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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bmag 18th Sept 2012 - Off to Canberra, gift voucher rip-offs

As you read this, I’m on a year seven school trip to the nation’s capital. No, I’m not looking for sympathy. I’ve been looking forward to this week for six and a half years and I’ll tell you why. As a really young fella growing up in the north-west of England, London was the most exciting place you could ever hope to visit. To do so was rare and it was special. With Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, black taxis and red doubledecker buses, London was the Land of Oz and the train line from Preston to Euston was the yellow brick road! Then in 1981, just before my ninth birthday, we moved to Australia.

Of course, London retained its magical status and I still pinch myself whenever I’m there, but I soon found myself looking up to Canberra in exactly the same way. I first made it to Australia’s capital city when I was 13, part of the formative experience that was a driving holiday down the New England Highway, across to Broken Hill, then down to Adelaide and Melbourne, and finally up to Canberra and the Snowy Mountains. Road trips have been in my blood ever since. But I digress.

What I’ve never understood is why we in Australia make such a sport out of hating Canberra. It’s packed with sites of national significance, yet people laugh if you tell them you’re going there. Sure, it might not have the most exciting nightlife in Australia but it is our capital city and the thought of flying down with Jack’s year seven class is bringing back all those tingly thoughts of a childhood trip to London.

So keen am I on Canberra that when Nikki fell pregnant in 1999 and we were looking for a special somewhere for our final childless holiday, that’s where we went. We could have chosen a tropical island somewhere, or the hustle and bustle of Sydney, but instead we had a week in Canberra. And now I’m dying to get there to share my love of the capital with my son. And that brings me to the other reason I’m chuffed to be heading down.

We’ve known about the year seven Canberra trip since Jack started primary school in 2006. For all these years, we’ve plotted for me to go as one of the parenthelpers, so that Jack and I can have a boys’ bonding week. You may have noticed I’m not on the radio this week. Now you know why. I’m also taking next week off!

I have a feeling I’m going to need an extra week just to get over the excitement of a trip to Canberra! And that’s my excitement I’m talking about!

Gift vouchers

On a completely unrelated topic, why must shops impose expiry dates on gift vouchers? I recently found in my wallet a voucher for a coffee shop that was given to me a year ago. It literally was one day from expiring. If I hadn’t used it, that $30 would have just evaporated. Only, it wouldn’t have disappeared, would it? In reality, the coffee shop would have kept it. Why can’t shops just hold the money (which they receive when they sell the voucher) and allow you to use your voucher at any time, forever?

With complimentary or discount vouchers, there is an argument for shops spreading out redemption. They can’t afford to have everyone claiming their free or discounted goods or services on the one day. That, I understand. But when it comes to gift vouchers, the shops are sitting on the cash, not to mention the interest it’s earning them.

Then, of course, you get the situation where shops go into administration and won’t redeem vouchers or they have rules stating you must spend a certain amount in order to use your voucher. Again, they have the cash! What happened to it? It’s worth noting that some shops don’t have expiry dates.

And yes, I acknowledge that ABC Shops are among those that have expiry dates, so I’m certainly not claiming the moral high ground for the ABC here. It all makes me think the best gift voucher around is cold, hard cash. It’s the gift voucher you can spend anywhere, anytime!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bmag Sept 4th 2012 - Public service job cuts

With the state budget looming, we should soon see an end to the uncertainty hanging over our public servants. It’s three months since we were first warned as many as 20,000 could lose their jobs. Thousands already have. Not frontline staff, we’ve been assured. But then Glen Elmes, Minister Assisting the Premier, admitted on my radio show that “frontline” had been redefined, making thousands more public servants potentially disposable. To be “frontline” under the LNP, you must spend 75 per cent of your time dealing directly with the public. Under Labor, it was just over 50 per cent.

I’m a public servant (albeit Commonwealth) so I decided to apply the 75 per cent test to what I do. Despite hosting Brisbane’s top-rating breakfast radio show with around 200,000 listeners every week, I’m not sure I would qualify as “frontline” under Campbell Newman. Yes, I’m on air three hours a day, and yes I regularly speak at service clubs, but what about the hours where I’m not in direct contact with listeners? Reading books and news articles, watching news programs, sniffing around for stories, auditioning new music, surveying outside broadcast locations, generally absorbing popular culture in order to inform my radio show, the list goes on. Is all that being a frontline public servant? It wouldn’t be in the Queensland Public Service. But would anyone notice if the federal government decided the ABC didn’t need radio announcers? Just between me and you, I think that they would.

My point is this – I can understand how Queensland public servants are nervous right now. I can also see how nebulous it can be to just pick a number like 75 per cent to define “frontline”.

Premier Campbell Newman repeatedly says that everywhere he goes he is thanked for cutting the public service, that it’s only public servants and the unions who are angry. For example, he told 612 ABC Brisbane’s Steve Austin: “I spent seven hours at the Exhibition (Ekka) and I can tell you that I had one person come up to me and express some negativity. For the rest of the seven hours, I had people coming up, shaking my hand saying ‘we know it’s tough, please keep doing what you’re doing’.”

I don’t dispute the Premier has his supporters. But maybe it would be healthy for him to be exposed to what others are saying. And so I asked my radio listeners to imagine bumping into Campbell Newman. What would they tell him? We received 58 calls, 24 of which were supportive of the Premier’s actions. Just under half. Fifty-eight might seem a small sample but, for radio talkback on one specific question, it’s actually a decent number. Think of it as more qualitative than quantitative, more focus group than phone poll.

You (and the Premier) can listen to all the calls at but here’s a selection:

“Well done Campbell. Mate, it’s about time those blokes got out and got a real job. Save that money. Make the state proud again,” says Corey, from Coolum Beach.

“Campbell Newman is doing a good job taking away a lot of the public servants’ jobs. They’ve been superfluous for a long, long time. We’ve had a lot of friends in the public service and they’ve had RDOs and sick days and extended leave on our taxpayers’ money and I don’t think this is very fair,” says Cheryl, from Ipswich.

“Thanks very much Campbell for what you’re doing. Don’t worry mate, there’s a very large silent majority who are also very pleased with the way you are handling this state,” says Trevor, from Birkdale.

“If I saw the Premier in a public place, I’d tell him well done, keep going,” says Kevin, from Macdowall.

“You have no idea how much damage you’re doing. Someone needs to stop you before it’s too late,” says Mary, from Goodna.

“There are a lot of people feeling bruised right now. Compassion please,” says Jenny, from East Brisbane.

“There was never any hint of this in your campaign. It’s not what we voted for,” says Dylan, from Kenmore.

 “Belt tightening is all very well but such severe cuts could actually drive Queensland into recession with so many public servants losing their jobs and the rest looking over their shoulders and unwilling to spend,” says Karen, from Wavell Heights.