Miscellany: How much is the Grand Prix worth to Victoria?

How much is the Grand Prix worth to Victoria?

The Victorian Government has commissioned NIER to work out how much the Grand Prix is worth to Victoria – the first study on the subject since 2000.

From comments made during the week it is clear how the Grand Prix organization wants to ensure that the right – big – number comes up. Speaking at a lunch during the week the Grand Prix CEO referred to the great value Melbourne gets from having its signage displayed on TVs around the world. The last review of the GP’s value also counted in a lot of free advertising – tens of millions – as a hardcore benefit to Victoria.

But is it a benefit and how much of a benefit?

For many years the PR industry used to justify its existence and effectiveness by totaling up the media coverage obtained for clients; multiplying the rate card value of the space by some number (most conservatively three); and claiming that this was the value of the PR.

There are a few obvious problems with this approach – so obvious and so egregious that the Public Relations Institute of Australia ruled that such “measurement” was inappropriate. This is not to say that PR people stopped using it. Miscellany remembers an issues management job for a client which had run a major promotion which generated huge amounts of publicity – highly polarized and very controversial. The PR firm produced a report which totalled up all the publicity – good, bad and violently opposed; multiplied the rate card value by five; and then claimed this was the value of the promotion. However, most PRs have stopped the habit, partly because media coverage is not the sole gauge of success, and partly because the good media monitoring firms, such as Media Research Group run by Miscellany’s friend Michael O’Connell, now produce sophisticated analyses of coverage in which tone and message content are considered more important than equivalent advertising value.

But, even if the PR industry considers the approach too dodgy to support, that doesn’t preclude the GP and economists from considering it as an option. However, even within this context there are other problems. Exposure doesn’t equal value. Iraq has got a lot of coverage recently but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people have a greater propensity to visit or to invest there. The audience demographics and whether awareness of Melbourne provides a platform for some behavioral change – visiting or investing for instance – are also important. Equally, if one was evaluating a marketing campaign you would evaluate it partly on cost effectiveness. Thus, the GP media exposure might reach lots of people but does it need to reach them all for any Victorian objectives to be achieved. If it doesn’t, then any total value ought to be discounted for the amount “wasted”. Moreover, is the Grand Prix the best use of resources to achieve these objectives? Again, if there is another and better way of doing it then the spending is “wasted”.

Then there are the other cities where GPs are held or not held. For advertising value to be a useful measure you would need to know whether Melbourne gets more or less than all other GP hosts and whether GP cities as a result – as a result of the exposure – attract more visitors and investors as a result of that exposure than do comparable cities which don’t host GPs.

So, when the NIER report comes out have a close look at the “value” ascribed to advertising exposure and think – would the PR industry have considered this acceptable? – even before you start to analyse the econometric assumptions.

The Age and Ron Walker

The crikey man often gets agitated about Ron Walker, his directorship of Fairfax, and the problems this presents for The Age in reporting on his other interests.

Miscellany’s view is that there is no real problem at all and that, if there are, Age reporters have resolved it by just quoting the great man and letting his words say it all for them.

This weekend they did it twice. First, in response to some issue regarding eligibility of some car, Ron talked about how GP rules were a problem for the “Westminster system”. The Westminster system is not in the best of shape – particularly in Australia partly because of the party Mr Walker used to raise funds for – but it is probably robust enough to survive a few GP controversies. Second, in response to news that someone had leaked details of the Commonwealth Games opening parade The Age quoted Ron as thinking this was “tragic” and “disgusting”.

Now if the leaking of information about a Commonwealth Games parade is “tragic” and “disgusting” what words are left for tsunamis, Armenian massacres and terrorist acts?

Iraq and Vietnam (1)

Last week Miscellany had an item on whether Iraq resembles Vietnam or not.

It prompted one reader to recall a joke in military circles during the Vietnam War. It was just after the Six Days War – the military success of which was in marked contrast to the US’s success in Vietnam. At the time people were asking whether the US might be better off sub-contracting the war to the Israelis. The reader asked: to whom could be outsource the hunt for Osama bin Laden?  Mossad are probably not a great bet – some of their agents are now so incompetent they get caught by Australians, New Zealanders and Americans and the rest seem to be jumping from bed to bed in South America. The Russians might have a shot but their track record in Afghanistan is not too hot either. The SAS are helping already – perhaps leaving some of new US intelligence chief, John Negroponte’s, old friends in Central America. For an ever freer hand in the coke trade they’d probably jump at the chance.

Iraq and Vietnam (2)

The shooting of the rescued Italian hostage and an Italian secret service officer will not be news to anyone who has served anywhere with US troops.

Miscellany could never feel really bad about the Viet Cong having a go – it was their country after all and we were the other side. But he could never get used to the US doing it too. Indeed, he often remembers one evening when the battery was firing in some close mortar positions and all of a sudden several large calibre machine guns started firing at our position. Being a cowardly type Miscellany was looking for somewhere to hide as the calibre seemed to suggest a full NVA regiment was out there. It wasn’t though – just another lot of US cowboys in APCs who fortunately couldn’t shoot straight.

40 years later the cowboys are more dangerous – not because they have finally learned to shoot straight – but because their firepower has been increased so much that they end up killing and wounding everything in sight anyway.

Looking for Alibrandi

Victoria’s Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, has introduced laws which will forbid anyone making any film which depicts young people in sexual situations.

While this obviously precludes a remake of Lolita and dozens of other films at our Docklands studios one can’t help wondering where it might end.  Will some films/books now be banned from school syllabuses – starting, perhaps, with the popular Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta?

A modern-day Comintern

One of the remarkable things about the Third International and the Comintern were their ability to get dozens of communist parties; thousands of fellow travelers; and hundreds of publications to almost instantly change tune and echo the same messages.

Its like has not been seen until recently when the Bush administration seems to have exceeded even their success.

For instance, did anyone remember reading anything in the clamour of conservative commentators questioning the “absolute certainty” of Saddam and WMDs? Does anyone recall anyone among the clamour questioning whether there might be the odd problem in Iraq after the war?

Now the Comintern-like regiments are marching again. This time – if you haven’t noticed –  about how the Israel-Palestinian problems are finally going to be settled and how democracy – thanks to Iraq – is finally on the march in the Middle East. Not a voice among the usual suspects has failed to fall into line and not a voice among the usual suspects has raised a doubt – even when it comes to talking about Walid Jumblatt’s past and future.

In contrast one of the bravest of academics and commentators on democracy – someone who was at the forefront of the Central European democratic revolutions rather than just being a conduit for neocon chicken-hawks – is Timothy Garton Ash.

In The Guardian (3 March 2005) he writes about the rose, orange, purple and cedar revolutions George W. referred to while in Bratislavia recently. What was the purple one, you might ask – that’s Iraq, although Garton Ash speculates that the “purple” might refer to the colour of blood.

Timothy Garton Ash says that there are hopeful signs but that “brand name” revolutions may not be as uncomplicated as it seems from an official desk in Washington. He doesn’t object to foreign creation of “brand names” for the changes, pointing out that Vaclav Havel always insisted that the term “velvet revolution” was an invention by a foreign journalist. But he does suggest that more is required than the comfortable assumptions being made by others like our clamour of commentators. Miscellany would say others like those who lack Timothy Garton Ash’s genuine experience of democratic revolutions

….and who does Timothy Garton Ash think we can thank for the democratic stirrings?  Osama bin Laden? Without him, he says, Bush, Chirac, Blair et al would still be supporting the authoritarian  regimes they always supported  and concentrating on great power  relationships rather than democracy.

But – even if by trial and error – groping towards the right direction is a good thing. Just please save us from the premature Comintern-type synchronized cheering.

Wrongful dismissals

Bib Hawke said the other day that we need wrongful dismissal legislation simply because people get wrongfully dismissed.

Indeed, not only do they get wrongfully dismissed, but very often by the small businesses who (after July 1) will be exempted from any such legislation.

Miscellany heard of a vivid example of what’s at stake recently. A young man in a provincial centre was working in a smallish business. His immediate superior divided his time between hitting on female staff and incompetently and arbitrarily changing working arrangements. The young man voiced opposition to both practices – for which he got sacked. Fortunately, unless Minister Andrews does make his changes retrospective as suggested, he will get some recompense.

But after July 1 – in the new flexible environment, bad luck young man.

Robot soldiers

When the US Government is spending $US127 billion on robot soldiers Miscellany couldn’t help but recall Isaac Asimov, author of many novels about robots. Asimov formulated three rules for his robots: Do not hurt humans, obey humans unless that violates rule one; and, defend yourself unless that violates rules one and two. While that would be a big ask for military robots perhaps we could, at least, have a rule about friendly fire.

Corporate and middle class welfare

George W. is going to do something very unusual for a big government conservative – he may, for the first time, veto a spending bill. The veto – to stop Congress tinkering with the new Medicare drug benefit which threatens to add even more to the US budget deficit by channeling taxpayers money into the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies.

In Australia Peter Costello is preparing a budget in a difficult environment in which Howard promises for billions more of middle class welfare will have to be honoured.

If he’s feeling at all guilty about ladling out the dollars he might recall Lord Clive of India’s words when questioned in Parliament about ladling out loot : “By God, Mr Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation.”

Putin and the past

Every now and again someone speculates on historical parallels for Putin’s rule in Russia. It appears that Putin himself may have been doing it too.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of two magnificent books on Potemkin and Stalin, reviewed (NYRB 24 February 2005) the wonderful new English translation of letters between Catherine the Great and Potemkin. He mentions in passing that: “During the first months of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, I was secretly approached by a top Kremlin official who met me in London and told me that a most elevated personage, who could not be named, was casting about for historical models for the Russian State and wondered if I thought Potemkin, with his mixture of humanitarianism and authoritarianism might be a useful model for a 21st century Russian president. He asked me to write a memorandum on the subject which I did. I heard nothing further.”

The good news –  if it was Putin and if he listened – we might finally see an end to endemic Russian anti-Semitism. The bad news is we may see another Crimean War.

Speaking of translations

Speaking of translations the first full English version of the Talmud in half a century is about to be completed – the 73 volume Schottenstein edition.

Reporting on the launch The New York Times (10 February 2005) quoted a number of rabbis on labyrinthine Talmudic discussions. But the one we loved most was by Rabbi Scherman, who used Bill Clinton’s parsing of the meaning of “is”, as a means of explaining just what Talmudic interpretation involved.


When Miscellany visited Gallipoli a few years ago he finally got to realize just how significant a site it is. Partly influenced by reading, during the visit to Turkey, the Andrew Mango biography of Kemal Ataturk, Gallipoli came into its real historical perspective and significance – as the birthplace of a modern secular Turkey and the end of the Ottoman empire.

Now once again Australians are behaving – because of some roadworks – as if Gallipoli is really only a site of Australian significance and that Turkey and that the Turks ought to realize it and act accordingly.

One cannot but be moved by the tragedy of all the troops from all sides at Gallipoli. Unlike the leaking of details of a Commonwealth Games parade this is really a tragic thing – particularly for (in order of numbers dead in the campaign) the Turks, the British, the French, the Australians and the New Zealanders. Of course, if we judge things on a per capita basis, the last positions would be reversed.

And is it more sacred to Australians than to all the other races, tribes and nations who fought and died over centuries on both sides of the straits?

Let’s honour those who died – but in the sort of words often used by people in that imperialist nation who got us into the Gallipoli s…t to begin with, let’s not get above ourselves chaps.

Wembley Way

Why name the new Wembley Stadium Bridge White Horse Way? In memory of one of the great news pix – taken at the 1920 FA Cup Final when one policeman, on a white horse, turned the tide of crowd chaos with no injuries and no panic. You can see it in the Hulton Getty archive. With English crowds today one white tank mightn’t be enough.

The Fighting Moderates

The Private Eye cartoon series, Hom Sap (drawn by David Austin), is always a bit like some Diogenes for the 21st century.

A while ago it depicted a parade with one of the characters in the first panel saying to another: “The moderates are coming.” Next panel the crowd chants: “What do we want? Gradual change! When do we want it? In due course!”

But when Paul Krugman wrote about the “fighting moderates” in the New York Times (15 February 2005) he had something else in mind.

The column explains why Howard Dean got elected DNC Chair and talks about the need for moderates to be more aggressive in fighting against the right-wing radicals who have taken over Congress and the White House.

Fighting back is hard in the media environment in the US and Australia – particularly here where Reporters without Frontiers ranks us 41st in the world for press freedom – but the time for illusion is over says Krugman.

But the problem is more than just illusions and media freedom. The eternal ends and means dilemma still applies. Do you become like your opponents (whether Bushites, Richo or today’s Australian Libs) and not be afraid to use any means to get where you want to, or do you actually continue to believe that the ends grow inextricably out of the means.

For the ALP, for instance, that probably means that the first hurdle is confronting its own factional system, where means seem more important than ends, before it can even begin to think about the issues Dean, Krugman and others are raising.

Moving on

Miscellany detests that all-purpose modern expression: “moving on” which so conveniently sweeps anything you like into the dustbin of history.

Private Eye a while ago published a cartoon depicting the crucifixion with a Roman official saying to the crowd: “You just have to move on!” Today politicians commonly use the phrase – just move on – to sweep away any concerns about lies, broken promises and what not. It’s become so widespread throughout the community that Miscellany was told recently that some crisis management experts are recommending it as an interview tactic for corporate spokespeople.

But the words still have a literal meaning and Miscellany is – in the literal sense – moving on. Thanks Stephen, thanks readers, thanks contributors. It’s been a tad self-indulgent at times – but always fun.