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What's Jai thinking?

2013, November, 26 Written by Jai Martinkovits 0

High-speed rail makes more sense than a second airport for Sydney

The attempted rebirth of an already discredited proposal to build a second airport at Badgerys Creek would almost certainly produce a white elephant. However, western Sydney residents could be forgiven for believing that they have been presented with a fait accompli.

The claimed cost of $2.3 billion - a figure which will blow out and which does not take into consideration the substantial costs of infrastructure, which, based on previous industry experience, is likely to add a further $4 billion to $5 billion - raises the question: is this a raw deal?

Is this just another case which reinforces the widely held view that today's politicians lack long-term vision, instead only focusing on the next election cycle?

The jobs, jobs, jobs rhetoric which has been drip-fed to the people, admittedly compounded by the recent absence of a well-thought-out and cohesive ''No'' case, has led to polls suggesting majority support.

But of course there are no jobs in failed infrastructure projects and there are important economic, operational and environmental considerations, all of which point to the need for a better outcome.

Proponents should know an independent alliance of concerned citizens is in the process of incorporating to advance this case.

Common sense suggests you must get the most out of what you've already got. Proponents of the push for a second airport at Badgerys Creek ignore the real capacity potential of Sydney Airport and surrounding land.

The airport is, by international standards, remarkably well located and, unlike Badgerys Creek, offers the potential for safe and quiet departures and approaches over the sea. We must exploit this asset to its full potential.

Then, there are very serious doubts, based on international experience, around the operational and economic viability of second airports generally. The international aviation landscape is littered with recent failures.

One such example is Ciudad Airport in central Spain, which has just gone up for auction for a measly 100 million euros (after a cost to build of one billion euros). Despite its capacity to handle 10 million passengers a year, it has not received a commercial flight since 2011.

A failed second airport at Badgerys Creek may deliver upfront rewards for its proponents, but will deliver no long term benefits for western Sydney, and Sydney more generally.

Further, there are legitimate environmental concerns. Due process has written off Badgerys Creek as an inappropriate site for a second airport owing to environmental concerns, including air quality, noise pollution, risks to our water supply and ecological sustainability.

Operational constraints imposed by fog and wind shear problems, coupled with the risks associated with the supply of fuel by truck, are further downsides.

If our politicians are genuine about boosting the western Sydney economy, they must give serious consideration to a solution based around high-speed rail.

A well thought out combination of north-south and east-west high-speed rail, implemented on a progressive stage by stage basis, and supporting localised public transport services, will deliver genuine economic and connectivity benefits for the people of western Sydney in both the medium and long term.

This also offers the internationally demonstrated potential to stimulate regional growth and development and will alleviate much of the demand on Sydney Airport.

State and federal governments of both persuasions don't have a great track record of extracting efficient use from the assets they already own, in particular air space over railways and runway/curfew arrangements at Sydney Airport that reflect international best practice.

They also have a tendency to try to solve the problems of the eastern suburbs, the north shore and the inner west, while failing to address the burdens of the two million Australians in the western suburbs, who already face exorbitant tolls and congestion.

The NSW government will not enjoy support from western Sydney for a second airport at Badgerys Creek unless the essential road and rail connections are delivered before a second airport is operational.

And for those who still choose to travel by air, may I suggest that if the good citizens of Penrith knew that they could jump on a train and be at Sydney Airport in, say, 32 minutes, you can bet your bottom dollar that any support for a second airport at Badgerys Creek would quickly evaporate.

[This article was first published by The Sydney Morning Herald, both in print and online at: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/badgerys-creek-airport-will-be-a-white-elephant-20131215-2zf8x.html]

2013, October, 16 Written by Jai Martinkovits 0

The state of the union movement in Australia

Following the Ex-HSU boss Michael Williamson's guilty plea, Jai Martinkovits speaks with 2UE's Dicko and Sarah about the state of the union movement in Australia.

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2013, October, 9 Written by Jai Martinkovits 0

One on One Shadow Boxing

Jai Martinkovits speaks with Tibor Meszaros about Give Us Back Our Country on West TV's "One on One Shadow Boxing".

Part 1

Part 2

2013, September, 3 Written by Jai Martinkovits 0

Help Community Television Serve the Community

WTV

Despite its vibrancy and diversity, government-controlled community television is struggling to survive in Australia.

The government's vision for community television is clearly not working and needs to be rethought. Their current policies are neither fair to those involved in community television, nor to the nation as a whole.

Not only have governments failed to support this crucial sector in any meaningful way, they have over regulated the industry to the point where it is bordering on being unable to support itself. To further burden those interested in community television, they have also failed to assure the future of community television broadcasting rights.

Community television clearly has a place in the Australian media.

Each month more than five million Australians tune in to community television which fosters and delivers specialised and unique community-based content, including local news and current affairs, financial literacy, music, sports, special interests and Australian drama and comedy.

Community television stations are located in our major Australian cities, causing a considerable amount of high level Australian content to be produced locally.

For example, West TV in Perth boasts that it has six flagship locally-produced weekly half-hour programmes – a commendable result.

The importance of this contribution is understood when we know that outside of West TV there are very few television programmes produced in Western Australia.

Even the very generously taxpayer funded ABC only manages to produce one five minute news report per day and one episode of the 7.30 Report per week locally, on Western Australia.

This is a sad indictment for publicly funded television when one considers the vast financial contribution that Western Australia makes to the Australian economy.

Our other taxpayer funded entity (which is also allowed to sell advertising), the SBS, does not even have a WA based office or telephone number. The commercial stations offer a local daily news bulletin, but very little other WA-based content.

This raises a significant question. When the government – in what is widely perceived as an attempt to buy support of their media reform package – greatly reduced the license fee for commercial stations, why did they not simultaneously increase the requirement for state based news and current affairs?

Whatever one's views on the merits of the "reforms", by not doing this they lost a golden opportunity to gain popular support from the creative sector of the media.

Not only do these community television stations provide an important community service – that is giving a voice to local communities that would otherwise never be heard – they are an essential incubator of Australian creative talent, both behind and in front of the camera.

Yet their very survival is teetering on a knife's edge; and in a country that is committed to funding public television, this is clearly a gaping weakness in the policy.

Unlike the generous taxpayer funding especially of the ABC, but also of the SBS, the community television sector as a whole receives no recurrent funding from state or federal governments.

At the same time, the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF) – an independent organisation financed by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (BCDE) – receives a substantial amount of money from the federal government to support the development, creativity and sustainability of community broadcasting in Australia.

After former Minister Stephen Conroy's recent announcement of an extra $6 million over three years to help with upgrading equipment and improving digital radio services, it seems that government funding of community broadcasting is now in excess $15 million per year.

The CBF, which according to its annual report for 2011/12 received $15,320,933 in funding from the DBCDE, has for the past two years quarantined $300,000 for content production for community television broadcast.

However, this is mere chicken feed, especially considering the significantly greater capital and operating costs compared to those of community radio, as well as the larger audiences they attract.

"Access to the broadcast tower alone costs us $22,000 per month – a crippling cost for which we receive no assistance," Tibor Meszaros, General Manager of West TV Ltd told me recently.

"The present funding arrangements of the community broadcasting sector, which could be altered solely on ministerial direction, are highly unfair," he continued.

Until such time as an alternate funding model emerges and without in any way increasing the well over $2 billion communications budget, a relatively small amount of, say, $6 million could be allocated each year for community television.

This could be used to provide $4 million for assistance with transmission and operational costs. And the remaining $2 million could constitute a production pool, accessible by all stations and community members who wish to create productions for community television broadcast.

What better way to assure quality production of local content and on a shoestring budget – especially compared to their publicly owned and very well funded counterparts at the ABC and the SBS?

Those who care for the development of Australian arts and culture will also be surprised to learn that not only has government failed to assist community television in any meaningful way, they have subjected the sector cumbersome regulation – regulation which is often more onerous than their commercial counterparts.

For example, community television is only allowed to broadcast seven minutes of paid sponsorship per hour, while commercial television may broadcast double this amount through advertising.

This is despite the fact that of all the free-to-air TV stations in Australia, community television stations have the greatest difficulty in sustaining themselves. Surely community television stations should be allowed parity with the commercial stations' advertising?

The federal government should also ensure a more stable and secure environment for community television.

At the moment, these stations are only guaranteed access to the digital spectrum until December 31, 2014. Such an uncertain future poses significant operational and organisational issues for community television managers, preventing long-term planning and investment and hampering their attempts to engage the community.

In March 2013 the government announced the media reform package, promising that "government will secure spectrum for community television on the sixth channel".

However, the legislation failed to give certainty to the future of community television.  It only guaranteed that a sixth channel "should not be allocated to create a fourth commercial television network".

In order to provide a certain future for community television, any organisation which is licensed to operate the sixth channel should have as a condition of its licence that it must carry community television services.

Access should be available at no cost or a nominal cost. This should be affordable to community television licensees and would recognise the not-for-profit nature of the services.

In recognition of the importance of community television to Australian arts and culture, government should take steps to assure the future of this important sector. They should stop over regulating it, give it some sense of security and work out fairer funding arrangements to ensure its survival.

[This article was originally published on watoday.com.au on 3 September 2013 and can be accessed here: http://www.watoday.com.au/comment/community-tv-in-wa-is-on-a-knife-edge-20130902-2t071.html]

Jai Martinkovits