This morning the Cairns Regional Council gathered to hand down the budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The overall mood from the councillors was of positive support, despite a few objections and criticisms, the feeling was that this was a sound budget and there were not many major complaints from the community representatives, but there were a few and I’ll go into those.
What I want to do with this article is put these numbers into context. The problem in the media these days is that quick capsule stories seem to stand alone, without bearing, especially on the internet. One story may give some seemingly damning stats and details, but as they stand alone we can’t trust them as much as we’d like to.
First off: The 2011/2012 budget numbers from two years ago. Under Val Schier the Cairns community got $103 million put into capital works, $36.7 million into infrastructure, and $11.5 million into sporting community, sporting and cultural facilities, and $46 million into the disastrous Cairns Entertainment Precinct. That project ran into trouble due to Federal concerns over the finances and has yet to eventuate. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-20/federal-govt-defends-axing-cairns-entertainment-precinct-funds/4381618 With no viable alternatives currently on the table the project has been shelved by the current government. This was also a time of high unemployment in Cairns, an intimidating 11%. The council pitched this budget as focussing on “job creation and infrastructure renewal throughout the region.” Rates were at 3.4%.
What’s the pitch this year? The pitch was a change of philosophy and a focus on fiscal responsibility, with a mix of new and current ideas. Mayor Bob Manning called on businesses and people to be embrace innovation and take heart in the signs of improvement. He said a “sustained recovery was still in its infancy” but many of the indications were the future of the city is a positive one. For example, the direct flights from China, the securing of events such as the Australian Tourism Exchange which is normally hosted in capital cities, the World Mountain Bike Championship in 2014, and the hosting of the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting in 2014 are all great indicators of both national and international interest in the region. Other great prospects also went unnamed in the meeting such as the potential casino development at Yorkeys Knob by Chinese billionaire Tony Fung. All of the signs are there that Cairns, if handled correctly, given the right polish and shine, can really explode in the future. Whether or not the all residents really want that, however, is another issue.
So back to the numbers. In this year’s budget $132 million has been allocated to Capital Work Programs, with $296M allocated for the next two years. $46M will go towards water and waste management. Scheir spent nearly $49M on water and waste, not a big difference but notable. $59M will go towards transport and drainage, which includes road maintenance and new construction. Only $25.97M was spent on this by Scheir. When Manning talks about stimulating jobs, we can assume this is part of what he means. $17M will be spent on cultural, sporting and community facilities, $5.5M more than in the 2011/12 budget.
The major projects include the “revitalisation” of the CBD, referring to the changes in the location of the bus terminals which will begin in Lake Street in the next few months and move into Shields Street as work progresses. Tobruk Pool is receiving an upgrade, which will bring it to international standards. With the world class Tennis Courts and Hockey fields just next door, this only makes sense, and it is well overdue. $1.2 million will go towards road access and the design of the upgrade to the pool. You can read more details about new works here at the council’s website, which include $400,000 for work on the Smithfield Mountain Bike trails, $150,000 for a crystal cascades walkway, $50,000 for crocodile management, and $635,000 for the design and construction of a conservatory at the botanical gardens.
The Mayor is confident there will be a rebound in tourism and cited a 30 to 40% growth in the amount of Chinese visitors to Cairns. Tourism is worth an estimated $2.5 billion to the local economy and, like in many budgets previous, work is done to foster and maintain that industry. As such Advance Cairns and Tropical Tourism North Queensland will receive additional funding.
The council has also appointed two new General Managers to its staff, raising the number from 5 to 7 GM’s employed by the CRC. One is a new chief executive and the other, a chief financial officer.
This has caused a stir, as the cuts in the budget have come from the front line. The have come from pathway maintenance, street sweeping, lawn mowing, street scaping, and horticultural works. Expect to see less council workers on the streets this year.
Unemployment has dropped significantly to below 5%. What people should keep in mind is that there may be many people who are technically employed, but are actually under-employed in casual or part time work. There are many out there seeking full time employment and are unable to secure it. Despite this, it is a huge improvement over the 11% from 2011-2012.
At face value this is an optimistic budget that doesn’t make any grand promises but instead focusses on incremental upgrades. It’s a reflection of the times, of the fiscal frugality of the Queensland Liberal Party. One can question the appointment of two new general managers at the expense of front line services, but in comparison to two years ago this seems to be a solid budget, with more optimism and fewer challenges blocking its way.
The bold prison break in Cape York on the 23rd of May hasn’t ended well for the seven escapees who are now being held in the high security Villawood Detention Centre in New South Wales.
In a court mention this afternoon the legal representative of the group of six men said she had conferenced with them and they had all decided to plead guilty to the charge of escaping immigration detention. The seventh man is currently organising legal aid but is also expected to plead guilty. He will appear for a call over on the 18th of July and is likely to appear on the 30th alongside the other men under the same representation. The proceedings are expected to last all day. A Vietnamese interpreter will be used as none of the men speak English. Each of the men currently have bail but the magistrate said “They aren’t going anywhere.”
The case has attracted national attention because of the apparent ease of escape and the delayed reaction time by authorities. It took ten hours for state and federal police to be notified, after which it took a further four hours for the men to be apprehended at Gilligans Backpacker Resort, a popular accommodation and party venue in the heart of Cairns. The men were captured on CCTV footage, and quickly police found the men in one of the upstairs rooms with a woman, who police allege holds links to people smuggling organisations.
Cambodian Sophal Nuon has been accused of aiding and abetting the daring escape by hiring vehicles for the 30 kilometre trip from Scherger to the Weipa airport, a journey that would be difficult and dangerous on foot because of the terrain, and purchasing flight tickets for the men at the airport. Mr Nuon allegedly flew from Melbourne to Weipa for the specific purpose of aiding the men in their escape. His case been adjourned until the 8th of August.
The escape is unique in its level of organisation and fore planning, which was well executed until the men lingered in one location for too long. Had they moved on quicker they may have slipped through the fingers of the police. More details on the 30th.
Image: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep international book cover.
It’s a simple question with a complex answer. Is the media, and I’m not just talking about controlled media of authoritarian regimes here, but the entire global entity itself, a technology that brainwashes its audience?
The first thing I want to talk about is this: In first world countries with impartial media, everyone who works within that media is tied to policies that hold them to a standard of balance and fairness for all sides in an issue. This is designed to give each argument a voice in debates, to give a voice to those who otherwise might be left unheard. However, this causes an imbalance where extreme and at times unreasonable arguments, not supported by evidence as they should be are given equal, if not completely disproportionate coverage instead of more trustworthy and informative parties. This skewing can grow out and come to dominate issues, particularly when it comes to politics and issues where special interest groups like religious organisations become involved. Lead by morality instead of evidence, these groups carry huge weight in debates where opinion really has little relevance. The pressure by these groups can be hugely damaging to social progress, and that’s why meaningful change takes so long: there’s a lot of people standing in the way who really have no place doing so. They use their money and their social influence to sway issues, to muddy the waters. Examples include the gun lobby, Wall Street, the banks, the mining industry, political power brokers, and big corporations with governments under their thumbs. These champions of rhetoric contribute to the ‘brain washing’.
People build entire careers deliberately creating propaganda for private companies and for the government. As a person trained in journalism is easy to see why when jobs are so scarce in the industry so many defect to the dark side of Public Relations, essentially selling their souls to big business, and becoming an enemy of freedom of information. These people specialise in spinning facts for corporate and government interests. They distribute their tainted communications and plant them across newspapers, nightly bulletins, and your social media feeds. The mining industry does it all the time. Big medicine does it almost every day. Those medical stories you see about new drugs? Yeah. Those ones. And Treasurer Wayne Swan. Here is a man who purposely lies to the public, withholds information from the people with no other reason other than to further his party’s political interests. Consumer product companies run surveys using questionable methods and report the results as faux news. Commercial radio hosts plug products continually, and the playlist the ‘dj’ selected? Handed down from a board, based on complicated market research conducted with the intention of selling cd’s to teenage girls, and sent on en masse to every other radio station serving the same market. The idea of mass manufactured individuality is the central illusion taking place here. They appeal to singular interests while playing for millions.
These plugs, these phony endorsements are thinly disguised, easily spotted, and always offensive to general intelligence. Now away from that diversion and back to Public Relations. The vampires who write these things are doing so simply for the pay check, without thinking about the real damage they are doing to how our media works. The very action spreads distrust, it corrupts real news with loaded bile. I want to clarify that commercial media outlets are the most vulnerable to this abuse. The thing is a significant portion of people don’t realise this is going on, let alone care that it’s going on. When you know the media it’s obvious. When you don’t you’re susceptible to their spun words. The corruption in the media is out in the open for the world to see, and it only takes a quick look behind the curtain to see the power and intention behind words in stories. The news has an agenda, be it commercial or political, and it is hugely effective at changing minds. The only way to see the big picture, or to get the real story is to either be a part of the story, or to be as widely read as possible so you can see all the angles, which not many people are able to do, firstly because it’s time consuming and secondly because people have a certain apathy, especially in the highly anti-intellectual Australia, where truly influential discussion (and money) is mainly kept in the cities, controlled by the higher educated middle and upper class of whites. Out in the regions people’s concerns aren’t in Canberra or Sydney of Melbourne. It looks like another planet when compared to the reality of everyday life. People embrace apathy because it’s easier than thinking about the big picture. So is the media a corrupting force? Would people be better off without it? There isn’t a yes or no answer.
In 1987 a North Korean spy (I won’t call her a terrorist, because the term terrorist is used to liberally now that it’s losing all meaning) Kim Hyon Hui bombed Korean Air Flight 858 alongside another North Korean agent. The attack resulted in the deaths of over one hundred people. She was, and the rest of her fellow North Koreans are raised in an environment where propaganda permeates every level of society, every aspect of life. She has since expressed regret for her actions on the ABC’s 7:30 Report, as she learned that South Korea and the West were not all that she had been made to believe. In this context, where North Korea represents the most powerful form of social brainwashing, how does the West compare? Apples and oranges, clearly, but there are basic, inescapable similarities in the function of the media in any country, especially when it comes to support for mindless nationalism and perpetual consumerism. Yes, nationalism and protectionism has a place, especially because you never know what you’re closest neighbours are capable of, but it’s not part of the solution. So is there an option? A red pill instead of a blue pill?
Yes there is. These days we can jump online and learn about anything. The internet is the anti-ignorance tool. We have the power to choose what we read and learn, where as in North Korea and other countries and police states information is tightly controlled.
In May the internet was blacked out in Syria. What does that mean? It means no more atrocity videos, it means no more collusion between rebels on forums, it means internet mobile communication is ceased, it means the free information going out of the country is all but non-existent, while the Syrian military and governments are still able to communicate using their own means. I’m not saying the West should get involved in another Middle Eastern quagmire, in fact I feel the opposite. Syria has to tough this one out on its own and someone has to come out on top. With Russia backing the Assad regime and the West supplying the rebels, it’s a proxy war for the big world powers, but with the clear hesitation by Obama to get dragged into another conflict I think it’s one that Russia may come out on top of. America can’t afford another war, and Russia wants to keep their man in power. If that happens, and he wins, what’s the change? Russia has got more to lose here, and America can’t afford it. How long will it drag on? Years, most likely. Is this proxy war a more economical way of running conflicts for the big powers? Given the economic conditions is this the new form of war? Divide, conquer and profit tactics are playing out right in front of our eyes, as they have been in the mid-east for centuries.
Let’s get back on track here. Say for instance a reader of a newspaper only reads that one newspaper for their entire life. They only talk to people who read that newspaper. What kinds of opinions is that person going to hold? In contrast, imagine a person who reads every newspaper, every online article, watches every investigative bulletin and even goes further to research the topics themselves, and then poses their own questions. The first person is brain washed. The second person is a free thinker. What I’m saying is that we’re informed by our environment, and in order to not become one of these zombies a person has to read widely and think for themselves.
Are the public relations professionals of the west equivalent to Assad internet cutters? No, of course not, but the intention is the same in each instance: Control of information to keep opposing forces, may they be in business, on the battlefield, or journalists (and by extension the people) working their rounds ignorant to what’s really going on behind the scenes. How can journalists fight back? Well, there’s one way. These new fact checking units being run in America and now in Australia, as well as one soon to start in the ABC keep people honest. Real research by journalists, real time put into investigations and data gathering, and an attitude of pragmatic scepticism, that’s what news organisations should be switching to. Win the trust of the audience back, show them something more than fluff stories and court stakeouts and ambulance chasing, or re-heated press releases. The media has got to give people truth. That’s its true value, not as a proxy tool for companies to hock their products or sway people with fear campaigns, but to inform and enlighten.
Here’s the modern take on trying to get into the business of writing words for a pay check. These are my thoughts on the challenges of breaking into a stubborn industry that’s got its issues just like any other, but is capable of making changes at the front line.
The first problem is this: studying journalism at university these days does not reflect the current state of the industry. For instance assignments are often a matter of doing some quick research online, throwing in a few links and quotes, and wham bam thank you mam, that’s your story. Sure, as the subjects advanced progressively and student’s stories became more complicated the principles of writing remained the same. Sometimes we’d do interviews, and record them, but not often enough to really ingrain the skills into our heads, and not enough to learn from important mistakes.
Secondly, the focus on creating digital content was completely out of balance with the real world. Online doesn’t generate much revenue, and it’s an important part of the business, but it’s not the whole focus. If anything it’s an aside to the main work (at the current time). At university much of the time is spent on online journalism, where the skills the job demands weren’t covered (presenting to camera, developing a voice for radio, taking half decent photos, juggling multiple complicated stories and having them done before lunchtime, knowing the strategies of questioning, networking, political correctness). I can see the viewpoint of the people who were organising the subjects. They wanted to future proof their students. Unfortunately by focusing on that they’ve missed out on other parts of the job. Even for online work, we weren’t taught HTML, which is a big deal. It can be limiting, and to go from university into internships were you STILL don’t have the skills for the work is demoralising. The problem was too much unproductive computer time, too much repetitive learning. What we should have been learning were things required for journalists to have perspective in the real world, and perspective that works in tandem with writing: History, finance, politics, local issues, sports, crime, court reporting. Students should be doing these things ALL THE TIME. The ‘write whatever you want’ attitude doesn’t apply to the real world. It’s this perspective that’s lacking.
Which brings me to my next point: Everything important I’ve learned about journalism, except for the absolute BASICS that university provided, has been through real world experience and internships. What’s harder to swallow still is that, just over a year out from graduation, I’m only now getting to a place where I can be at least considered for jobs I’m shooting for. This is why in my mind young journalists should be learning and working at the same time, in the style of apprenticeships. The university courses should be shortened and divided up with work in actual newsrooms. It would give students real world perspective on the work, and their study would benefit from it. Paid work, even if it’s for a pittance. If the student performs in the work and graduates they wouldn’t be in the position many graduates are: caught in limbo. They would simply take on full time work with their newsroom.
Another benefit of working in a newsroom is that you’re in the loop, and you understand the expectations. You go home and watch every report, you read the paper front to back and you constantly check what’s going on online. You do it because that’s what the job REQUIRES. Students don’t do this as much as they need to. At work you get thrown in the deep end and you challenge yourself and your seniors challenge you. Journalism is a job where reporters are out and about, on the phone, on the street, constantly updating their knowledge, staying in the know. Journalism at university is done from behind a computer. We write the stories and we edit audio and video on computers, but there’s a lot more to it than that. University failed to provide experiences valuable to the real world, and it’s failed to stay relevant by getting ahead of itself. In trying to keep ahead of the game by focusing on the future of journalism, it’s forgotten about the present.
Just watched Koyaanisqatsi. Man this whole military industrial complex thing is a drag. Where’s the spaceships, lets get off this rock.
"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man…"
Man wears glasses. Man loves reading. World ends. Man finds last remaining library. Glasses get broken. The Twilight Zone.
*Hi Tumblr followers, I’ve written a short article on the Gillard governments recent strategic moves, mainly to share on Twitter. And you’re already asleep. Have fun. *
For Prime Minister Julia Gillard Disability Care and the Gonski reforms represent the creation of something positive for her leadership and for the Labour Party. I don’t know enough about the economic factors at play here so I won’t even begin to editorialise on that aspect. I’m more interested in the chess going on here. In these matters the reality for outside commentators is that the real details are only known by inner circle insiders. Everyone else is just doing calculated guesswork. With that in mind these we go into these thoughts. This is a sweeping account of current events that tries to make a shape from what’s going on here. Gillard has had a tough time as Prime Minister. She achieved leadership in questionable circumstances. Well that’s an understatement. The transition of power was not handled well. Well that’s another understatement. Chaos ensued from that point onward. The Labour Party lied and misrepresented information to the public in order to gain political advantage, making grand claims for a budget surplus. They extended beyond their reach time and again, and tested Australia time and again. For Gillard, after having inadvertently built a reputation as a person representing deep mistrust to the Australian people, she needed to drive something big home before she left office. Otherwise, the Labour Party would be completely obliterated by the simple sense of distaste Australian voters have in their mouths for her leadership, a taste that shows no signs of fading. More importantly for Gillard in a personal sense, the story of the first female Prime Minster of Australia was facing the huge, historically embarrassing risk of being a complete and utter debacle. The Gonski and Disability Care reforms set up that exact opposite of that for Gillard. They distract from the tumultuous past and welcome a new future.
Politically, the social benefits and widespread support of these reforms lock the opposition into a position of bi-partisanship. These are schemes (offers?) the opposition cannot refuse. If they did they would fall into an undesirable position where they would be seen as cold and calculating cost cutters in the eyes of the public, which is exactly how they do not want to be perceived. Campbell Newman did enough foreshadowing in that respect, it’s damaging to have any more. “Cutting to the bone” has been the latest catch phrase of the government, referring to the completely hypothetical future polities of the opposition, but the phrase serves its purpose, stitching the Liberals up politically. The oppositions hand has been forced here, and they’ve fallen into their current position by default. By supporting these measures they are locking themselves into both Gillard’s political legacy and economic foot trap. There is very little they can do about it at this point. The opposition are committed, even if they know spending should be curbed.
The thing is for the Labour Party it’s more important to save themselves politically than to be smart economically. They clearly think they can afford to spend cash at this point, but they can’t afford to leave office without significant reforms. It’d be utterly devastating, and not just in the short term. Gillard’s legacy is at stake.