The top scoop this week was indubitably the Qantas rat pack story.
Ructions in Europe, dire economic data pointing to a slowing US economy, the wailing over carbon pricing at home, a sharp slump in GDP, and Australia’s greatest entrepreneur Andrew Forrest standing aside as chief executive of Fortescue – fine yarns all.
But Rodentgate surely surpassed them.
Who were they, these whiskered interlopers found aboard the Qantas 767? Such was the crisis that the airline had to ground the plane for 20 hours. The air safety regulator CASA was alerted. Indeed, there was a risk that these chattering critters might have gnawed through wiring and sent the entire in-flight entertainment system crashing.
But where was the disclosure? Was this the furry-butted Rattus norwegicus, the chattering, spindly tailed swamp rat Rattus lutreolus, or the shaggy-haired Rattus villosissmus? Were they domestic stowaways, or foreign rat nationals?
And how did they get there? We are only told they were discovered in the medical equipment. Could they have been Rattus Sans Frontieres perhaps? How were they not spotted queuing for hours with other passengers at the check-in counter? Or baulking at the astronomical prices in the terminal lounges?
Alas, we may never know because Qantas, showing scant sensitivity to the animal rights lobby, panicked and murdered them. Yes, it may be true that those of the family Muridae are prone, from time to time, to display barbaric qualities. The dominant male adults often urinate in public, and even on each other, in order to exert their dominance.
But we must ask ourselves this: would the airline have exterminated a pack of rugby league players if they, too, snuck on board without paying? The double standard is unacceptable. If this were a pod of whales Peter Garrett would have hit the roof; there would have been international condemnation.
Might these creatures have been of the obscure Australian genus Rattus colletti? The dusky rat, protected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List as an endangered species.
Such was the pathos, the profound drama of this story that, for the first time, this humble scribe was moved to sympathy for the Qantas PR department.
Amid the devastation of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan no less than six of the eight undersea data cables connecting that country have had problems. Meanwhile, worldwide data traffic is booming.
And so it is that the New Zealand entrepreneur Sam Morgan has teamed up with the former Fairfax boss David Kirk and another Kiwi entrepreneur, Rod Drury, to lay a 13,000 kilometre submarine fibre-optic cable across the Tasman.
Until now, Australia and New Zealand have relied on one cable. If Morgan and co can raise their planned $US400 million the economics appear compelling, both for their Pacific Fibre venture and for broadband customers in New Zealand.
The existing cable is owned by Southern Cross, a consortium of Telecom New Zealand (50 per cent), Singtel (40 per cent) and Verizon.
It spent $1 billion building the cable and took a dividend of
$US110 million in the last four quarters and has been able to charge roughly six times more in its data pricing than equivalent operators between the US and Japan, an equivalent distance. A monopoly rent.
The volume of international data traffic between the US, New Zealand and Australia has been growing at a compound annual rate of 55 per cent over the last eight years.
If Morgan, who founded the online auction house Trade Me in 1999 and sold it to Fairfax for $NZ700 million in 2006, gets his cable up it won’t have a big effect on Australia but is a game-changer for New Zealand.
The expense of carrying international data means ISPs limit their customers to much lower download caps than elsewhere.
The New Zealand government gave Pacific Fibre $15 million to get the ball rolling a couple of weeks ago, rattling Telecom NZ, and lending the lads a fair platform to raise another $300 million from the likes of infrastructure funds.
Credit Suisse is putting the hat around now. The way these things work, you sign up your customers and your finance at the same time. ANZ is considering tipping some debt in while the likes of Google, ISPs, mobile networks and data centre operators are being tapped as clients.
Revelations this week that OZ Minerals paid family members of a Cambodian venture partner to get a project up will hardly shock those in the mining world, who are used to “facilitation payments” to get things going in third world countries. Yet the extent of these murky deals seeps ever further into the public domain.
There was the BHP “tea money” scandal last year. BHP is yet to confirm or deny much but the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US is still investigating its $1 million payment to the Cambodian government to secure bauxite leases in 2006.
Then came news, again in these pages, that Rio Tinto had to fork out another $US700 million to the Guinean government to get its Simandou iron ore project going in Africa. That was on top of the existing equity deal with the local government. Rio is tipped to frame the transaction as a “settlement payment”.
Putting aside the ethics, bribery is a fact of life in many countries.
When it becomes endemic though, as it has in Argentina – as counterpoint to neighbouring Chile – it can destroy an economy, deterring investors and project approvals alike.