The lost generation of Spain’s unemployed youth

When Alvaro Garcia left school in 2008, his future looked bright. Spain’s economy was booming. Unemployment had fallen below 10 per cent for the first time in living memory. And for the first time since records began, Spain went from receiving far more immigrants in search of a better life – 600,000 in 2006 alone – than there were emigrant Spaniards leaving Spain for the same reason.

Six years later, a university graduate and unemployed in Madrid, Alvaro belongs to Spain’s lost generation.

In January this year, one out of every four adult Spaniards was out of work. Even after five years of recession, the International Monetary Fund warned that it may be five years more before the unemployment rate falls below 25 per cent and the number of unemployed people in Spain falls below 6 million.

Suicide rates are on the rise, Spain’s young professionals are fleeing the country and Oxfam has predicted that 18 million Spaniards – a staggering 40 per cent of the population – are at risk of social marginalisation within the next decade. Even the Spanish government acknowledges that it will be 10 years before the economy can recover the more than 4 million jobs lost during the recession.

”I call this Spain’s Great Depression,” says Francisco Comin, professor of economic history at the University of Alcala de Henares, near Madrid.

”In terms of duration and decrease in activity, it is only comparable to the Civil War [1936-1939] and the postwar era.”

But it is Spain’s young people in particular for whom the most recent figures are truly apocalyptic: 57.7 per cent of Spaniards aged between 15 and 24 cannot find work. Move the goalposts a little and the improvement is negligible – about 45 per cent of those under 30, almost 2 million young people, are unemployed. ”The damage is done,” says Alvaro Garcia. ”Ours is a lost or wasted generation. Lost because we naively believed the politicians when they told us that things would get better. Wasted because we have lost so many who had no choice but to leave Spain in search of a better life.

”The hope of finding work is next to zero. What used to be normal – a job that allowed you to be happy and independent, to live in your own home – these things are chimeras, shadows from a recent past that now seems utterly unattainable.

”Every day I talk with my friends, all of whom have university degrees. And we always finish the conversation in the same way, with the same question: ‘How on earth did it come to this?”’

If one moment came to symbolise the fragility of the Spanish economy’s boom years, it came late in 2008. For months, the socialist government of prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, newly re-elected to a second four-year term in March of that year, had been refusing to admit that Spain’s economy was in trouble, as if hoping that the looming global financial crisis would all go away. And then, in just one month, Spain’s unemployment rate leapt from seven to 16 per cent.

In truth, however, the perfect storm that would sweep away the prosperity of an entire nation had been brewing for far longer. For more than a decade, about a quarter of Spain’s economic output revolved around tourism and construction, two industries highly susceptible to downturns in the international economy.

In the Extremadura region in Spain’s west, where a massive fall in tourist numbers hit especially hard, the base unemployment rate is 33 per cent, with two-thirds of Extremadura’s young people without work.

”It has been a terrible few years, a catastrophe, especially here in Caceres where the economy is built around the services industry,” says Rafael Navas, a hotel worker in Extremadura’s regional capital.

”There’s nothing else here. There are plenty of young people here – people with a university education – who have simply given up hope.”

But it was construction and a lucrative, if unsustainable property boom that drove the Spanish economy’s spectacular growth.

”We spent a lot of talent and resources generating a productive capacity that we didn’t need and we are now left with skeletons of buildings and infrastructures,” says Jose Antonio Herce, professor of economics at Madrid’s Complutense University.

”The dismal allocation of resources during the boom years is coming back to haunt us horribly now.”

Symbols of the boom years are everywhere visible across Spain’s urban landscape, from entire suburbs of empty apartment blocks to massive infrastructure projects that remained unfinished after the money ran out.

Take, for example, Spain’s first private airport that was built near Ciudad Real, a provincial town of 75,000 people about 200 kilometres by road south of Madrid.

Amid as much unease as fanfare, the airport opened in December 2008 at a cost of €1.1 billion. Its 4.4-kilometre runway was Europe’s longest, long enough even for an Airbus 380, and the airport had a carrying capacity of 10 million passengers a year.

The only problem was that no one could quite work out why 10 million people would want to fly to Ciudad Real. Three years after the airport opened, the airport’s operator went bankrupt and the few airlines to have used the airport took their business elsewhere.

Since then, the only people working at the airport are painters who paint giant yellow crosses along the runway lest pilots confuse the airport with that of Madrid. Last month, the airport was put up for sale at a bargain basement price of €100 million ($153 million).

In such poorly conceived follies lay the seeds of the crisis confronting Spain’s young and unemployed. Inflated wages and an abundance of work on projects such as these encouraged many young Spaniards to leave school early, safe in the knowledge that they could earn $3000 a month as unskilled labourers on construction sites.

But when the property bubble burst these young people were cast adrift into a profoundly depressed jobs market without even a high-school diploma and with little prospect of being retrained. It is these young people that make up almost half of Spain’s unemployed young.

The disproportionate reliance on tourism and construction and the massively wasteful practices of Spain’s private sector were not its only problems.

According to Spain’s Instituto Nacional de Estadistica (National Statistics Institute), Spanish wages actually fell during the boom years – in 2002, the average Spanish wage was $30,230 per annum, compared to $30,045 four years later. It was during this period, in August 2005, that a young Spanish woman named Carolina Alguacil wrote an impassioned letter to Spain’s El Pais newspaper complaining that Spain’s young workers were being left behind.

Her plea, and her coining of the word ”mileurista” (those who earn less than €1000 or $1526 per month), became something of an anthem for Spain’s young and, in many cases, soon-to-be-unemployed.

She was, she wrote, ”a young university graduate with foreign languages, postgraduate studies, masters degrees and courses under her arm who earns no more than €1000. Who spends over a third of her salary on rent, because she likes the city. Who doesn’t save, doesn’t own a home, car, or have any children; who lives from day to day. Sometimes it’s fun, but it’s starting to get tiresome.”

An estimated 12 million Spaniards now survive on less than $1526 a month. Eva Caballero, a 28-year-old administrative assistant and IT worker who lives in Madrid, takes home $1250 a month and is typical of Spain’s mileuristas.

”We’re not a lost generation, but a creative one, one that has learnt how to make more out of less, to enjoy the simple pleasures that we had forgotten in our consumer-oriented society.”

But such noble sentiments quickly turn to anger.

”We have our values but we no longer believe in the politicians. We have our qualifications but we have no way to use them. What other choice do we have but to resign ourselves to our fate and become bitter?”

That these are the lucky ones who actually have jobs goes a long way towards explaining why the malaise at the heart of the Spanish economy runs deeper than the frightening statistics of youth unemployment.

”Either we accept precarious [and sometimes even humiliating] working conditions here, or we have no choice but to look for opportunities elsewhere,” is how Alvaro Garcia puts it.

Some long-term consequences of this brain drain can be cast in numerical terms. The exodus of Spanish doctors and nurses, for example, has led the Spanish Health Ministry to warn of a shortfall of 25,000 trained medical professionals by 2025.

In January, a survey by a major think tank of 1000 young Spaniards between the ages of 18 and 24 found that more than half believed that they would never own their own home or start their own family. Sixty-one per cent expected that they would have to leave Spain to begin a new life.

Other impacts from Spain’s economic malaise are less easy to quantify.

Spain’s crisis could leave an entire generation ”very seriously scarred”, according to Jose Salazar Xirinachs, director of employment at the International Labour Organisation.

”We know that for those who don’t start well in the labour market, those who take a long time to find their first job, these things have a big influence on the type of work and level of income they achieve for the rest of their lives.”

If there is any silver lining to the current crisis, it lies in the birth of a new kind of politics. On May 15, 2011, a group of protesters occupied Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square to denounce the economic policies of Spain’s two major political parties.

A forerunner to the worldwide Occupy protests, the Madrid protesters – who became known as los indignados, those who are indignant – remained for months and spawned a politics of grassroots activism that continues to this day.

The vast network of neighbourhood co-operatives that were born out of the protests now prevent police from evicting home owners who have defaulted on their mortgages and run community food kitchens to supplement social security payments that are either inadequate or nonexistent.

They have even forced Spain’s lower house of parliament to debate a reform of legal provisions that require those who default on their mortgages to both surrender their houses to the banks and continue paying their mortgages.

There are also signs that the Spanish economy is improving. Earlier this month, economists at BBVA, Spain’s second-largest bank, forecast an annual growth rate of 0.9 per cent for 2014. Javier Hernandez, a funds manager working in Madrid told The Age that ”the money markets have started to move. People are starting to invest and confidence is coming back. It’s very slow, but this is always the first sign, like the canary in the gold mine.”

Pedro Alcantara, a restaurant owner in Madrid, says there are other intangible signs that the economy has turned the corner.

”I don’t know what happened but it began to turn around late last year. People started going out to eat again. Maybe everyone just reached a point where they just threw up their hands and said, enough! Whatever the reason, there has been a change, even if it is a small one.”

But such signs of meagre improvement offer small scraps of consolation for young people like Alvaro Garcia: ”Our generation is already lost. My only hope is that if one day I have a son or a daughter, they don’t have to suffer the injustices that have come to mark our generation.”

Anthony Ham is a Melbourne journalist.


Ledger’s legacy

Applications are open for the Heath Ledger Scholarship, which rewards the winning aspiring actor with training in the US and an entree to Hollywood, including a $20,000 prize package. The scholarship was created in 2008 in memory of the Australian actor Heath Ledger. Previous recipients of the scholarship include James Mackay (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows) and Anna McGahan (House Husbands). Applications should be lodged at australiansinfilm爱杭州同城论坛. The recipient is announced in June.Hany’s rising star

US network ABC has signed Australian actor Don Hany as the lead in a new medical drama, Warriors. He will play trauma surgeon George Mann in the series. Hany is one of Australia’s most successful television actors, with credits including East West 101, Underbelly, False Witness, Tangle, Offspring and the ABC/HBO co-production Serangoon Road. He is also one of the stars of the highly anticipated Foxtel miniseries Devil’s Playground.Laid bears fruit

The UK network ITV is piloting a British adaptation of the ABC comedy series Laid. The series, created by Australian writer Marieke Hardy, is the story of a girl whose ex-lovers begin to die mysteriously. The British version will be written by the award-winning playwright and screenwriter Jonathan Harvey. Harvey wrote the groundbreaking play (and film) A Beautiful Thing and the critically acclaimed BBC comedy Beautiful People. A US adaptation of Laid was announced some time ago, but has not proceeded.Ganging up

Production on the film adaptation of the long-running HBO hit TV series Entourage is under way. The feature film reunites the show’s characters, actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), his entourage Eric (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Johnny (Kevin Dillon), and his agent-turned-studio boss Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven). The film version will be directed by series creator Doug Ellin. The series ran between 2004 and 2011.The best for Bracey

Australian actor Luke Bracey has been signed to star in the Hollywood adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel The Best of Me. The book tells the story of two high school sweethearts who fall in love but are swept apart by circumstance. They fall in love for a second time when they meet again in their 40s. Bracey will play the younger Dawson, opposite Liana Liberato as the younger Amanda.Star-packed spin-off

The US adaptation of the Australian drama Secrets & Lies is turning into a star-studded TV project. Cruel Intentions and Gosford Park star Ryan Phillipe has already signed up to the series. He will now be joined by Cape Fear and August: Osage County star Juliette Lewis. The original version of the series was produced by Brisbane-based production company Hoodlum for the Ten Network. It stars Martin Henderson and airs next week.You Bette

Bette Midler will perform for the first time at the Academy Awards this year. Despite a career spanning five decades, the 68-year-old two-time Oscar-nominated actress and singer has never performed on the Oscar stage. This year’s Oscars – the 86th Academy Awards – will be staged on March 2 in the US. They will air on Channel Nine in Australia. Talk-show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres will host the telecast.TV tweets

I don’t want to be arrested but I really want to use a bail bondsman once in my life.Felicia Day (actor, crime newbie) @feliciaday

Having seen her bare breasts, I could definitely turn for Ja’mie.Matt Lucas (comic, in love)@RealMattLucas

“The Lego Movie” is still number one at the box office. How dare they make a film about plastic people and not call me!Joan Rivers (comic, self aware) @Joan_Rivers

Holy @houseofcards!Ricki Lake (TV host, Spacey fan)@RickiLake

Puberty Blues: Journey back to the good old days

Branching out: Characters and story lines develop beyond the book in series two of Puberty Blues.Claudia Karvan and Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor are shooting a scene for the second series of Puberty Blues in the kitchen-diner of a southern Sydney bungalow.

With its archways, tile-topped coffee table and vinyl-covered chairs the interior of the Blakehurst house is classic 1970s kitsch.

It’s the perfect backdrop for the action, which is placed somewhere in the late 1970s and, amazingly, everything is original. Pretty much all the set dressers had to do was hang a couple of pictures and put out some ashtrays to recreate an era that seems to hold so much fascination for modern TV viewers.

Call it nostalgia, a yearning for a more “certain” time in our history or maybe it’s just that middle-aged viewers want to see shows that remind them of their own youth; the fact is we can’t get enough of the 1970s and ’80s.

Puberty Blues co-producer John Edwards knows better than most about our irresistible attraction to that period, having produced a string of dramas, including Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War, Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo and Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story.

“It was the making of modern Australia and that’s what is appealing about the period to me,” he says. “It seemed to me that Australia changed forever during the Whitlam years. That was the Camelot period and the first throes of the change that continued through the ’70s and into the ’80s when we were becoming more completely ourselves.”

The first series of Puberty Blues, based on Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette’s iconic surfie coming-of-age novel, was a strong performer for Ten last year, in part because it tapped into that vein of nostalgia but also because of the strong narrative that was surprisingly dark and gritty at times.

Lindsay-Taylor, who plays Debbie’s father, Martin, describes the first series as unquestionably the “highlight” of his career.

“I was blown away by every aspect of it,” he says. “When I saw it I knew it was something special. I was amazed and proud that Australia could produce TV like this.

“It was something unique. It was fearless but beautiful as well – this story of these two young girls that is basically a love story.”

But where series one closely followed the story of the book, heavily featuring the adolescent trials of Debbie Vickers and her friend Susie Knight, crucially the second series develops the same characters beyond the scope of the book.

Inevitably there were some misgivings about how going “off piste”, as it were, would work out. “There was a lot of pressure on everyone,” says Lindsay-Taylor. “But the writers have led from the front. Tony McNamara and Alice Bell, our two key writers, know all the characters and the actors playing them. In the first read- through the characters just jumped off the page. The beauty of this series is that every character really gets their moment and really features.”

Karvan, who plays Judy Vickers opposite Lindsay-Taylor, is equally excited by the creative freedom afforded by the second series.

“I think in series one on any show you are finding your feet,” she says. “It’s a bit of an unknown quantity. But the second time around it has an audience and the characters have dropped deep down into themselves.

“The writers have taken ownership over the material, which has given it a bit of an octane boost. There is a lot more story this time and each character has a really quite surprising, extraordinary arc – including Judy.

“I think last time it was even more difficult to bring the adults into a book that was primarily about two teenaged girls. Now the adult characters are soaring. They are really meaty and surprising and fun.”

Karvan has her own theories about why the ’70s and ’80s appear to be resonating with modern audiences but there is also one very practical reason why the era works for this sort of drama – mobile phones were not even thought of then.

“For storytelling, email and mobile phones are a bit of an obstacle because communication is so easy,” she says. “When you don’t have instant access to everyone all the time it is better for drama. You can’t just solve a problem by picking up the phone.”

Puberty Blues is carrying a lot of Ten’s midweek ratings hopes and Edwards is hoping season two will benefit from promotions during Ten’s Olympics coverage.

“There’s a good promo base coming off the Winter Olympics where we can get some of that wider audience. It’s not as if Ten have had that many shows that they can promo in.”

And, not unnaturally, he’s talking up the potential of the show to continue beyond this second series.

“We are, frankly, contemplating the prospect of doing seasons three, four, five and six,” he says.

Puberty Blues, Ten, Wednesday, 8.30pm

Hollywood Hills mined for laughs

Serious, wordy, rapid-fire banter has defined screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin’s output from The West Wing to The Social Network – so much so that many viewers unacquainted with HBO series The Newsroom could identify its creator within minutes.

One of the brightest lights of the series – which screens locally on Foxtel’s Showcase – has been accomplished film actress Emily Mortimer. As MacKenzie McHale, she’s commanding, confident and razor-sharp; seemingly born for a Sorkin role.

The English actress’ rising Hollywood status makes her latest project appear all the more from left field. Doll & Em is a six-episode, semi-improvised UK comedy, created and co-written by Mortimer and best friend Dolly Wells, picked up by HBO before it even aired at home.

As the name suggests, Wells and Mortimer play exaggerated versions of themselves living with the latter’s TV success. Celebrities mining their own lives for laughs are nothing new, of course – see Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Matt LeBlanc (Episodes) and the A-listers that happily parodied their public personas in Extras. Doll & Em differs in that it’s less celebrity spoof and more a warts-and-all exploration of how friendships can be impacted by success and ambition. It’s also very, very funny.

How the pair wind up sharing Mortimer’s Hollywood Hills home is explained early. Wells – a comic actress with credits including The IT Crowd and Peep Show – is struggling with a relationship break-up in London, and invited to work for her pal in Los Angeles. Doll becomes Em’s assistant, quickly placing a strain on their long-standing friendship. Overnight, she must learn to navigate LA’s roads to ferry her friend to and from work and have Em’s coffee order – frothy latte, three shots, medium-sized cup – down pat.

Unsurprisingly, Mortimer is oblivious to her friend’s disillusion, trapped in a self-indulgent world of showbiz parties and over-enthusiastic fans (“can I get a picture of us hugging?” one asks).

Later in the series, when Wells experiences her own successes, the tension between the pair grows – albeit concealed by plastered-on smiles and backhanded compliments.

While there are regular Hollywood references, plus cameos by the likes of John Cusack and Susan Sarandon, the show’s gentle humour is driven by the chemistry between the leads.

The Newsroom was recently renewed for a third and final season. The upside? Mortimer will have more time for this extremely promising comedy.

Doll & Em will air later this year.

Real Housewives of Melbourne: Froth without bubbles

The Real Housewives of Melbourne on Arena.The oft-made claim about The Real Housewives of Melbourne, the first Australian edition of the burgeoning American reality television franchise, is that it isn’t scripted. Firstly, that’s disingenuous. Not having written lines doesn’t preclude the manufacturing of scenarios, collusion in tone and multiple takes. Based on the first two episodes, screening on Foxtel’s Arena on Sunday evenings, there are kit homes that are less pre-fabricated than this.

Secondly, maybe it should be scripted. Then you wouldn’t have amateur actors – which is what the six privileged central cast members and their support teams essentially are – improvising all the time. Left to their own devices, with several cameras shooting, they’re hardly arresting. Embarrassing? Yes. Self-delusional? Yes. Compulsively watchable? No.

Since The Real Housewives of Orange County debuted in March, 2006, the show has spread with viral-like speed. What it offers, without too much obfuscation, are the narcissistic antics of the rich and desperate to be famous. A group of wealthy women, or at least the spoilt wives of wealthy men, endlessly circle each other in social settings where they argue over slights, take sides, regroup and argue some more, before repeating the cycle.

If a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then this reality show is certifiable. But the Americans, frankly, deliver on that repetition. Whether it’s the Hollywood loopiness of Beverly Hills or the Sopranos vibe of New Jersey, each edition is full of crazy outbursts and hysterical interaction. On the Atlanta show recently, an adult pyjama party for the housewives and their partners ended in a running brawl.

Atlanta, I might add, is the most successful American edition. The franchise’s audience want ostentatious lifestyle and terrible behaviour; they want to gawk and groan.

But at this stage The Real Housewives of Melbourne is playing it safe. The city’s society is supposedly discrete, the participants career-orientated.

The show is an unwieldy mix of the respectable and the supposedly risque. There are brand names, stereotypical society hairdressers (twice-divorced property developer Janet Roach doesn’t even wash her own hair), along with enough plugs for various French champagnes to make even Francois Hollande smile.

Unfortunately, the first serious showdown in this coming Sunday’s episode, between gaudy barrister Gina Liano and professional psychic Jackie Gillies, is a complete bust.

It’s lacking in that crucial reality television element of batshit craziness. In a throwdown over whether Gina’s boyfriend, who is living in America, is faithful to her, a bunch of talking points keep getting repeated before Gina tells Jackie that her practices are demonic.

“Don’t say I’m talking through demonic!” demands Jackie, a line that encapsulates the program’s knack for bizarre invention, but then it’s all over with a walkout.

The set-pieces have to be over the top, as without them the format becomes drearily repetitive: the women and their entourages just keep getting thrown together over lunch or parties that are held for the camera’s needs.

Without the trademark punctuation you’re left with unpleasant assumptions; such as the way Lydia Schiavello is shown to be happily insatiable in her spending habits and determined to bluntly reference her sex life with her husband, leaving you to wonder if the two facets are connected.

Like previous local versions of American successes, such as Survivor, The Real Housewives of Melbourne is losing something in the translation. The show is being sold as if its veneer – that these are charming, enlightened credits to our society – is real.

There’s the occasional hint of satire, such as Andrea’s children mocking her lists for their many nannies, but mostly it’s too sedate.

No-one wants to care for these characters – the goal is to be outraged to the point of entertainment by their fabulous flare-ups.

Maybe the show will pick up – amazingly, Gina is going to Jackie’s housewarming party in the third episode (presumably without an exorcist in tow) – but right now it needs some gold-plated outrageousness. There’s no point making discretely half-hearted trash.

Jobs at risk if Qantas freed from Sale Act’s ‘shackles’

Government plans to unshackle Qantas from foreign ownership restrictions could clear the way for the airline to shift jobs overseas and outsource maintenance.

As Prime Minister Tony Abbott signalled his determination to remove the government-imposed “ball and chain” from Qantas, analysts from brokerage firm CLSA said the main benefit to the airline in altering the Qantas Sale Act was that it would allow it to slash costs by sending more work overseas.

Qantas on Thursday will unveil its biggest loss since it was privatised almost two decades ago. In an attempt to slash $2 billion in costs over the next three years, chief executive Alan Joyce will detail measures expected to include the axing of as many as 5000 jobs from its 33,000-strong workforce.

Coalition sources said on Wednesday night that the government would not immediately unveil assistance measures in response to Qantas. They said a debt guarantee, which will allow the airline access to cheaper finance, was still the most likely short-term measure.

The Abbott government will struggle to steer change to the Sale Act through either the present Senate dominated by Labor and the Greens or the next one that will sit from July 1.

Mr Abbott brushed aside suggestions of a “secret deal” between the government and Qantas that could see a guarantee in exchange for assurances about maintenance workers’ jobs staying in Australia.

“We want to ensure that Qantas management, as far as is humanly possible, doesn’t have any government-imposed ball and chain around their ankles and that’s the problem with the Sale Act,” he said. ”It is a significant restriction on Qantas’ freedom of manoeuvre and that’s why the government is considering legislation to establish a level playing field in this area.”

Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese called on Mr Abbott and Transport Minister Warren Truss to clarify what assistance would be handed to the airline and to protections for Australian jobs. Mr Albanese said Labor supported maintaining the provisions of the Sale Act because it ensured maintenance and other jobs stayed in Australia and ensured regional areas were served by the national carrier.

“It’s about time that Tony Abbott and Warren Truss said what their plan is for Qantas instead of sitting back while threats are being made to the job security of these people who work at Qantas,” he said.

In a hard-hitting report, CLSA analysts said they were sympathetic to the airline because of the foreign ownership restrictions. ”[But] government help would be palliative not panacea and clearly needs improvements driven by Qantas itself,” they said.

They said the removal of the act could be a ”game-changer” for reducing Qantas’ costs.

Regional Express, the country’s largest independent regional airline, also launched a scathing attack on Qantas’ attempts to have the government guarantee its debt.

”There is a lot of things Qantas could do for itself to solve some of its problems, rather than just going to the government and saying please guarantee our debt,” the airline’s deputy chairman John Sharp said.

Newcastle shipbuilder Forgacs set to axe 900 staff unless naval jobs appear on the horizon

Forgacs CEO Lindsay Stratton: “We will begin ramping down personnel requirements at the end of this year.” Photo: Dean OslandNewcastle shipbuilder Forgacs has warned it will have to lay off 900 workers by the middle of next year unless the government sets out a timetable for future naval projects to bridge the so-called ”valley of death”.

Forgacs chief executive Lindsay Stratton said in Canberra on Wednesday that as the welding on the major project, the navy’s Air Warfare Destroyer, came to an end, the firm’s shipyards would lie idle without more work. He said it would have a devastating impact on the Hunter Valley region.

”We will be closing one of our shipyards in August of this year, which is our Carrington shipyard,” Mr Stratton said.

”A lot of those people will transfer to our main Tomago shipyard. We will begin ramping down personnel requirements at the end of this year and we close our main Tomago shipyard completely in August next year.

”We have barely 18 months before we lose 900-plus people out of our organisation.”

Forgacs is welding hull blocks on the $8 billion Air Warfare Destroyer project, which has been beset by delays that are the subject of a review announced by Defence Minister David Johnston.

The review will be led by a former secretary of the US Navy, Don Winter, and shipbuilding expert John White.

A forthcoming report by the Australian National Audit Office is also expected to make scathing findings about the efficiency of the AWD project.

The three AWDs will be the most potent warships in Australia’s military history, but they face a cost blowout of about $800 million.

The government has promised to deliver a new Defence white paper by early next year that will indicate a timetable for future naval projects, but Mr Stratton said this would be too late.

He said Forgacs needed to know sooner rather than later when it could expect further work from the government such as on surface combatant ships, patrol boats and supply ships.

”Forgacs is ready, willing and able … frankly it just comes down to the timeline of decision-making.”

But in a speech on Tuesday, Mr Johnston offered a pointed warning to shipbuilders, saying: ”We have got to get mean and lean in terms of productivity in those larger areas if we are going to have enterprises that are going to service well into the future, but I also want to hold Defence organisation accountable too. Delivery on time and on budget is what we want, every dollar will be important.”

The so-called ”valley of death” – the period between end of current shipbuilding projects and the start of new work – is threatening other companies as well. Williamstown-based BAE Systems has also said in the past it will have no choice but to lay off skilled personnel.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Daniel Wallace criticised the handling of the matter, saying the uncertainty would put ”hundreds of Hunter families on edge tonight”.

”This uncertainty starts to create an environment where people think, ‘Should I pack up now” and can hinder future contracts,” Mr Wallace said.

with Sam Rigney

Dowton Abbey fans in no hurry

Downton Abbey was watched by 1.7 million people on Sunday.Television in 2014 is many things to many people.

For some, it’s about bingeing on a favourite show as fast as possible – when House Of Cards season two was released last month, 2 per cent of Netflix subscribers watched all 13 episodes that weekend – for others it’s about recording and watching on a variety of devices when they have time.

And for a stalwart group of traditionalists, it’s still about sitting down in front of the TV when a show goes to air and watching it as the network intends. With the growth of fast-tracking, piracy, downloads and more, that last group might be dwindling, but they are still there and have caught the attention of network programmers who have a pretty good idea which shows they watch and how long they’ll wait to see them.

Downton Abbey season four is a good example. The series went to air in Britain last year, was screened in the US in January and had been available as a DVD box-set for months.

But it is only getting to air here now because Seven took a punt that the target audience wouldn’t bother downloading or buying discs.

And last week they were proved right when the series return was watched by 1.7 million people.

”The shows that get illegally downloaded tend to be more younger skewing, cult-y shows and (Downton) doesn’t fall into that category,” said Seven’s head of programming, Angus Ross. ”It was the same for Revenge when we launched it. We didn’t fast-track and it was the highest rated show in, I think, six or seven years. It’s a case-by-case proposition.”

Which means for Downton and a few other series, fans still watching it as Seven puts it to air will have to stay off Twitter and avoid the spoilers for at least the foreseeable future. That’s particularly important here, with a huge storyline about to unfold at the Abbey.

And despite the fact it’s a twist that’s been common knowledge to anyone who really wanted to know, Seven’s betting it’ll still be a surprise to its Downton audience.

Columbus and a leap of faith

Knowledge of a lunar eclipse such as the one shown here may have saved the fourth expedition of Christopher Columbus in 1504. Photo: Phil HartHad this been a leap year, this Saturday would be February 29. So what, I hear you say? Well, on that date some five centuries ago, one of the most famous men in history used an astronomical phenomenon to save himself and his men. Knowledge is all!

Many know the primary school mnemonic that goes: ”In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue …” Far fewer, however, know he made four voyages across the Atlantic. On the last trip his four ships were plagued by a shipworm epidemic; coupled with bad weather, he had to ditch two of them. Eventually, he had to beach the other two ships on the island of Jamaica.

Provisions were running low, but fortunately, at first, the indigenous population assisted them by providing food. Unfortunately, after a mutiny by some of the crew members, which resulted in natives being robbed and killed, no more supply was forthcoming from the locals. Coupled with an anticipated rescue from the Spanish base in Haiti, which never materialised, the situation became dire. Staring starvation in the face, Columbus conceived a plan that relied solely on the accuracy of science to make predictions.

As a learned man and mariner, Columbus had with him a set of astronomical tables by a noted German astronomer of the time, Regiomontanus. Mainly used for navigation, they included predictions of eclipses. Realising an eclipse was pending, he met the local indigenous leaders and warned them that his god was unhappy and if they continued to neglect the needs of his crew, the anger of the deity would manifest in the disappearance of the moon from the sky. On February 29, 1504, the eclipse occurred as predicted, frightening the natives. A promise to repent quickly followed, resulting in Columbus and his crew dodging famine and surviving for a year, until they were finally rescued.

Squeezing every last drop out of the audience

Sarah Bishop in the winery thriller Crushed. A singalong version of Dinsey’s mega-hit Frozen is about to hit Australian cinemas.

Squeezing every lost drop out of the market

Musicians have long held concerts at the country’s wineries. Now the makers of a new Australian thriller are planning a series of winery screenings as part of their release strategy. ‘‘I feel that in order to get Aussies out there watching Australian films, you need to create an event-style screening,’’ says writer-director Megan Riakos. Her debut film, Crushed, is set in a winery. Sarah Bishop (Skit Box) plays a woman who returns to the family vineyard to find her mother is the prime suspect in her father’s death. Riakos is editing what she calls an ‘‘ultra-low-budget film’’ after shooting it in Mudgee. The cast also includes Les Hill (Underbelly) and Roxane Wilson (Home and Away).Sing-a-long-a-Frozen heads to the big screen

With Frozen on the verge of taking $US1 billion at the worldwide box office – joining only 16 movies to do so, with Avatar, Titanic and The Avengers at the head of that list – a sing-a-long version of Disney’s animated hit reaches cinemas next month. Moviegoers are promised “on-screen lyrics and a magical bouncing snowflake”, a la the Sing-a-long-a-Sound-of-Music phenomenon. Hot favourite to win best animated feature at the Oscars on Monday Australian time, Frozen has become the fifth highest-grossing animated movie in this country with takings of $34.6 million.Union claim could be Gods botherer

As rehearsals start on the country’s latest Hollywood-backed movie, Gods of Egypt, the cast of ancient Greek deities continues to grow. Chadwick Boseman, who played pioneering African-American baseballer Jackie Robinson in 42, and Elodie Yung, the French actress best known for G.I. Joe: Retaliation and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, will play Thoth and Hathor respectively. They join a cast that already includes Gerard Butler (Set), Geoffrey Rush (Ra) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Horus). In Alex Proyas’s movie, a young thief (Brenton Thwaites) enlists the help of the gods to bring his beloved (Courtney Eaton) back from the dead. But there may be a few ructions before filming starts at Sydney’s Fox Studios at the end of next month. The union representing film crew, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, will put a case to the Fair Work Commission that the producers are attempting to wind back long-standing working conditions in the industry. The alliance’s director of entertainment crew and sport, Mal Tulloch, tells Short Cuts the union will argue that a proposed agreement reduces penalty rates and conditions that risk the health and safety of crew. A spokesman for the production company disputes the claim, saying the proposed enterprise agreement is more favourable to the crew than the one the union supported for the Angelina Jolie movie Unbroken recently.Next stop Hollywood for Railway Man director?

As he ponders his next film, Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky is delighted with the success of The Railway Man since it opened on Boxing Day. ‘‘I can’t tell you how happy I am about doing $7 million with that film in this country,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s phenomenal.’’ The drama, which has Colin Firth playing a World War II prison camp survivor who confronts his Japanese torturer and Nicole Kidman as his wife, is still screening in regional areas. Teplitzky (Better Than Sex, Gettin’ Square) believes the story has struck a chord. ‘‘People like true stories about real human beings,’’ he says. ‘‘Too many films sentimentalise their stories and this doesn’t. It plays its emotion truthfully and in an unhysterical way.’’ The film has taken a solid $9 million in the UK and opens in the US and Japan in April. Meanwhile, Teplitzky is weighing up Hollywood, independent American and Australian scripts for his next film. ‘‘It’ll be which script comes together best,’’ he says.No joke: raunchier cut of Anchorman 2 to bypass local cinemas

Forget seeing the new version of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues in Australian cinemas. While the Will Ferrell newscaster comedy has taken a very strong $18.1 million in this country – almost 10 per cent of the worldwide box office – the longer, raunchier version that is opening in US and UK cinemas is going straight to DVD here. A cut that promises ‘‘763 new jokes’’ extends the movie from 119 to 143 minutes and bumps the rating from M to MA 15+.Putting the mystery back into a night out at the movies

After screening France’s Holy Motors in an aircraft hanger at Melbourne’s Essendon air base and Japan’s Battle Royale on Sydney’s Goat Island, Secret Cinema is returning again in April. Patrons can buy a ticket – for $53 plus GST, which includes a drink and a snack – and see a secret film in a mystery Sydney location. Because the two previous instalments sold out quickly, there will be five sessions between April 11 and 13. Tickets go on sale on March 12 from [email protected]爱杭州同城论坛


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