Save Us from Visiting Firepersons

Judith Sloan, contributing economics editor at The Australian, is someone who should be read regularly for her insights on matters within her portfolio. She generally makes very good sense. But in a piece in her newspaper on April 17, she breaks a fundamental rule of considered comment. On the basis of “travelling around Asia for the past three weeks,” she judges that the government should axe the ABC-run Australia Network and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

She’s making a political – or perhaps it’s a corporate – point. But it isn’t one that has any basis on a broader view. It panders to the assumption that Sky News, which had tendered to produce the service before Julia Gillard’s overly muddled government cancelled the process, would do a better job of presenting an Australian face to the region than the ABC. That’s a moot point. Sloan says Australia Network’s news coverage is below par. So it is – and ABC24, from which it draws some of its content, could certainly improve. But Sky News does not inspire one with confidence that what is being broadcast is necessarily the distilled essence of a better pile of dung.

Sloan bemoans being assailed (as an apparently infrequent viewer of Australia Network’s fare over three weeks – wow! – in the near abroad) by ancient programming drawn, as it must be on Australia Network’s deficient funding, from the bottom drawer. Watching four-year-old rebroadcasts of that advertising industry self- love-in The Gruen Transfer is neither edifying nor informative, agreed. Watching “reruns” of Sea Patrol isn’t either – except that for most of Australia Network’s audience they’re first-run shows. We’ve only just got to the series where the fine folk of HMAS Hammersley get to wear their “new” RAN-cam spotty uniforms. What’s old to Sloan, who presumably views television most of the time from safely within the  wall-to-wall reality show environment of the Special Biosphere, is not necessarily old to others.

In her gratuitous polemic promoting Sky News as a better alternative – it is part owned by the Murdoch empire which publishes the paper in which her words appear – she also says this:

“For anyone interested in Australian politics, the coverage is scant and unsatisfactory. It almost seems that the programmers regard it as unseemly to cover too much Australian politics. By contrast, the rescue of orang-utans in Kalimantan or melting ice sheets in the Antarctic – this opinion segment was carried in the news – are given lengthy coverage. I also stumbled on some sort of basic English-as-a-second-language teaching programme.”

In the utter vacuity of that comment, she exposes herself as a visiting fireman of the worst sort, the kind of blow-in to whom the lowest assessment is awarded: She doesn’t have a clue that she doesn’t have a clue.

Sloan might be good at economics (well, she is, and eminently readable about it too) but she’d be woeful as an editor or programmer, on her analysis of what might interest overseas neighbours. Australian politics are parochial, mundane and peripheral to the broadcast region, except in exceptional circumstances or when – as for example on the excellent news analysis shows broadcast by the network – some deeper coverage is warranted.

In her article in The Australian, Sloan also wrote this: “As far as the Australia Network is concerned, there is simply no case for its continued existence. The content of the network is second-rate and any notion that a contribution is being made to the soft diplomatic effort of Australia is simply laughable.

“It is very likely that Sky News would have produced a more interesting and vibrant range of programmes, which would have attracted a wider audience. But the bottom line is that we should be ditching this endeavour altogether and saving the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

There’s the rub.  Australia Network is not presented for an expatriate audience – though some of us watch it from time to time – or for wandering warblers, such as Sloan in this instance. And it’s very unlikely that news flashes about another traffic accident on the F3 (or whatever) would add anything to a foreign viewer’s perception of Australia.

Of course Australia Network could do a better job. Some lateral thinking is certainly required. An effective merging of the cerebral efforts of the ABC and SBS, for example, and creation of an international broadcasting division formally including both Radio Australia and Australia Network, could do the trick.

But that would need more funding, not less. It’s unlikely to get it while ever Australians – including, apparently, the otherwise cerebral Sloan herself – take the view that it’s not worth presenting a measured face to the world.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, April 18, 2012

That’s the Spirit

Meghan Pappenheim, who will now be enjoying some well-earned downtime after the 2012 BaliSpirit Festival held at Ubud – where else? – from March 28 to April 1, tells us her moment of pure joy at this year’s event was taking part in Indra Widjanarko’s yoga class for kids. “Pure happiness for a split second,” she reports. There’s a photo on the festival site that might give a clue as to why the happiness was for a split second. Meghan’s a good sport. Oh, and a good sort.

She tells us too that the other amazing thing she took away from the festival was how international it was. She says that in the night concert area she found herself surrounded by full-pass holders who had flown to Bali for the event from 13 countries – one of them Germany, from where the man in question had visited Bali for every festival since its inception.

The global reach of BaliSpirit is certainly remarkable. One of Meghan’s night concert companions had come from Iran. The others were from India, Mexico, Slovakia, Brazil, Spain, the USA, Canada, Australia, China, the Philippines and France.

BaliSpirit is not just the five-day event itself. It has a strong outreach and community building aspect as well, which every year is augmented incrementally. Says Meghan: “Aside from the thousands we raised with our partners for local initiatives, I don’t believe we’ve ever had this kind of backing and programming input from local community organisations before.”

Way to go!

Get Real 1

If anyone wants a take on the unreality that drives Bali’s Wayan Mitty real estate sector, they need look no further than the chairman of the Real Estate Indonesia (REI) Bali branch, Dewa Putu Selawa, who said in late March that property prices had already increased by 15 percent since earlier in the month because of the government’s announcement of rising fuel prices.  He meant, of course, asking prices.

For good measure, he added that many property owners had withdrawn their properties from sale. Doubtless, as the unfortunate (and entirely blameless, naturally) victims of the twin epidemics of unreal expectation and rampant greed that afflict our island, they did so in pursuit of further excuse to ask for an astronomical price in the hope that some mug would pay it.

The fuel price rise did not eventuate, even though ending a US$14 billion a year subsidy on highly pollutant low-grade petrol is clearly a good idea on budgetary and environmental grounds. This was absolutely no surprise, given that the national government – unless energised by antediluvian misogynists into pursuing mini-skirted women in the astonishing belief that female knees are pornographic – has all the courage of a craven. And little grip on reality, except in relation to who might still be persuaded to vote for it in 2014.

A recent study by Knight Frank and Elite Havens showed that Bali has the highest rate of land price increases in Indonesia (up by an average 34 percent last year against 8-16 percent in other parts of Indonesia). Selawa explains it this way: “The property business is very sensitive to rumours and discourse. Many businessmen cancelled the sale of their properties because the prices would again increase when the fuel price is hiked. They were waiting to get the highest profit.”

A fuel price rise of 33 percent would increase costs, naturally, by some quantum. That would be after the price rise took effect and impacted on transportation costs, not before. We’re talking about profiteering here.

Get Real 2

It’s not only the big end of town that needs to take a reality check. We heard an amusing little tale the other day – well, it’s irritating really, but you’ve got to laugh – that hits one of the nails of Bali’s development dilemma squarely on the head. We won’t name names, because that would be invidious and in any case the problem is so widespread as to be unremarkable.

There’s a nice little restaurant we go to where the land upon which it stands has been leased for 20 years from the local – Balinese – owner. The land has been leased by an Indonesian, so the usual fleece-the-filthy-foreigner rule hardly applies. But in the nature of things here, and of course elsewhere in the country, such arrangements come along with unrelated, unscheduled and entirely promiscuous calls upon the pocket: the landowner needs money, for this, that, or some other purpose; the fridge is on the blink; the beer has run out; someone is ill perhaps; or maybe that remarkable aunt in Jauh Sekali (it is nearly always far enough away to discourage direct inquiry) has experienced a further bout of repeated death and there’s yet another funeral to be paid for. If you live here, you’ll know the score.

Anyway, on this occasion, we hear, the landowner was after some money (a not insubstantial sum apparently) and was culturally distressed when the readies were not ready to be handed over; that of course means the cash was not available immediately. He then visited the establishment and engaged in that other customary local practice – looking miffed, shouting loudly, and banging any available flat surface.

Apprised of the fact (again) that the casual, unbudgeted and off-contract sum he demanded was indeed not yet to hand, he said he would never lease his land again and would not be renewing the current 20-year lease (it has about 19 years to run). Fine, replied our restaurant proprietor, a lovely chap from Sumatra. That was his privilege. But in the meantime, for the rest of the lease period, he didn’t want to see the other fellow’s ugly mug anywhere near the place. Got that?

Here’s to Your Health

The new BIMC Hospital at Nusa Dua opens its doors on May 5, an event that will certainly please anyone on the Bukit who needs international-standard medical care and doesn’t want to risk a potential two-hour road trip to BIMC’s other facility at Simpang Siur. It will be especially useful for those whose blood pressure is apt to rise to crisis level if stuck in traffic on what would normally be a 25-minute, 12-kilometre trip if everyone stayed in lane and obeyed the other road rules, or gave a tinker’s cuss about anyone else on the road.

That’s far from the only benefit of the new hospital, of course. It includes a 24-hour accident and emergency centre, a 24-hour medical centre, cosmetic medicine and dental centres, and – good news indeed – a dialysis centre which should make it possible for tourists who require regular dialysis to consider holidaying at Nusa Dua or nearby.

BIMC Nusa Dua plans an open day on May 5 to introduce residents and visitors to the new facility, housed in purpose-built accommodation in the BTCD enclave just across the road from Bali Collection. The complex was built by a Perth-based Australian firm that specialises in hospital construction and fitted out with state of the art interiors and infrastructure by a South African company.

Best Endeavours

Applications have been invited for the Endeavour Awards for 2013. This Australian government scholarship programme provides opportunities for Indonesians to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia.

Announcing the awards on April 2, Australian ambassador Greg Moriarty said: “Twenty-six Indonesians were awarded Endeavour scholarships in 2011 and we look forward to receiving more Indonesian applications to participate in this internationally competitive, merit based scholarship programme.”

Applications close on June 30. Details are available at

Why, Thank You

Diarists and other scribblers generally only hear from readers who have a gripe. This is not necessarily a problem. Often it gives you a good laugh, as for example not so long ago when a self-elected lunar luminary of long standing in these parts told Hector’s helper – it was in response to a polite inquiry – “Eat shit and die you twerp.”

How much more pleasant it was to receive feedback recently from reader Nurul J. Darmawan, who posted this note on Hector’s Facebook wall in response to the item in last edition’s Diary headed True to Herself:

“Hi Hector … reading your article really impressed me. What you said about Facebook is true in our lives. You’re right: we need late in life more real than virtual life. Facebook is where I find friends to add insight in my life. Your articles are very insightful and give an input to many people such as me. Bravo Hector’s Diary!”

And Again

Hector also tweets (some people say he twitters, but cockatoos don’t do that) and was recently followed – you do that on Twitter – by one Frank Seth, from Idaho, who advised: “I’m an undiscovered American watercolour artist. Have been painting over 53-plus years. Maybe this will be my year? I want to keep on painting as long as I can do it.”

Good on you, Frank.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser, out every second Wednesday and on Hector’s Blog at Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

A Green Tinge is Common Sense

Bob Brown is the Australian Greens. Whether the present tense can convert smoothly to past, and the statement become “Bob Brown was the Australian Greens”, is a question Christine Milne and others will have to answer in due course.

More importantly for the moment, Brown is the most underrated politician in Australia. Others have noted that he fatally undermined Julia Gillard’s Labor government by suborning the Prime Minister into an alliance with the Greens she didn’t need after the August 2010 federal election. Labor and Gillard will pay a political price for that; its quantum is as yet unknown.

But the mainstream federal political parties cannot dismiss the impact of the Green vote. It is not just an environmental vote and far from being one simply for the tree huggers. The Australian Greens are just as dangerous for the Coalition as they are for Labor. This is not necessarily a bad thing: politics requires continuous renewal and Australia’s history is replete with examples of non-performing monopolies, duopolies, cosy little cartels, and idiotic, largely self-serving designs to take us back to the past.

It is far too early to say, and it is disingenuous to do so anyway, that the Green vote has peaked and that, with or without Brown, the party had already begun at least a cyclical decline. The Queensland and New South Wales state elections, which tossed out appallingly atrophied Labor governments, cannot safely be cited in support of that argument. Voters in both those states were on a mission to eliminate Labor as a state government party – these things are cyclical too and not confined to Labor – and not many of them wanted to bother stopping by the Greens on their way to punishing Labor.

At federal level, the parameters are different. Gillard and her government – in part quite unfairly – are the objects of opprobrium. Gillard’s broken carbon tax promise – Brown’s greatest poisoned chalice bequest – is fatal. The disgraceful refusal of the Prime Minister to deal as she should with NSW federal Labor MP Craig Thompson is yet another example of her fatal unwillingness to recognise unpalatable political fact.

But while Tony Abbott’s Coalition is riding high in the opinion polls, that doesn’t necessarily indicate they are a certain bet on Election Day, whenever that is.  It doesn’t matter of course that Labor characterises Abbott as “Mr No”. Public politics is all about scoring quick points – many of them vacuous – in pursuit of a catchy tabloid headline.  He does that well, chiefly, though he needs to keep himself in check.

Voters know that on the preponderance of legislation (which is after all the principal business of government – it’s not the morning news call) the government and the opposition are cooperative and mutually supportive. As Christopher Pyne said on Sunday (Insiders on ABC on April 15), the opposition has supported 87 percent of Labor’s legislation in the federal parliament.  The mortal combat is not on process and implementation; it is on winning the vote, on securing power.

Most people understand this. Many more Liberal-inclined voters than might be imagined do not in fact see the Greens as a fatal threat to themselves or to the nation. The same applies to many natural Labor voters. Mainstream politicians still cling to the theory that there’s a substantial rusted-on vote base. The clear signs of today’s politics indicate that this is not the case.

Under Bob Brown the Greens became a national force in Australian politics. It’s true they were assisted in this process by Cheryl Kernot’s treachery while leader of the other potential third force, the now defunct Australian Democrats. But it would wrong – and very foolish – to see the Greens as an aberration, an irritant that the combined electoral appeal of the major parties will eventually vitiate.

The argument over the carbon tax is an instance. It’s a foolish tax on many scores – not least in being just another tax imposed by government (any government, the point is not political) on its own fundamentally rapacious Peter and Paul programme that institutionalises a sleight of hand revenue versus spending regime.

Yet the related argument – that the world (which includes Australia, despite the efforts of some other fringe politicians to pretend otherwise) must move sensibly and as quickly as possible to fully renewable and non-polluting technologies – is one that resonates with almost everyone.

Brown’s political achievement swung off the back of this popular movement. He capitalised very skilfully on the innate common sense of the electorate. Voters don’t want a carbon tax (who would?) but they do want their government to move forward with emerging technologies.  Climate change cannot be denied (climate is a dynamic process that’s been with us ever since we cooled off a bit following the Big Bang) though you can argue over its direct cause and whether human activity has had any measurably deleterious effect. The policy imperative is clear, however: just as the climate changes, so must we adapt. Pollution is the greater threat, since it is immediate and – albeit on a relatively small scale in Australia itself – locally sited. Anything that reduces atmospheric emissions is to be welcomed, whether or not the underlying issue is seen by some as the threat of Armageddon-style climate change if nothing is done.

This is the genius of the political green movement, captured in spades by the former doctor from Tasmania who parlayed opposition to invidious development in his isolated island state into a national platform. His achievement deserves recognition, even if you do not think it deserves applause.

Bob Brown’s legacy, if new leader Christine Milne and deputy leader Adam Bandt prove to have the ticker to maintain it, is to have entrenched the Greens in Australia’s political landscape. For all sorts of reasons, however one chooses to vote, that is a good thing.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, April 4, 2012

Off With the Pixels

Australia Network, the officially funded Asia-Pacific TV satellite channel run by the ABC, is always strapped for cash. It gets its money from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and is tasked with presenting an Australian image to the near abroad, so to speak.

It does a lot of good things with the modest stipend it gets from the government in Canberra (note to Bob Carr, new Foreign Minister: do something really useful and get it some more money so it doesn’t have to show us ancient examples of blinding self-abuse such as of The Gruen Transfer circa 2008) but its total annual budget would barely fund one of those awful reality TV shows everyone seems to like to watch nowadays.

(It is difficult to think why they do, except from madness or possibly ennui. Oscar Wilde once described foxhunting as the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable, and of course he was dead right, as he so often was.  A similarly fatal rapier thrust is urgently required to dismiss the relevance and taste of the disreputable modern sport of figjamming, especially as seen on reality shows.)

Australia Network is not targeted at Aussies who live beyond the boundaries of the Special Biosphere, even if they do tend to watch it for news from home and, occasionally, TV drama shows in a language they can understand (this rules out most Kiwi programmes).  We know this, having once asked that precise question. So given that the Diary is in that underclass – of Australia Network viewers about whom the operators affect a Rhett Butler air, frankly not giving a damn – the following complaint may well fall on deaf ears.

A new drama on air is Rake, starring the insouciant Richard Roxburgh playing yet another reprehensible but occasionally insightful roué, this time a barrister. It’s a good show, but it’s made for audiences accustomed to naked butts and bosoms on screen and these are pixellated out on Australia Network. Since the ubiquitous naughty words are bleeped out as well, watching the drama itself is difficult. You tend to watch for the pixels and listen for the bleeps and lose the plot completely, even in the brief interludes during which it is remotely visible.

The thought occurs that if nudity and foul language are judged unacceptable for Australia Network’s target audiences – and the censorious proclivities of their governments – the programming is wrong.

Of course, how you then effectively reflect popular Australian culture – given its preference for bad language, near-nakedness and self-centred disrespect for almost everything – is another matter.

Welcome to Purgatory

Legian resident Vyt Karazija – a good friend and eminently readable blogger – recently posted a cri de coeur that really should be read by anyone who still thinks Bali is a paradise populated exclusively by caring, sensitive, sentient souls in touch with their inner Muse. And then they should weep. It concerns a young Balinese woman whose life is being ruined by her grasping family, who wrench from her all the money she makes an enormous effort to earn.

It would not be an unusual story either; which makes it worse. You can – and you should – read it at Look for the post headlined Suffering in Silence Behind the Smile.

Hello, Kitty

Villa Kitty, the cat refuge at Ubud that is celebrating its first birthday, had a fundraising night at Indus restaurant on March 27. We’re sure it all went well. Villa Kitty founder and Chief Meow, Elizabeth Grant Suttie, who in her other hat is personal assistant to Ubud identity Janet DeNeefe, is a fine organiser and a dedicated animal lover.

She tells us the fundraiser was brought forward from its original planning date due to the generosity of Edwina Blush, the sexy, sassy Australian jazz vocalist, songwriter, poet and (as Blush’s website self-describes) provocateuse. Someone once wrote of Blush that “she must have a tail under that gown”; and maybe that’s why she’s singing for the kitties, as it were. Or perhaps it is just that some people are cat people (the Diary is such) and it’s all in a good cause.

Villa Kitty needs to expand, we’re told, because it’s proving such a popular place with felines seeking accommodation.  We wish the establishment the very best of good fortune and we’ll keep up to date with its developing story.

Time Goes By

The delightful publicist Hellen Sjuhada, who among other things helps keep that haven of Catalan cuisine, El Kabron at Bingin Beach, in the public eye, tweeted the other day that she was old enough to remember when MTV played music videos. We sent a little tweet in response, noting that we were old enough to remember when there was no MTV. She replied in turn, saying she took her hat off to us. We said we were trying to age gracefully and that perhaps her hat might help.

But that’s the trick, when at the more mature end of whatever is one’s unknown allotment of Essential Vivacity: to age gracefully, which among other things surely means keeping abreast of technology. Well OK, disgracefully is all right too, and it’s a lot more fun.  But the real time-saver is to keep up with the pack. That’s why here at The Cage we’re right into gizmos. They cannot be allowed to bamboozle and must be conquered. We’re working on that.

It might be all downhill from here … but hey, as any former snow-skier can attest, it can all go so well until, finally, that unavoidable magnetic tree collects you.

Silly Clod

Why anyone would seek to break out of their villa at Nyepi defies belief. Why anyone would seek to do so merely to go in search of milk elevates the level of stupidity to stratospheric height. Yet this is apparently what an American villa owner in Seririt, Buleleng, chose to do on Friday, March 23, in an area where Nyepi rules are strictly enforced and where as a result his villa was blockaded by angry villagers.

His name, according to reports, is Claude. Perhaps he should be known as Clod. Nyepi might be an onerous imposition to people in Bali who are not Hindu, but there are ways round that. If it’s all too much, decamp to a designated tourism entity, where by convenient fiat some services continue and the lights remain more or less on. Or if you really want to make a noise, go to the Gilis off Lombok.

Or you could do what we did here at The Cage. We stayed home (having made sure we had sufficient milk for the duration) and stayed quiet. We didn’t observe the full requirements of Nyepi.  But we kept lighting to an absolute minimum and made sure none escaped our villa; that no noise got past the gate; and that the holy customs and practices of our Hindu neighbours were entirely undisturbed. That’s not only common sense; it’s also good manners.

Mea Culpa: In the Diary of March 21 we wrote that since Muslims would be allowed to go to mosque on Silent Day, it being a Friday, the authorities should provide the same privilege to Christians when Nyepi fell on a Sunday. An Indonesian friend who is a practising Christian tells us this is already the case.

True to Herself

Some of us live on Facebook – not literally you understand, it’s more of a virtual vitality – and some of us pay a price for this devotion. Some of us, for example, have Dear Spouses who wouldn’t touch Facebook with the grottier end of a used toe-rag, and say so quite often. But there you go.

Those among us who do use Facebook for rational reasons – those in other words who do not use it as their personal diary or for marginal notes on their day – generally get good results. Hector’s helper, for example, has many virtual friends, some of whom are actual people known to him. He says it’s great to be able to keep in contact in real time rather than waiting for the time-worn stuff that used to be stuffed into real mailboxes.

Then there are the others, collected as Friends rather in the manner that one might acquire buddies at a bar. These come and go. Hec’s helper recently lost a Dear Friend who rejoiced in the name of Ivana Logov.

Apparently, she finally worked out how to do that.

Bitter Glitter

We love a pun, as countless people have come to learn, some of them, poor things, believing this to be at their cost. And we’ve just been reminded of this little gem:

King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. So, desperate, he went to Croesus the pawnbroker to ask for a loan.

Croesus said: “I’ll give you 100,000 dinars for it.” The king protested: “But I paid a million dinars for it. Don’t you know who I am? I am the king!”

Said Croesus: “When you wish to pawn a star, it makes no difference who you are.”

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser, out every second Wednesday, and at Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).