“Shire ‘junket’ anger” shrills the Mornington Peninsula Leader excitedly on page one of this week’s (24 October) edition. It was reacting to shire CEO Carl Cowie’s 20-day study tour to Europe, a trip enabled and endorsed by councillors.
Mr Cowie, clearly a target for the insipid local Leader publication, has a contract he negotiated with his employers, our local councillors, that includes $30,000 for study leave.
He is spending under $15,000 of it – after several years in the job – to attend the United Nations climate change conference in Bonn, then journey to Sweden (noted for cutting-edge waste disposal technology) and Malta (to attend the Commonwealth Local Government Forum).
Bandicoot hopes Mr Cowie can fit in a side trip home to Scotland to visit family and friends.
But what of this “shire anger” of which the Leader headline speaks? Bandicoot has heard no raised voices in the streets. He has searched in vain for evidence of the anger, and found none. Leader’s report quoted not a single shire resident. Perhaps none were asked to say something even remotely angry, about the Cowie trip.
So, who was angry? The answer lay not on page one but on page three, in the continuation of what journos would describe as this pathetic “eggbeater” of a story. Leader had done the hoary old newspaper trick – it had rung a trusty dial-a-quote – Ratepayers’ Victoria president Jack Davis.
Predictably, Mr Davis, who lives in Oakleigh, in the City of Monash, fulminated noisily about what he described as this “ridiculous” waste of time and money (as he described it).
“It is just another junket, another example in a long list of councils abusing ratepayer funds,” Leader quoted Mr Davis as saying. “All this information is available on the internet.”
Is it? No doubt Mr Cowie will have private conversations and make useful contacts in Germany, Sweden and Valetta during his arduous 20 days, which will not be recorded and thus not be available on the internet, as occurs at such meetings. He will learn as much of use in these encounters as he will in formal conference sessions.
It came as a surprise to Bandicoot that Mr Davis has heard of the internet. Perhaps he has a grandchild. Apparently a product of the early steam age, former Monash councillor Davis has the same rooted, ideological objection to councillors taking trips as, alas, do some of our current shire councillors.
He has form on opposing councillor travel. On 7 December 2015 Leader quoted Mr Davis saying it was a junket to send then shire mayor Graham Pittock to Paris for the earlier UN conference, at which the world agreed on a carbon cap. Mr Cowie is attending this year’s conference, with Cr Simon Brooks and a council officer.
Then on 25 August this year Leader reported that another shire councillor, Hugh Fraser, was “jetting off” to China “on a $2500 ratepayer-funded waste management junket”. Dial-a-quote Davis said it was “ironic to waste money on a waste fact-finding mission.
“We are totally against any councillor going overseas on ratepayer funds, it is a misuse of money,” he said then.
“They do not need to do junkets, they should be working for ratepayers, not chasing political or ideological dreams.”
Perhaps they can do both. Perhaps Mr Davis’s answering machine message includes a series of quotes for Leader’s use, to save everyone time.
Long, long ago Bandicoot wrote a yachting column for the Melbourne Herald, before Rupert Murdoch got his hands on it. Bandicoot, like all his colleagues, knew who to ring to get the right quote.
At that time trimarans were growing in popularity, but had the unfortunate and tragic habit of disappearing without trace out at sea.
Anyone recall Bandersnatch? Winner of the 1966 Sydney-Hobart trimaran race, it was found holed and upturned in Bass Strait in September 1967, its four crew members missing. They were never found.
Bandicoot knew who to call – Stan Gibson, then Vice-Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Victoria. Stan was vehemently opposed to trimarans, especially in the open ocean. So was Bandicoot: they were unsafe, prone to capsize, to cartwheel to their doom. Stan gave me my quote, much as Mr Davis gave Leader what it has got from him multiple times.
Back to the Leader, a Rupert Murdoch News Corp paper. News Corp is currently subject of a Crikey series, ‘Holy Wars’, which is investigating how Murdoch’s The Australian (“Australian journalism’s freak show”, as Crikey describes it) inflicts damage on its enemies. These enemies include Tim Flannery, Gillian Triggs, Paul Barry and Julian Disney.
It appears Carl Cowie is also on the list, at the fag-end of the Murdoch paper trail.
Crikey says weapons The Australian uses include constant bombardment; quoting friendly “talking heads”; surveilling your target; using disparaging epithets (why put “study tour allowance” in inverted commas in the Leader story except to imply it’s a cash sling?); and co-opting opinion attack dogs such as Andrew Blot … er … Bolt, Terry McCrann, Greg Sheridan and the rest – Rupert’s faithful claqueurs.
Mr Cowie has been constantly bombarded using The Australian attack template as described by Crikey. Leader uses Mr Davis as its “friendly talking head. It uses disparaging epithets but there is a tedious, flatulent sameness about the attacks on him and other targets. Phrases recur: “at ratepayers’ expense”; “council cash”; “jetting off”.
The money Mr Cowie will spend is his by legal contract, as is his agreed salary. Certainly, it is “council cash”, as is every dollar of every shire salary, every litre of fuel in shire vehicles, the cost of every shire phone call made, every burning street light.
That also goes for every Leader salary, every phone call, each burning Neon tube &c &c. The Leader obsession with such things totally and wilfully ignores the new realities of local government – one of which is this shire’s policy to become carbon neutral. That led to the Paris and Bonn conferences and the China waste study. It is a visionary and vital policy, already saving the shire money. So will more efficient waste disposal: nearly half the shire’s carbon pollution comes from the Rye tip.
Don’t expect state or federal governments to lead on these critical issues – look at the puerile schoolyard Abbott-Turnbull brawl over climate change; look at the wind farm ban imposed in Victoria by the Baillieu government in 2011. Was Leader aware of that when it effectively blamed the shire for not putting wind turbines at Rye tip? It’s online, newsroom!
And did the paper really expect Mr Cowie to respond to its inane “push poll” question about whether ratepayers “were getting value for money” from the CEO’s trip, or why the conferences could not be followed online or via video calls? How was Mr Cowie supposed to answer before he comes home with what he has learned and what value it will be to the shire?
That question reflects the pressure Leader is under from Mr Murdoch to squeeze every cent of profit out of his Leader asset, with its diminishing, poorly paid and provisioned staff – they can’t regularly attend council meetings, let alone conferences, and they know all about news gathered by phone and online, including rewriting shire media releases that tell Pollyanna tales.
Cr Brooks should not have to pay his own way to Bonn: Leader reported with approval his decision to pay his way. He, like the other 10 councillors, has a $16,000 allowance over the four-year council term and his council colleagues should have approved his access to the Bonn expenses. Do Leader staff have to pay their own way to work assignments? Will they rail against all councillors who use allocated shire money for legitimate education, conferences and seminars?
Cr Brooks will actually lose money while away, deprived of his usual income during his absence.
As to the mock Leader disapproval of Cr Julie Edge’s attendance at a Brisbane conference … Leader seems to believe, like steam-age Jack Davis, that she should not attend, or pay her own way to the important emergency services/natural disasters forum.
Cr Edge is using her legitimate allowance, denied – not by her vote – to Cr Brooks, for “training, conferences and seminars” under a council policy, so she can inform and educate herself for the benefit of our community.
Leader may like to write an article on the report she will make to councillors in due course on what she learned in Brisbane, as Mr Cowie and Cr Brooks will report on their “excursions”, as Leader calls them.
The report on the shire trip to China to study waste has been released. It is useful and fascinating. It could not have been done via the internet or phone.