Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Money For Jam

Russell had a secret. Nothing very sinister, just something personal that he wanted no one to know about. When he commissioned the design of his new spacious office in the main street, he made sure that there was a secure compartment for it near his desk. Once inside, it was safely protected by the latest high tech lock that could only be opened by recognizing his thumbprint.

Even Max, his business partner, had no idea what Russell had stashed away. They had set up their resource management company together in the nineteen nineties and financially, it had far outstripped their expectations. After they sold it recently to an Australasian corporation, Russell now looked forward to a well earned retirement in his three storied beach house at Lang Cove, when his stint as manager was finished in five years.

As a humble Council employee, way back in the nineteen eighties, he had quite a different expectation of his future. All he had was a B.A. in Geography and wonderful memories of his great O.E. in Europe, where he met his English wife Julie while hitch hiking in France.

In those days, he worked in a small, Rimu lined, council planning office that over looked the car park - where he could see his well used Holden station wagon. He remembered so many good times camping and going to the beach with Julie and the kids in that car. There was even room in the back for their over fed dog, “Piggy Muldoon”.

For a quite number of years, life was fairly cruisey for Russell. Even though they had to wait awhile to save and get the mod cons they desired. In the nineteen nineties however, the Council restructured its operations by contracting services and Russell found himself cast out into the wilderness of the unemployed. Julie pulled them through by going back into teaching and Russell went back to varsity to add a degree in Resource and Environmental Planning to his CV.

While he was there he met Max who was finishing his Business Management degree and they set up their own consulting firm called “Rumax”. The monetarist reforms and the Resource Management Act were goldmines for consultants and Rumax became a major player in the region. The business thrived and soon they had dozens of employees doing the donkeywork.

Max became a master at establishing good relationships with most of the Council CEOs and councilors. The contracts headed into the millions of dollars as they rolled over year after year. Russell could see that the Councils had a poor grasp of the planning complexities of District Plans and he made sure that outcomes were equally complex.

Recently, there had been dangerous talk in the community of amalgamating local bodies into larger districts and returning to the days of in house planners overseeing adjustments to District Plans rather than costly major overhauls handled by consultants. Russell was worried enough to have a chat to Julie about this and as usual she reassured him that they would cope.

By this time, Julie had her own company of employment management consultants and she had successfully landed some very influential contracts monitoring “The Culture and Performance” of Council staff. She smiled and warmly hinted that Russell might like to again think about the early retirement plans he had years ago.

It was time to check his secret, so Russell swiveled his plush leather chair around and opened his secure compartment with his left thumb. Inside on a coat hanger was the old, comfy cardigan, which was hand knitted by his mother. He wore it years ago when he worked at the Council and it was a pity that it was no longer possible to be part of his corporate attire. He held it up and softly spoke to his favourite cardy, “Well Mum, it’s back to square one and time to go fishing.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Selling Our Ears

John Key is proving himself to be a master in the art of flying ‘consensus kites’ and his ministers are catching on fast. His latest disciple is the Minister of Broadcasting, Dr Jonathan Coleman, who has launched his own commercialization of public radio kite into the parliamentary breeze. Gusts of dismay came from the hills of Wellington and carried it high into sky and the publicity enraged devoted RNZ (Radio New Zealand) listeners from Bluff to Kaitaia.

Each year, Radio New Zealand has to report to Parliament to give an account of itself and it usually tries to convince a Select Committee why it needs extra funding. This year, the Minister capped funding to last year’s level. If you factor in inflation, this is in fact a cut. RNZ’s Board was understandably more than a bit upset and said that less money will also mean lower standards.

In a recent RNZ interview, Dr Coleman responded to this by asking, “Is it time we examined some of the sacred cows like – no sponsorship” and suggesting that RNZ “sell aspects of the news service to other organizations”. I can well imagine a proportion of Lifestyler readers might be thinking, “So what’s the problem? Other state owned media like TV1 and TV2 are commercialized.”

In my opinion, suggestions that RNZ stations go commercial, ignores the vital role they play in our democratic society. They nurture and inform our minds with a high degree of impartiality and grow our culture in a way that no other private radio stations are doing. For me at least, RNZ is an oasis of sanity in the media marketplace.

This is not to say that commercial radio stations have a no role in New Zealand. They do, and they offer bright and breezy alternatives that enliven our workplaces and homes.

Once commercial interests get a foot in the door of public service broadcasting, then selling the stations will probably be not far away. In the past, when RNZ did have commercial stations, they were sold off and most are now the hands of foreign owners. Which raises another issue. How much do we value running our own media? We are very lucky in the Kaipara, because we have the locally owned and operated radio station of Big River FM. Sadly though, very low levels of funding and having to cope with foreign owned competition limits what they can achieve. A commercial RNZ would be much the same.

If Dr Coleman really believes in commercializing public services, then perhaps he should ‘walk the talk’ in Parliament and show us how it can be done. It is arguably our most important public service and from what I have seen, a very dreary place to work in. It could surely do with some extra income from advertising to reduce the fiscal deficit and the effects of tax cuts.
For starters, they could have the latest incarnation of Ellie McPherson displaying lingerie on a giant billboard over the main entrance. It is bound to be tourist attraction and create a lot of interest internationally, as we show the world once again that we can lead the way with parliamentary reforms.

Lockwood Smith has broadcasting experience on TV, and as Mr. Speaker, I am sure he would have no trouble announcing things like, “The McDonald’s sponsored bill on Coping With Child Obesity will be now be voted on. Ayes to the right, in the Cadbury Lobby and Noes to the left, in the Mr. Whippy Lobby.” They could also cap MP’s salaries and offer them tea shirts with the logos of their favourite sponsors.

If these proposals sound ridiculous, then surely, privatizing RNZ is too. Tony Ryall proposed it in the 1990’s as Minister of Broadcasting and probably boosted Labour’s election night majority. I wonder if Dr Coleman’s bitter pills of Public Service commercialization could see history repeat itself once again.