I’m back in the Press Gallery – Now what?

April 25, 2017

Political editor Dr Martin Hirst talks about being back in the Press Gallery on behalf of IA.

We’ve done it. IA has gained a place in the Canberra Press Gallery. After months of work, putting together our submission, seeking endorsements from IA subscribers and current members of the Gallery, and preparing a portfolio of my work to be scrutinised by the committee.

In the four days our GoFundMe campaign has been live we’ve already reached 75 per cent of our initial goal of $10,000.

Thanks very much to everyone who’s donated so far and to all of you who will donate. With just a little more help, it looks like we will be in Canberra for the Budget session in May.

Originally published on Independent Australia as Rejoining the Press Gallery

From application to attending

Getting back into the game was a labour of love for me. I was curious about my chances of getting back into the Press Gallery after such a long absence and on behalf of an upstart media outfit that makes friends and enemies quickly and in almost equal measure. (I’m sure we have more friends than enemies, judging your generosity so far.)

So now I’m pleased, but also apprehensive. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

I was only a bit confident about the outcome at first. I knew our application was pretty good and that it ticked all the Gallery’s required boxes, but that was no guarantee they’d accept it.

We applied under the rules for ‘Freelancers, Bloggers and New Organisations’, which required us to get endorsements from existing members of the Gallery. And I’d like to thank the Gallery members who endorsed our application.

I don’t know, but our path may have been made a little easier by the fact that I have previously held Gallery accreditation. I worked as a correspondent for SBS for nearly three years from 1990 to 1993, so I had experience and some credibility perhaps.

Anyway, we’re in.

I was in Canberra on the 28th and 29th of March to collect my yellow pass from the Security Pass Office and took the opportunity to escort managing editor Dave Donovan and Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones around the building.

It was quite a nostalgic trip for me and it took me all afternoon to familiarise myself with all the routes around the non-public parts of Parliament House.

It reminded me that one of the missions we have in being in the Gallery is to show you what’s behind the curtain.

A lot of the important centres of power in Canberra are hidden in plain sight. The non-public parts of the Parliament building, like George Brandis’ diaries, hold a lot of secrets that they are unwilling to share with the public.

Unfortunately, IA’s presence in the Gallery is upsetting for some NewsCorpse scribblers. I’m not going to link to their spiteful drivel and the only comment I’ve got is “Suck it up children.”

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World War 3 – will it start over North Korea?

April 25, 2017

Since the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House the world appears to be moving closer to a catastrophic military conflict that threatens nuclear Armageddon. In this first in a series, political editor Dr Martin Hirst assesses the possibility that we’re already fighting World War Three.

‘The fear of war hangs over society. This is almost literally true, for it is not the invader in the streets but the warhead exploding on us which dominates our nightmares.’

~ Martin Shaw, Dialectics of War, 1988

(Image via @BlackJesuscom)

THIS IS A SERIES that looks at global flashpoints and their potential to blast the world into a nuclear nightmare. It was once unthinkable that strategic nuclear weapons might be used in a world-wide war, but now we need to start thinking it is more likely than not.

And just this month, Donald J Trump caused the “Mother of all bombs” to be dropped in Afghanistan to explode over… we may never know what exactly.

Are we already inside World War Three?

In this series, I will look at Asia, the Middle East and Europe as places where potential nuclear trigger points might occur and then, on a brighter note, I’ll offer some suggestions about how we might stop it.

Let’s begin on our own doorstep.

We are not neutral

We are not neutral and we never have been. Australia is a willing and active partner in many of today’s global conflicts. Despite contrary propaganda, this does not make us safer, it increases the risk that we will be a target too.

Pine Gap makes us a target for Chinese and possibly North Korean and Russian nukes. I’m more worried about China and Russia because they both have nuclear-capable submarines that can reach us almost undetected.

When 1,250 US marines flew into Darwin this week, the NewsCorpse rag that dominates Northern Territory journalism, the NT News, could hardly contain its jingoistic excitement, declaring on page one that they are “ready to fight” against “our” common enemies.

We should be under no illusion or misapprehension about their intent:

Lieut. Colonel Middleton said when US Marines were in forward deployment they were ready for battle.

“I think that the commitment that we’ve taken to put a task force here with a conversation to get larger over the years says that we do think this is an important region,” Lieut. Colonel Middleton said.

When asked about the North Korea stand-off he said: “We stand ready to fight.”

I can only hope that this made the good souls of Darwin feel a lot safer, knowing that they are potentially within range of North Korean rockets.

We all have “potential”

It’s important to focus on this word “potentially”, because it is a crucial qualifier.

Our foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has used the threat of a DPRK nuclear strike on Australia as one reason for enthusiastically welcoming over 1,000 marines to northern Australia, but the threat is not imminent, or even realistic today.

Weapons experts agree that North Korea is at least four years away from developing a ballistic missile capable of a) carrying a nuclear warhead and b) travelling as far as Australia without blowing up mid-flight.

Speaking on the ABC’s AM program earlier this week Bishop was keen to talk up the North Korean “threat”.

[North Korea] is on a path to achieving nuclear weapons capability and we believe Kim Jong-un has a clear ambition to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as far as the US.”

But what Bishop ignores here – and she hopes you will too – is that while North Korea’s nuclear threat is only “potential”, the United States has a proven nuclear capability and a proven propensity to use atomic weapons.

Not only that, hawkish American analysts are now insisting that the U.S. must strike first and this first strike should happen sooner rather than later.

…the United States must plan to destroy North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile sites sometime in the next several years — and perhaps within the next two.

At the same time, it must be expected that the American action would trigger the North Korean military to instinctively launch a full-scale retaliatory strike against the Republic of Korea (ROK) along the armistice line of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), whether or not Mr. Kim remains alive. With that as a given, the United States must prevent such an event by launching, simultaneously with the initial attack on the North Korean nuclear and ICBM facilities, a full-scale offensive against the North’s positions along the DMZ. There can be no delay in this U.S.-ROK offense, for it is essential to preclude North Korea’s own counteroffensive against the South.

This is a clear statement of aggression from the American side.

The argument for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea is that its patron-state, China, is incapable of stopping Pyongyang through purely diplomatic efforts.

So is China an ally or an enemy?

This piece first published on Independent Australia as Are we already fighting World War 3?

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ABC Board “stacked” after Turnbull appoints Minerals Council chairwoman

March 22, 2017

Walkley Award-winning reporter and writer Quentin Dempster says the decision to appoint Minerals’ Council chair Vanessa Guthrie to the ABC Board was a “direct ‘political’ choice” that is “provocative and revealing”. As Doc Martin reports, it seems to many like a return to the bad old days of political stacking.

THE MOVE to appoint Vanessa Guthrie, against the advice of an “arms-length” process, follows years of “arrogant disregard” by the major political parties to complaints about “stacking the ABC Board with political partisans,” says veteran reporter Quentin Dempster.

Dempster also told Independent Australia that Guthrie “misunderstood” the importance of being an effective lobbyist for the national broadcaster in front of Parliament and the Government.

Quentin Dempster is a former ABC staff representative on the ABC Board and now an outspoken critic of successive governments cutting funding.

He hopes the plight of the ABC and SBS will become a major issue at the next federal election.

“All Australians who want our public broadcasters to contribute to a sense of national identity and multi-cultural cohesion will have to stand up for these institutions.”

The well-loved broadcaster and journalist says Michelle Guthrie “stuffed up” in her role as managing director of the ABC in front of the Senate Estimates Committee at the end of February.

Traditionally, the public role of a managing director has been “to build bridges with the government and the parliament and specifically with the Expenditure Review Committee to secure additional funding,” Dempster says.

Failing this, Dempster says, the MD should “at least try to diminish Treasury’s claw back tactics.”

Quentin Dempster in 2014 condemning ABC budget cuts

Read the rest of this story at Independent Australia


Breaking a bad law is an act of conscience, not a crime

March 22, 2017

Show me an unjust law and I’ll happily break it

What precious snowflakes Australian political journalists are. Bernard Keane has written an excellent piece in Crikey about the hypocrisy of reporters “tut tutting” the new ACTU (and first female) secretary, Sally McManus, for suggesting that breaking an unjust law was something she – and the trade union movement – would be prepared to do.

Keane points out that reporters who regularly publish stories from leaked documents are breaking the law. He skewered Turnbull and the Liberals by pointing out that the whole of the NSW branch of the party contravened political donation laws and he noted that employers (bosses) regularly flout the tax laws, the employment law and occupational health and safety regulations in pursuit of profit.

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It was #NewsCorpse that hounded BLeak to death, not “teh Left”

March 22, 2017

The mourning clowns at NewsCorpse have made a habit of ridiculing Earth Hour in their columns and editorials, and it’s no surprise that Chris Kenny often leads the charge. If you follow @chriskkenny on Twitter you will know that he is an erudite and learned fellow when it comes to the vexing questions of climate science, the economics of renewables and what causes power outages in his hometown of Adelaide.

Kenny is a seasoned campaigner in the “culture wars”. His worldview is predicated on the crazy belief that every major public institution in Australia, apart from NewsCorpse itself, has been captured by raving Leftists with an anti-business, pro-human rights, green, queer agenda.

Laughable as this proposition is to sane people who see the world as it really is, it is the motivating force – the lifeblood – of Murdoch’s motivated scribblers and calumnists.

It is therefore not really surprising that, to a man and a woman, NewsCorpse employees lined up this past week to eulogise the cartoonist Bill Leak and to condemn anyone who dared utter a disparaging word about him.

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Will Turnbull sit in the dark for Earth Hour? I doubt it

March 22, 2017

IT SEEMS LIKE an insignificant, simple thing and detractors say it is nothing more than a tokenistic gesture, but turning off your lights for one hour next Saturday evening, is one small step you can take to show you care about climate change.

Earth Hour started in Sydney in 2007 and now it celebrates its tenth year with events planned in over 170 countries and more than 7,000 cities.

Earth Hour is only one small contribution to saving the planet and it might seem like a “one light-bulb at a time” kind of change, but as with many things, it’s the thought that counts.

All you have to do is switch off your lights for one hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on Saturday 25th of March.

According to WWF Australia CEO, Dermot O’Gorman, Australians should feel proud of the role they’ve played in starting a decade-long, global conversation about climate change. “It’s a great Australian success story,” he says.

“We have seen a huge number of positive steps towards a brighter future in the decade since Earth Hour started, proof that one person can make a difference.” 

The tenth anniversary of Earth Hour is also a useful time to reflect on how far we’ve come.

In 2006, less than 1,000 homes across Australia were using solar panels. Now the number is over 1.5 million and growing. We have quadrupled our use of wind power over the last decade and renewables continue to chip-away at coal as the energy source for electricity generation.

Now, in the wake of blackouts in South Australia and predictions of more to come across the southeast of the country, the pressure is on to turn back to coal and gas. The energy lobby is relentless in its expensive pursuit of influence in Canberra.

However, coal and gas are not so popular with the general public, hence we’ve seen Malcolm Turnbull reach for a major distraction in the past week — a half-baked plan to increase the capacity of hydro-electric power generation in the Snowy Mountains at a cost upwards of $2 billion dollars.

Bill Shorten hasn’t ruled out supporting the scheme, which is currently under feasibility study, but he described the idea as another of the PM’s “thought bubbles” that has not been properly vetted through the policy process.

Both the Victorian and NSW governments were also blind-sided by Turnbull’s announcement, despite being the major shareholders in the current Snowy Mountains hydro generation project.

And Shorten is right, Fizza needed the Snowy announcement to distract media attention from the “chaotic” national electricity market which is so compromised it might now be cheaper for Australia to export gas to japan and buy it back, than to sell gas directly into the Australian market.

Meanwhile, back to Earth Hour and calls for PM Turnbull to switch the lights off in his harbourside mansion for one hour on Saturday night.

Last year, Turnbull refused requests from Earth Hour organisers to switch off the lights. In 2016, Earth Hour manager Sam Webb called out Turnbull and other leading Aussie politicians for “dragging their feet” on renewables and climate change.

At the time, Ms Webb told news.com.au that there “are some very cynical people in the world” on climate issues.

“There are also those who have very closely held interests that are threatened by the move away from fossil fuels onto clean, renewable energy. Sadly, a small number of powerful people make a lot of money from creating the pollution that is causing global warming and they are doing all they can to keep polluting, with no regard for the devastating impact this is having around the world.”

Sadly, we see it is no different this year.

The Government is prepared to subsidise a giant coalmine in Queensland and Malcolm Turnbull still hasn’t pledged to support Earth Hour in 2017.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is hoping to encourage / embarrass Turnbull into sitting in the dark on Saturday evening by crowd-funding an advertising campaign involving large trucks and billboards with the simple message: ‘Dear Mr Turnbull will you switch off for Earth Hour?’

I’ve put in a media request to the PM’s office seeking an answer to this question, I expect to not get a response. I’ll let you know.

Help Earth Hour crowdfund the billboard for Canberra (Image courtesy WWF/Earth Hour)

If you want to get involved in Earth Hour, there is a website devoted to local events, you can either attend one of these, or launch your own.

First published on Independent Australia


Why bother watching the ABC

February 13, 2017

I have been loyal to the ABC for my entire adult life. I worked for “Aunty” too, in radio current affairs, at Radio Australia and for Triple J before it became a kid’s music station.

But now, to be perfectly honest, I can’t be bothered. I’ve given up on ABC News, I find that 7.30 (what kind of postmodern nonsense name is that for a TV current affairs show?) just makes me furious and shouty, and the flagship Q&A is just troll-bait and right-wing apologia interspersed with lectures from pontificator-in-chief Tony Jones.

 

I tweeted this on Monday night and I’ve been surprised and slightly chuffed at the response I’ve had. Over 130 retweets and 144 likes, which is a lot for me. It seems to have struck a chord with people who are as fed up as me with the ABC’s blatant shift to conservatism over the past few years.

I’ve written previously in this column about how Michelle Guthrie is reshaping the ABC to be more Murdoch and Coalition friendly, much to the chagrin of ABC Friends and some staff.

This week, we’ve seen more decisions that confirm this direction with the appointment of yet another #IPADrone to yet another rote-formula radio panel show, showcasing conservatives like the entitled Georgina Downer.

I’ve also given up almost entirely on ABC radio. I’m usually in the car during the day when I listen and, after listening to Jon Faine for years, I’ve finally had enough. He is pompous and pretends he’s progressive, but it is only a layer nano particles thick. When given an opportunity to really stand up for something that is truly progressive, he gets cold feet, lest he come across as *too* leftwing.

Like Leigh Sales on 7.30 and Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast, Faine attacks real lefties and gets all faux tough on ministers. The afternoons on Radio National are no better, with Amanda Vanstone, Patricia Karvelas and Tom Switzer dominating the day. Vanstone is a former Howard-era Liberal minister, while Karvelas and Switzer are both still on Murdoch’s payroll as well as being paid by the ABC. Karvelas even has her own show on Murdoch’s “Fox Down-Under” network.

I’m pleased that my time has been freed up now that I no longer feel the ABC has to be constant background noise in my life. I’ve also stopped reading The Australian entirely too. I don’t even bother with the weekend edition any more.

There’s plenty of alternative sources out there. I’m still a news junkie, but I tend to follow stories more selectively than I used to.

What’s your view?

I’m keen to know what IA readers think of the ABC these days. Please share your thoughts in the comments thread. I will jump in for a chat and perhaps write another column pulling your suggestions for improvements together.

You can read more by IA’s political editor Dr Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.