyce is arguably more suited to than any of the myopic individuals who actually hold the purse strings of our collective wealth.

The analytical and intuitive gift of correctly foreseeing future events and warning of their consequences is one of the most precious a politician can possess. Being brave enough to voice such predictions is another. Churchill warned his skeptical party of the dangers of the Third Reich long before anyone else. Reagan was mocked for predicting how vulnerable the Soviet system was, while the rest of the world trembled in fear. De Gaulle foresaw today's EU while the rest of Europe was scrabbling about in the rubble of World War II.

The interwoven threads that create the patterns of history appear to most of us at the time as a confused tangle. Having the clairvoyant's knack of accurately imagining where they will take us can give a nation a huge tactical advantage. Barnaby Joyce may employ the blunt rhetoric of his country constituency, but I'll take his challenging predictions any day over the evasive, patronising platitudes of Swan, Gillard, or Hockey.

On December 11, 2009, in an interview with The Age, Joyce said he "did not want to alarm the public," but believed we needed a ''contingency plan'' for a sovereign debt default by the US. If the US were to default it could trigger an ''economic Armageddon'' that would "make the (GFC) pale into insignificance."  Sounds pretty reasonable so far. Isn't this what we demand of our political leaders; to have their wits about them enough to warn us of potential threats to our wealth? ‘Armageddon’ might be a tad hyperbolic, but certainly no more so than the “environmental Armageddon” we’re daily threatened with.

``A default by the US means complete economic collapse around the world and the question we have got to ask ourselves is where are we in that?'' Joyce said. While predicting that the chances of a US default were "distant but real," he worried that politicians "were not doing the electorate a favor" if they refused to address the risk. "If America collapses there will be no more sale of Chinese products to America and therefore very little purchase of Australian resources by China.'' He also questioned our own debt levels, and ability to repay them.

Treasurer Wayne Swan, who since 2007 has not made a single accurate prediction about anything, let alone financial matters, immediately savaged Joyce as being "from the reactionary fringe." Ken Henry leapt in, admonishing Joyce for raising "hypotheticals that are that extreme" because it might "frighten people."

Yet it's perfectly acceptable for the government to frighten us constantly with wild predictions of rising sea levels and melting polar caps to justify a new tax?

The Herald’s Peter Hartcher concluded that although a US default was possible Joyce had "the potential to be extremely dangerous to the national interest" and referred to his “bumbling manner and madcap style.”  Political website Crikey crowed that "the chances of the US defaulting on its debt remain highly unlikely." Fairfax economics writer Jessica Irving lampooned Joyce as a “boofhead.”

Wayne Swan elevated the debate to his own intellectual level by describing Senator Joyce as "Barnaby Rubble" (he lives in the Stone Age - get it?), while finance minister Lindsay Tanner scathingly dismissed Joyce as "a freak show". Labor’s competition minister Craig Emerson sneered at Joyce’s “whacko economics.” And it wasn't only Labor who put the boot in. One Liberal MP reportedly claimed that fellow parliamentarians "cringed" when Senator Joyce spoke, while another apparently said that "there is not a single colleague in the Liberal Party that has any faith (in Senator Joyce). Everyone is just going tick, tick, tick, tick."

Meanwhile the countdown to a potential American default also went "tick, tick, tick." Not that our elected officials cared. They had more important matters to deal with, such as flogging a couple of dodgy new taxes, saving face on the boatpeople fiascos, and, er, that's about it.

Here's a spot of clairvoyancy of my own. When the history books are written next century, the impact of the US debt and defaults crises on the West's declining economies will merit a chapter all of its own. ‘Climate change’ will be lucky to get a wry paragraph, ‘the Malaysian solution’ a scathing sentence or two, and the ‘NBN’ a footnote under the heading Obsolescent Technology.

When, in March 2010, Tony Abbott buckled to the baying mob and dumped Barnaby from his job, The Age’s Michelle Grattan approvingly noted "Abbott has done the right thing in shifting Joyce. Finance has never been a good fit for the man... Joyce was not seen by business or by colleagues as up to heavy lifting in the economic area."

This week, Obama and Congress worked on a band-aid deal that sees a few spending cuts and the debt ceiling reduced to… oops, I mean increased to a staggering 17 trillion dollars. If the US dodges a bullet, it’s only temporarily. The threat that Joyce alone was prescient enough to warn us of still lingers. We as a nation are not even remotely prepared. Who knows what consequences a US default in twelve or eighteen months time could have upon us? Not our government or opposition, that's for sure.

They've been far too busy arguing about windmills and boat people to have time for such trivial matters as America going down the gurgler.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


In the marketing world, people jump ship all the time. The CEO of a company, having for years demanded unconditional loyalty from his team, will suddenly join his firm’s most hated rival. Struggling brands will poach their competitor’s Creative Director in order to re-build themselves. Betrayal? Of course not. It’s called "doing business." And nobody bats an eyelid.
Is Malcolm Turnbull about to jump ship? Could he do business with Labor?
Last week’s Virginia Chadwick Memorial speech, where Malcolm passionately embraced Kevin Rudd's sentiments about climate change being "the greatest moral challenge of our time" is revealing. Taken by most as a piece of mischief designed to keep Tony Abbott on his toes, the timing and oddness of the speech suggest an ulterior motive.
Malcolm is coyly fluttering his eyelashes across the chamber at an increasingly jumpy Labor Party and saying "I'm over here if you want me, boys! Shall we dance?”
Minority governments play strange tricks on the mind. In Europe, individuals whom the public had always assumed loathe each other frequently hop into bed together. Nick Clegg enjoyed a naughty weekend’s flirtation with Gordon Brown before abruptly deciding to offer his virtue to David Cameron. From a business angle, it made more sense. Nick, a classic latte-sipping lefty, is now deputy PM of Thatcher's old party. Are Dave and Nick happy together? Apart from a few petty domestic squabbles, the romance is going gangbusters.
The climate change issue and its troublesome offspring the carbon tax are strangling the life out of Labor. Gillard's "damned if I do and damned if I don't" quandary was only ever going to be resolved if she could persuade people that the tax would genuinely tackle climate change. She failed. By panicking and throwing other issues into the mix (wealth redistribution, who-gets-what-compensation, renewables) the "sell" became confused; with voters being offered a mish-mash of reasons why they should buy her product. Like a show-bag thrust in your face crammed with junk you don't really want, the majority of punters are responding "not today, thanks."     
But "not today" doesn't mean "not ever." With the same polls that tell us Gillard and her tax are floundering also telling us that climate change remains an issue of popular concern, the opportunity is ripe for a credible and inspiring Labor leader to re-shape the issue. Someone not beholden to the Greens, someone with solid business acumen untarnished by the BER and pink batts fiascos, and someone who can attract votes from the “wet” Liberals who by nature are uncomfortable with Tony Abbott’s brutal skepticism.
Someone, for example, who could convincingly tie opposition to the carbon tax into Labor’s beloved class struggle. Like this: “There has been a very effective campaign against the science of climate change by those opposed to taking action to cut emissions – many because it is not in their own financial interests – and that this has played into the carbon tax debate.” Beautifully put, Malcolm. Labor hardheads would sell their grandmas to have such an efficient and eloquent communicator on their team.
Malcolm remains high in the opinion polls as preferred leader of the opposition. Polls are the gold-standard by which Labor judges success. Julia is bankrupt. Malcolm is loaded. Moreover, Malcolm's Labor credentials, as pointed out recently by the ever-perceptive Bob Ellis, are impeccable. Malcolm fought valiantly for the Republic, is as passionate a climate change believer as you will find this side of Newtown, and despite his staggering wealth boasts a strong working class pedigree. Labor, as Ellis makes clear, would have no problem taking him on board.
But would Malcolm want to? Funnily enough, it would probably be easier for him to hop into bed with Labor than to try and claw back the Liberal leadership. The more Malcolm shows of his own true colours, the more the right of the Liberal party rail against him; with the Menzies House website labeling his speech ''The return of treacherous Turnbull.” Not a lot of love there.
“Let me say straight up that the question of whether or to what extent human activity is causing global warming is not a matter of ideology… or of belief.  The matter is simply one of risk management,” he continued, cunningly conflating his own renowned business skills with advocacy for the carbon tax. This wasn’t a speech aimed at confused Liberals. This was a message to the soul and brain of Labor. A message that says loud and clear: “Got a carbon tax to sell, guys? I’m your man.”
If Malcolm were to jump ship, many problems would simultaneously be solved. First and foremost, the prime-ministership would be back within his grasp, which is, after all, his sole ambition. Deliciously, it would also put him in a position to savagely attack Tony Abbott, an opportunity he is clearly salivating for. And above all, it would allow Malcolm to sleep at night over the one issue that genuinely seems to trouble his conscience.
And for Labor? The opportunity to re-take the moral high ground on climate change, re-jig its emissions scheme, shrug the Green monkey off its back, consolidate the Independents (Rob Oakeshott was gushing over Malcolm's speech), give Kevin Rudd the finger, and put Julia back where she is best suited (running kindergartens). Oh, and it would also give them a pretty good crack at winning the next election.
Sounds like a sound business decision to me.