Saturday, March 3, 2012

Govt offer to fix walkway rejected


A State Government offer made more than two weeks ago to reopen the closed Waltons walkway that is sending local traders broke has been rejected.

A media release by Brisbane Central MP Grace Grace on Tuesday 7 February and delivered to local traders said the Transport Department would offer to “license” the walkway and “conduct an urgent safety and fire audit” to check the walkway’s safety.
“If necessary, the department will undertake any minor repairs needed to ensure the pedestrian access is safe for public use,” Ms Grace said in the release.
But Ms Grace told The Independent this week: “The Government cannot take any action until the owner of the walkway agrees to it. We have a resolution on the table; whether it goes ahead is entirely in the owner’s court.”
But a source close to Waltons owner Mount Cathay Pty Ltd called the government move a “six-month band-aid” that had put negotiations between the parties “back by a week”.
The 20-metre section of walkway through the old Waltons building connecting the Valley Metro and Fortitude Valley Railway Station to the McWhirters centre via an airbridge over Wickham Street was closed on Sunday 11 December for maintenance work that has never been undertaken.
In the 11 weeks since, traders in the Happy Valley building that used to house the Chinese Club and neighbouring businesses in the McWhirters centre and beyond have seen their trade slashed by up to 90 per cent. Some business are set to close for good, as reported on our front page last issue.
Desperate traders had put a lot of hope in the State Government intervention, with one trader saying: “The State Government stepped in and was going to fix this but where are they now? We need help. Or was this just a political stunt ... again.” Ms Grace said the Waltons owner had a social responsibility to either find a way to reopen the walkway or to let the government take the license and reopen the walkway while negotiations continued
“The offer of a six-month licence gives time for a permanent solution to be found but there is nothing to stop the license being extended if a permanent solution takes longer.
“My understanding is that the government being in caretaker does not impact on the offer going forward immediately if accepted by the owners.
“The government’s offer stands to help resolve this issue in the best interests of the community.
“This is a private legal dispute but the impacts are being felt by the whole local community especially businesses. I urge the owner of the walkway to consider the negative impacts their actions are having on businesses.”

LNP attacks TV ads


The LNP has called on Labor to cease promoting itself through the use of taxpayer funded government advertising. Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls said Labor was ignoring the caretaker provisions of government which came into effect on Sunday with the start of official election campaign.

“For the past year the Bligh government has been on an unprecedented advertising spending spree that is tipped to top $100 million,” Mr Nicholls said. “The last election proved that the Bligh Labor government will say and do anything, and break every promise and every rule to hold onto power in Queensland.
“This election Labor are up to their cunning political tricks again – at taxpayer’s expense. “Facing a public backlash for their wasteful mismanagement of the state’s economy, Labor has been indulging in an orgy of self promotion.
“Who is paying for it? The poor Queensland taxpayer is. Families and businesses are already shelling out their hard-earned cash for Labor’s long list of increased taxes and charges.
“Now the Bligh government wants to waste more taxpayer money for their own political advantage. “The government’s advertising code of conduct stipulates there should be no advertising within six months of the scheduled date for an election – unless “there is an urgent emerging issue”.
“None of these ads meet that criteria. “Can you imagine what would happen if this discredited and economically incompetent government again got its hands on the state’s treasury?” Mr Nicholls said. “The greedy Labor party has fiddled with the electoral laws to steal advantage over election donations, and now they’re bleeding the long suffering Queensland taxpayer to pay for extra ad promotion for the Bligh government during this campaign.

OUR SAY: Just one commercial TV channel midweek ran various State Government ads on all sorts of topics including skin cancer protection and how to stop smoking. We were bombarded with far too many of these ads – along with ones on mental health, mining jobs, flood readiness, etc – in the months leading up to Sunday’s issuing of writs for the 24 March election. They are a disgrace and must stop immediately.

Dose of politics for Bupa folk


Talk about a captive audience. Local federal MP Teresa Gambaro was there at Bupa New Farm on Monday to congratulate the centre for providing young nurses with exciting career development opportunities. She did that – but no pollie worth her salt wastes a chance to do a little politicking.

Sure, she praised two young nurses – Sushma Gautam and Mamata Khatry, both originally from Nepal – who began graduate training program at Bupa New Farm this week. But listening to her speech you could be excused for thinking a federal poll was imminent, not state and local ones.
She trotted out the usual anti-Rudd/Gillard government lines, talked about how awful it was that Queenslander Kevin Rudd was “assassinated”, presumably before we all had the chance to vote him out for all the naughty things he did. She mentioned pink bats and costly school halls and the billions that her party had left behind that Labor flittered away. It was all pretty much a rerun of the 2010 federal poll, but to be fair to Teresa, she didn’t once shout “stop the boats” and made no mention whatsoever of poor personal hygiene.
As she warmed to her theme, were some in the audience nodding agreement or just nodding off?
But was it necessary? The way federal Labor is going at the moment, Teresa could probably have recited passages from the 2012 white pages and she’ll still romp in at the next federal election.
The good folk at the Bupa morning tea were then introduced to LNP state candidate for Brisbane Central, Robert Cavallucci and Vicki Howard, the party’s candidate having her second tilt at the Brisbane council ward of Central. Thankfully, these two had the good sense to keep their little spiels short.
Now why were we all there again? Oh, that’s right. The aged care nursing workforce needs to increase by 500,000 over the next 40 years to meet the needs of our ageing population.
In response Bupa has introduced a graduate nurse program that fast-tracks young nurses into senior clinical and management roles within the aged care industry. Sushma and Khatry studied for a bachelor of nursing in Australia and applied for the Bupa graduate nurse program upon graduation. Only 21 candidates were selected from a field of 385 applicants.
Sushna Gautam says she and Mamata are excited about their careers in aged care. “I look forward to developing my medical knowledge and leadership skills. This is a good career path. I am happy to go home every night knowing I have made a positive difference in someone else’s life,” Sushna said.

ABOVE: Trainee nurses Sushma Gautam (second from left) and Mamata Khatry with Bupa New Farm general manager Davida Webb, (centre) and , from left Vicki Howard, Teresa Gambaro and Robert Cavallucci

Parties bicker over a cleaner Valley


Lord Mayor Graham Quirk has put the owners of rundown Valley buildings on notice, with new laws giving council the power to force them to be cleaned up expected to be passed as this issue of The Independent went to press.

Cr Quirk (pictured) said the draft Health Safety and Amenity Local Law 2012 aimed to lift standards in the Valley by placing a legal responsibility on local building owners to ensure their properties were kept clean, painted and safe.
But the ALP’s Lord Mayoral candidate Ray Smith accused Cr Quirk of “playing catchup” two months out from the council elections by adopting part of his policy to clean up the Valley.
The new laws were expected to be passed at a full meeting of council on Tuesday and will take about 12 months to finalise, depending on state government approval.
The Lord Mayor said he had announced in December last year that council had begun drafting a new law after the State Government provided advice that council had no power to act on amenity issues such as buildings that were dirty, dilapidated or in disrepair. Council could act on matters of public safety.
Cr Quirk said this was part of his “firm but fair” campaign to clean up the Valley and the new laws would be used as a last resort.
“Over the last six months I’ve been working closely with local Valley businesses and building owners and after robust discussions we’ve had some early breakthroughs, including having the outside of the derelict Waltons building repainted,” Cr Quirk said. “However many of theses problems with the presentation of Valley buildings have been going on for 20 years and these laws are there to give us legal reinforcement if people don’t want to play ball.”
Cr Quirk said the new law meant uncooperative owners of rundown buildings faced a range of penalties, including court-ordered cleanup notices and fines of up to $20,000.
“I am determined to boost Brisbane’s economic credentials both at home and abroad and these measures are aimed at bringing business back to the Valley by making it a more pleasant and safe place to work and play,” he said.
“To back this up I’ve recently introduced a number of state-of-the-art litter vacuums, installed CCTV cameras with warning speakers to move on troublemakers and am tripling bin capacity in the area.”
Mr Smith accused the Lord Mayor of “dithering and failing to act in the Valley for years”. “And now all he’s been able to come up with is an incomplete imitation of my Revaluing the Valley policy,” he said.
“When I announced my plan to Revalue the Valley, I said I’d get serious about cleaning up the Valley because the current council had failed to act for far too long. “Now the Lord Mayor is trying to catch-up, but after 27 years in council it’s clear he has no ideas of his own. I’m pleased at least part of my Revaluing the Valley policy is being implemented before we even get to an election, but why stop there? We’d get a better outcome for the Valley if Graham Quirk just copied my entire policy.
“My plan will not only clean up the Valley – it will deliver real infrastructure, investment and incentives to stimulate growth. It includes a range of measures dedicated to supporting positive growth in the area.
“The Valley needs strong action, and an administration led by me will get tough on irresponsible private property owners who are letting down the Valley’s image and help generate positive growth in the area,” Mr Smith said.

Papering over a bad situation


Question: what becomes more expensive the less you have of it? Sure, precious metals is a good answer? You up the back? Oil. That’s a good one. Anyone else? Another answer is, of course, newspaper advertising rates that go always go up when circulations decline.

For as long as this paper has been publishing, it has taken our city’s mainstream mastheads to task for often very selective reporting on their circulation figures that gauge their success and an important stat for potential advertisers to ponder before forking out the outrageous sums The Courier-Mail and the Sunday Mail demand as monopolies for their display advertising space. Sadly the company that runs these papers has a pretty sorry record of cherrypicking these quarterly figures to show them in the best possible light. Maybe cherry picking is the wrong word. When really bad results fall from the Audit Bureau of Circulations tree, they are left to rot well out of the public eye.
Take the latest figures just released, for the three months to the end of 2011, and the comparisons with the same period a year before. Sadly the reasonably recent new editor at The Courier-Mail has quickly learnt how to polish these fruity little results for best possible consumption. Which is rather a pity for in his early tenure, he showed a commendable openness about how to report such things. Not any more.
“Still state’s top news choice” was how his Page 2 heading on 11 February explained away the latest sales figures for both his Monday to Friday and Saturday issues. The Courier-Mail was still the nation’s third highest daily circulation, he crowed. He mentioned the raw sales figures but not the fact that both were down – 4.5 per cent Monday to Friday and almost 6 percent on Saturday.
The editor at the sister paper The Sunday Mail ignored the results altogether. They showed a 7.2 per cent decline over the year. We say “ignored” because we couldn’t find them anywhere in the Sunday edition after the figures came out. To be fair, he might have run them on Page 129 of a 128-page country edition.
Now, to carry the fruit analogy a step further you might ask: isn’t it fair enough for a fruiterer to display his shiniest and freshest apples at the top. Might not be totally fair on the customer who finds a few mushy ones in the bag when they get home, but it’s human nature, right?
But as we have pointed out many times, these papers are not fruit and vegie sellers. Part of their job is to report without fear or favour on how businesses are faring – to record their ups and downs – and even take them to task if they hide from their shareholders unpalatable news.
The Courier-Mail editorial hierarchy regularly berates politicians and others for “spinning” the facts. Shonky business operators fleecing funds from the innocent through the use of selective performance indicators are deservedly exposed, named and shamed.
But when it comes to their own performance in the marketplace, every quarter they show they can spin circulation and readership stats with the best of them. In addition, the way the figures are reported or ignored must surely violate the supposed wall between the commercial and editorial interests of the papers. We think News Queensland, the parent company of these two mastheads, thus has a moral and ethical duty to report their circulation figures in an open and transparent manner. To show the fruits of their labours, blemishes and all.
It’s the decent and honourable thing to do and besides, do they really think that ad agencies and the like don’t pore over these statistics? And they do have a monopoly so can anyone really hurt them too much? The way they keep putting up their rates suggests not.
Probably the most galling aspect of how these editors use these results is that we can bet our bottom dollar that if the readership figures that generally come out about the same time had shown, for whatever miracle reason, a rise in readership numbers, then they’d gladly have shouted about the quality of their produce with absolutely no hesitation in making taste-test comparisons from the past. It’s quite pathetic, really.
Bowl up for a good cause!

Norman Park Bowls Club will hold its annual “Bowl for Happiness” on Sunday 25 March from 12pm to 6pm to support the work of beyondblue, the national depression and anxiety initiative. Started in memory of Steve Munday, the day aims to raise awareness about depression and anxiety and where to get help. With live music, great food, prizes for best team costume, barefoot bowling and presentation of the 3rd Steve Munday Cup to the winning bowls team, the day promises to be great fun while supporting a very serious initiative. Tickets just $25 per person with proceeds going to beyondblue. Organise your team now for 25 March. Ticket purchases and enquiries to the club on 3399 7902.

Talk at Miegunyah

Guest Speaker Claire Lees, vice-president of The Diamantina Health Care Museum, will talk on the topic Fred’s Shack at the Gabba - The Dispenser’s House at the Queensland Women's Historical Association’s Miegunyah House Museum, 35 Jordan Terrace, Bowen Hills on Thursday, 8 March. This wooden building, built in 1909 for Frederick Staubwasser, dispenser and head wardsman is heritage-listed and the only building remaining from the Diamantina Hospital for Chronic Diseases. There’s morning tea at 10.30am with the talk at 11am. Cost for both is $10 for members and $12 for non-members. For further information or bookings ring 3252 2979 or email The association’s website is at

New Farm National Seniors

Everyone is welcome to come along as New Farm National Seniors celebrates its 22nd birthday on Wednesday 7 March at the Merthyr Uniting Church at 9.30am. Entertainment will be by Jim Lergessner, author of Snippets from a Baby Boomer’s Diary with musical accompaniment by Peter May. Please RSVP to Tony Townsend on 3315 2523. Then, unwind after a busy week with other members of National Seniors at the branch monthly dinner on Friday 16 March at 6pm at the Merthyr Bowls Club in Oxlade Drive when members who cannot attend daytime meetings are particularly welcome. Please RSVP to 3315 2523.

The end? Not really

POLITICS ... with Mungo MacCallum

Okay, let’s put it into perspective. What has been going on in the Labor Party is not apocalypse now. It is not the end of the world and it is not the end of the party. It is just a stoush over the leadership; a particularly vicious and nasty one but just a stoush nonetheless.

Superficially the conflict may seem profound but deep down it’s really shallow: it’s all about personalities, not about ideology In policy terms, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd are in complete harmony about everything that matters; there may be differences of emphasis and the odd tiff about the speed and method of implementation, but there is furious agreement about the substance. Both are genuine social democrats in the mainstream Labor tradition, seriously interested in reform and eschewing the extremes of left and right. Their battles are not the kind to bring on feuds, splits, revolts and rebellion. Indeed, when you look back at the ALP ‘s long and tumultuous history they amount to little more than an unusually unpleasant domestic spat.
The Party was born to trouble, the child of the great industrial confrontations of the 1890s, and seems to have spent much of the next 120 years lurching, as its enemies like to put it, from crisis to crisis. It had a place in the commonwealth parliament from federation in 1901 and had an uneasy try at minority government under Chris Watson as early as 1904; it didn’t last, but in 1908 Andrew Fisher led it back to a more stable regime and became Prime Minister with the support of Alfred Deakin.
But in 1909 Deakin decided that Labor was the real threat, and took his protectionists across the floor to merge with Joseph Cook’s anti-socialist free traders. There were screams of betrayal, of war to the knife, to the stiletto; so vitriolic was Labor’s fury that the ensuing chaos caused the speaker Sir Frederick Holder to drop dead on the spot.
Fisher regained government in his own right in 1910, making Labor the nation’s first majority government. But it was too good to last; on Fisher’s retirement Billy Hughes took over and promptly caused its first great split over the question of conscription. This was an issue that went to the heart and soul of the party, a rift that could not be healed. Eventually Hughes led his followers out of the party room to merge with the Natiionalist opposition.
The young John Curtin tearfully accused Hughes of trying to smash the Labor Party. Hughes replied prophetically: “I couldn’t do that. No one can smash the Labor Party.” And he was right, but it was 13 years before they returned to the Treasury benches under the hapless Jimmy Scullin, who was faced with not only the great depression but two separate splits: one from the left wing followers of the radical New South Wales Premier Jack Lang, led by “Stabber Jack” Beasley, and one from allies of Joe Lyons who, miffed at having been denied the Treasury portfolio, deserted to the Nationalists to become the first leader of the United Australia Party.
The UAP creamed Labor at the election that followed: the party’s best and brightest, including Curtin and Ben Chifley lost their seats, and the party was once more declared finished. But again it clawed its way back and in 1941 Curtin became Prime Minister to take Australia almost through the war, until Chifley took over the task of post-war reconstruction. It ended in 1949, with Labor confident fan early comeback; Bert Evatt nearly brought it off in 1954 but then came the second great split between the predominantly Roman Catholic right and the radical, occasionally pro-communist left.
This took on the dimensions of a holy war, but this time those who deserted the party did not join the enemy but formed their own Democratic Labor Party, which kept the ALP from office for 15 more years.
And it underwent further internal skirmishes until Gough Whitlam emerged as leader to take it to victory in 1972, a victory, which many, once again, believed could never come to a party they had written off as damaged beyond repair. But then, after three frenetic years, the Governor-General Sir John Kerr sacked the government, delegitimising not only Whitlam but also the entire party in the eyes of many voters.
After two catastrophic election defeats Labor was, once again, declared dead and buried. And once again it came back to 13 years of triumphant government – under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating – before giving way to another lengthy conservative regime under John Howard from which, it was said yet again, it could never recover. Until Kevin Rudd.
And now, once again, it is all doom and gloom. Some hysterical commentators have claimed that the present kerfuffle is comparable to the great upheavals of the past but obviously they have never read the history.
The Gillard/Rudd saga is, of course, immensely damaging to Labor and will almost certainly cost it government but it is no more likely to destroy Labor than the ongoing vendetta between Andrew Peacock and John Howard was to destroy the Liberals back in the 1980s. And, when you boil it down, for the same reasons: it is a massive ruckus over nothing much that matters, a simple clash of hurt feelings and wounded egos, a bonfire, to coin a phrase, of political vanities.
This does not mean that the emotional commitment of the contestants, or of their supporters, is any the less passionate or sincere; as we know, it is often the most trivial slights that induce the most enduring resentments. But it does mean that yes, the party can and will get over it – eventually. The talent and commitment is there: Chris Bowen and Tanya Plibersek, to name but two of the most interesting of the new guard, will not pick up their bongos and go home just because the oldies are bluing in the kitchen.
And while they may not know a lot about Billy Hughes, or like what they do know, they would certainly agree with his thoughts of 1915: No one can smash the Labor Party. If no-one has managed so far, it’s certainly not about to happen over the present tantrums.

Oz growers have grape expectations

TASTINGS ... with David Bray

One of the really good things about the Australian wine industry is that it has both the willingness to use grape varieties from pretty much all around the world, and the ability to make good use of these exotic imports.

We have not just the technical skills, of which our grape growers and winemakers have an abundance, both practical and academic, a vast continent providing an enormous range of climate and soil combinations, and more than a sprinkling of comparatively recent arrivals of European origin bringing with them wonderful traditions and skills.
So we find on our bottleshop shelves, on restaurant wine lists and in bars and cellar doors, wines we had not even heard about a few years ago. Some of them may not be there in a couple of years but others will win a long-lasting perhaps even permanent, place in our affections.
Like Prosecco. For Prosecco, go to the King Valley in Victoria’s High Country. It has neat little online story which goes in part like this: “The vineyards, perched on the fertile slopes that rise above the King River, are home to great wines and their makers. First, second and third generation Italian migrant families continue a tradition, today treating the Australian palate with their Mediterranean-inspired wines. Pinot grigio, arneis, verduzzo, sangiovese, tempranillo and barbera formed their first wave.
“Then in 2000, inspired by a childhood growing up in the town of Valdobbiadene, the birthplace of Prosecco, Otto Dal Zotto planted the first Prosecco vines in the King Valley. Its fresh, crisp, palate proved instantly popular with those seeking a relaxed yet stylish, celebratory drink.
Since that first planting, five other King Valley winemakers have followed suit – Brown Brothers, Chrismont, Ciccone, Pizzini and Sam Miranda. “In 2011, all six joined forces to create an exciting new food and wine trail especially for lovers of the sparkling Italian white. Intimate tastings with the makers, savouring rustic Italian cuisine and conversations about the meaning of life over a game of bocce, are all stops along King Valley Prosecco Road.”
Well, that’s their story. Here comes another, from Terra Felix, which operates in the Upper Goulburn region, and produces Terra Felix Prosecco NV, sourcing the grapes from Gentle Annie vineyard, Dookie. Head winemaker at Terra Felix is Terry Barnett, who had previously been in the same position at Brown Brothers, major producers of Prosecco (among many other excellent wines).
Here’s this winery’s “ramblings” about the grape: “For many years Australians have associated sparkling wine styles with Champagne and its imitators. There has been some recognition of Spumante but as a frivolous, low-quality, low-cost beverage. Recently Moscato has become popular for its crisp fruity flavour and modest alcohol levels”. (That’s around 11.5 per cent, a bit below most wines, but a bit above some others)
“Now Prosecco has joined the party. Grown and produced in Italy for centuries, this unique variety is now being grown in Australia and several other countries. This popularity has worried the Italians so much that they have somehow managed to change the official variety name in Italy from Prosecco to Glera and have reserved the Prosecco name for the now-protected region. Fortunately this change has no effect in Australia where Prosecco is legally recognised as the official name of the grape.”
They make Prosecco into wine by fermenting the juice to dryness then running a secondary fermentation in tank under pressure to produce the fizz. So it’s not fermented in the bottle and won’t generally improve with cellaring. In other words, drink it now, by itself or in various mixed drinks, including the Bellini cocktail. The winery’s tasting notes record lifted aromas of pear, lemon zest and tropical fruits ...enhanced by the sparkle of carbon dioxide ... exuberance an easy drinkability… enjoy on its own as an aperitif or with a range of summer foods including seafood platters, salads and fruit. Likely price around $20.
Next time, another interesting comparative newcomer, Savagnin.

So wrong, and yet somehow so very right

By Don Gordon-Brown

You’d think after four decades in journalism that I’d be able to get my facts straight, wouldn’t you? But I came a bit of a cropper over that city council PR stunt that offended McWhirters traders so much on 2 February. It’s the one I wrote about last issue where Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and his LNP candidate for Central Ward, Vicki Howard, spent 40 minutes having their pictures taken with a new garbage-munching machine.

Thanks, by the way, to the many people who pulled me up, praised the column piece and expressed absolute agreement that it was a pretty thoughtless thing for the two of them to do just metres away from where people’s livelihoods are going to putty because of the closed Waltons walkway. But back to my sloppy journalism, based on an assumption I shouldn’t have made. When I take photos for the Indie, I’m like a pimply teenager on his first real date: in and out as fast as I can. I’m a one-shot man – I give it my best shot – and it’s not until I get back to the office and find that the subject’s eyes were closed or the lens dustcap was on that my photojournalism skills come into serious question.
Others may shake at the prospect, but for someone like me (who can be a little pushed for time wearing the hats of editor, reporter, sub-editor, distributor, ad sales rep, local coffee taster and photographer) drive-by shootings would be ideal. The snapper I spied on 2 February spent some 40 minutes taking countless photos as Graham and Vicki pushed the machine this way and that. The absence of any other snapper at the time made me rethink the event in the days that followed, especially after the two publicity seekers staged another full media event with the same machine the following Thursday.
So that’s the assumption I made... that this whole photoshoot just had to be an internal LNP gig to get promotional images for the looming council poll. And seeing I’ve never won a Walkley award yet – and God knows, I deserve one – I fired off some questions to Graham and Vicki just to make sure their party had covered the council costs involved in the exercise. It would not have been cheap to get the machine to and from the mall, let alone the time and labour costs for the machine operator and the council’s PR hack to be on hand.
Well, did those two promptly put me in my place! The photographer was in fact from Quest’s City News. There was so much egg all over my face I felt like asking them both if the big green machine was available to clean it off.
But then, on further reflection it seemed to me that I was wrong yet right at the same time. Let me explain. I wouldn’t exactly call the purchase of a few mall cleaners rivetting news, would you? But council obviously did. We now know that they staged the first stunt in the mall on Friday 2 February for the benefit of just one media outlet, at not inconsiderable cost to ratepayers.
It seems the first stunt was organised because City News would have been out on the streets on the morning of the second stunt. But I’ve got this little idea for any council administration that had really wanted to use its ratepayers’ money wisely: you should have held just the one stunt on a Monday or Tuesday to suit City News’ timelines. Much cheaper, surely? I believe that first stunt was pulled for no other reason than an election is looming and its sole purpose was to try to give Graham and Vicki some exposure, especially for Vicki seeing City News allegedly services the ward she’s seeking.
By the way, do you know what City News thought of the stunt in the long run? Maybe the snapper got annoyed with the attempts to insert Vicki into every other shot, but the paper didn’t run a word or image the next week. That’s how newsworthy they thought it was. Now I’ve never run a political media unit but I’ll say this. If I was going to allocate sizable council resources and people’s time to an event that favoured one media outlet, I’d extract a commitment to some coverage, wouldn’t you?
So I still think that it would be nice if Graham and Vicki threw some money into the council’s coffers for the costs incurred in staging this unnecessary and ultimately fruitless PR exercise.
And council should probably be thankful that most of the media at the second stunt only turned up because the traders told them they were going to stage a ruckus. They would have been entitled to be pissed off as second-rate media outlets if City News had indeed run this non-story that morning.
And, finally I'm going to try one last time to explain to Graham and Vicki why McWhirters traders fumed over their antics on the Friday and why they angrily tried to hijack the second media event six days later.
I’ll give them a clue by paraphrasing one Oscar Wilde: “To stage one stunt that offends struggling traders may be considered unfortunately stupid, but to do two was offensive and highly unproductive politics all round.”

Newspaper stable has bolted

FROM MY CORNER ... with Ann Brunswick

That racy tabloid from Rupert Murdoch’s stable, The Courier-Mail, continues to shed buyers at a steady rate. But there may be a solution – or two. More on that a little later.

First of all, the downward trend in circulation is an industry-wide and worldwide one, thanks to free content on the internet. Only a handful of traditional newspapers have seen their circulation figures climb in recent years According to the most recent statistics comparing circulation performance from October to December for both 2011 and 2010, circulation of The Courier-Mail from Monday to Friday is now well under the 200,000 mark at just more than 192,000 – a drop of 4.3 per cent over the year from almost 202,000.
Circulation for the paper’s Saturday edition dropped almost 6 per cent and is now down to just under 261,000 compared with almost 276,000 a year ago. Sure, a drop of 5 to 6 per cent is not good, but sounds relatively small, doesn't it? But think back just five or so years when the figures were showing weekday circulation of almost 225,000 and almost 327,000 on Saturdays.
The chilling fact is every year Murdoch’s monopoly metro daily in Brisbane is shedding whole suburbs of readers unwilling to fork out even the small change it costs to buy it.
One bright light in the latest circulation figures for Mr Murdoch is the performance of his daily Darwin paper, the Northern Territory News. Its circulation managed to stay steady over the past year at slightly more than 19,000 on weekdays, and climbed ever so slightly by 0.4 per cent on Saturdays to hover around 20,700. Maybe those in charge up at The Courier-Mail could take a leaf out of their Darwin colleagues’ book and put a few more crocodile stories on the front page. It surely couldn’t hurt.
Here’s another thought. It may sound crazy and it’s not directed only at our own Courier-Mail in its declining health.
But I can’t help thinking that if newspapers actually reported news, then more people might buy them. Instead of breathlessly recycling tales of who is in or out of the current hot TV reality show, or trying to be a print version of website gossip columns, newspapers might reverse the downward trend in their sales if they contained something worth buying and which can’t be found for free on the internet. Just a thought.

One of the biggest drops in circulation listed in the latest official figures was sustained by the Sunday Mail. I am certain the paper would have published a story to tell you about it, but a quick flick through recent editions did not turn it up. Perhaps I need to look harder.

Over the past year the Sunday Mail’s circulation fell 7.2 per cent from almost 499,000 copies to just more than 463,000. This downward trend seems to put the lie to the theory that even in competition with internet news sources, non-daily hard-copy papers could maintain their audiences by offering good quality reporting and features. Uh, oh. I think I spot the flaw in that argument as it applies to the Sunday Mail.
What truly amazes me about the plunging circulation of both of our city’s major newspapers is that even as fewer and fewer are buying them, the papers themselves continue to lift their advertising rates. Of course they base that on their alleged rising “readership”.
Such figures often magically show that fewer papers in circulation are somehow being read by more people.

In the recently ended phony election campaign both the Labor Government of Anna Bligh and the LNP led by Campbell Newman tried to outdo each other when it came to promising extra value for holders of Translink Go Cards.

The government has introduced a system where if you make 10 journeys in a week and get the rest of your travel in that week free. Mr Newman has offered a nine-journey trigger for free travel. But according to one of my colleagues, people are already getting free trips out of their Go Cards. Apparently when they know they are make a long-haul journey across many of the Translink zones, they make sure they use their unregistered Go Card when it has a minimal cash balance – far less than required to pay for their trip. Then they hop on board a train and at the other end of their journey, touch off and just throw the card away. No need for complicated or well-costed election policies for them, apparently.

Well, I’ll be bucked ... this is inspiring and uplifting

FILM .... with Tim Milfull

Buck (PG)
Director: Cindy Meehl
Stars: Buck Brannaman, nags
Rating: 4/5
89-minutes, screening from 23 February

I must admit that I baulked a little before heading off to the media screening of Buck – the thought of watching 90-minutes or so of a horse-whisperer going through his paces really didn’t do it for me.

But there has been so much buzz around this film, I had to find out what all the fuss was about. The “buck” of the title is a ruggedly handsome fiftysomething called Buck Brannaman, who has spent all of his adult life working with horses. In the last thirty years, Buck has devoted more than 80 per cent of every year to traveling around the United States teaching horse riders how to work with their horses.
While this sounds like a very niche subject for a documentary, Cindy Meehl’s debut feature is so much more than an examination of the horse-whispering phenomenon – and while we are told that Brannaman played a major role in the making of Robert Redford’s film, The Horse-Whisperer, it is also pointed out, that he is only the latest in a long line of talented horse trainers. The quietly spoken but surprisingly forceful and dogmatic Brannaman has lived a remarkable life, and watching him working with horses and their owners, we learn some surprising lessons about masculinity, humanity, and our relationship with horses.
Meehl decided to make the documentary after attending one of Brannaman’s three-day workshops and learning of the man’s extraordinary background, from his painful childhood being abused by his alcoholic father through to his lonely but apparently very fulfilling life on the road guiding humans to get in touch with their horses and themselves. Buck is an impressive accomplishment: engaging and fascinating in its analysis of the power of one man’s charisma and his ability to overcome adversity, this is uplifting and inspiring filmmaking.

This talented young actor worthy of an Oskar

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (PG)
Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
Rating: 3.5/5
129-minutes, screening from 23 February

On the evidence, it seems that I might be in a minority, given my reaction to the latest film from Stephen Daldry (The Hours & Billy Elliot). I walked out of the film to hear several of my colleagues bemoan the performance of Thomas Horn and the narrative structure and several other elements of this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-selling novel, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

But I found much about the film so very affecting that I was moved to tears more than once in this story about a young boy coming to terms with devastating loss. Thomas Horn plays Oskar Schell, a gifted nine-year-old boy, for whom the jury is out as to whether he has Asperger’s Syndrome, which sits at the more mild end of the scale of autism.
Oskar’s kind and loving parents, Thomas (Tom Hanks) and Linda (Sandra Bullock) adore their child. Thomas, in particular, embraces the challenges of his son’s peculiarities, conjuring up elaborate expeditions and adventures as coping devices to prepare Oskar for adulthood and the wider world.
But when one of the defining moments of the new millennium robs Oskar of his father, the little boy struggles to find meaning in his loss. A chance discovery of a mysterious key leads Oskar to believe that Thomas had one last adventure in mind. Armed with a knapsack full of supplies and a tambourine for protection, the boy heads off on weekly expeditions throughout New York to find out exactly what the key will open.
This is an extremely moving film, and Horn’s performance as Oskar is quite remarkable. Yes, he is annoying and precocious beyond belief, but these are exactly the qualities of his character, and the reactions of those he meets on his adventures range from disbelief and frustration, to compassion and empathy.
Daldry’s film might not be for everyone, but parents especially can be assured that this is a beautiful exploration of how to deal with grief.


Spotlight on Europe’s best

Windows on Europe Film Festival screening at Dendy Cinemas Portside from 22-26 February
Warrior (M) available through Roadshow from 24 February
The Illusionist (PG) Available through Madman from 7 March

The 2012 Windows on Europe Film Festival opens this week, and offers films from more than a dozen European countries, including Portugal, Slovenia, Finland, and Hungary among others. The opening night film is Ralph Fiennes’s debut feature, Coriolanus, (pictured above) which adapts Shakespeare’s play of the same name in modern Rome, as the titular general (played by Fiennes) plots his overthrow of the city that spurned him.

I also liked Swedish director, Ulf Malmros’s The Wedding Photographer which takes a new look at the story of Pygmalion. But my favourite film of the festival is Garbo: The Man Who Saved the World, a documentary that examines the life of Juan Pujol, the only spy in the Second World War to have honours bestowed on him by both the British and German governments. For more about the films screening at the 2012 Windows on Europe Film Festival, visit

While writer-director, Gavin O’Connor’s latest film, Warrior has very few female characters, this is not just a film for the guys. Tom Hardy plays US veteran, Tommy Conlon, who returns from Iraq and resolves to revive his career as an extreme fighter.
Meanwhile, his estranged brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) finds the global financial crisis forcing him to consider his own comeback in a sport that he turned his back on for its ruthlessness and cruelty. Inevitably, both brothers face off against each other in this violent, but emotionally powerful film.
Almost seven years since his first feature animation, The Triplets of Belleville, French director Sylvain Chomet has returned with another absolutely gorgeous animation in The Illusionist, which tells the story of the decline of a vaudeville magician, who is fighting to stay on stage in a world where rock’n’roll is becoming king. This richly detailed, and beautifully realised story is suitable for children and adults of all ages.