Archive for December, 2013

A whole-of-government approach to torturing syntax

December 31st, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The tortured syntax of bureaucrats is the subject of my final column for 2013 in The Australian today. 

IN the bad old days before bureaucrats wrote mission statements, the job of the Victorian Education Department was to run schools.

Today the department manages “a high-quality, coherent, birth-through-adulthood learning and development system” that costs $11.1 billion a year to run. The department’s job used to be to dispense education; today it exists “to support Victorians to build prosperous, socially engaged, happy and healthy lives”.

Painful as it may be to hear syntax being tortured in this fashion, departmental annual reports can serve a purpose. If following this trail of gibber leads to the abolition of an under-stretched bureaucracy, the English language will not have suffered in vain.

Once bureaucrats content themselves with “increasing awareness”, “making a difference” or delivering “positive outcomes”, they have exhausted the list of useful things to do.


What the food police don’t tell you about trans fats

December 24th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Trans fat was introduced by food manufacturers to create a poly-unsaturated substitute for butter. Now the health police say it is killing us.

Harvey Levenstein’s latest book, Fear of Food: Why We Worry About What We Eat, is a history of culinary panic. As I write in The Australian this morning,

…the link between food, cholesterol and heart disease is still contested more than 150 years after it was first raised. Most doctors are inclined to accept a causal link, but conclusive empirical evidence has proved elusive. Even more uncertain is whether a change in diet can lower cholesterol levels permanently.

For all the bluff and bluster, the epidemiological link is far from straightforward. Evidence of a link between smoking and heart disease, for example, is far stronger.


The New Crisco - circa 1961. [Click on image for more Crisco history]

The New Crisco – circa 1961. [Click on image for more Crisco history]

Black Santa and other burning topics of the day

December 24th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 4.23.42 AMI’m not quite sure how we came to be discussing this topic, but here I am on Channel Seven’s Weekend Sunrise last Saturday with Jane Caro and hosts Andrew O’Keefe and Monique Wright.


South Australia: The Pen Pushing State

December 15th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

South Australia has become the pen-pushing state. The state’s public sector workforce has grown by 30 per cent since 2002.

As I write in The Australian:

The employment market has reached tipping point since Labor came to power and state public servants now outnumber manufacturing workers.

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Labor’s employment record – should it care to campaign on it at the March state election – is a net loss of 23,000 manufacturing jobs and a net gain of 20,000 bureaucrats. The public service bubble has helped hide the overall weakness in the state’s economy. The average public service salary is $82,600; in manufacturing it is $60,000.

The spending power that keeps Adelaide restaurants and shops buzzing at the moment is illusory since it comes largely from the unproductive sector of the economy.

[Full column here]


ABC TV: More imports, more repeats

December 3rd, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

ABC TV’s prime time schedule contains more repeats and less Australian-made television than it did 15 years ago.

As I reveal in my column in The Australian this morning, an average hour or prime time viewing on the ABC’s flagship TV channel has five minutes less original Australian-made programming per hour than it did in 1998.

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For how much longer will the ABC be able to rely on overseas content? I write in the Australian…

The BBC still produces some remarkably good television, much of it starring Stephen Fry, which the ABC buys to pad out its schedule.

Not for much longer, however. The BBC has recently decided to cut out the middleman and sell its programs direct to subscribers in Australia through its iPlayer app.

The ABC, the principal re-broadcaster of BBC programs, is in trouble. It is not after all immune from the structural challenges faced by the rest of the media industry.

The ABC and the tyranny of dullness

December 2nd, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

From the archives of Brisbane’s Sunday Mail comes evidence that the ABC has been boring people stupid for at least 78 years.


The 4AK radio tower at Oakey, Queensland, erected in 1935

photoIn April 1935, as commercial radio was building huge towers with 1000 watt transmitters to push their signal into the interior, the Sunday Mail compared the services being offered by the Australian Broadcasting Commphotoission’s “B” Class stations and “A” class commercial stations.

The ABC’s service was impressive, the article notes, providing country listeners with “utilitarian matter such as talks for primary producers.”

Commercial radio, however, was clearly more entertaining.

“It is safe to say quite definitely that there is a growing body of radio enthusiasts in both city and country who now look to the commercial stations for the bulk of their broadcast entertainment.

“The earlier objection to radio advertising seems to have disappeared, probably on account of the fact that commercial broadcasters have learnt the ‘art’ of presenting advertising matter in their programmes in a manner as pleasing as possible.

“Also listeners have now become educated to the fact that were it not for the advertising revenue they receive commercial stations would be financially unable to provide listeners with the great variety of popular and exclusive feature sessions that are the highlights of their programmes.”

The Mail reports that Queensland has the lowest number of radio licenses per person.

“But with the establishment of the new country stations there is good reason to hope that the gap between Queensland and the other States will soon be bridged…”

The article notes new commercial stations opening in Ipswich, Oakey, Warwick, and Cairns.

Happily, I can report that 4AK Oakey’s original 64 metre tower, built by Evans, Deakin and Co., still stands in a paddock on the Darling Downs.

It should be preserved as a national monument to free enterprise.


How to become a human rights champion

December 1st, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Julius Salik is a former minister in the Pakistan government who now makes a living as a ‘champion of human rights.’ 

In a speech last month to the Samuel Griffith Society, I commented that 19th century social reformers like William Wilberforce would have been bemused by Mr Salik’s antics and the easy virtue derived by today’s social crusaders.

Unlike Wilberforce who sought to end slavery, Salik’s chief aim seems to be to protest against the evils of the world, rather than eliminate them.

Gulf News reports that he protested against strikes by US zones by wiping ash, soot and mud all over his face and hands. He was ‘trying to get the attention of media pundits all over the world,’ the newspaper tells us, and apparently he succeeded.

Gulf News catalogues Salik’s previous exploits: he hung himself on a cross to protest civilian killings; he locked himself in a cage to protest against the war in Afghanistan; he wore an outfit made of jute for over 12 years to express solidarity with the massacred Muslim families of India.

He disconnected the electricity to his own home to express solidarity with slum residents; he donned black robes for more than a month to raise awareness of the plight of Muslims  in the Philippines; he addressed a crowd for 16 hours straight in Lahore and then changed tactics by spending months without saying a word.

When he had the hump about he Pakistan government by ‘bringing camels into his own living room’.  Gulf News concludes that Salik’s life is  ‘a true example of courage, hope and conviction.

Modern social protest is characterised by what political scientist Kenneth Minogue described as ‘goodwill turned doctrinaire… philanthropy organised to be efficient.’  To advertise that one has compassion requires no act of charity or personal sacrifice; it is a political manifesto and a badge of cultural identity. The suffering of others no longer requires an act of mercy , a practical action to relieve suffering. It simply demands that we are concerned.