Clean Air 2000 affair
NRMA clean air campaign run by world's-best-practice
Tarkis and Bruce from the advertising agency came into the café
at lunchtime I pretended to be fascinated by something in an old issue
of Simply Living and avoided eye contact, but it was no use.
you scruffy old marsupial", Tarkis said, as Bruce guffawed and
pulled up a couple of chairs.
ordered chardonnay and pesto and shouted me another dry cider.
it looks as though the smog problem will be under control soon",
Bruce said. "Have you heard the news? ... the NRMA have Hill &
Knowlton running the Clean Air 2000 campaign ... they're just about
the world's biggest PR mob".
instinctive shudder ran down my spine. There are spindoctors and spindoctors,
but H&K are in a very special category. I had always believed that
Clean Air 2000 was just a routine political con-job but it had suddenly
assumed a more sinister character.
remind me again", I said,"Who's on the Clean Air 2000 committee
or task force or whatever..."
there's the NRMA itself, of course, and Shell Oil and the State Chamber
of Commerce and Boral and the Business Council of Australia and GMH
and the Motor Traders' Association and some bloke from the Labor Party
who wants to build the second airport at Badgery's Creek and that greenie,
whatshisname, who's on TV occasionally. They're getting together to
get traffic under control somehow", said Tarkis.
thought about changing the subject. Perhaps it was too cruel to do it
to them. They specified recycled paper for all their clients and Tarkis
always gave $2 to the bloke in the Wilderness Society koala suit ...
but in the end duty forced my hand and I plodded into it step by step.
you ever thought that they're a pretty unlikely bunch of altruists,
apart from the token greenie", I said "I mean Shell is an
oil company and a third-world human rights abuser of note, the State
Chamber of Commerce fought tooth and nail for the Eastern Distributor,
Boral sell concrete and LPG, the Business Council of Australia ... are
the Business Council of Australia, and GMH and the MTA would do anything
to promote as much car use as they could. Scuttlebutt has it that the
Infrastructure Development Council have a proxy vote, but I've never
been able to confirm that."
such a cynic", Bruce said, "Surely, in their own way, they're
trying to do something good, I mean H&K can't have come cheap, surely
that indicates a commitment".
& Knowlton would be costing them a packet", I said, "According
to the US organisation PR Watch they're the best in the greenwash business,
and the best in the whitewash business too. They smoothed things over
for the Chinese Government after Tiananmen Square, helped Proctor and
Gamble keep phosphates in laundry detergent, cooled things down for
Exxon after the Exxon Valdez disaster. They've helped convince anybody
who'd listen that the governments of Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Morocco
and Turkey were charming folk to do business with, but their finest
hour was the great baby incubator scam".
could see I had their rapt attention so I pressed on. "The story
goes that during the Gulf war, H&K were hired by the Kuwaiti Government
to invent fables to whip up war hysteria in the West. H&K arranged
to have the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US front up for
the TV cameras as an ordinary Kuwaiti girl who had witnessed Iraqi soldiers
taking babies out of humidicribs and killing them. They were paid $8
million for that sort of fiction".
... so what do you reckon they're up to here?" Tarkis asked.
whole point of the exercise is to put up a terrific facade of environmental
concern and social responsibility while they go on building motorways
and selling cars", I said. "Stand by for a burst of 'air pollution
reduction targets', 'integrated transport plans' and the like. Remember,
it's a state election year. Bob Carr lied like hell last time. He said
he'd stop building motorways and bring the RTA under control. Instead
we got the biggest motorway building program ever, subsidised motorway
tolls, more car use and dirtier air. Now he has to stand next to the
NRMA, put his hand on his heart and swear he has a new plan. But I can
tell you one thing for sure ... there'll be bugger all money for new
rail lines or light rail or cycleways. They'll have some sort of advertising
campaign asking people to use their cars less, a couple more meaningless
studies, more EPA monitoring and the RTA will go on rolling in money
and building as many roads as they like. Lots of ordinary folk will
feel guilty but they won't have any alternative but to go on using their
cars ... I rest my case".
what you're saying", said Tarkis, "Is that the spindoctors'
strategy is to offer cheap but doomed solutions based on the individual
changing his habits ... knowing that the individual can't change their
habits because they don't have the any choice. That way the individual
and that mysterious thing called society cop the blame".
in this scenario Clean Air 2000 is just a classic front group",
added Bruce, "The NRMA and the road lobby pose as friends of the
environment, keep the big bucks and keep building the big roads and
keep their 'right to pollute' intact".
greenwashing, like car washing, is big business these days", I
said, "And now there's a new threat. These radical cyclists are
giving the government hell over their right to use the roads. The last
thing the RTA wants is cyclists grabbing roadspace or siphoning off
sizeable chunks of the road budget into cycleways or promoting any legislation
which would favour cycling. I got a whisper that the RTA have another
PR mob doing a bit of push-polling ... the old random phone poll caper.
From what I've been told the brief is to discover that the public (whoever
they are) think cyclists get a good deal already".
maybe there's a few bucks to be made out of this market", wheezed
Tarkis, fishing around for his Ventalin.
not?" I said, "Ring Carl Scully ... everybody else is working
for him these days".
over the rainbow
22 February 1998
I got back from Webb Dock I dumped my gear in the office and went down
to the café for a cider.
had forgotten that it was Mardi Gras week. The place was full of queer
cowboys, camp commandos, gay hussars, bent bikies and tough-looking
lesbians from Newtown. The Tim Fischerettes, resplendent in pink Akubras,
elastic-sided boots and spangled see-through Drizabones were giving
their routine a last run-through and admiring the sequin frocks of the
Cheryl Kernot Boomers.
and Tarkis from the advertising agency had taken up the corner table
which had a prime view of the action.
never guess who's working on the NRMA's Clean Air 2000 campaign",
said Tarkis, with the smug expectation of someone with a bit of gossip
that was almost too hot to handle. Ever since I'd explained the greenwash
scam to him he'd been digging around in the PR industry looking for
a piece of the action.
do you know about Judy Garland?" Asked Bruce, who wasn't going
to let Tarkis monopolise the story.
American actor ... mother of Lisa Minelli ... starred in The Wizard
of Oz ... gay cult icon. She's dead", I replied, thinking that
this must be some sort of Mardi Gras joke.
Garland ... Garling. Isn't it Judy Garling", Tarkis said.
something like that", Bruce replied.
you mean a blond PR lady ... about so high ... I can't recall much",
I said. "If it's the same one, she comes from Terrigal. Used to
work for Nick Greiner when he was Premier, then Chris Hartcher when
he was Minister for the Environment. After the demise of the Fahey Government
she went on to be features editor for the Woman's Weekly for
a few months but I lost track after that".
I can pick up the story", said Tarkis, "After the Weekly she
got the top media job with the Parks and Wildlife people, then she was
attracted away by a very big offer from Dow Corning. The talk in the
industry is that she was mainly working on the silicon breast implant
debacle. Now she's gone to Hill & Knowlton and she's working on
Clean Air 2000."
she gets around", I said, "So what?" Webb Dock and the
Gulf buildup had left me in a poor mood for scuttlebutt.
anyway, you were right about the big air quality PR offensive",
said Bruce somewhat deflated, "From what I've heard the whole thing's
been lined up for early March. It's the ol' weekend blitz technique.
The NRMA are going to lead off with a fanfare announcement on a Saturday,
so as to get the Sunday papers. Then the government are going to announce
something called the Air Quality Management Plan on the Sunday to get
the Monday papers, then on the Monday the NRMA and the Environment Protection
Authority are going to sign some sort of memorandum of understanding
on air pollution ..."
yeah, to get the Tuesday papers", I muttered, "A great facade
of 'policy changes' and more EPA air quality monitoring behind which
it'll be business as usual for the tollway builders. Pigs will fly over
the rainbow and they'll pave Oxford Street with yellow bricks before
any of that makes the sightest impact on air pollution. The best we
can hope for is that the new Gulf war will break out or Prince Phillip
falls under a bus and the whole sorry sham gets pushed off the front
then we were interrupted by the throbbing roar of Harley-Davidsons in
Werrong Lane. A stench of petroleum and a thick haze of blue exhaust
smoke drifted in through the door, followed by a dozen grumpy-looking,
near-naked, fat elderly bikies with long white beards and coal scuttle
helmets. They were strapped up in leather waistcoats emblazoned 'Contrarian
MC', chrome-plated bondage chains and leather g-strings.
The Paddy McGuinnesses had arrived and in no time they were bitching
about the excessively intolerant atmosphere.
On Tuesday 13 October 1998 the Sydney Morning Herald reported
that the NRMA was poised to dump Clean Air 2000. Since 1995 the association
had spent more than $2 m on the project.