Friday, November 30, 2007

And It’s Goodnight From Him…

In a week of watershed moments, with a new government elected, and a new leadership team for the opposition, another great turning point has occurred. The nation’s most iconic broadcaster, John Laws, has switched off his golden microphone. This is not just the end of a career, or the end of an era in the media, but the end of an era in the lives of millions of ordinary Australians who have listened to Laws over his 55 years on air.

In a way that no other broadcaster has been able to match, John Laws has been embraced as a part of people’s existence. There are those who love him, those who loathe him, those who are envious, and those who have done their best to belittle him. But it has been impossible to ignore him. Such words as “icon” and legend” are frequently thrown about with sufficient casual disregard as to devalue their meaning. But John Laws has earned those accolades.

At every point in his career, John Laws has led the pack. It was John Laws who pioneered top 40 radio in the fifties. It was Laws who pioneered talk radio in the sixties. It was Laws who pioneered networked programming in the eighties and nineties. That’s not to say that he invented those formats or concepts, but he was the one who showed Australia how they could be done successfully. Even in the nineties, other attempts at networked programs failed because of a failure to understand the needs of audiences. And John Laws has always been the master of knowing who is his audience and giving them what they want.

Of course there was the controversy of his commercial arrangements, but speaking as one from inside the commercial radio industry I have to say that the whole thing was twisted out of proper perspective. From the day I began in radio at the age of 18, management has drummed into me and my colleagues the importance of looking after the sponsors. It is commercial radio, and the revenue comes from advertising. Only a fool doesn’t give his customers the best possible service. As radio announcers we have always been encouraged to go the extra mile to keep the advertisers happy. It protects and promotes the business base of the station, boosting the income of the management and the sales representatives.

For many announcers however there is no additional bonus other than the occasional free CD or concert ticket. John Laws’ only “crime” in that respect was to be astute enough to cut a deal where he too shared a “slice of the action”. I repeat, it is commercial radio, and where John Laws prospered from his sponsorships, so did the stations that broadcast his program. Others may see it differently, but John Laws never pretended to be anything other than a commercial presenter, although in truth he also delivered so much more in entertainment value, with a quick wit, a talent for incisive observation, and the ability to cut down anyone foolish enough to try to give him a tonguelashing.

Without exaggeration, it is the end of an era. And by inference it must also be the beginning of a new era… although just what that era will bring remains to be seen. But that’s a discussion for another day. Today belongs to John Laws, who I am sure would like us to remember his time on air by adhering to his daily advice to “be kind to each other”.

It’s the least we can do.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The State We Are In... And How It Got This Way.

The New South Wales Auditor General’s annual report is an epic filled with one disaterous chapter after another. From transport to policing, the report is packed with pages of evidence of how the New South Wales Government is failing us all. The Sydney ferry service is a laughing stock and the punchline is that the government’s proposed method of fixing it is to sell it. The Auditor General wonders about the $65 million that appears to have been wasted on the T-card fiasco, and so do the customers of public transport in Sydney who still have a reliable excuse for being late for work. The police service fails its performance comparison to other states, with the rate of investigations completed within 30 days falling below the national average. And so on.

Chief among the disasters is the report on the performance of the Department Of Community Services. DOCS has been in the headlines far too many times in the last few months for all the wrong reasons. There have been high profile cases of child deaths where it was later revealed that the children in question have been known to the department for a considerable time. Now we know part of the reason DOCS seems to be unable to function effectively.

The actual funding provided to the department on a per case basis has halved since 2002. Five years ago the figure was $2671 per notification. Today that figure is $1383. Apparently that is the value of a child’s safety from the point of view of the New South Wales Government.

With that as a starting point it becomes clearer as to why so many children seem to be falling through the system that is supposed to provide a safety net for them. There is obviously a whole range of factors affecting the level of performance, but without proper funding we are starting from behind the eightball.

The worst of it is that the situation pertaining to DOCS seems to be representative of government as a whole in New South Wales. Whether it’s health, education, policing, or public transport, there just isn’t enough funding getting through to the coalface, while somehow billions of dollars disappear into the bureaucracy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


It’s all too easy to get bogged down in the daily cycle of negative news and simply use this editorial to have a whinge about something. But it’s refreshing to have something positive to say. This week’s club friendly match between Sydney FC and LA Galaxy was a magnificent spectacle. The event was everything anybody could have hoped for. The crowd of more than 80 000 saw a game with everything, including the David Beckham goal from a free kick towards the end of the first half. The final score of 5 – 3 favouring Sydney FC was a terrific result reflecting the fast moving action of the game. In every sense the night was a magnificent success.

I would guess that among the millions of people who watched the game on television there would be some who would not normally watch a soccer match. It’s not hard to imagine that this one event has done more to promote the image of the game in Australia than any other single factor since the inception of the A-League, which was in itself a great step forward.

It was such a great success, wouldn’t it be a great idea if it could be made an annual event, with other great teams invited from around the world? It’s just an idea, but hasn’t Sydney come a long way since the days when the only game in town was Rugby League?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanks Bernie…

Australia has lost a great hero with the passing of Bernie Banton. The fight against James Hardie Industries has been well documented, but the true legacy of Bernie Banton is the inspitation that his courage has given all Australians.

At a time when it would have been entirely understandable for Bernie to quietly battle his disease in the privacy of his own home, Bernie decided to make a stand. Bernie took up the challenge of fighting against injustice, not only for himself and his family, but for all the victims of James Hardie Industries. In a sense he was fighting for all Australians, for our belief in a fair go. And it was not an easy fight. There were dirty tricks and personal attacks thrown in Bernie’s path, but he brushed it all aside because in the end his cause was just and true. Others played their part in the battle, but it was Bernie’s personal courage that really made a difference for so many people.

It was a wonderful victory when James Hardie Industries was forced to provide proper compensation to its victims. Bernie at least had the comfort of knowing that he had won that battle. Of course, the other great battle in Bernie’s life was the battle against the disease itself, and that was a battle that sadly he could not win. We have lost a truly great Australian, but thanks to Bernie’s efforts, Australia has been left a better place.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I’m not going to waste any time saying “I told you so”, but the election victory of Kevin Rudd was no surprise. Anyone who has followed the polling over the last year could have seen it coming. Some have been surprised by the magnitude of the win, but as I wrote in this blog last week, when the sticks are out nothing will stop a flogging.

For Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party a magnificent opportunity lies ahead. It’s now up to the new government to seize that opportunity and deliver on all the expectations that it has worked so hard to create.

As for Mr. Howard, it seems that he and a few of his closest colleagues were the last people in Australia to realize that he had missed his opportunity to retire as a hero. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that Mr. Howard has been the Liberal Party’s second most successful Prime Minister ever, and leaves a significant legacy, despite the humiliating end.

Now the task for the Liberal Party is to select a new leader without tearing itself apart. I have said for many years that Malcolm Turnbull will be the next Liberal Party Prime Minister, and I believe that now more than ever. It is right and proper that all who aspire to the leadership of the party have the opportunity to put themselves forward. However, the party needs two things from a leader: the ability to rally the party behind him (or her), and the ability to bring the voters back to the party. Contenders like Tony Abbott, Brendan Nelson, or even Alexander Downer should he be tempted to try, aren’t in a position to take the party forward because they have too much baggage from the past.

For my money, Malcolm Turnbull is the best choice. Of course, it will be a long road back to government, so even if somebody else takes the leadership now, Malcolm will still be there waiting in the wings.