How airlines woo politicians

Anthony Albanese, left, with airline workers

Stay informed while staying indoors; alternative current affairs which is FREE of charge: How airlines seduce politicians; Big payola from Virgin Australia and Qantas; Billionaire Richard Branson, taxation and Panama; Crazy world of corporate lingo; AN Wilson unloads on Fleet Street; London Guardian unhinged; Noam Chomsky scores again; Are we “all in this together?” No, we aren’t

How airlines buy political support

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has a romance with Australia’s leading airlines that goes back 20 years. Its true extent has become public due to the turmoil following the collapse of Virgin Australia.

Albanese responded to the Virgin Australia crisis by joining unions and staff for a photo opportunity at which he pushed for a bail-out by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Government.

He criticised the Federal Government for failing to bail out Virgin Australia with a $1.4 billion lifeline after it went into voluntary liquidation. He and ACTU President Michele O’Neill told reporters the Federal Government had chosen to sit by and do nothing while thousands of jobs were lost.

Albanese went further saying the he “would have intervened” to bail out the airline.

With a $5 billion debt around its neck, Virgin Australia’s 20-year history of operating in Australia came to a sticky end. The company appointed the Federal Government’s favourite accounting firm Deloitte to act as its administrator and “recapitalise the business”.

Meanwhile, Virgin Airlines’ founder, billionaire Richard Branson, pleaded with Boris Johnson’s Tory Government in Britain asking for a government bail-out to rescue Virgin Atlantic.

While Johnson and Branson are personal friends Downing Street appears to be in no rush to give his airlines any public cash.

Richard Branson on his private island

Following public criticism of his very low tax contributions to the UK Inland Revenue, Branson wrote an open letter stating: “Joan (his wife) and I did not leave Britain for tax reasons but for our love of the beautiful British Virgin Islands and in particular Necker Island, which I bought when I was 29 years old, as an uninhabited island on the edges of BVI [British Virgin Islands]. Over time, we built our family home here. The rest of the island is run as a business, which employs 175 people. As with other Virgin assets, our team will raise as much money against the island as possible to save as many jobs as possible around the Group.”

Branson’s tax “explanation” drew howls of condemnation and ridicule in the UK. His taxable fortune has become the subject of greater scrutiny than before, particularly by investigative journalists involved in exposing the Panama tax caper run by Mossack Fonseca law firm.

Wooing politicians with “gifts”

Several of Australia’s own investigative journalists, notably Anthony Klan and Michael West, have been tracking the connection between airlines and politicians.

Klan, formerly of News Ltd, wrote: “It also appears that Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has failed to disclose many years of complimentary memberships of Virgin’s top-tier, secretive lounges, known as ‘The Club’, as well as free membership its rival’s equivalent, The Qantas Chairman’s Lounge. Last year was the first time Mr Albanese, who has been in Federal Parliament 24 years, and who was Transport Minister from 2007 to 2013, has disclosed receiving free memberships to the ‘invitation only’ Virgin and Qantas lounges – and he has repeatedly refused to comment when asked whether he or his then spouse [Carmel Tebbutt] had received the largesse before 2019.”

Klan continued: “Earlier this month, Energy Minister Angus Taylor was forced to update the current Register for Members’ Interests after Michael West Media revealed he had failed to disclose that he and his wife, barrister Louise Clegg, had received complimentary memberships to The Club and The Qantas Chairman’s Lounge.”

Virgin’s invitation-only lounge The Club

Taylor relied on a little-known regulation that MPs need not declare gifts they received during a previous parliament. Klan claimed that Albanese may have used the same technical device to hide ‘gifts’ – which “Albo” described as “memberships” – that he received from Virgin Australia and Qantas, potentially over many years.

Klan also probed airline gratuities for other politicians, notably shadow transport minister Catherine King. His sweeping conclusion reveals the scale of MPs’ involvement with the airline industry: “The Federal Government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of support to the airline industry since the coronavirus pandemic began …

“Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah and his predecessor John Borghetti have personally ‘gifted’ memberships to Virgin Australia’s ultra-exclusive The Club lounges to hundreds of Federal MPs, their spouses, the chiefs of staff of Federal MPs, to State premiers and to other State politicians.”

Klan estimated that gifts to politicians could be worth more than $1 million a year. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia provided free memberships to The Lounge to at least 341 MPs, their spouses and public servants.

The relationship between politicians and airlines is an ethical minefield where rules appear to be ignored or overlooked. Klan described it as a “bad look” for politicians.

Klan is being overly-generous. If an average Australian nurse or teacher played the system in the same way, he or she would be in very deep trouble. That isn’t a “bad look”, it’s diabolically unfair.

ABC scores classic win

Martin Buzacott, right, with fellow ABC Classic presenter Russell Torrance

How great to see ABC Radio’s Class FM reporting record audiences across Australia and around the world. The latest survey shows classical music has a large and growing audience.

More than one million people turn on the radio at home, in the car or at work to listen to the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Liszt as well as some home-grown favourites like Percy Grainger, Arthur Benjamin, Peter Sculthorpe and didge genius William Barton, and a host of outstanding women composers, Ann Carr-Boyd, Deborah Cheetham, Miriam Hyde and Liza Lim.

Admittedly, the ABC’s audience for classical music has been boosted by the strict measures taken by Federal, State and local governments around Australia to meet the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people with time on their hands turn to classical music for its relaxation and entertainment value. But it is more than that: classical music appears to lift listeners from immediate problems and stir their imagination, heart and soul. They regard it as a tonic; certainly it’s better than Drano or whatever US President Donald Trump is currently recommending.

The wonderfully inventive ABC presenters have spiced their programmes with competitions and quizzes while Martin Buzacott has introduced a ravishing routine to his morning program. It’s 15 minutes of free expression dancing in the privacy of your own home. “Dance like no one can see you” he wisely advises.

Some people get an inspirational,  soul-drenching “buzz” from jazz, old and new. That’s okay too. Jazz is in no way “inferior” to classical music; they are different forms of cultural excellence. Some rock music falls into the same category and I admit a sneaking regard for Missy Higgins, Sarah Blasko, Hayley Mary and The Jezabels.

However, I draw the line at the mindless “doof-doof” noise that Australia imported from America; it’s not music at all but an accompaniment to buying ice from a pusher at a bar, nightclub or shopping centre.

During the year Classic FM also has a special treat. To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the ABC is playing every note from his colossal body of work. Concerts and performances from Australia and around the world will be broadcast as well as tours of historic Beethoven homes and venues.

You’d think that Pastor Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and their cronies in Canberra would be so impressed by the ABC’s diligence that they would provide adequate funding for the public broadcaster and that Labor would be unrelenting in demanding the restoration of all cuts. No such luck.

Corporate lingo is rubbish

There are few benefits associated with living in self-isolation but one is not having to attend staff meetings dominated by people spouting new-fangled business jargon.

I dread the managerial elite who lecture others to be pro-active and cascade ideas at head-banging sessions. They want to create a sub-optimal mindset impacting the idea shower making it cloud-centric and inhibiting granularity.

I didn’t know about granularity until I discovered this example of its corporate usage: “Just a heads-up. We need an actionable plan for this sales pitch. There’s no need to deep dive, we’re not going granular  here.”

Meanwhile, other slick executives are asking everyone to reach out and get a handle on the issues. “If we take a helicopter view, think outside the box and drill down, then going forward we can collaboratively advance open-source value, distinctively maintain extensible action items, fungibly iterate turnkey leadership, energistically pre-dominate client-based action items and uniquely re-intermediate market-driven channels.”

This kind of blue-sky thinking is being taught and then practised in the business world in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. There is some reticence about suggesting directors and CEOs adopt open-kimono sessions to let everything hang out although they remain popular in New York and California.

It will be interesting to see whether any of this corporate bullshit survives the COVID-19 plague.

Fleet Street journalism unmasked

“I am always troubled by the smug belief in our press, so often trotted out by journalists, that our opinions are largely formed by reading the newspapers (which I sincerely hope is untrue); and it also implies that the newspapers describe the most interesting aspects of the world. They don’t. Novels and poems, and paintings, diaries and letters from friends do that. Much of the stuff which journalists sell us as being of public moment is no public concern whatsoever.”

  • ­A N Wilson, conservative writer, columnist and commentator writing in The Literary Review giving his acerbic opinion of the London press

Craziness at the London Guardian

The Guardian’s London offices

Just when newspaper readers were beginning to think that the London Guardian was one of the only newspapers worth taking, it goes crazy.

A memo titled Guidance in relation to language around gender has been sent to all staff saying: “These updates have been made [by the house style team] following consultation with representatives from the Guardian pride and women’s groups.”

Editorial staff including reporters, columnists and sub-editors were advised to use such words as “cis woman” and “cis man” if writing about “the non-transgender population”, for example when writing about “how trans men and cis men navigate the health service”. It sternly advised: “Avoid talking about trans women v women, or trans men v men.”

The email defines “cis” and “cisgender” thus: “A person who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth.”

Confused? I could not understand it at all. Nor could many members of staff.  They objected strongly to the new gender directives, one journalist pointing out that the Guardian was the first newspaper in the UK to have a women’s page. And that was decades ago!

The directive has now been withdrawn pending “further consideration” but the original email has become a collector’s item among newspaper historians, academics and journalists.

Chomsky’s Quote of the Week

“We are facing another massive and colossal failure of the neoliberal version of capitalism which, within the United States, is aggravated by President Donald Trump’s administration. They know how to blame everyone else except themselves, even though they are responsible. Remember – the capitalist class does not budge.”

  • Noam Chomsky, American writer, philosopher and social activist, speaking to Telesur, a Latin American TV network based in Venezuela

We’re all in this together?

“In the same month [March 2020] that 22 million Americans lost their jobs, the American billionaire class’s total wealth increased by about 10% – or US$282 billion more than it was at the beginning of March. They now have a combined net worth of US$3,229 trillion. ‘Inequality is America’s pre-existing condition,’ said Chuck Collins, director of the Programme on Inequality and the Common Good. After the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) in 2008 it took less than 30 months for billionaire wealth to return to pre-meltdown levels.

  • Kristin Toussaint writing for Fast Company, a monthly American business magazine published in print and online

Confusing headlines of the Week

“Fat cat bosses will have earned more by the end of today than ordinary workers will all year” – London Daily Mirror

“Top bosses pay drops by more than £100 an hour” – London Daily Telegraph

4 comments

  1. Remind your readers again – which European country is it that has declared no business bailouts to any firm not paying taxes/HQ in tax-evading places (such as George Town, on Grand Cayman). What on earth is Albanese doing accepting freebies – oh, of course – so the private tax-evading company can prod him into the front line when they want help to claim our taxes! Thanks again, Alex!

  2. Hello Alex,
    another great issue.
    Albo, as an inner city MP, began his romance with the airline industry with the emergence of the No Aircraft Noise Party. See:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Aircraft_Noise
    Look at the state and federal electorates impacted.

    How convenient was it way back then to agree with the Mad Monk and shift the problem to Western Sydney with the twenty four hour a day Badgerys Creek Airport noise factory. Western Sydney, the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains did not count for the grandees and cushioned pashas of Labor. Now the multi million dollar bail outs flow like the proverbial rivers of gold as the so called free market types of the aviation industry and the banks who again privatise the profits and socialise the losses.

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