Corporate meltdown over Ruby Princess

A menu of current affairs and commentary: What happened to film lighting? Ruby Princess scandal revisited; Quality bookshops losing out; Julian Assange’s big surprise; Time to replace dying capitalism?; Edward Snowden emerges from isolation; Maurie O’Sullivan said it first; The Australian’s headline blunders; Uncensored views of young Donald.

Movies in the dark

One bonus arising from our enforced hibernation, aka self-isolation, is that we are now subscribers to every film streaming service ever created – iView, SBS, Netflix, Stan and the rest.

Watching films from the 1940s to the 1970s, I’m struck by the fact that directors used lighting, both natural and electrical.

Then, in the 1990s, the lights went out and everything was shot in the dark. Today’s films, apart being obsessed with violence, are shot in darkness. Why? I can’t see a thing and therefore it’s difficult to follow the mumbling voices of badly miked actors. There is so much strobe lighting that I have to turn away otherwise it seems as though flashlights are being set off before my eyes.

We are turning to great comedies, dramas, romances and musicals made 70 years ago. Some have been remade in colour. The Wizard of Oz, Showboat and An American in Paris are stand-outs but also on any Hollywood list should be The Grapes of Wrath (1940) director John Ford, Citizen Kane (1941) director Orson Welles, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) director Frank Capra, The Third Man (1949) director Carol Reed, 12 Angry Men (1957) director Sidney Lumet, North by Northwest (1959) director Alfred Hitchcock and The Apartment (1960) director Billy Wilder.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be watching more of Hollywood, then switching to Britain and then making my way through French and Italian cinema.

As part of a special celebration I watched Chinatown, the 1974 film directed by Roman Polanski. I took the decision right away to buy a set of Polanski movies as a personal protest against his persecution by the American CIA, Christian fundamentalists and spurious moralisers.

Philip French, worldly film reviewer for the London Observer, has described Chinatown’s ending as “unforgettable” with the line, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Corporate meltdown at Ruby Princess

In a rush of corporate activity, there have been important changes at the top of the deadly luxury cruise-liner, Ruby Princess. Ann Sherry, the Gympie-born chair of Carnival Australia which owns the plague-ridden ship, has left her job.

According to the media, she has been replaced by Katie Leahy who comes to the position with a chequered record. Ms Leahy helped to form the pro-Liberal Committee for Sydney which was prominent in promoting Olympics 2000 bid organiser, Rod McGeoch, in his current search for sporting events for Sydney.

Katie Leahy is a friend of Ms Sherry,  a former Paul Keating staffer, who was also on the Committee for Sydney although she recently left.

There appears to be confusion at the top of Carnival. An AFR article said Ms Sherry was no longer chairperson of the company but none of her online profiles seem to reflect this. Maybe she hasn’t had time to correct them. For example, she has an upcoming speaking engagement and the invitation describes her as Carnival’s chairwoman. Although her friend Katie Leahy now has the job Carnival still refers to Gympie’s high-flying daughter as “a valued adviser”. I wonder if she is still being paid?

Ann Sherry as CEO of Carnival

Tireless Sydney journalist David Hardaker has pursued the cruise ship’s corporate background and produced interesting results:

Ann Sherry is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the business or in current matters that are in the media, according to a Carnival spokesperson.

According to the company, wrote Hardaker, Ann Sherry is now an adviser, having changed roles ‘some time ago’.

It can’t be all that long ago. Ms Sherry last tweeted a message on March 8, the very day that the Ruby Princess left Sydney Harbour for New Zealand on its cruise “of a lifetime”.

The ship later cut short its tour and returned to Sydney Harbour with a small number of passengers showing “flu symptoms”. In fact, they had contracted the killer virus. When passengers disembarked many went straight to the airport for flights interstate and to the US and Canada – taking the COVID-19 virus with them. Their escape to their homes caused a leap in the number of infections and it has since spread rapidly.

Hardaker has revealed that in mid-February Ann Sherry was inducted into cruising’s Hall of Fame at the 19th Annual Cruise Industry Awards, in recognition of her “pivotal role in the industry’s success over more than a decade”.

At the time, Joel Katz, managing director of the self-congratulatory industry lobby group, paid tribute to Ms Sherry’s “dynamic combination of unique skills, personality and determination, combined with a far-sighted vision. She also used her personal reputation as one of Australia’s most prominent business people to grow the reputation of cruising among business, government and media, working to ensure that others in the tourism industry [Destinations NSW], and policymakers [Federal and NSW politicians] understand the economic value of cruising.”

Anyone want to go cruising?

As the pandemic’s death toll mounts and homicide detectives from Australia and NZ start to gather evidence, the bottom has fallen out of the cruise ship market. Passengers are cancelling and postponing trips or joining class actions sponsored by Shine Lawyers to claim damages.

A Shine spokeswoman said: “Members of the public in Sydney and abroad were unknowingly exposed to the virus as a result of the release of passengers at Circular Quay on March 19.”

Martine Carrier, unhappy passenger

Sixty-one-year-old Martine Carrier from Canada said she thought she would be safe on the Ruby Princess. “Boy, was I wrong,” she said. “I am extremely angry at Princess because, contrary to what Princess says, that passenger and crew safety is of the utmost importance, they could not have done more to put our health at risk.”

Mrs Carrier said international passengers had been overlooked. “Absolutely, we were forgotten,” she added.


Ms Jodi McKay, NSW Opposition leader, has called for an inquiry into the official handling of the cruise liner, its passengers and crew. “We need an inquiry that has teeth, that is transparent, that is independent that can get to the bottom of what happened on the Ruby Princess.” Sounds like a Royal Commission to me.

PS: Eighteen passengers have died from the killer virus. A total of 66 passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 and about 200 of the crew who remain on the ship had shown coronavirus symptoms. Some international passengers have not yet been tested, according to media reports.

Are quality bookshops still viable?

Quality bookshops, owned by book lovers, are open in some States and Territories but closed in others. In the States and Territories where they are closed to customers the official view prevails – they attract too many people and therefore they breach the Commonwealth’s “social distancing” and “self-regulation” rules. Rather than face police raids, fines, legal bills and court appearances, the owners comply and shut up shop.

Their place in the world of commerce has been taken by Wal Mart and Amazon-sized booksellers. They are doing a roaring trade and have taken on staff to handle the workload.

The purchase of books has entered a new era. You go online, select a trolley-load of books and pay with your mobile. If you live in a certain radius of the book emporium, the company will deliver your books free of charge. If you live in the bush or the Outback, your books will be couriered to you at a price.

Will customers return to quality bookshops when the pandemic’s restrictions are eased or will we enter the new era of electronic book-buying from warehouse operations owned by overseas private and state investors?

How will it end? Maybe instead of going out to supper, people will stay indoors and have their favourite meals delivered by couriers on motor-cycles. Schools and universities may close their doors as home-schooling using laptops becomes education’s new dawn. And maybe you will see a “virtual” doctor and a “virtual” solicitor online instead of making face-to-face appointments.

Assange, his de facto and two little boys

Julian Assange, Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks who is in jail in London, has surprised everyone with the revelation he fathered two children with his South African legal adviser, Stella Morris.

The couple formed a relationship while Assange was self-exiled in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. They had two sons, Gabriel, 3, and Max, one.

After being dragged out of the embassy on British and US orders, the Australian journalist was jailed for 50 weeks for bail violation.

A now-discredited local court decision insisted Assange had no family connections with anyone in the UK to support his legal action to stay. But the revelation about Assange’s de facto partner Ms Morris, 37, and their two children has exploded the court’s contention.

Public opinion has swung behind Assange. In random street polling Londoners believe the Australian, who has been dumped by the British High Commission and Scott Morrison’s Government in Canberra, should be given his freedom and allowed to stay in the UK.

At his next court hearing on May 18 Assange will be fighting a US attempt to extradite him to a military base near Washington DC.

Julian Assange and Stella Morris

Thinking about post-capitalism

Two enterprising Melbourne academics, Dr Samuel Alexander and Professor Brendon Gleeson, have published an important study on how to build a post-pandemic, post-capitalist world.

They write: “It may seem as though capitalism has always been part of the Western world, but that’s not true. Capitalism as a system dates only from the 16th century. Now, some 500 years later, there’s an increasing discussion arguing for, or simply forecasting, a post-capitalist society.

“Capitalism is locked into an economics of growth that is undermining the environmental foundations of life on Earth. That is, capitalism is ecocidal. And this has become the defining contradiction of capitalism in the 21st century.

“Capitalism’s ‘growth imperative’ alongside our planet’s limits is likely to bring capitalism to an end in coming decades. If capitalism as we know it is destined to end, it seems now is the time to put our minds to how the transition beyond capitalism could or should transpire. It’s obviously better to plan for the momentous occurrence rather than have capitalism merely grow itself to death, only to leave heightened chaos and suffering in its wake.

“The global economy is currently in gross ecological overshoot. The richest nations cannot justify taking even more. If the whole world consumed like Australians, we’d need more than four planets to meet our resource needs and absorb our waste streams. Within capitalism, corporations must endeavour to maximise profits and productivity or risk being pushed out of the market by more ambitious or ruthless market competitors. The golden rule of capitalism is: grow or die.

“Capitalism needs what it cannot have: limitless growth on a finite planet. This is the ecological contradiction that will bring an end to capitalism, probably sooner rather than later.

“Given that governments are both unable and unwilling to transcend the growth economics of capitalism, it follows that any movement for justice and ecological reconciliation with Earth must be driven ‘from below’, by grassroots action that builds a post-capitalist society within the shell of the old.”

The authors, Dr Samuel Alexander, research fellow at the Sustainable Society Institute of Melbourne University and Professor Brendan Gleeson, also from the Sustainable Society Institute at Melbourne University, have written a challenging document which deserves wider attention. Their latest book, Degrowth in the Suburbs, should become required reading for journalists, academics, politicians, students, activists and every concerned Australian.

They’ll be better off than the mugs chanting “we’re all in this together” with Tracy Grimshaw on A Current Affair.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden lets loose

When he first dumped thousands of US military files on the internet in 2012, US military contractor Edward Snowden was celebrated by the media and the public around the world. He received countless awards for his courageous journalism and TV networks rushed to interview him.

Edward Snowden

These days he is living in Russia and only very occasionally making himself available to reporters from the West. This week he agreed to talk via video link to reporter Trone Dowd from Vice TV News.

Asked about the threat to civil liberties posed by governmental response to the coronavirus pandemic, Snowden replied: “As authoritarianism spreads, as emergency laws proliferate, as we sacrifice our rights, we also sacrifice our capability to arrest the slide into a less liberal and less free world.

“Do you truly believe that when the first wave, this second wave, the 16th wave of the coronavirus is a long-forgotten memory, that these capabilities will not be kept? That these databases will not be kept?

“No matter how it is being used, what’s being built is the architecture of oppression.” (My emphasis.)

Personally, I’d believe Edward Snowden before Tracy Grimshaw any day. What about you?

What matters is what they said at the time

Hindsight is a great thing. However, I prefer to read what people said and wrote when their views were not popular nor widely known. Here’s a very good example of what I mean:

“I often ask myself where Australia might be today without its mineral wealth and the creation of a big quarry known as Australia. It’s stupid and lazy politics to depend on such income, to pretend those resources are inexhaustible and to hope that Australia’s minerals will always be in demand at great prices. That fondness beats down the excellence that should emanate from diversity and research. If we funded research, Australia could head the world in invention and talent. Digging holes in the ground isn’t a job creation policy. The paucity of federal policies is sickening. It’s now lowered itself to the age-old pedestrian statements – canvassing law and order issues, such as guns in Western Sydney. Again, dumbing down.”

  • Maurie O’Sullivan, writing in The Newsletter of the ALP’s Southern Highlands branch, in March 2013. Cork-born O’Sullivan, who speaks fluent Irish and English, was elected President of the Public Service Association (PSA) in 1993 and the union’s General Secretary from 1999 to 2003 when he retired. He lives in the NSW Southern Highlands and remains an argumentative Fenian and a socialist.

Headline howlers of the Week

“Nation on cusp of defeating pandemic” – The Australian, Friday, 10 April 2020

“Conquering the virus close, medical chief” – Weekend Australian, 11-12 April 2020

Memorable quote from the 1990s

“I think America is in financial trouble. I believe our government has been mismanaged. I’m afraid many of today’s middle class will become the new poor, or worse, slip into poverty, even after years of hard work.”

  • Donald Trump speaking to Robert Kiyosaki, ghost writer of his book, Why We Want You To Be Rich. The book is now remaindered and Kiyosaki is giving away free copies.

Headline of the Week

“Man walking 430 miles backwards” – Western Morning News, Plymouth, Devon


  1. I take issue with you, Alex, regarding your assertion to be found in the ‘Thinking About Post-Capitalism’ item…Your claim that the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ of Capitalism, per se, is: “Grow or Die”. NOT so, I contend…the absolute ‘Golden Rule’ of Capitalism is ‘Adapt or Die’. Touche?!

  2. Couldn’t agree more about trying to watch screen entertainment through half light. Last night we were watching Dublin Murders, SBS on Demand, and at times it was difficult to distinguish between the characters. I found myself shouting at the screen, pay your electricity bill. There used to be, maybe still is, a lighting designer at the Australian Opera known as the Prince of Darkness. Perhaps he has become a universal role model.

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