Thursday, October 5, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

From little things
There were a few worrying developments today

Supplied by the ABC

There’s not really one big thing around today. Just lots of little things, all of which are making me grumpy. Here we go:

The first thing is big, actually, but it’s mostly gliding by as though it’s small, and that’s the problem. That’s the suite of anti-terrorism proposals Malcolm Turnbull brought to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) today. I’ve been to plenty of COAG meetings that grind on all day, ending only because the premiers are determined to get on the last planes out of town. This was not one like that. Quickly, smoothly, easily, the premiers and chief ministers, from both Labor and Liberal parties, unanimously agreed on the proposals. Two and a half hours was all it took.

The most significant thing is the move towards wide use of facial recognition software, drawing on our driver’s licence photos. Sure, you might be happy with law enforcement being able to identify terrorists (though, of course, those actually convicted of terrorism are often already in prison). But as the Australian points out [$], the technology “will also be available to authorities for ‘criminal activity’ outside terrorism and to prevent fake or stolen identities”. On Wednesday, the PM said it could be used in malls and airports. We are talking about the government having the ability to identify citizens – that’s us – in real time. If you want to be scared, read this or this [$].

Of course there will be some constraints. And, almost certainly, as with nearly everything, those constraints will lapse over time, through inattention, or habituation or reckless misuse.

To give you some sense of how lost this debate is, Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Labor premier and probably the most progressive leader in the country right now, dismissed concerns about “a notional threat to the civil liberties of a small number of people”. The point about civil liberties is that they never belong only to a small group of people; they belong to all of us. The potential to suffer from their absence is one we all possess. Nor is that threat “notional”. Nor is getting into these arguments a “luxury”, as Andrews described it.

The second thing is that retail sales had their biggest fall in more than four years. Just in case you thought the economy was out of the woods.

The third thing is that Lateline has been cancelled. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the ABC, because I don’t feel certain about where this move leads us. Alongside the axing of Lateline and The Link, the network is creating “investigative and specialist reporting teams”, and perhaps that will be a very good thing. But the show has been around for 27 years. Its departure – following significant funding cuts – reminded me that when I first worked in government, Channel Nine’s Sunday show still aired, with regular Laurie Oakes interviews, as well as contributions from Jana Wendt, Jim Waley and Ellen Fanning, among others. Lateline had Kerry O’Brien when it began and Emma Alberici when it ended, with Tony Jones, Maxine McKew, Virginia Trioli and Leigh Sales in between. Not a bad line-up, you’d say.

I get that with the expansion of digital avenues news is diversifying and there are more outlets, blah blah blah. But television is still central to the experience of many Australians, and it is hard to escape the feeling that the slow dying out of dense, long-form and well-resourced news programs is a blow to our country’s chances of ever taking anything seriously again.

Like, for example, attacks on our civil liberties.

But look on the bright side: at least you’re not Theresa May.

In other news


Break it down

Taylor Mac takes on ‘A 24-Decade History of Popular Music’

Laura Parker

“The unofficial motto of Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, a sprawling 24-hour performance split into six-hour chapters, is ‘perfection is for assholes’. This doesn’t just apply to Mac himself, who embraces calamity in all its forms. It’s really more of an instruction for Mac’s audience, particularly those who are unfamiliar with his work. Mac may perform in a theatre, but his ultimate goal is to shake the stuffiness and politeness out of the place – to make you feel uncomfortable so you can start feeling comfortable.” read on


Is Michelle Guthrie tuned in to the ABC?

The managing director’s vision isn’t clear

Margaret Simons

“Guthrie understands the new media imperative. Content is not the only thing that matters. Distribution is almost equally important. Already, the ABC is more porous than it was 15 years ago: commissioning more of its content from outside providers, and available in more places. Now, Guthrie seems to be saying, the ABC must become less a solid than a gas. Pervasive.

The worry is that gases tend to dissipate.” (September 2016) READ ON

‘Artists in Conversation’

Readers in Victoria can register for free tickets to artist conversations as part of Melbourne Festival, led by the editorial team of The Saturday Paper and the Monthly.

The conversations will feature Melbourne Festival’s artistic director, Jonathan Holloway, and artists from the festival program, to discuss their work and its place in the world. The conversations will take place at the Forum Theatre on Saturdays from 12.30 pm.

To register, simply click any of the three names below and enter your details in the form provided. Tickets will be confirmed by 5 pm on Thursday, 5 October. More details on the conversations and terms and conditions can be found here.

Saturday, 7 October – An Engaged Audience

Hosted by Erik Jensen, editor of The Saturday Paper, Jonathan Holloway, and artists from Please, Continue and Game of Leaders.

Saturday, 14 October – Across Platforms

Hosted by Martin McKenzie-Murray, chief correspondent of The Saturday Paper, Jonathan Holloway, and artists from Tree of Codes and A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol.

Saturday, October 21 – A Chronicle of Life

Hosted by Nick Feik, editor of the Monthly, Jonathan Holloway, and artists from Germinal and EVER.

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.



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