Thursday, 2 July 2020

One of Murdoch's minions goes after the ABC & accidentally shoots Sky News, a subsidiary of News Corp

Sometimes even in these dark times the news cycle throws up a quiet giggle.

In the Murdoch-Morrison War on the ABC, Australia's public broadcaster......

First salvo

L'l Scotty Morrison routinely swats away a journalist during a doorstop on 29 June 2020:

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve spoken about the need for tax reform out the back of this crisis. Will you consider taking to the next election either an increase in the GST or a broadening of the base of the GST in order to get rid of and decrease other taxes or is that something you would rule out? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I'm focused on at the moment is the decisions the Government has to make in relation to JobSeeker and JobKeeper and they’re important decisions as we move to the next phase post September. And I've got to say, Andrew, that's where my attention is right now.

JOURNALIST: So it’s something you might consider down the track? 

 PRIME MINISTER: No, Andrew, I'm not going to let you put words in my mouth. I've said what I've said. You know, we're focused on the questions that Australians are most interested in at the moment. And that is, frankly, the next phase beyond JobSeeker and JobKeeper. There is still a lot of work to do there and that's what we're focused on now. 

JOURNALIST: Were you concerned… 

PRIME MINISTER: No, it's not a one on one today, Andrew, there's many other journalists here. I'm happy to give you another one later.

Supporting salvo

News Corp's own NCA Newswire decides this exchange is a perfect opportunity to take another potshot at the ABC:

However there is one small problem with this 'news' report.

Return fire from opposing trenches

And that small problem was at matter of identity:

It would appear that News Corp mixed up Andrew Clennell a political editor over at its own subsidiary, Sky News Australia with an ABC political editor Andrew Probyn.

Thus managing to bring down one of its own media soldiers in a volley of friendly fire.

In future skirmishes perhaps Murdoch's troops could check mugshots before firing off a round - the Andrews are easy to tell apart.

Charities are warning Tweed Heads is a food insecurity hotspot and they are running out of supplies to meet rapidly growing demand.

ABC News,  June 2020:

Charities are warning Tweed Heads is a food insecurity hotspot and they are running out of supplies to meet rapidly growing demand. 

Agape Outreach founder Theresa Mitchell said the number of people asking for food assistance has almost doubled since the advent of coronavirus. 

"Before COVID we were feeding up to 400 people a week, now we're feeding up to 700," she said. 

"We are getting 1,600-1,700 kilograms of food donated a week, but we can go through 700kg a day. 

"A run we did last week we had 150 hot meals. We didn't get halfway through the places we were going to. We bought $100 of pizza on top and we still had to turn people away." 

Tweed region facing unique challenges 

Agape services the stretch between the northern Gold Coast and Byron Bay, where Ms Mitchell said all communities were experiencing increased hardship as a result of coronavirus job losses. 

Food recovery charity OzHarvest is making hot meals

Tweed, however, has few big businesses to provide major chunks of funding and faces unique accessibility issues with pockets of population dotted in remote areas. 

"There are a lot of people who can't get here [to access food] because of lack of funds to do that," Ms Mitchell said. 

"Every person walking in the door would ask us for a petrol voucher but we're not funded, we don't get money from everywhere, so we can't give them." 

Demand becoming unsustainable 

The Gold Coast manager of food rescue organisation OzHarvest, Sally Anderson, said servicing Tweed's growing demand is unsustainable. OzHarvest figures show that in May 9,299kg of food was delivered to the nine charities it supports in Tweed Heads, but less than a third of it was contributed by donors from that area. 

"That identifies to us that Tweed donors would never be able to fill the demand of the food relief that is required by the charities down there," Ms Anderson said. 

"We make up the rest by donating Gold Coast food that we have collected to meet that food demand down at the Tweed end. 

"We are all a community, regardless of whether there is a border there or not, but in the next 12 months we will be facing some tough times. 

"Tweed really needs some attention so we would love it if we could get some support down there and we are trying to connect with local businesses."

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

The Morrison Government's COVIDSafe app has not identified any close contacts of a person infected with coronavirus who had not already been found through manual contact tracing

The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 June 2020:

The federal government's COVIDSafe app has not identified any close contacts of a person infected with coronavirus who had not already been found through manual contact tracing, despite being downloaded by more than 6 million Australians in two months. 

As the number of infections soars in Victoria, Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick said the government was being dishonest about the effectiveness of the app, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison touted as "sunscreen" against major outbreaks and as the key to lifting restrictions..... 

The $2 million app — downloaded more than 6.44 million times and launched amid the height of the pandemic in Australia on April 26 — was built to help assist state and territory contact-tracing teams uncover close contacts of infected COVID-19 cases who may have been within 1.5 metres of them for more than 15 minutes in public places such as restaurants, cafes or shops. 

But testing data provided to the Senate showed its effectiveness, particularly on Apple iPhones, remains an ongoing issue. The testing data, released to the Senate's select committee on COVID-19, shows when an iPhone is locked there remain issues with the app detecting another nearby iPhone user. 

Only 25 to 50 per cent of the time did it work on May 26 in locked iPhone-to-iPhone testing. At launch, it was worse, working only 25 per cent of the time or less for locked iPhone to locked iPhone. When it was running in the background, the app also didn't work well. Issues were also prevalent on Android smartphones, with problems remaining on May 26, especially when the app's testers tried to get iPhones and Androids to share information. 

At the app's launch, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said: "To be effective, users should have the app running in the background when they are coming into contact with others. Your phone does not need to be unlocked for the app to work." 

Labor's government services spokesman Bill Shorten accused the government of being "secretive" about the app's dysfunction. "The current app is clearly not working well enough and the government is being secretive about how often it has actually made a difference," Mr Shorten said..... 

On the app's launch day, 6696 Australians had coronavirus. Since then, a further 926 cases have been identified, many returned travellers. Of the 926, only 40 of those have had the COVIDSafe app and have allowed health officials to look at their close contact data..... 

On Wednesday, Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said his contact tracers had downloaded the app's data 30 times but had not identified anyone who wasn't already uncovered through the manual interview process..... 

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed on Thursday that NSW health officials had downloaded people's contact data from the app 10 times. 

But the NSW Health Department confirmed on Saturday no contacts or cases had been identified using the app.....

NSW farmers against gas fields on agricultural land or in vicinity of rivers, lakes and underground water

The Daily Telegraph, 21 June 2020:

Local farmers are spoiling for a fight with the State government over plans to dig hundreds of gas wells across NSW’s most fertile countryside.

A proposed $3 billion project to drill 850 coal seam gas wells between Narrabri and Gunnedah would be a “climate crisis” according to farmers in north west NSW, who hold grave fears for the future of livestock, cropping and human drinking water.

The NSW Department of Planning last week approved the proposal after a drawn out three-year process, which means the final hurdle is sign-off from the Independent Planning Commission.

A NSW Farmers branch representing hundreds of farmers across the Liverpool Plains voted unanimously to call on its peak industry body to up the ante in its opposition to the coal seam gas project.

The Gunnedah and Tambar Springs branch of NSW Farmers has formally requested its parent body lobby the government to scrap the Narrabri coal seam gas project and extinguish 11 expired and inactive petroleum exploration licences dotted around the region.

Santos Narrabri Gas project has raised alarm among farmers over the future of livestock, cropping and human drinking water in the area. Picture: Nathan Edwards.

Santos has claimed the project won't compromise the Great Artesian Basin – the world’s largest underground freshwater tank, big enough to fill Sydney Harbour 130,000 times – but farmers maintain there is too high a risk it could deplete and irreparably contaminate the aquifer.

"What my members are saying is they can produce food and fibre without gas, but they can’t do it without water,” branch secretary and wheat farmer Xavier Martin said.

The Berejiklian government is not listening so NSW Farmers has to escalate this.”

Farmers see the Narrabri project as a “Trojan horse”, which if approved will encourage gas miners to fire up 11 expired and largely inactive petroleum exploration licences in the state’s north west from the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains north to Moree and west to Coonamble.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

"An infamous federal government bureaucrat at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in the ABC’s history – a fraudulent story which sparked the multi-billion dollar Northern Territory intervention – has been promoted to serve as Australia’s High Commissioner to Ghana."

New Matilda, 28 June 2020:

An infamous federal government bureaucrat at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in the ABC’s history – a fraudulent story which sparked the multi-billion dollar Northern Territory intervention – has been promoted to serve as Australia’s High Commissioner to Ghana.

Gregory Andrews was working as a senior adviser to Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough in 2006 when he appeared as the star witness in an ABC Lateline story which falsely described him as an ‘anonymous youth worker’.
Andrews – whose face was filmed in shadow and his voice digitized to hide his identity – wept openly on camera as he described how, in the mid-2000s, he reported incidents of sexual violence against women and children in Mutitjulu to police, but withdrew his statements after being threatened by powerful men in the community.
It subsequently emerged the entire story was a fiction – Andrews had never made a single report of violence against women or children to police.
Andrews was also forced to apologise to the Federal Senate for providing misleading testimony, and later became the first public servant in history to avoid appearing before a Senate Inquiry on the grounds of stress.
The day after the ABC story was broadcast, the Northern Territory government announced a high-level inquiry into the claims. Almost a year later, the resulting reporting – Little Children Are Sacred – was used by the Howard Government as the basis for launching the Northern Territory intervention.

Infamous Canberra bureaucrat, Gregory Andrews, pictured in 2017.

Reporting by Fairfax revealed that shortly before Prime Minister John Howard announced the NT intervention, it received a report from Liberal Party polling firm Crosby Textor advising it that its best chance of winning the 2007 election was to intervene in the affairs of the state and territory governments, to try and make them look incompetent (all state and territory governments at the time were controlled by Labor).
The strategy failed – the Howard government lost the election, with former Foreign Affairs minister Alexander Downer lamenting afterwards that despite the loss, the policy proved popular with Australian voters.
Andrews worked in the community of Mutitjulu for a short period in 2005 as a project manager for the Northern Territory government. He subsequently joined the Department of Families and Community Services, Housing and Indigenous Affairs, and was providing advice directly to Minister Brough when the ABC falsely described him as an ‘anonymous youth worker’.
Talking points which had been prepared by Andrews for the minister prior to his appearance on Lateline were subsequently leaked – they revealed that once Andrews was provided anonymity by Lateline, he grossly embellished his story.
Andrews claimed children were being traded between Aboriginal communities in Central Australia as “sex slaves”. A lengthy investigation by Northern Territory police found “no evidence whatsoever” to support the claims. An Australian Crime Commission investigation also found the allegations to be false.....
Read the full article here.

Murdoch has managed to deprive NSW Northern Rivers region of most of its local print newspapers & now Morrison is attacking our most reliable news source, the ABC

The Age, 25 June 2020: 

ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose has lashed out at Communications Minister Paul Fletcher over the Morrison government's handling of its multimillion-dollar budget cuts and accused him of lying about the national broadcaster's efforts to collaborate with SBS. 

In a fresh war of words between the taxpayer-funded broadcaster and the Coalition government, Ms Buttrose has accused Mr Fletcher of twice failing to provide the ABC board and management with the critical data that informed an independent report proposing the closure of two broadcast channels and the sharing of back-office and support services with fellow public broadcaster SBS. 

Ms Buttrose has also said the government misrepresented the ABC's efforts to work closer with SBS. In a strongly-worded letter to Mr Fletcher, seen by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Buttrose said the ABC's board had asked her to "convey its concerns" about Mr Fletcher's lack of response to correspondence between the pair in September last year. 

"We raised a number of issues but were particularly interested in seeing 'the information - data, models and assumptions - which formed the basis for the savings estimates provided in the report'," Ms Buttrose wrote. "I appreciate you have a busy schedule but we would appreciate an answer to our queries." 

Ms Buttrose said several media reports, which ABC management believes were informed by Mr Fletcher, had suggested the ABC "had neglected to 'collaborate more closely with SBS'". 

"This is incorrect," Ms Buttrose wrote. "David Anderson has had several conversations with SBS about sharing costs". 

A Peter Tonagh-led review of the public broadcasters was handed to the Morrison government in March last year, but its details were kept confidential as the ABC developed plans to cut costs. Some recommendations - such as an increased focus on digital growth, improving the ABC's iview platform and reducing investment in products that are not central to the ABC charter - were effectively adopted in the plan announced yesterday, but an ABC spokesman said that if all had been implemented there would have been more cuts. 

In the September correspondence between the pair, Ms Buttrose said the board said several proposals in the review "lack enough detail to allow an evaluation of whether the suggested savings can be realised". 

"In some cases, the savings estimates are presented in aggregate for the two national broadcasters and it is unclear what proportion of them has been attributed to the ABC, rather than SBS," she said. 

In particular, the review estimates that the national broadcasters could together save "a minimum of $45 million" by reducing multichannel services and "between $80 million and $115 million per annum" through focusing expenditure on what it characterises as "core" activities and a greater focus on digital delivery. 

"However, it provides no information as to how these figures were derived or the proportions attributed to the ABC," she said. Sources said Ms Buttrose had also raised the issue with Mr Fletcher at a face-to-face meeting between the pair at ABC's Ultimo headquarters on Tuesday. 

Mr Fletcher and Prime Minister Scott Morrison staunchly defended the level of funding provided to the ABC, insisting the government has not cut its budget, and backed the national broadcaster's efforts to be more focused on regional and suburban Australia. "There are no cuts ... the ABC's funding is increasing every year," Mr Morrison said on Thursday. "The ABC would be the only media company or organisation in Australia today whose revenue, their funding, is increasing. It would be the only one in the country. We are seeing regional mastheads by commercial newspapers abolished." 

The ABC announced a range of cuts on Wednesday, including 250 job losses and the end of the 7.45am radio news bulletin, in a bid to save $40 million until 2022. Managing director David Anderson also announced plans to cut poor-performing content, reduce episodes of Australian Story and Foreign Correspondent and lease space at the ABC's Sydney headquarters in Ultimo. The measures triggered a wave of criticism about the funding squeeze imposed on the broadcaster by the Coalition in recent federal budgets.

ABC News, 27 June 2020: 

The ABC put forward two separate proposals offering to open more regional Australian studios, expand its coverage of remote communities and hire more journalists in rural areas in return for the federal government dumping its decision to freeze annual funding indexation. 

Correspondence between ABC managing director David Anderson and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and seen by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, show the national broadcaster was prepared to invest tens of millions of dollars more outside capital city centres if the Morrison government was prepared to reverse its budget cuts. 

In a proposal made after the Black Summer bushfires in January, ABC management told Mr Fletcher the national broadcaster would be able to find $10 million a year to employ more regional journalists if indexation was restored

Mr Anderson's letter, sent to Mr Fletcher on January 24, said he was writing to ask the government to consider a reversal of the indexation pause, which is expected to cost the broadcaster up to $84 million over three years, to safeguard the future sustainability of the ABC. 

"If indexation was restored, combined with savings and efficiencies that the ABC has identified in recent months, the Corporation would be in a position to commit an additional investment of up to $10 million per annum to employ more journalists in regional Australia and generate more content from regions for the local and national stories," Mr Anderson wrote. 

Several government sources have confirmed Mr Fletcher did not reply to the letter, nor did he discuss the proposal with the ABC or his National Party colleagues, who have constantly raised concerns over the future of regional media outlets, following a spate of natural disasters including last summer's fires.... [my yellow highting]

The Saturday Paper, 27 June 2020: 

Two days before the ABC confirmed that up to 250 jobs will be cut across the organisation, the federal government finalised a $200,000 offer for consultants to prepare a report on news and media business models looking specifically at the impact of public broadcasters “on commercial operators”. 

An approach to market for the report was closed on Monday, with the federal Communications Department under minister Paul Fletcher requesting the successful bidder evaluate failed, successful and emerging news media operating models from around the world. 

As it happens, a key requirement of the research, due before the end of August, is also a hobby horse of the ABC’s commercial rivals. 

The tender asks consultants to examine “the role of publicly-funded (non-commercial) media organisations in the production and dissemination of news and media content in the comparable jurisdictions, and the impacts and interactions of publicly-funded entities with commercial operators”. 

This is the argument News Corp makes against the ABC: that it is cutting into the audiences of commercial enterprises such as Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, websites and pay television business. 

“The report will be used as an input to inform policy advice and decision-making in relation to the news and media sectors. The end-users of the report include Commonwealth officials, relevant Ministers, and their staff,” the tender documents say. 

“The report is not intended for public release.”......


ABC News, 26 June 2029: 

The ABC has not only helped shape Australia, we are the national voice that unites us. 

It’s about democracy. Without the ABC we would have a balkanised and parochial bunch of broadcasters that are in danger of being compromised by profit and more intent on dividing than unifying. 

Imagine what it would be like during the bushfire season if we had to rely only on state-based or even regionally based media outlets. When we are in the middle of bushfires, don’t we want to know that they are being covered by a knowledgeable and experienced network of journalists with all the supporting infrastructure of a large national network? 

The ABC, funded by all of us, regardless of our creed – race, age, political beliefs – is us. It’s the way we build cross-cultural understanding, the way we help each other in times of need. It’s who we are collectively. Why would anyone want to diminish that and make us less than who we are? 

This has been a devastating week for the ABC. With unemployment at an all-time high to have to inform up to 250 people they no longer had a job has been an incredibly difficult task. 

Cuts to services caused by the ongoing reduction in our budget forced this action upon us and although we knew what had to be done, our hearts were with our employees. 

Let me clarify the cuts because there seems to be some confusion in Government circles about them. The 2018 Budget papers clearly state that the Government’s savings measures reduce funding to the ABC by $14.623 million in 2019-20, $27.842 million in 2020-21, and $41.284 million in 2021-22. This reduction totals $83.75 million on our operational base. 

It is true that over the three years the ABC budget does still increase but by a reduced amount, due to indexation on the fixed cost of transmission and distribution services. Previously, it was rising by a further $83.75 million over the same three years for indexation on our operational base. This is the funding that has been cut and considered a saving by the government. 

These funding cuts are unsustainable if we are to provide the media services that Australians expect of us. Indexation must be renewed. 

The strength of the ABC and its relationship with the nation comes from the very people who work for us. They are passionate about public broadcasting and are prepared to work for less than they would be paid by commercial media to deliver it. The creativity in the programs they produce, the dogged and independent journalism they pursue and the connection with communities everywhere they provide through conversations is at the very heart of what the ABC delivers to our audiences. 

The ABC has a statutory requirement to operate as efficiently as possible. We have a strong track record in identifying savings and reinvesting them in services. This is how we created ABC News 24, ABC iview and a range of packages to boost services in rural and regional Australia. 

There is no other authority better placed to manage the ABC than the ABC itself. We know our business and we are determined to honour our commitment to independence. All Australians expect this of us just as they expect the Government to provide the appropriate funds to allow us to do so. 

The ABC is essential in generating and preserving Australia’s democratic culture. An independent, well-funded national broadcaster allows Australians, wherever they live, to connect. It is how we share our identity, how we tell our stories, how we listen to each other, how we ask for help and how we give it. 

 Ita Buttrose AC OBE 
 ABC Chair

Monday, 29 June 2020

ECONOMIC STATE OF PLAY 2020: "Under these latest forecasts Australia’s economy next year would be 0.7% smaller than it was last year. That is the first time since 1983 that our economy would be smaller than it was two years earlier."

The Guardian, June 2020:

Since the virus hit there has been a belief, maybe a hope, that this was just a momentary thing. 

Sure, the fall would be sharp and deep, but the recovery would be fast coming. 

You could hear it in the talk of “snap back” from the prime minister and treasurer. 

There was almost a sense that this recession is not really a recession – because this was driven by health, not the economy. The underlying economy, this argument went, was solid (the foundations were strong!), and thus once those restrictions were dispensed with, we would be back as good as ever. 

The problem was that the foundations were not strong (productivity growth, household incomes and the domestic private sector were all flat-lining). Just because the causes of this recession were unusual does not alter the fact that all recessions bring with them massive job losses and a fall in production. 

And this recession is the worst we have seen since the Great Depression. 

This week the IMF issued a revised set of estimates for GDP growth this year and the next. And there was some good news to be had.....

In April the IMF forecast our GDP this year would fall by 6.7%; now it estimates it will “only” fall by 4.5%. 

Unfortunately though, the treasurer neglected to point out that, other than Malaysia, Australia had the biggest growth forecast downgrade for 2021. 

In April the IMF estimated our economy would “bounce” back in 2021 with 6.1% growth; now it sees just 4%. 

Overall, the IMF’s changed estimates are such that they expect our economy at the end of 2021 to be virtually the same size they were expecting it to be in April. Hardly a ringing endorsement that government policies are doing better than expected. 

What this means is we need to very quickly disabuse ourselves of the notion that the economy will “snap back” in 2021 and all will be well. 

Under these latest forecasts Australia’s economy next year would be 0.7% smaller than it was last year. That is the first time since 1983 that our economy would be smaller than it was two years earlier. 

But even that rather hides the impact. 

In October the IMF estimated that for the next five years our economy would grow by around 2.5% each year. That is pretty miserable growth, but it was largely in line with the average since the GFC. 

But now, even with these new and improved estimates for our economy, by the end of next year we are still tracking to be 5.3% below where we were expected to be. 

That is the equivalent of around $105bn less being produced – or roughly the total amount produced in a year by the entire manufacturing industry. 

That is a chasm of economic waste. 

If the economy was to keep growing at (a very strong) 4%, it would take us until 2025 to get back level with where we were expected to be before the virus. If it grows at the more realistic 3% from 2022 onwards, we will not get back on par until well into the 2030s. [my yellow highlighting]

The debate very much needs to shift from the language being used in January and February. 

Forget “fundamentals being strong” and “sensible budget management”. It was spin then; it is just embarrassingly irrelevant now. 

We are in a deep recession and the political and policy debate needs to recognise this fact.