On Wednesday the Courier-Mail’s front-page story, “A tax on all your houses”, trumpeted the Property Council’s campaign to reverse the Queensland Labor government’s imposition of a waste levy on properties worth more than $10m from 1 July. Annastacia Palaszczuk says the levy – which has been described as a Robin Hood tax – will affect only “around 850 people who own property worth more than $10m”. But the Property Council doesn’t agree. Its Queensland executive director, Chris Mountford, had more than the just front page with which to gain readers’ attention. Inside the paper, the editor, Sam Weir, gave him space for an opinion piece in which he was able to further argue the case for his members.
“While the government has pitched the increases as a “Robin Hood tax” on the big-end-of-town, the true cost of these increases will be paid by all of us,” Mountford wrote.
“Increases to land tax will see higher rents and occupancy costs passed through to Queensland businesses who lease space in affected buildings. This increased cost of doing business comes at a time when many are already struggling with the rising costs for utilities and other businesses inputs, such as local government rates.”
But the Property Council domination of the paper doesn’t end there. On page four the council took out a full-page colour ad, worth upwards of $20,000, which claimed the tax would wipe Queensland off the investment map. We asked Weir if the placement of the full-page ad played any role in the decision to splash with the council campaign and to run the matching opinion piece on the same day. We wanted to know if News Corp readers may be concerned by a perception that advertising and editorial may be working together. Weir said the story had news value and would have run on page one whether the Property Council had placed an ad with the Courier Mail or not.
“But clearly if you are launching a major public awareness campaign you would book an ad in The Courier Mail, given it’s the biggest media brand in Queensland,” Weir said.
Nine out til then
Channel Nine’s political editor, Chris Uhlmann, will be suspended from parliament from Sunday 25 March until midnight Thursday 29 March as punishment for an “egregious breach” of press gallery rules. Uhlmann’s sin was to reveal on television and on Twitter the contents of a text conversation on Michaelia Cash’s mobile phone. Filmed by a Nine camera operator, the screen showed the minister texting staffers about how to avoid media scrutiny as she entered an estimates committee. Uhlmann told Weekly Beast he would be unable to enter the building for the final sitting of both houses before Easter as his pass had been suspended. “I accept that I broke the rules and accept the umpire’s decision,” the former ABC journalist said.
Fresh from the triumph of a rightwing panel discussion on how to win Twitter, the Menzies Research Centre is promoting another fun event for conservatives, this one to ask whether Australia needs a Donald Trump-style politician. Considering “the pros and cons of an Aussie Donald” will be the Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine and her paper’s opinion editor, James Morrow, the consultant Parnell McGuiness and the Centre for Independent Studies executive director and ABC broadcaster Tom Switzer. Can’t wait to hear the panel coming up with the positives of a Donald Trump clone down under.
From the SBS radio presenter Heba Kassoua, a presenter on SBS Arabic24, comes a personal journey back to Syria which gives a very different view from the one we’re used to seeing on SBS World News at night. Kassoua left her homeland in 2005 to settle in Australia with her family. Last year she returned to the city of Sweida for her sister’s wedding.
“The city was alive 24/7 and the nightlife has boomed,” Kassoua says. “Hundreds of new cafes and restaurants, as well as plenty of nightclubs have been opened in the last seven years.
“People were out drinking and smoking late at night and the kids – who one worries about the most during war times – were out at the theme parks enjoying the school break as if they lived in a country different to the one we see and report on in the news.”
The broadcaster’s personal travel diary, “My sister’s wedding in war-torn Syria”, is being aired on SBS on Saturday 24 March at 4.05pm.
With the departures of moderate voices Kristina Keneally, Patricia Karvelas and Peter van Onselen from Sky News Australia in recent months we despaired that the pay TV channel would become a mere echo chamber of rightwing voices. The RN Drive host Karvelas has a new Sunday-night ABC TV show called the National Wrap and Van Onselen, an academic and columnist, has popped up as a guest on Insiders and on Radio National Breakfast. Since departing Sky Van Onselen has been a little cheeky when discussing his old employer, mocking the lack of a budget and the excessive airtime given to Coalition announcements. On Insiders he said: “Spare a thought for me – I used to have to sit and take that drivel and then try to take it at least moderately seriously.”
But there is still someone at Sky News, apart from the excellent David Speers of course, who is practising journalism rather than spouting partisan views. The former News Corp political reporter Samantha Maiden was ruthless in her smackdown of the Australian’s associate editor Chris Kenny on Twitter on Thursday. Kenny’s regular TV gig came to an end when he was dumped by Sky News at the end of last year. When Kenny slammed Sky – for daring to interview the “hateful, divisive, idioitic” Greens senator for Tasmania Nick McKim – Maiden let fly.
Plastic? Oh no
Rising up the ladder at Sky is Rita Panahi, another recruit from Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newsroom. Panahi has graduated from guest on Paul Murray Live, The Bolt Report and Credlin to front her own weekly gig, imaginatively called The Friday Show.
In a fascinating profile by Margaret Simons Panahi revealed she is no cookie cutter News columnist. “I’m not your plastic conservative,” Panahi says. “I’m someone who’s ethnic, a migrant to this country, an atheist. I’m a single mum, I’m not some privileged, middle-aged white man who would normally have character traits ascribed to conservatives.
“But I do have an issue with people who haven’t got my life experience patronising me with their opinions. You know, privileged, middle-aged, middle-income white people, who were born and bred here, telling me my views on racism and a cohesive Australian society are wrong.”
ABC management was pretty unhappy when the results from the employee engagement survey came and staff satisfaction had gone down. “ABC wide, our engagement has fallen from 52% in 2015 to 46%,” said the managing director, Michelle Guthrie. So followed more meetings and chats with “teams”, as they call them at Aunty, to work out how to improve morale.
Now the chief technology officer, Helen Clifton, has come up with a way of tackling one of the employees’ biggest beefs: red tape. “Bureaucracy Stop” was born:
Bureaucracy Stop is an initiative kicking off today.
You told us in the Employee Engagement Survey that bureaucratic systems and processes are frustrating.
While some improvements have already been made to reduce red tape, we acknowledge there’s still more work to be done. That’s where Bureaucracy Stop can help.
It’s your opportunity to tell us what processes make it hard for you to do your job, so that something can be done to improve it.
Of course, being the ABC, there is a process to follow to stop the bureaucracy and it involves visiting a special website and filling out a form. All comments will be investigated by a “champion”, the email says, who will then report back on progress. We can hardly wait.