Archive for July, 2009

Virgin Blue CEO Brett Godfrey announced his retirement (stepping down, calling quits) along with a forecast $165 million loss and heavily-discounted $231m capital raising. After ten years at the controls it’s understandable, but of course there is no connection between those events, and nobody was pushed .

As always on these occasions, one has been thinking about it for some time and personal reasons for leaving are banal: ”..to have some other discussion around our dinner table other than airlines.” Reported elsewhere as aeroplanes around the kitchen table, that means monotonous conversations at both ends of the day. The poor man is lucky to have anyone at home listening at all.

Chairman Chatfield said that an announcement of succession plans was prudent with a major capital raising. Fair enough, except there are no succession plans. He could only confirm that indeed “Brett has been thinking about this for some time” so presumably they shared the thought process. Plans to find a successor are in preliminary stages – internal & external candidates could be considered.

A succession plan would throw up some names, as for example, when Geoff Dixon parachuted from Qantas and several underlings canvassed immediately.

Amazing how some companies fall into Orwellspeak when heads change.

(Declaration of pecuniary interest: POH holds Qantas shares, no Virgin Blue)

Read Full Post »

National Portrait Gallery, opened December 2008, has finally given Canberra a lakeside building to be proud of. Unlike next door National Gallery it’s scale is human, with intimate viewing rooms and abundant natural light. Portraits are fixed at eye level so that we encounter them face-to-face, so to speak.

Another over-scale neighbouring building, known as Barwick’s Folly, dominates its surroundings – possibly intended for the highest court in the land to express man’s submission to the law. Across the lake, the Australian Museum with lego-like bits & pieces and bright colours is very dated already.

On the other hand, the portrait gallery is a low-key, harmonious concrete structure with Aussie vernacular iron pitched roof, designed by Richard Johnson. The entrance is welcoming and a visit flows easily into rooms dedicated to periods of our history, with 400 portraits and sculptures overall.


Curatorial vignettes on each portrait are also historical snapshots of that era, full of interesting insights, right up to contemporary times. It’s an accessible and fascinating way of approaching the characters and stories of the Wide Brown Land!

Read Full Post »

Against a backdrop of more deaths of NATO soldiers and a vacuum of political debate about Australia’s war engagement in Afghanistan, pertinent public assessments were made last week.

Prof Hugh White (Lowy Institute, ANU) says our government is not persuaded of a ’significant chance of success in Afghanistan’ and he believes pursuing war there will make little difference to global terrorism.

Defence Force Chief Angus Houston and Defence Minister John Faulkner claim that because it had been a base for terrorist training, “we remain committed to stabilising Afghanistan”. But five more years of training Afghan army forces will not meet US deadlines.

NATO & US commander Stanley McChrystal, worried about civilian casualties, instructed troops to let insurgents escape rather than risk them, as killing or alienating too many Afghans will eventually lose the war. Last year 973 civilians were killed in fighting, according to NATO.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that after eight years of fighting, progress must be made within 12 months or public support would be lost. Extra 21,000 US troops and new military approach are aimed at breaking the current deadlock, but the challenge of ’rising casualties’ remained.

President Obama wants ”transition to a different phase” after Afghan presidential elections August 20, but did not expand. US pronouncements on milestones for Afghan ’progress’ remain woolly and euphemistic.

Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence also expects a US surge to reinforce perceptions of foreign occupation, with civilian casualties and alienation of the people  leading to more resistance. It may also force Taliban militants further into Baluchistan province in Pakistan for refuge. Will they revert to potential allies in the future when NATO finally withdraws?

With the complex interaction of miltary, social & political factors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, simplistic statements about ’war on terror’ are no longer tenable. Is the Afghan war indeed ‘winnable’?

Meanwhile Australia’s entire political class and parliament fail to discuss and debate it. Progress reports & analysis are left to Houston as if it’s just another military campaign and Australia’s 11th fatal casualty normal battle attrition.

(See July 03 ‘Afghan Home Truths: Malalai not Malcolm’ for an insider’s view)

Read Full Post »

Just as Federal Parliament girds its loins to thrash out legislation for a carbon pollution reduction scheme, presumably to help reduce the burning of coal, the NSW government has gone on an orgy of coal mine royalties.

Woronora Reservoir is the main source of drinking supplies in southern Sydney, and Planning Minister Keneally has over-ridden expert advice to approve longwall coalmining underneath it by US company Peabody Resources for the next 23 years. The advice said that extraction of long coal panels under the reservoir will crack the bedrock and dam floor, thus potentially causing serious leaks. Plugs may be required. The minister’s best defence seemed to be about job creation around the mine.

Mining company Pangea Resources applied to prospect for coal-seam gas under huge swathes of national park in Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Minister for Mineral Resources MacDonald (he of advisory committees and long lunches) will consider the proposal, so the outcome must be in safe hands.

Liverpool Plains region west of Tamworth has rich volcanic soils and aquifers that sustain highly productive farming, and also feed headwaters of the Murray-Darling river system. BHP Billiton and China’s Shenhua have paid $400 million to NSW government for coal exploration rights under the plains. FIRB approval for Shenhua to purchase (at inflated prices) some of the 25 properties on the surface of its lease has been granted. Local farmers have been blockading BHP Billiton’s access to their lease for 12 months, and taken legal action against NSW minister Ian MacDonald over his approval.

Strange idea that property owners have no control over what lies underneath. Miners say they’ll only mine ridges to limit damage to farmland, but farmers are not convinced. Hydrological study of aquifers commisioned by government seems unlikely to stop approval.

In one fell (or is that foul?) swoop our most productive farmland, main river system and carbon reduction strategies potentially take a huge hit, in exchange for mining royalties and export income. Hard to believe that the only new coal reserves lie under a water reservoir, national park and rich farmland.

Federal Environment Minister Garrett has not made any comments, of course.

Read Full Post »

1971 movie ‘Wake in Fright’ (digital re-release) showing at the Chauvel in Sydney is a harrowing, surreal tale of outback life. A ‘bonded’ new school teacher serving in the country is drawn into a hopeless downward spiral of two-up losses, hard drinking, kangaroo shooting, culminating in a homosexual act and attempted suicide.

A menacing aura of violent mateship and misogyny is awash with the conformist Aussie ethos of beer-drinking which defined masculinity. The only female character is treated as an almost sub-human sex object, and brutal wrestling scenes between ’mates’ are charged with latent sexuality. 

Chips Rafferty, Jack Thompson & John Meillon play the caricatures and acting is left to Donald Pleasence (villain Blofeld in You Only Live Twice) as ’Doc’, who befriends teacher John Grant. English-born Gary Bond played the lead role, and died of AIDS at 55 y.o.

Not a film for the faint-hearted, with real kangaroo-shooting sequences, it ruthlessly portrayed bush town society with hyperbolic exaggeration, and the effect is grotesque, worrying and ’close to the bone’.

Interestingly the film was well received at the Cannes Festival in 1971 and subsequently had a good run in French cinemas; but it failed to attract an audience in Australia. Videos and DVDs have not been available since and it was considered ’lost’ until this year. Distributors are hoping to include the Kookynie Ritz in its coming outback season.


Read Full Post »

Orange marching season in Northern Ireland has its climax on July 12. People leave the country to avoid riots that inevitably follow this provocative Protestant tradition. Parades organised by the Orange Order (est. 1795) of tens of thousands march in towns and Belfast’s nationalist (Catholic) areas.

July 12 commemorates defeat of Catholic King James by nephew & son-in-law William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. On July 11 bonfires are lit in Protestant areas and young loyalists gather ‘trophies’ like posters & flags from republican areas to burn.

A banned Orange march in Belfast last year led to rioting, 60 injured police and millions in damages. This year was calmer, but in Portadown 21 police and several soldiers were injured; in Ardoyne water cannons dispersed hundreds of youths throwing missiles and 10 police injured; in Armagh petrol bombs were thrown at police; and a man shot dead in Larne, Co Antrim.

In this generations-old conflict, descriptors used for the two enemy tribes are a revelation: loyalist-protestant-orange vs nationalist-republican-green.

In Belfast, Ballyaneigh District Lodge was barred from marching into a nationalist area due to fears of public disorder and steel police barriers erected. Chaplain Rev Hoey said Orangemen were offended by the ‘obscenity’ of the barrier, blaming the UK government for buckling under threats of violence from the nationalists, and ’pan-nationalists’ for not flying the Union Flag that day on government buildings. Sinn Fein councillors accused Orangemen of wanting to lay siege to nationalist areas.

So it goes: blame and counter-blame in an archaic ritual of tribal enmity in this northern enclave. Authorities have allocated a hundred thousand pounds to ”promote ’Orangefest’ as a fully inclusive, family friendly event, improve community relations, promote Belfast in a positive light, and encourage visitors to watch the parade”. Are they serious?

Maybe if God decided whether he’s on the Catholic or Protestant side, his Irish followers could finally settle their primitive differences and give the nascent peace process a chance.

Read Full Post »

Online travel company Expedia surveyed 4500 hoteliers world-wide about the behaviour of nationalities amongst their clients. First ranked for politeness were the Japanese followed by Brits, Canadians, Germans and Australians.

Aussies were considered loud, but didn’t whinge and were well-behaved. The latter may indicate an unrepresentative sample of our countrymen in the survey.

Equally unlikely is the last place ranking of French guests as the world’s worst: most impolite, meanest tippers and most frugal. On a a scale of their willingness to speak the local language, the French also came last (Aussies 6th).

‘Zut alors’, as they say.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: