Local content will bring advertisers back to free-to-air, Nine boss David Gyngell says

David Gyngell is facing sleepless nights getting to grips with the ever diffuse TV landscape. Photo: Louie DouvisAdvertisers will come back to free-to-air television on the back of local original content, says Nine Entertainment Co chief executive David Gyngell.
Shanghai night field

News, current affairs and sport will be the core of what Nine will produce and air because international content doesn’t work, Mr Gyngell said.

“I’d like to make more original things and own more IP (intellectual property). If you look around the world, free-to-air is really going to survive on the bones of news, current affairs and sports,” Mr Gyngell said.

“[In two years] I would say that we would be more committed to news and current affairs than we are now, not less. It just works for us.”

Having the mix of local content including, reality TV, panel shows, drama and sport will be a point of difference for free-to-air, he said.

“There’s an incredibly opportunity to have a different relationship with advertisers, which we have to keep proving to them.”

“I believe they will come back, especially the large advertisers who will try to get out in front of their competitors who are nipping at their heels. Because they’re larger and they’ve got more money, they’ll spend on television. Having the locally owned content is going to create more value and it’s going to define us.”

Nine did admit that its ratings share over the 2016 financial year will come in slightly lower than 2015, due to increased competition and one-off events, such as the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympic Games on Seven next year.

In the latest Standard Media Index figures from July, Nine had ad revenue share of 37.1 per cent, down from 39.1 per cent in July 2014. Seven remained number one with ad share of 38.5 per cent, down from 39.7 per cent from a year earlier. Ten rose from 21.2 per cent in July 2014 to 24.4 per cent in July 2015.

Mr Gyngell said the audience was still there for Nine, but people were watching in different ways, such as video on demand, where numbers aren’t yet officially measured, making it hard to negotiate pricing with advertisers.

“The challenge we’ve got now is all our shows that we’re talking about, that people are worried about, are all pretty close to the numbers they were doing two years ago. But, they’re coming in at catch-up; they’re coming in on an AVOD service, but we can’t charge for them. This is a worldwide problem we’re dealing with,” Mr Gyngell said.

The industry is working towards to an accepted measure of capturing audiences on catch-up services.

Mr Gyngell also commented that Stan, the subscription video-on-demand service it started with Fairfax Media, publisher of the Australian Financial Review and BusinessDay, has exceeded expectations, but it was not going to be “the saviour” of Nine long-term.

“Stan is running ahead of what we thought it was going to be, but then again the category is,” Mr Gyngell said.

Stan has had 300,000 gross sign-ups, and the company claims 70 per cent of users who take on a free trial stay on as paying customers.

“Are we getting our share? I think we’re probably keeping in touch, just. We’re up against the hottest brand in the world right now in Netflix,” Mr Gyngell said.

“The difference between us and our competitors is that we’re going to have a much more Australian tone to it. This is the space to watch and it is going to cause us a lot of sleepless nights in free-to-air until we get a really good understanding of it.”

Continue reading

Australian business calendar, August 31-September 4

MONDAY, August 31
Shanghai night field

Sydney – Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) business indicators for the June quarter

Sydney – TD Securities-Melbourne Institute inflation gauge for August

Sydney – Housing Industry Association new home sales for July

Sydney – Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to release financial aggregates for July

Sydney – Australian Ethical Investments full year results

TUESDAY, September 1

Sydney – RBA monthly board meeting and interest rate decision

Sydney – RBA index of commodity prices for August

Sydney – ABS balance of payments and international investment position for the June quarter

Sydney – ABS building approvals for July

Sydney – ABS government finance statistics for June quarter

Sydney – ANZ-Roy Morgan weekly consumer confidence survey

Sydney – The Australian Industry Group performance of manufacturing (PMI) index for August

Sydney – RP Data Core Logic Home Value Index for August

Sydney – Dun and Bradstreet business expectations survey

Brisbane – Collins Foods annual general meeting

WEDNESDAY, September 2

Sydney – ABS national accounts, including gross domestic product, for the June quarter

Perth – Africa Down Under Conference, day one of three

THURSDAY, September 3

Sydney – ABS Retail trade for July

Sydney – ABS international trade in goods and services for July

Sydney – Australian Industry Group Australian Performance of Services Index (PSI) for August

Sydney – Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott and Financial Services Council chief executive Sally Loane speaking at Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch

Perth – Africa Down Under Conference, day two of three

FRIDAY, September 4

Sydney – ABS overseas arrivals and departure for July

Sydney – ING releases report for women in financial services

Perth – Africa Down Under Conference, day three of three

Continue reading

Bart Cummings, Colin Hayes, Tommy Smith: The end of a special era of trainers

Tommy Smith with champion racehorse Tulloch. Photo: Stuart MacGladrie Colin Hayes. Photo: Robert Banks
Shanghai night field

The Australian racing community woke up on Monday morning to the reality that the last of the nation’s three most revered horse trainers had passed away.

The death of Bart Cummings, 87, at his property in NSW on the weekend, brought to an end not only a breathtaking career but also an era in Australian racing.

Colin Hayes, Tommy Smith and Bart Cummings dominated the racing industry in Australia for half a century. They not only won thousands of races across the national calendar but in their own way reinvented horse training.

From Monday it’s the next generation: Anthony Cummings, Gai Waterhouse and David Hayes, the sons and daughter of the big three, who are left to take their trade to another level.

After speaking to them overnight it’s indeed a daunting task for this group.

While the senior Cummings managed 12 Melbourne Cups and hundreds of major races he proved that tapping into the New Zealand bloodlines of the 1960s and `70s was imperative in finding a stayer.

Cummings had bases at different times in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney and is arguably Australia’s greatest horse trainer.

​But he is in distinguished company with the likes of Smith; the master of the Sydney racing industry for decades, he established a stunning strike rate and proved to the world that having more than 100 horses in work at one time was manageable and more importantly, could be highly successful..

Having just the basics of an education, Smith had heads of government, High Court judges and wealthy businessmen vying to be part of his operation.

Smith, whose daughter Gai Waterhouse is now in the upper echelon of trainers, was a trainer who had success right across the eastern seaboard for many years.

And the other racing legend that has also died was Colin Hayes who successfully showed that you can train a huge number of racehorses away from the city track.

Some years ago the Queen was a guest at the vast Hayes property at Angston in South Australia. After viewing the comfort and space afforded every horse on the rolling paddocks of the Adelaide hills racing base, she turned and said, “Colin, it’s just wonderful how every horse in your care has a room with a view”.

Hayes, too, came from a working-class background to achieve what everyone said was impossible. Old-time horsemen declared he would be broke in months.

Hayes dominated South Australian racing for 30 years and also had a vice-like grip on premierships in Victoria. He managed to not only train a huge team at Lindsay Park but also run a highly successful breeding operation on the same property.

These three rewrote the training manual for those horsemen who came after them.

While Hayes and Cummings had a vehement dislike for each other, Hayes’ son David explained that it was an understandable disagreement.

“You’ve got to remember dad (Colin Hayes) and Bart were the very best of horsemen in a very tiny town of Adelaide so there was always going to be such bitterly strong rivalry.

“But the loss of Bart Cummings is very sad and now those three great pioneers are gone but fortunately their legacies have been instrumental in forging the future of training,” Hayes said.

And while it may seem far fetched to suggest the sons, daughters, grandsons and grandaughters of these three racing trailblazers can better their fathers’ or grandfathers’ deeds, remember a line all three used many times on the climb up the ladder to greatness.

Give Up never won a race.

Continue reading

Has Jason Day produced the greatest year by an Australian golfer ever?

Jason Day takes FedExCup lead
Shanghai night field

“How long until he becomes No.1 in the world?”

Of all the questions during Jason Day’s commanding six-shot win at The Barclays, that is the one that occupies the Australian’s mind more than any other, for we know how badly he wants it.

He could yet do so by the end of this year, but according to the legendary Nick Faldo, the world No.3 has unofficially gone past the game’s marquee man, Jordan Spieth, who this week lost his No.1 mantle back to Rory McIlroy as the game’s “Big Three” continue their takeover.

“This guy is the best player in the world right now,” the six-time Major Champion said about Day during commentary of The Barclays, having posed the above question early in the round.

“Jordan was before, but right now and over the last month, this is the guy they’ve got to beat.”

And there are a couple of other questions worth asking right now, too.

For instance, has any Australian golfer had a better year than Jason Day’s in 2015?

The 27-year-old is on the verge of climbing a mountain no other golfer from this country has been able to. That is, winning the PGA Tour’s coveted US$10 million FedExCup – which is basically the end-of-season “premiership” for golfer’s on the world’s top circuit introduced in 2007.

In AFL terms, Day’s win at the Barclays on Monday morning, AEST, was kind of like winning a qualifying final in the first week of September.

He will now head into the remaining two events of the Tour Playoffs – the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships – ranked No.1 in the standings and in the box seat to stay there for the grand final the following week, which is the Coca-Cola Tour Championship.

If he were to win one, two or all three of those tournaments and lift the FedExCup, Day would set a new standard of excellence for Australian golf.

Our best of the modern era, Greg Norman, had a flagship year in 1986 when he won two PGA Tour events, one on the European Tour and of course his first major – the 1986 Open Championship – to go with second-place finishes at the Masters and PGA Championship that year.

He also won a bunch of minor events in Australia that don’t really come into the equation, because the Australian summer is much different now and Day has elected not to play our domestic events this year due to the birth of his second child.

This was the year of the “Norman Slam”, as he became the first player to hold the 54-hole lead in all four Major events, thus playing in the final group and having the greatest chance ever of achieving the Grand Slam that Spieth flirted with this year.

Day, in comparison, has now won four times this year – starting with his win at the Farmers Insurance Open in February – and three times in his past four starts – the Canadian Open, his breakthrough major title at the PGA Championship and now the Barclays.

It is the first time since Bruce Crampton in 1973 that an Australian has won four events on the US PGA Tour in one season.

So good has Day been that his play has forced the game’s leading judges to ponder another question they never thought they would bother asking: Has anyone had a better year than Jordan Spieth?

It seems implausible that a man who won both the Masters and the US Open could not win the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award.

However there is a real danger that Day could yet steal the award, becoming the first Australian to do so since Norman turned that trick in 1995 – in a magnificent year in which “The Shark” never won a major but became No.1 in the world.

Day is in a zone right now, one that Norman once had access to back in his heyday, if not similar to that which Tiger Woods use to frequent more than any other of recent times.

The Queenslander’s win at The Barclays was an encore to his history-making score-to-par in a major at the PGA Championship.

He went 63 and 62 over the weekend to blitz the field – making only one bogey along the way.

He is starting to create superstar moments, too, much like Spieth has done all year.

“Oh my goodness, this guy is sensational”: that was the call on commentary when Day rolled in a long, winding putt on the 15th hole that was so tough that the TV broadcaster’s predictor gave him just a six-percent chance of making it.

He pumped his fist and let out a big roar to match that of the crowd’s.

Since the US Open in late June, he has produced 20 straight rounds under par.

The toughness factor has played big for Day.

Not only did he guts it out to finish tied 9th at the US Open, overcoming a bout of vertigo that caused him to collapse, he came through at The Barclays despite having to withdraw from the pro-am with a back complaint.

Golf is such that one’s consistency of contending is not recognised until you stop contending and start winning.

That is true for Day, who has had five top 10s to add to his four wins this year – including a tied fourth at the Open Championship and the US Open finish.

Spieth, though, has been on another level in terms of consistency – completing 10 top 10 finishes to go with two other wins on the PGA Tour in 2015.

He also finished second (PGA Championship) and tied fourth (Open Championship) in the other two majors he didn’t win, all of which means Day needs to keep winning over the next three weeks to make those judging the Player of the Year award forget about the incredible body of work Spieth has put together.

Then, again, you wouldn’t put anything past Day right now.

Continue reading

New digital partnership pays off for Football Federation Australia

Australia’s Massimo Luongo celebrates after scoring a goal during January’s Asian Cup final. Photo: Steve ChristoFootball Federation Australia is getting all its ducks in a row with the help of Perform Sports Content and Media, as it aims to maximise what it can get for its next broadcast deal.
Shanghai night field

FFA will announce on Monday a partnership with Perform, which it started 12 months ago, to improve its digital assets and offerings to fans.

“We’re focused on growing our digital platforms with a view to getting the best deal possible in the next rights deal. That means returning value to Perform, creating value for sponsors and advertisers and you’re only going to do that if you’ve got really good products for the fans,” FFA head of commercial Luke Bould told Fairfax Media.

“If we get the fan offering right, then we’ll get the commercial sponsorship offering right, and that will maximise our ability to do a really good rights deal next time.”

Perform has been enlisted to help with drive traffic to FFA’s online assets, including the Socceroos, Matildas, A-League and W-League, through things such as statistics, editorial content and video and simulcast streaming of the A-League’s Friday night match.

The partnership has led to 27 new websites across the FFA, iOS and Android apps for A-League clubs, the league and the Socceroos.

Over the past 12 months, FFA has seen a 54 per cent pick-up in unique audience across its digital network and a 72 per cent increase in revenue from those assets. FFA digital assets had 7.9 million unique visitors during the latest A-League season.

The deal, which is aligned with its broadcast rights, runs through until the end of the 2017 season. ‘Suck it and see’

“From a commercial point of view, the first six months was a little bit of “suck it and see”, commercially, but the past six months has been very positive and we’re seeing significant increases in revenue occurring across all the assets, and across all the platforms,” Mr Bould said.

“We’re probably coming from a reasonably low base 12 months ago, but the adoption by our partners and the market has been really strong and consistent.”

Football in Australia has enjoyed one of its most successful years ever, match results wise, with the Socceroos winning the Asian Cup in January, the Western Sydney Wanders winning the Asian Football Confederation Champions League and the Matilda’s performing strongly at this year’s FIFA women’s World Cup.

To maintain interest and growth, it is important to be offering audiences an engaging product, not just on the television, but through other devices before, during and after matches, Perform Australia managing director Alex Peebles said.

“If you rewind and look at a football consumer, or a sports consumer, let’s say five years ago, the typical consumption pattern was watching live on TV and maybe reading a match preview then a match report on it,” Mr Peebles said.

“The sophistication of sports fans around the world, particularly in Australia, has evolved significantly since then. What’s really important for those fans is being able to get behind-the-scenes access – fast and normally first. That involves not just match action, but seeing what these people like to do off the pitch, as well as data and statistical analysis; that is content fans need and really want to see.”

Mr Peebles said that engagement with fans has helped Perform commercialise the FFA’s digital assets.

“We’ve got an exclusive content team, both out of our offices here and at FFA headquarters, who produce exclusive editorial and video for the network, as well as working with our data and statistics team in creating engaging and unique content out of the data.”

Continue reading

Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde causes outrage over rape remarks

Chrissie Hynde: “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk … who else’s fault can it be?” Photo: Dean Chalkley
Shanghai night field

Chrissie Hynde: “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk … who else’s fault can it be?” Photo: Dean Chalkley

Chrissie Hynde: “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk … who else’s fault can it be?” Photo: Dean Chalkley

Chrissie Hynde: “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk … who else’s fault can it be?” Photo: Dean Chalkley

Singer Chrissie Hynde has caused outrage after suggesting women are to blame if they are raped.

“If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk … Who else’s fault can it be?” the singer was quoted as saying in an interview with the Sunday Times magazine in the UK.

“If I’m walking around and I’m very modestly dressed and I’m keeping to myself and someone attacks me, then I’d say that’s his fault. But if I’m being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who’s already unhinged … that’s just common sense.”

The Pretenders singer writes in her recent autobiography, entitled Reckless, that she was sexually assaulted in the US city of Ohio when she was 21.

Hynde, now 63, told the magazine that a member of a motorcycle gang had promised to take her to a party, but instead took her to an abandoned house. Hynde claims she was forced to perform sexual acts under the threat of violence.

She now says she takes full responsibility for the assault.

“Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t f… about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges … those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do,” Hynde was quoted as saying.

“You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say whose brush is this? You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive.”

When asked whether the gang took advantage of her vulnerability, she replied: “If you play with fire you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?”

She was also quoted as saying: “You know if you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him.

“If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and f… me’, you’d better be good on your feet … I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial am I?”

She also suggested that pop stars who called themselves feminists, but who used their sex appeal to sell albums, were effectively “prostitutes”.

“Women who sell what their product is by using sex – that’s prostitution,” Hynde was quoted as saying.

“A pop star who’s walking around, parading themselves as a porn star and saying they’re feminists. They’re prostitutes. I’m not making a value judgment on prostitutes, but just say what you are.”

Her comments caused outrage among victim support charities, as well as online, with Twitter awash with commentary. Chrissie Hynde says you should dress modestly or it’s your fault if you’re raped. Rape survivors respond. pic.twitter上海夜网m/lK1ZV6mfHX— Jade Helm Commander (@Anomaly100) August 30, 2015Chrissie Hynde is saying the same as: I had no choice but to rob this jewellers as they had all the lovely shinies out on show in the window— Cara Sutra (@TheCaraSutra) August 30, 2015  I thought Chrissie Hynde was trending because she’d died. But no, it’s much worse than that.— Alix Haynes (@amazing_haynes) August 30, 2015I do feel bad for Chrissie Hynde—blaming herself for her own sexual assault—but it’s irresponsible to take that blame and extrapolate it.— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) August 30, 2015re: chrissie hynde on rape – sometimes it’s easier to blame yourself than to admit you are powerless.— Tobi Vail (@mstobivail) August 30, 2015

Continue reading

Napthine resigns as South West Coast MP

Former premier Denis Napthine with former transport minister Terry Mulder.RELATED:Napthine resigns | Career in picturesVOTERS across south-west Victoria will go to the polls later this year following the resignation of former premier Denis Napthine.
Shanghai night field

The 63-year-old announced his retirement as South West Coast’s representative in Spring Street on Mondaymorning, bringing his nearly three decade-long political career to an end.

Dr Napthine’s resignation will trigger the first by-election in the region since 1983, when former prime minister Malcolm Fraser retired.

Polwarth MP Terry Mulder hasalso resigned, after representing the constituency since the 1999 state election.

The outgoing South West Coast MP toldThe Standardit had been an honour to represent the region in State Parliament.

“Twenty-seven years as local member is a long time,” Dr Napthine said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always put the interests of the electorate first.

“It’s been an absolute honour and privilege to represent this great area in the State Parliament.

“I’ve also had the honour of being the minister in two different governments (Kennett and Baillieu) and being premier of the state. But first and foremost, my fundamental responsibility has been to listen to the local community, work with the local community and seek to improve services, opportunities, the economy.”

The former premier toldThe Standardhis decision to stand down as South West Coast MP was taken after consultation with his wife Peggy and family. He also notified State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy some time ago.

“I’m now well into my 60s and I’ve served a long time,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate for south-west Victoria to have some fresh blood, somebody who is equally passionate, I hope, about our region, who loves our region as much as I do.

“Somebody who can work hard with the community in the lead-up to the 2018 state election.”

South West Coast is held by the Liberal Party on a margin of nearly 11 per cent while Polwarth is held by the same party on a 10.6 per cent margin.

Continue reading

Farewell Joe, hello ScoMo? Abbott’s loyalty to be tested again

Prime Minister Tony Abbott … one of his finest qualities as a friend is loyalty. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer Tipped for the Treasuer’s job: Scott Morrison. Photo: Andrew Meares
Shanghai night field

On the brink: Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Louie Douvis

Tony Abbott being urged to dump Joe Hockey

As anyone who knows Tony Abbott will tell you, one of his finest qualities as a friend is loyalty.

But in politics – unlike in life – loyalty is rarely rewarded.

In 2009, Mr Abbott demonstrated he understood the need for disloyalty when he joined other shadow ministers and tore down Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership to keep the Liberal Party from tearing itself apart.

Since then he seems to have forgotten the lesson.

Abbott’s loyalty to former speaker Bronwyn Bishop needlessly dragged that damaging scandal out for weeks; for years he was loyal to his signature paid parental leave scheme, despite the damage it did to him in the party room; and leading up to February’s spill motion, he stared down calls for Joe Hockey and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, to be moved on as a sign he had listened, learned and would change.

Now, once again, his colleagues are discussing whether the Treasurer – who Abbott has previously pledged will retain his job, come what may – will be moved on.

The trigger is the Canning byelection on September 19.

Some government strategists are briefing that any victory – remember, the margin is 11.8 per cent – will be good enough for the PM.

Others nominate a swing against the government of up to 6 per cent as acceptable.

But a big enough swing against the government, even if the seat is retained, could still be deadly for Abbott.

As the byelection looms, cabinet members are discussing a contingency plan which would see Hockey dumped and one of the government’s best communicators, Scott Morrison, promoted to explain the government’s economic message and restore its political fortunes.

A reshuffled frontbench would re-engage voters and get the government through to Christmas, when it could re-group.

Then, late in January, a double dissolution poll would be called for March – Parliament would not sit, a potentially tricky third budget would be avoided and Abbott would be freed up to campaign across the country.

The Prime Minister is convinced that, even if he begins an election campaign behind Bill Shorten in the polls, he will have the Opposition Leader’s measure on the trail – and he is probably right.

The fact that these confidential discussions – and they are only discussions at this stage – have leaked out is a measure of how badly the Abbott government is travelling.

And, if things go really badly, the Canning byelection will present another test of the prime minister’s loyalty.

Follow James Massola on Facebook.

Continue reading

Labor calls on Auditor-General to investigate Australian Border Force

Police watch as protesters rally inside Flinders Street Station on Friday against Australian Border Force officers taking part in Operation Fortitude. Photo: MAL FAIRCLOUGHLabor has called on the Auditor-General to investigate what training Australian Border Force officials have been given since the agency was established in July this year and whether their legal powers extend to random visa checks.
Shanghai night field

Opposition Immigration spokesman Richard Marles has written to Grant Hehir in the aftermath of Saturday’s aborted Operation Fortitude in Melbourne’s central business district.

Mr Marles said the Australian Border Force had been brought into ridicule after a press release was issued on Friday quoting Victoria and Tasmania regional commander Don Smith saying ABF officials would be positioned around Melbourne’s CBD “speaking with any individual we cross paths with”.

The government has blamed the incident and protest that followed on a “poorly worded press release” and says it was never the intention of authorities to conduct a visa blitz.

It emerged on Sunday that the media release had been sent to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office last week, but his office says no one read it because it was regarded as “routine”.

“What is concerning me is the lack of understanding about the legal powers of officials of ABF which these [Mr Smith’s] comments appear to betray,” Mr Marles says in his letter.

“Accordingly, I would request that you undertake an investigation in relation to the training that has been provided to officials of ABF as part of its inception, specifically as to: a) the powers that ABF officers possess and b) the circumstances in which these powers can be legally exercised.”

Mr Marles said it was critical there be a prompt investigation because of the “significant community anxiety” the incident had caused.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday he had received text messages from distressed multicultural community leaders for whom Friday’s events had brought back “some very stark memories of great tragedy and fear”.

Mr Andrews praised the response of the wider community’s action to the operation.

“You saw a very, very Victorian response as people literally took to the streets to protest against something that was ill-conceived and not something supported by my government, not something supported by Victoria Police and indeed not something supported by the Victorian community,” Mr Andrews said.

Fairfax Media asked Mr Dutton’s office whose idea it was for ABF officials to join the Victoria Police-led operation, and what training and powers officials have.

A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokesman said their role in Operation Fortitude, if it had proceeded, was to be a small one.

He said the ABF routinely provided “low level support” to state and territory operations and “should operations result in doubts over visa compliance by particular individuals, they are referred to ABF officers for compliance checks”.

“In this operation, six ABF officers were to assist partner agencies in various locations by conducting background visa checks on individuals only in the event they were referred to us,” he said.

Labor and the Greens said it was an “astounding admission” that Mr Dutton’s office had not read the material it received, with both accusing the Minister of “incompetence”.

“Minister Dutton is showing himself to be a bumbling and incompetent minister who needs to step up or resign from his position,” Greens leader Richard Di Natale said.

Mr Marles told a later press conference the Minister needed “to take responsibility and explain to the Australian people what was intended with Operation Fortitude and who made the decision to abandon this operation”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government was trying to “to “throw some middle-level bureaucrat in a uniform under the bus” rather than take responsibility for Friday’s chaos.

But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Network Ten’s Bolt Report Labor’s reaction was “completely and utterly over-the-top”, repeating the government’s position that the problem had been a “poorly worded press release”.

With Richard Willingham

Continue reading

John Brogden speaks about his suicide attempt: ‘Experiences like mine show there is a way back’

Former NSW Liberal leader John Brogden. Photo: Brendan Esposito Then NSW opposition leader John Brogden resigns from the leadership in August 2005. Photo: Steven Siewert
Shanghai night field

John Brogden resigned after a scandal over a racist joke about Helena Carr and inappropriate behaviour towards two female journalists. Photo: Steven Siewert

John Brogden at the National Reform Summit on August 26, 2015. Photo: Louie Douvis

Opinion: The national emergency we cannot ignoreNational campaign needed to raise awareness about suicide

One night in July 2005, then state Liberal leader John Brogden went for a drink at the Hilton Hotel. He was feeling good, “euphoric” in his words, and understandably so.

Plausible, articulate and popular in the polls, Brogden had reinvigorated his party after 10 years in opposition. Labor was on the wane; long time leader Bob Carr had resigned only days before. Now, at just 36, Brogden was widely regarded as the premier-in-waiting.

“I was on a high that night,” he says, “and very uninhibited.”

Arriving at the Hilton, Brogden went upstairs, where the Australian Hotels Association was holding its mid-year drinks, before moving down to the Marble Bar, where he stood holding court, surrounded by journalists and staffers. “I was dominating the group, very much the alpha male.”

But six Corona beers later, Brogden went from alpha male to rogue male. He pinched the bottom of a female journalist, Justine Ferrari, and propositioned another. He then called Helena Carr, Bob Carr’s Malaysian-born wife, “a mail-order bride”, yelling that she should get “back on the boat”.

Brogden was a married man, a young father, and a squeaky clean Catholic. His comments were potentially career ending, and yet, standing at the bar, riding on adrenalin and high-octane hubris, he was oblivious to the risk.

“Nothing struck me on the night,” he says, “which probably says a lot about where my head was at.”

***

Brogden had never thought of himself as mentally ill. His family had no history of depression, no genetic trapdoors waiting to swallow him up. What he did have, though, was a childhood of domestic violence.

“Mum and dad divorced when I was 13, and mum had a guy come into our house who was a violent alcoholic.”

His stepfather would drink, “glugging a bottle of Johnnie Walker like you’d drink a bottle of Coke”, and go on rampages. “He was so controlling that he bricked up the gate to our next door neighbours, to keep us locked in.”

Brogden became angry, but rather than talk about it, he channelled it into ambition. He became school vice-captain, then president of the Young Liberals. At just 21, he ran unsuccessfully for preselection. (“A 21-year-old running for parliament is a f—ing joke,” then premier Nick Greiner remarked.) He tried again at 24, and lost that, too.

He was elected, on his third attempt, to the seat of Pittwater on Sydney’s northern beaches, becoming at 27 the youngest member of the NSW Legislative Assembly.

He had it all: the safe seat, a beautiful wife, the beachside home in Bilgola. And yet he was deeply unhappy.

“I always saw myself as being on an escalator. I’d go up and get off at the next level, then go up again and get off at a higher level, and so on. But I was never satisfied. I always had to work harder, because that’s how I pushed the pain away.”

By the time he took the leadership, in 2002, he was working 16 hours a day, six days a week, “spinning like a record”, he says, “around and around, faster and faster”.

His energy was irrepressible, his temper incandescent. “There was a lot of screaming and swearing and kicking of things,” Lance Northey, his then media adviser, says. “John could be absolutely manic.”

Then came the Hilton Hotel. Rumours had surfaced about his behaviour that night, but Brogden always denied them. Then, three weeks later, while campaigning in Macquarie Fields, Brogden got a call from Glenn Milne, at The Sunday Telegraph.

“He told me he was reporting it all in the next day’s paper,” Brogden says. “I completely panicked.”

The next day was a disaster: Brogden was depicted as a sleaze and a racist. Bob Carr went to town, describing his former opponent as a “featherweight mediocrity” who had “insulted every woman of Asian background”.

Brogden apologised, profusely and unconditionally. He went on radio and was ripped to shreds.

“I felt a deep shame,” he says. “Shame for my wife, Lucy, shame for the party, and anger at myself. I had got us so close and had no one to blame but me.”

The next morning he resigned from the leadership. “After the press conference I walked into the lift to go up to my office, but the doors took forever to close, and there were all these cameras staring at me, and I waved at them like an idiot, with this stupid grin on my face.”

When he got up to his office, he burst into tears.

***

The next day, Brogden woke to find the media camped outside his home. “Cameras, reporters, the whole scene.”

He had resigned the leadership but was still the member for Pittwater, and so he resolved to go back to work. “I remember [attorney-general] Philip Ruddock called me in my office, and Alexander Downer.” When he got home that night, his mother was there to lend support.

At 6.15pm, however, Northey called him. “Lance said he had got a call from The Daily Telegraph saying they were going to run all this stuff the next day, a whole series of other stories, most of which were untrue or completely twisted.”

It was the end. “The minute I took that call, I knew I had to kill myself.”

A strange calm overtook him. “I now had an answer. I knew how I could fix it all.”

He grabbed a carving knife and a bottle of gin and put them in a bag. He said goodbye to his wife and mother, telling them he had “some work to take care of”. He drove to Woolworths at Mona Vale and bought a garden hose, clippers and face masks.

On the way he rang a friend, who was a priest. “I wanted to give him my confession, but he said he couldn’t take it over the phone, that the Vatican hadn’t caught up with the 21st century.” Instead he gave it to the priest at the Sacred Heart Church across the road from Woolies.

“My plan was to go into the bush and gas myself,” he says. “But the media were following me, so I went to my office, locked the door, went upstairs and got into the shower. I drank the gin and started cutting my wrists.”

As he cut himself with the blunt knife he could hear the media, banging on the door downstairs.

As it happened, one of Brogden’s staffers was in a restaurant nearby, saw the commotion and called the police. “I remember the policeman coming in and grabbing the knife,” Brogden says. “I knew him – he was the local inspector.”

He was rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital and was promptly scheduled. (“They asked if I still wanted to harm myself, and I said ‘yes’.”)

Such was his shame that he couldn’t bring himself to look at Lucy. “I had wanted to kill myself, I hadn’t killed myself, and it hadn’t gone away.”

The next day he was transferred to Northside Clinic in Greenwich, where he was put on suicide watch.

The media were relentless. They staked out his home and the hospital; a journalist even tried to impersonate a family member in order to see him. Told to go away by the hospital staff, one of the reporters yelled, “Hey John, better luck next time.” He left a week later, smuggled out in the back of a friend’s station wagon with a blanket thrown over him.

***

There was no silver bullet, no magic cure. Brogden’s “re-entry”, as he calls it, was slow and painful, “one step forward, two steps back.” There was paranoia, agoraphobia.

“I just sat at home, too scared to leave the house.” But there were also moments of beauty. “One day, about three months after my suicide attempt, I was in Newport, buying a loaf of bread, when this guy stopped me. He physically grabbed me, because I still couldn’t look people in the eye. And he said, ‘John, it’s wonderful to see you!’ That was so important to me.”

Brogden was diagnosed with depression in early 2006 and has been on medication ever since.

“I still have my moments,” he says. “I hate going to Parliament House – that’s the dark side for me. I have to from time to time, for work, but I get in and out as quickly as possible.” And while his depression is still there, “it’s well managed. It’s like surviving cancer. It doesn’t dominate, and I don’t dwell, but it’s always there.”

Thanks to his profile, Brogden’s breakdown marked a turning point in the understanding of mental illness and reframed the discussion around depression.

“Experiences like mine show there is a way back,” he says. And yet suicide, he points out, still remains off-limits. “About 25,000 people have killed themselves since I tried. If 25,000 people had been killed in domestic violence or on the roads, we’d be doing something about it, and we’re not.”

The way we talk about suicide – the hushed tones, the oblique asides, the euphemisms – isn’t helping anyone, he says.

“One of my great revelations in the past 10 years is that most people think if you have a friend who is suicidal, you shouldn’t talk about it. But the reality is, you should. All the evidence is that you should bring it out, and ask that incredibly direct question, are you suicidal? We should never glorify suicide, but we have to bring it out.”

Lifeline 13 11 14

MensLine 1300 789 978

beyondblue 1300 224 636

Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

Continue reading