Search This Blog

28 May 2008

Tracks from Returning Beauty

This isn't my usual kind of post... but I felt like making these available.

A few years ago, for my wife's birthday, a bunch of my friends, and hers, got together and made an album, as a birthday present.

Here are the tracks I can supply. The others, unfortunately, fall under some form of questionable copyright. I tried to get a license to release the covers, from APRA, but it was too expensive to make it worth it - unless I was going to actually sell the tracks, which seemed more trouble than it was worth at the time...

So, here they are:

St James Infirmary Blues

Performed: Nicholas Gledhill (vocals, guitar), Joshua Shipton (guitar)

Evening Prayer

Performed: Catherine Lockley (vocals), Ruth Lockley (vocals, piano)

The Lady of Shallot

Performed: Anthony Hunt

Bitch in a Manger

Performed: Bobbie Scarlet (vocals, guitar)

07 May 2008

Kevin Rudd on Funding for the ABC

Half way through March last year, I wrote to Kevin Rudd - the, then new, Labor Leader - about funding (or the lack thereof) for the ABC... your ABC.

He wrote back.

Well, someone from his office, with official access to his email wrote back, anyway.

He (or they) did the classic politician's thing of rewording the answer to suit the question he wanted me to ask. Some of his response is about the process by which the ABC board is stacked. To be honest, I think this is an important issue as well... and I agree with Kevin Rudd's assessment of the situation. It makes my original letter sound more broad ranging than it actually was, which is fine by me.

Click here to see a list of the statistics on funding for the ABC that I sent in my letter to Kevin Rudd.

Not only did I get Kevin to say he thought the ABC was underfunded, he actually mentioned a figure ($100 million), which is more than I ever expected to get in response to my original letter (not the amount, but the fact that he mentioned a specific figure at all).

I realise that there is little chance of the government announcing extra spending for the ABC in this up-and-coming "tight" budget, on May 13 - and, to be honest, Mr Rudd does say "over the next triennium", so he's got a full 3 years to come good on his offer here. (Isn't that now quartennium? What happened to Kevin's promise to make Australian political terms a fixed four-year affair... I should do a post on that sometime soon...)

Here is the email I got, from Kevin:

Dear Nicholas

Thank you for your letter highlighting the importance of adequate funding for the ABC and the need for the ABC to be free from political interference.

Labor shares these principles.

The Howard Government has starved the ABC of the funding it needs to produce decent public broadcasting services. After coming to power the Howard Government cut ABC funding by $66 million over two years. This funding has never been fully restored. In real terms, the ABC has less money to make programs than when John Howard came to office. As a consequence, the production of Australian drama has fallen to record lows.

The Howard Government has also has repeatedly sought to stack the ABC Board with its political mates.

Labor is deeply concerned with the Howard Government’s attempts to bully the ABC and undermine its independence. This is a worrying threat to Australian democracy.

Labor is committed to ending the practice of Governments making political appointments to the ABC Board. Under Labor, appointments will be based on merit, not mateship.

Since 2003 Labor has argued that there should be an open and transparent process for making appointments to the ABC board. Vacancies should be advertised and there should be clear merit based selection criteria. Labor's policy provides for an independent selection panel to undertake a proper shortlist selection process.

Most importantly the selection of the shortlist would be independent of the Minister. If the Minister does not appoint a short listed candidate he or she will have to table a formal statement of the reasons for departing from the shortlist to the Parliament.

This process will make it virtually impossible for a political crony to be short listed for an ABC Board appointment.

Labor's policy will enhance our democracy. It will foster an environment where the ABC can be fearless in its approach to news and current affairs, and critical of both sides of politics whenever necessary.

Labor is committed to a better, stronger and independent ABC. During the last election campaign, Labor pledged to begin to restore the ABC's finances by injecting an additional $100 million over the next triennium. Labor will review the funding requirements of the ABC in the lead up to the next election. ABC must be properly funded so that it is able to fulfil its charter to inform, educate and entertain all Australians.

Kind regards,

Kevin Rudd
Federal Labor Leader
Member for Griffith

So where to now? I guess we see how the next few budgets treat the ABC. To see the statistics I sent Kevin in my original letter, see here. They're quite enlightening, still, I think.

ABC funding - the scary statistics

ABC funding. Let's take a second to look at what's really going on there.

I wrote to Kevin Rudd about this, and if you want to see his response click here.

Over the last 12 years, things have gone from OK, to bad, to worse for the ABC in terms of funding. For an idea of just how bad it is... let's look at some figures:

[NB: Some of the details of the requirements for the ABC's funding have changed since these facts were compiled for the original letter, but the bulk of the facts remain true and pertinent to the situation at the ABC]
  • The Howard government cut 12%, or $55m from the ABC in the 1997 budget, and it has waited until just this last budget for any increase from that level at all.
  • "8c per day per person" was the quoted cost of the running the ABC in the reign of David Hill as MD - over 10 years ago. It was quoted in order to prove how little the ABC actually cost to run. Today that figure is below 5.5c per day. Budget cut backs and population growth have reduced this figure significantly - but that's before inflation is taken into account. 5.5c is worth much less now than it was in the 1990's. In fact 5.5c is worth only 3.9c in 1996's currency, and so funding for the ABC has dropped by more than 51% in real terms since then - yes that's right! More than 51%.
  • Over the same period through which its real funding has dropped by more than 51% (1996 - 2007) the ABC has been required to maintain it's output for 4 national and 60 regional radio stations and a TV station, and numerous other pursuits in its charter - while also being required to expand it's output for a whole new TV station, it's hugely popular website and more recently its podcasts and its 40 ABC shops.
  • The ABC's broadcasts of internally generated new content has fallen from 103 hours to 13 hours annually in just four years.
  • Based on 2003-04 figures, the ABC TV's annual budget of $400m is less than a third of the Nine Network's $1.3bn, 40% of Seven's $1bn and 58% of Ten's $686m.
  • A recent report was commissioned by the government from KPMG. They were asked to assess whether the ABC was efficiently run and whether or not any more efficiencies could be found. It was quoted as saying "The ABC provides a high volume of outputs and quality relative to the level of funding it receives... the ABC appears to be a broadly efficient organisation." and "even with indexation we do not believe the ABC could sustain its present range, quantity and mix of outputs at its present level of funding". The report suggested that small efficiency gains could be made by reducing staff by 5% in the legal, archiving, library and Human Resources areas. Reviews of the legal department and HR are presently underway. SO - in other words - YES! The ABC is efficient, NO! the ABC cannot find any real efficiency increases in its current state and NO! The ABC cannot continue the way it is currently being funded.
  • To take the ABC up to the minimum amount quoted by KPMG as required to maintain current standards (which are already well below historic standards) would mean increasing the ABC's funding by another $37m on top of the recent increase - to a total of approx. $900m. However this still doesn't take into account the recent requirement for the ABC to spend 25% of its total operating budget on New Media and Digital Services - this would require an extra increase of $300m to a total of $1.2bn - just to maintain output [ED - These details have changed since compilation of these facts for the letter to Kevin Rudd, NG]. And FINALLY, if we are to ever get back to the (apparently cheap) days of "8c per day per person" in today's money it would take an increase of the ABC budget to $1.8bn… not too bad when you consider it is running 2 TV stations, 4 national and 60 regional radio stations, an internationally recognised News service, an enormous and popular web site and podcasting service and a chain of retail stores (and also remember that the Nine Network spends $1.3bn on one TV station alone).
Again - see here, for Kevin's response to these statistics.

02 May 2008

The baby bonus

Not Fair: Nelson

"I would have thought that Mr Rudd - who's already tried to pick on seniors and carers - would find another group other than families to pick on and it's very, very important that Mr Rudd understands that every mother loves her baby and this should be an Australia where all babies are equal"
- Brendan Nelson

Let's just pull that apart for moment.

"already tried to pick on seniors and carers"
Now by this, presumably, Dr. Nelson is talking about Labor failing to confirm that it would maintain the carers benefit. They failed to confirm that they would continue to pay "exactly the same" benefits, its true - but I think the language of "picking on" is hyperbole.

"find another group other than families to pick on"
Apparently Dr Nelson believes Labor should be picking on someone - but not families.

"every mother loves her baby"
1. Is this true?
2. Even if it is - what about fathers? Does their love not matter? I thought we might have left the sexism behind with the Howard government - but apparently its just a Coalition thing.
3. Even ignoring the sexism of that statement - and assuming it to be true... So what? What on earth does that have to do with support payment policies? If other people's love a were a reason to give government support, that would change a lot of policy, I think.

"this should be an Australia where all babies are equal"
Exactly! It should be! And here's the news flash, Dr Nelson - it's not. Not all babies are born equal - some are born with a lot more in this world than others. And one way to improve that imbalance would be to means test the support given new parents, towards the cost of having babies.

If we means tested stuff like the baby bonus then babies born in Australia would be more equal, and we would be closer to Dr Nelson's dream.

Too Expensive: Turnbull

And, on the idea that working out the baby bonus payments would cost more than it would save in tax dollars... we already do these calculations (quite complicated one's) to work out the value of parent's child care / day care payments... we just need to start working it out a year or two earlier - it's simply an addition to a process that's already in place - not a brand new expense. Give me break.

Bring on the means testing - even if I lose my benefit. It won't cost much more than calculating family benefits does already - and it would actually make Australia much closer to Nelson's stated dream of all babies being equal.

Vote yes to a fairer system. Vote yes to means testing.

Some more sensible words

For a slightly more serious take on the reasons to means test (or get rid of the baby bonus all together) and what to do with the money saved - Andrew Leigh