Opinion- 31 March 2008


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Harry Robinson Writes of Visions Grand, Plans Small: Kevin 24/7 and Scott of the ABC

Policies, plans, promises -- we are floating on a sea of them. If policies were dollars we would be rich -- but not yet. Much better to look at the people announcing the policies and plans.


     ABC Managing Director Mark Scott

At time of writing PM Rudd is away on a global safari to last 17 days. Wits say he is leaving us Rudderless but the joke is thin.

We are now getting a clearer view of the Rudd personality. Sorry Day and the still-to-come Brain Storm of 1,000 shows he wants to practice gesture politics, especially gestures which will enhance his image. In the weeks before he left for D.C. he acquired a new nickname, "Kevin 24/7" because of his personal drive to work and work. Senior public servants had to get used to late night phone calls demanding evermore reports and papers. Kevin 24/7 showed himself next as Kevin the Assured when he went overseas while the budget was in preparation. He obviously felt his leadership was assured in the safe hands of Julia Gillard. His statement that Australia would seek a seat on the Security Council of the UN bespoke a man who believed his stay in the Lodge would be long.


Grand gestures, strong drive, a personal expedition to world power centres -- these are signs of a man who intends to stay at the top for a decade at least and to leave his mark on the story of Australia, for better or for worse. Such ambition can bring good fortune, can also bog itself down in obsessions. We shall see.


He has promised many positives such as broadband for all, computers for schoolchildren, pizzaz for pre-schoolers, enhanced health care, water for the Murray Darling and on it goes. But we have heard little about rejuvenating universities, boosting research. True, there is to be a review and one is probably due. The universities have gone hungry for more than 10 years in which time they have changed, their needs have changed, their tasks have changed. It is probably time to take a CT scan of their bones and muscles. But after that, what? We don't know. Ms Gillard has tried to comfort us by saying the government "understands" the needs of higher education. Ms Gillard is very good at understanding. She uses the word every time she wants to pacify but not to promise.


One could write a scenario along these lines: Kevin the Supremo and his acolytes do truly want and intend to invest heavily in the Ed-Sci sector. But there is a slate of other, more mundane reforms to tackle first. It will probably be easier if the big task is muted. Public awareness of unis and their crucial role is dim. The bills will be gi-normous. Better not to frighten taxpayers with grand announcements, better to do it not with a bang but a soft hiss.


One could write other scenarios but the slow hiss theory stands a good chance. Will we ever see Kevin Excelsior standing in full academic regalia in the Great Hall of Parliament House while a dozen or so university chancellors press honorary degrees on him?


If so, will Ms Gillard be there to . um . support him? And will her eyes glisten with expectation?


Time, as they say in cliché mode, will tell.


 What is the most-used word in our current language, apart from um and er? Could it be "technology"?

Technology is going to save us from global warming, is going to build emission-free houses and cars, is going to deliver medical miracles and much much more. Technology is applied science and we ought to be glad of it but technology is becoming an end in itself.


In the mind of Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC, it seems to occupy the cortex all the way through to the frontal lobes. In mid March, Scott presented himself as a guest on The Media Report, hosted by Anthony Funnell. They fenced delicately, as you would. Funnell was expressing disquiet among ABC staffers that the corporation was about to spend money on new electronic technology and increased outsourcing of programs. They, the staffers, felt their jobs were under threat. Scott showed that he had learned to talk the talk of corporate execs, to deflect questions, to lose the audience in a cloud of abstractions. But he did come clean on a few points:

  1. That the ABC would continue to make some programs in-house, to have some made in partnership with independent producers.

  2. Drama, doccos and children's shows were the most likely fields for outsourcing. News and current affairs most likely to stay in-house.

  3. The ABC was aiming to create a 24 hour, 7 day television news service. At any minute of any day, viewers will be able to click into an on-going TV news bulletin.

  4. The ABC believed that the practice of building the day around a 7 pm News Bulletin was over. "They want TV news now," he said without a skerrick of evidence.

  5. It was intended to reuse original material time and time again on various channels, to recycle and recycle interviews till the cows came home. Already there's so much repetition that ABC News sounds like ABC Olds.

Perhaps this interpretation of Mark Scott is rather free, but that is the gist of what he said. Check the transcript on the RN website --The Media Report.


The drift was that, since technology had made recycling so easy, then recycling is what the corporation will do.


The prospect of days and nights filled with a continuous stream of recycled news mush is not attractive.


Not heard was a plan to create more drama, better drama, more history, even a mite of poetry.


There's more to life than rehashed news, more than unrefined plans and policies.


Harry Robinson -- for 25 years worked in television journalism in Oz and the US and was for several years air media critic for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun-Herald.