Cash for comment

I’ve been off with the flu and come back to protests about our new in-story advertisements. Marie Toshack writes: “How about a column on this new online policy of placing ads in middle of stories? There’s a line under ads in the copy which leads to Tom Burton’s explanation of this new advertising rort. Would you like to find it in your stories? I think not!”


I admit to being shocked at the idea, and for a moment took comfort in the fact that no-one would want to advertise in our ghetto on I’ve deliberately not asked Tom for the readership of Inside Out out of fear, but when he told me these ads could appear here in time, I took the plunge and he’s setting up monitoring of webdiary readership. I’ll let you know the result.


The thing is, the standard banner ads up the top of the screen don’t work for advertisers, so they’re not buying them any more. They are buying this new concept. As you know, online is NOT making money. It’s LOSING it. That means is not only a FREE service to you, but is a COST to us.


There’s two ways to at least break even – subscription or advertising. Last year, I raised the question of subscription to or this page, to be told firmly that it wasn’t on. Here’s what I wrote on November 14 (So what are YOU prepared to do about journalism?)


“Take online. Subscribers to the paper are, in effect, subsiding Australians round the country and the world who use the website for free. Would any of you in that position pay to see the Herald online?


“We have credibility, reputation, and journalistic resources to sell. Would you buy? Or if the basics remained free and specialised pages within it required subscription, would you do so?


“For example, how much would you pay, if anything, to access this web page? It’s cost is basically my salary plus the technical and back-up resources of the paper. Say no advertising was allowed on my page. The annual budget would be, say $450,000, allowing for a reasonable return on capital. Say about 5,000 people visited this site, about the same number as bought my book,. Would you be willing to pay $90 a year to subscribe?


“A big advantage, again, is that subscribers would “own” the site in a very direct way, and thus have enormous power to help shape its content. Subscribers would have confidence that the space is independent, because it would not be in the papers interests to compromise the site. I could even envisage a “contract” with subscribers, including guaranteed access to critique the site, and a transparent accountability system.

“My guess is that the answer to these questions would be no. So what value does the public place on independent quality journalism?”



David Eastwood had three objections – subscription would confine debate to an elite who could pay, the media had a moral responsibility to inform the public and should not discriminate between those who had internet access and those who didn’t, and a subscription would widen the gulf between the information rich and poor.


David Davis got angry. “If you restrict access in such a way to the media, isn’t it the ultimate in elitism and the ‘two Australias’? Let’s face it, good quality journalism is NOT a product like a quality wine, journalism is a key aspect of our democracy, our society. Let’s not start introducing haves and have nots in the world of political journalism consumers. There is something DEEPLY disturbing about it. Did you really think this through? A contract to have views heard? Are you SERIOUS? This is Margo’s “cash for comment”. I pay cash to you so I can comment??? Hell will freeze over before I pay CASH to express my opinion…I think you have lost it if you really think this way. If it doesn’t make money and Fairfax are not prepared to cross subsidise it then you should kill it off. Don’t bastardise it by making it an elite thing.”


Don Arthur preferred advertising, saying: “While I worry about advertisers I’m probably more worried about the lack of funding for in-depth journalism. Good reporting and the background work for informed analysis can consume a lot of time and money. It’s not much good having independent reporters if all they do is write stories around media releases, quick phone interviews or reports from wire services.”


Chris Abood said the question wouldn’t matter soon, because the net would end the media’s role as agenda setters because of online chatrooms and forums, and end our role as news gathers because news creators would go direct to readers. “There are greater issues facing your industry than maintaining quality, independent journalism. The sands are shifting, and shifting fast.”



Only Richard Lawrence was willing to pay. “I would happily pay the price you suggest to maintain access to the sort of journalism that is emerging from this site. In fact, I would subscribe to a site in it’s current form, if that was what it took to maintain it free of advertising and allow experiments like this.”


So there you have it. I still reckon we’re safe – who would want to advertise here? If someone does, a way to keep us advertising free within the page would be to find a sponsor for it. Oh yeah?



Barry Jones fans might note he’s speaking at a seminar on Saturday called “Relaxed, Comfortable and Stupid” at the State Library in Sydney. He will speak on “The challenge to the knowledge nation” at 10am. I’m speaking in the afternoon on “Australian newspapers: bringing back the provocation”.


Today, Tim Dunlop – like me – has Friday on his mind, Elen Seymour demands scientific activism in the research and development debate and our man in Britain Sean Cody reports on the election campaign.


First, new contributor Ellias Elliott in Queensland responds to Peter Kelly’s piece on citizen as punter (Webdiary Tuesday).


“I am not sure if this is just a heavily moderated newsgroup tacked onto a major metropolitan daily, or an embryonic avenue for some to mass circulation. (MARGO: Me either!) Still I feel compelled to point out toPeter Kelly that a Punt is a unit of currency. Historically of Irish origin. A punter is simply one who indicates their faith in something by putting their money into it.


“Gambling is but one form. Punters attend rave parties, rock concerts, even gallery openings and soirees. If punters are allegorically voters, I hope very few of them use the dropped pin lotto method of choice which must seem to some to be endemic.


“Of course the analogy of politics as a horse race is age old. But in our democracy, even as punters, we are free to start, join and in all ways participate in political movements. The gambler is never literally IN the horse race. The political horse, the party, is made up of people. That there is a dearth of choice reflects more on ordinary voter/punters ambivalence to participation.





The news that Friday On My Mind had been voted the best Australian song ever was an uplifting moment in a week when our two major political leaders raced each other to the bottom, hotly pursued by the mindless media, in an argument about who could think up the best excuses for not calling a tax a tax. It got me thinking about something friends and I had discussed on occasions: making Friday On My Mind the national anthem.


Such a sweet paean to anti-neo-liberalism, to unbridled fun, to act first think later, it captures an important element of the national psyche in a way that Advance Australia Fair and Waltzing Matilda never could. It would do for national anthems what the Canadian flag did for flags: make them something simple and memorable and meaningful. Youd have more national unity in a split second than you would in a decade of stage-managed events celebrating Federation.


There is a temptation to read the lyrics and the sentiment they invoke as yobbo and anti-intellectual, but this is a favourite ploy of our betters to denigrate working class and non-elite culture in general. In fact, the lyrics are a beautifully succinct evocation of the working persons week, as poignant as anything Orwell ever came up with. The fact that its all backed by a riff-to-die-for simply adds a sense of hope and elation to what could otherwise be a bitter expression of relentless downtroddeness.


And its power does not lie in its ability, these days, to evoke a lost past of 60s hedonism and yoof at the barricades. It is instead a reminder of what we could be; of what a society organised around the exaltation of the social rather than the economic could actually be.


The Friday that the song has on its mind isn’t just a day of the week: it is exactly the same thing as Chifley tried to evoke with the phrase “light on the hill” or what John Howard clumsily tried to capture when he said he wanted Australians to be comfortable and relaxed. That’s what the Easybeats wanted too; it’s what we all want.


The song allows us to think our way out of the narrow, lifeless and petty trap of economic rationalism and the small-minded, scared and kow-towing attitudes of those who we, in our desperation and marginalisation have handed the country over to.


The thing is, Howard and Beazley and Co love politics. They love all that stuff that drives most of us to distraction and with which we cant be bothered, and it allows them, therefore, to take control: remember Ellis’s first law: power devolves to the most boring person in the room. The proof is sitting in parliaments all over the country.


Most of the rest of us don’t love politics because it doesn’t do it for us; it doesn’t get our feet tapping or our mouths humming. In fact, the dullards who run it run it in such a way as to make it as boring and inaccessible as possible to the rest of us, just so we dont get involved. It’s about time we changed their tune.


I think the willingness of people, particularly those under 50, to participate at some level in politics, government or society would increase by about a million percent if we made Friday On Mind the national anthem.


It sings to the better angels of our nature and actually reminds us what politics and government is meant to be about: people. All of us. However we express it, we’ve all got a version of Friday on our minds, and it’d be nice to be reminded of the fact every time we won an a gold medal, opened a national building, or welcomed a visiting dignitary.


It’d sure (easy) beat the hell out of having to sing that our land is girt by sea or that some jolly swagman had stuffed a sheep in his tucker bag. Let’s put it to the vote.





“The science community welcomed Backing Australia’s Ability, but as a first step, the beginning of a process,” Dr David Denham said. “It was a partial solution to the issue of how Australia should invest in our national future.” (Webdiary “Another World”, Thursday May 24th.)


It was next to no solution!!!! Yes, yes the corporate rate got lowered to 30% – big deal! Still not within spit of being competitive with Ireland or Canada’s R&D concessions, or Singapore’s aggressive approach. Fail.


I really think – and here I have observed Tim Blair’s warning about a sense of humour in WebDiary “Copping it Sweet” Friday May 25 – the science community should not be so compliant and welcome any and every statement of projected investment, like some kind of grateful beggar. I know they are starving but its time for some self-respect and some militancy please!


And instead of wasting money and training (as per the chief scientist Robin Batterham) on giving scientists and engineers the appropriate selling skills it would be better to give them activist training! Maybe scientists should take a leaf out of the self-funded retirees book on “how to extort more money out of the government”.


Take off your lab coats guys and don the cardigans instead! At the least scrape together the last of your research dollars into an aggressive media scare campaign, or maybe one featuring prominent sports people saying nice things about R&D.


The problem is not only a reluctance of governments to “do the right thing” but that science – unless its about D.N.A. or involves some cool thing in outer space – is B-O-R-I-N-G. Scientists have no political clout because no-one cares. The only time people think about it is when scientists start cloning sheep and talk about genetic modifications.


My expat scientist husband likes to joke about the desired closure of the Lucas Heights Reactor by saying “What, and have a lot of angry unemployed nuclear physicists running around?” But does that scare anyone? Do scientists have a tenth of the scare power of farmers?


This brings me to the more serious stuff of “myths” and the strange, paranoid comments in Webdiary “Gen-Xers are Serious Young Insects” by the PhD in electrical engineering “Brian Jones”.


First Brian’s “Myths”.


(1) There is a lack of people doing science, engineering and IT. This is absolute rubbish! The numbers in engineering and IT are on the increase. The real problem is that many companies only want the very best and experienced people. When recruiters and companies say there is a shortage of skilled people they really mean skilled people of a very high calibre.


Yes, it is true that IT is probably flooded with less than high calibre people – if Oz is anything like Canada you probably have heaps of adverts in print media and television for IT qualifications along the lines of “Can you read to the end of this advert? You can! Congratulations – you qualify for a career in IT!” But there is a genuine decline in enrolment in the sciences, as Barry Jones stated, as the Institute of Physics has stated over the past few years, as most science faculties could tell you.


And you can’t just blame it on recruiters and posters in bus shelters, you have to ask why there is a lack of skilled people of a very high calibre? Not because idiots are enrolling, but because they lack proper research and industry experience, and are not suitably qualified.


Why? Could it be because there are few enough positions for qualified scientists and engineers in industry and government research bodies, let alone for cadets or traineeships or just summer work experience? Could it be the steady drain from universities into research positions in industry and the lack of proper university funding means second rate equipment, inadequate library facilities, frustrated cynical staff, all adding up to mean the education they receive is more closely approaching adequate than outstanding?


Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that there is a brain drain to the US and Canada and other countries leaving behind fewer and fewer mentors for the next generation? Could it be that scientists and engineers and academic staff are having to spend more time being “managers” and out seeking funds, leaving less time to supervise, less time to give a damn?


(2) People leave Australia because the salaries are poor. Consider this. You’re talking about salaries ranging from $50K to $120K for corporate R&D. Ask someone who is earning less than $30K (either in the city or rural areas) if these are poor salaries! People leave for three reasons: careerism, lifestyle interests and even more money.


Hello, have you checked the value of the Australian peso lately? Even leaving aside the sorry state of the dollar, to compare research salaries to $30K is a bit of a cheap shot!. Well of course $50K plus is more money than $30K. However, remember the wild, crazy idea that remuneration is commensurate with experience and education? That a PhD would give you more salary power than a Bachelors, all other things being equal? That is what happens in Canada, that is what I suspect is happening in Finland, that is what happens in the USA – that is what happens in a society where researchers are valued! You get paid more.


And what kind of qualifications are usually required in research? Post docs, PhDs and Masters. That is why they get paid as much as they do and quite often a lot less than people in my profession(the law) who rarely have Masters, post docs or PhDs.


Brian wrote: “Big deal if the chief scientist Robin Batterham says there are no Porsches in the car park. I receive an annual package worth close to six-figures and I ride a $200 bicycle to work. Do you think I care?”



The point Robin Batterham was making was *symbolic*. And there are plenty of Porsches in the carparks of research labs in Ottawa. Not all of us are able to withstand the siren song of materialist possessions either.


Brian wrote: “Consider what happens when you have another group of people who all earn over $100K and have somewhat right-wing tendencies? In my experience, scientists and engineers are not the most sympathetic group of people towards low-income earners, farmers, and the disadvantaged. There’ll be greater affluence for a few people.”


Oh and lawyers and doctors and financial consultants are much more sympathetic I suppose? My argument is based on the idea that increased R&D in Australia is to safeguard Australia from becoming a banana republic, a nation left behind.


Brian: “The end result could simply be the creation of another elite group. If you listen carefully to groups such as the Institution of Engineers Australia, you’ll find that what they really want is for engineers to have more power and influence, and not necessarily higher salaries! I think Australia has done well not to let scientists & engineers have as much influence as in countries such as France and the USA. We don’t want to be giving too much power to another group of specialists, and highly paid specialists at that.”


What influence do French and US scientists have that is questionable in its wisdom, what kind of decisions are they improperly impacting upon, what policy are they inappropriately guiding? This fear of the specialist is precisely what *Barry* Jones’ deplores in the “The Cult of Management” subsection in his speech to Macquarie University, April 27 (see WebDiary waiting for the Knowledge Nation, Wednesday May 16) It disheartens me to see someone who has survived the cutbacks and secured themselves a good position in reward for their hard work should be so uncaring of their fellow travellers.


Finally, thanks for all the cheques Margo, keep ’em coming!




Spin and Substance


By Sean Cody


Channel 4 has been running a series of documentaries in the past couple of weeks under the umbrella heading of “Politics Isn’t Working”. Monday’s show was titled “Party Crashers”. Three young people were asked to pose as volunteers and try to infiltrate the party headquarters of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, then to keep a video diary of what they saw and experienced while working in the party machines.


While some would not agree with this style of investigation, it was a fascinating expose of how certain matters are dealt with by the three major parties in this election campaign. The following appears to be acceptable behaviour.


You are the leader of the ruling Labour Party. Because of an epidemic of foot and mouth disease you find it necessary to postpone the Local Authority and General Elections until later in the year. Instead of informing the public relations staff in Labour Headquarters, you get in touch with the editor of the Sun newspaper and inform everyone via a leak in the morning paper. Your party headquarters are thrown into confusion but you don’t seem too worried.


You are a senior apparatchik with the Liberal Democrats arranging an interview/PR exercise with the leader Charles Kennedy and the Lib Dem candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds. You appoint as press officer for the occasion not one of your experienced media liaison people but a volunteer with no experience, but coincidentally, is an Asian woman.


When deciding which of the candidates will be given a chance to say something, you veto most of the candidates because you believe that the moment any of them open their mouths the spin doctors will have to go into overdrive to repair the “damage”. You decide that only Kennedy should speak at the interview.


Finally, you try at all costs to avoid the fact that virtually all of your candidate showcases of ethnic diversity are standing in unwinnable seats.


You are a PR guru with the Conservatives. You move most of the elderly volunteers out of the party’s call centre and replace them with young, dynamic types from differing backgrounds, wheel in the news cameras, Hague follows, and bingo!! Instant campaign launch for the press and public, highlighting the tireless, young and vibrant Conservative Party workers that sacrifice their time for the good of England. The stand ins are removed and the original workers led back in.


Later you bring into the same call centre a young model no-one has seen before who is in a wheelchair, put a headset on her, stick her in front of a terminal, and take photographs. She leave, never to be seen again until a party platform leaflet is handed around and she is on the cover.


You are a Labour spin doctor with concerns about stories being covered by the BBC. So phone one of the production staff at BBC1 and demand to know the running order for the Today show (a morning current affairs program) and the daily news. When the staffer won’t tell you, you respond with school bully tactics – “Do you know who I am?”, “What’s your name?” and “Let

me speak to your supervisor”. You get in touch with a more senior employee and suggest stories the BBC should be covering on Labour’s campaign. You joke with colleagues about feeding information to “tame” journalists, even to the point of writing the stories for them.


You are a member of any of the three main parties in this election committed to achieving success for your party. You cultivate relationships with people in other parties and place moles in the headquarters of the other parties. These people give you immediate access to information from your opponents such as press releases and survey results. You either leak this information to the press, or use it to get some your people on the ground at the opposition’s campaign launches to cause a ruckus.


Is it any wonder, when activities such as these appear to be common practice and don’t even raise an eyebrow, that most people feel jaded and disillusioned by politicians and their antics?

It’s make or break time

I phoned several politicians today about the endemic bashing and sexual abuse of women and children in some Aboriginal communities. Two have spoken out to date.


The former Aboriginal affairs minister John Herron has been fighting for five years to convince ATSIC that something needed to be done. He said: “It’s make or break now as far as I’m concerned”. He is considering writing a piece for the webdiary.


Carmen Lawrence is the shadow minister for the status of women. She is preparing a domestic violence package, and is “very keen to see appropriately designed policies are produced for the indigenous community, and that means working with indigenous groups to help break down the barriers to this being spoken about and acted upon”.


She said domestic violence in Aboriginal communities was more properly called “community violence directed towards women and children” and that programs should be “linked closely to health, legal services and appropriate housing support”.


“There’s no refuges, there’s no support from the legal system, and women are often exposed to the same players. These are the key reasons why indigenous women often shut up about it,” she said.


“The program has to be something that the Aboriginal communities help develop and own. ATSIC needs to be involved.”


She said programs for Aboriginal communities were still in the early stages of development, and that rather than detail programs now, Labor’s policy would point to the areas it believed needed urgent attention.


By the way, I checked with the Press Council this morning and Geoff Clark had yet to file a complaint more than ten days after the allegations against him were published.


A hearing on the injunction taken out in Cairns against Brisbane’s Courier Mail on Friday night by Pat O’Shane’s brother Terry – who is on the regional council of ATSIC – will be heard this afternoon. The injunction prevented the paper publishing certain allegations.


Today, I begin with Jack Robertson’s Meeja Watch, then suggestions on what can be done from Otto Ruiter, Anne Marks, Peter Gellatly, Richard Ure, Dianne Davis, Greg Clarke, Sean Cody and Mark Williams.




Fairytale or murder story?


By Jack Robertson


Last week (in Rape and racism) I said that the story of Journalism was finished. I was soon proved utterly wrong, but I might also still be proved depressingly right. The Meeja has performed half of a great (if heart-breaking) service. What happens next is largely in their hands. Reconciliation must be embraced with gusto and flair, as a point of Meeja honour. A few positive suggestions:


1. More Meeja space for grass-roots leaders & facts: Editors should establish Indigenous pages, radio/TV should run more dedicated Indigenous shows. These should place a marked emphasis on communities. Journos need to elicit more from grass-roots leaders and ‘doers’. Those who drive the real improvements rarely have the time, the means, or the inclination to seek publicity. Yet they’re the key to Reconciliation.


2. Distrust self-advertisers: Anyone who spends time and energy proclaiming their own achievements on, and commitment to, Indigenous issues, should be treated by journalists with suspicion. Ruthlessly deconstruct the words of those who seem to think that ‘talking about doing’ and ‘actually doing’ are morally and practically equivalent.


3. There are no Big Picture cure-alls: There are no ‘big’ answers. This will be the hardest Meeja aspect to alter, because it thrives on issues like treaties and apologies. I support both, yet my ambivalence tends to rise with each escalation of debate over them.


4. More Publicised Respect for Indigenous Elders: Why not initiate regular (state-based?) ABC programs hosted by tribal (as opposed to political) leaders, in which Indigenous affairs are discussed? Aboriginal Elders need to re-establish broader influence. The only way is by exploiting modern technology. If this poses problems for Elder protocol, then Elder protocol needs to adapt. Profile equals power. Only TV gives real profile, now.


5. More Indigenous journalists: We need more black faces in the working Meeja. If that means aggressive positive discrimination, including hiring unpolished and inexperienced journos, so be it. We could use less slick Hollywood bullshit, anyway.


6. More ‘confrontation’ in real time: Much heat in this debate tends to be generated by the stand-off ‘War of the Whitey Columnists’ – Paddy Mac has a crack at Manne, Bob blasts Quadrant in reply, Pearson v. Marr, Reynolds v. Windschuttle – yet these prodigious motormouths rarely go mano-a-mano, the only way to establish common ground. My personal preference would be to bung the whole pack into the jelly-wrestling tub at the Kalgoorlie Miners’ Arms, but perhaps the Meeja could at least facilitate more live round-table discussions like the SBS Insight one regarding Pearson a few months ago – calm, methodical, relatively assumption and baggage-free. I reckon Tim Dunlop should chair a two-hour job on the ABC. (Why not? We need NEW faces in this debate.)


7. Imagination from Editors and Producers: Re-rig the contemporary Meeja paradigm. Turn the world upside-down, get pro-active and up-beat. Some specific pitches:


a. Black on White: A TV/radio program which invites Indigenous leaders in various fields to interview non-Indigenous peers. Turn the Meeja tables. Pat Dodson interviewing John Howard about his political career. Stan Grant interviewing Gerald Stone on journalism. Freeman on Waugh, Wes Enoch on Williamson, Anu on Minogue with ‘Indigenous Issues’ (as such) taking a back seat. Black Australia almost always fills the ‘passive’ role in mainstream Meeja. It’s ossifying.


b. Australian Dreamtime: Replace those bloody 6.30 ‘Yes Minister’ re-runs with a half-hour live story-telling slot. First fifteen minutes – a Dreamtime story. Second fifteen minutes – a dramatisation of one of the old or new bush or town poets, matching the theme. We’ve got to start stressing the Human impulses that bind us together, not the ideological crap that hoiks us apart. That’s what Art is for. It used to be, anyway.


c. The Fairfax Award: An annual $10,000 prize offered for the best good news print feature, by a freelance journalist, on life in any type of Indigenous community.


d. Indigenous 7-Up: Pick ten Indigenous kids from diverse backgrounds, and follow their progress as they grow up. Perhaps look in every couple of years.


e. Television Walkabout: Give a couple of ‘middle Australian’ Meeja Faces – Jeff McMullen and Ernie Dingo? – a 4 X 4, a crew, a fistful of bucks and a six month brief: to boldly go and ‘educate’ themselves, each other, and the rest of us about the complexities of contemporary Indie Oz. One hour slot per week, say. Done with enthusiasm, idealism, Oz humour and clarity of purpose – to inform – it could make a mighty difference.


OK, so I’m no programming guru, but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s up to the Meeja to come up with positive contributions, now.


That’s the downside of making a story happen – you enter it as a player, and a player can’t just leave the game when it suits. Black Australia has taken (another) demoralising hammering, as an unfortunate but direct by-product of Andrew Rule’s story.


The Meeja owes them constructive passion. Most editors endorsed publication on public interest grounds. Fine, but the Public must remind them that our Interest isn’t something they can casually conjure up to justify a scoop, then disregard.


At the first sign of the Meeja retreating into the safe house of ‘journalistic detachment’ – as this issue gets trickier – we have to point out that it’s an option they’ve now forfeited.


What happened last week was that Australian journalists unambiguously and irreversibly repositioned their profession at the heart of the Reconciliation process. They mustn’t forget it. And it’s got to be a good thing in the long run.


That is, it literally MUST BE MADE to be a good thing in the long run, simply because there is no bearable alternative.


For the Meeja to disengage now would be a fantastic betrayal of a black community whose fledgling sense of unity is shredded. It would be akin to a crusading social worker who has a wife-beater arrested and the wife and kids placed in emergency care, but then drifts off, neither helping police secure a conviction, nor facilitating the wife lasting independence. Leaving him free – bursting with resentment – and her with no option but to return, humiliated, to the old order.


Don’t let any of your colleagues pretend otherwise, Margo – all reporters, whether they like it or not, now have a direct stake in Reconciliation. The Age editor Mike Gawenda crossed a journalistic Rubicon.


In the best traditions of the inky trade, the Clark story stirred up what obviously needed stirring up. Whether Andrew Rule’s explosive prose becomes the opening to a fairytale or a murder story is mostly up to those who endorsed its publishing.


Having admitted I was wrong to say that journalism was finished, I would be gutted if the next few months proved me wrong again. Reconciliation would be, too.


Otto Ruiter in Springwood, NSW


Here’s my plan. As the SMH provides us with this public forum, I propose that the SMH actively promotes indigenous awareness. Employ indigenous journalists, reporters, editors, photographers and whoever else is needed and publish a complete page of Aboriginal News (unencumbered by advertising), in print and online, not once a week but EVERY DAY. When we are informed from an Aboriginal perspective on a daily basis, there will be no easy escape for anyone.


Anne Marks


So you’re concerned about the level of violence in Aboriginal society Margo. Hooray! See if you can get hold of a video called Minymaku Way (SBS Independent and CAAMA Productions). You’ll be able to watch a gut wrenching account of how the women at Ernabella got the white owner of the nearest roadhouse to stop selling the alcohol that was a huge contributor to the death rate of their dearly loved families (male and female).


It took them ten years to do it. It might have helped those women if some journalists had had the energy and initiative to get out there and cover their immensely courageous taking on of white power and money.


Now your interest and the interest of the Herald has turned to this area I look forward to real support for Aboriginal people who have been beavering away for a long, long time to make their lives bearable.


Peter Gellatly in Canada


I feel very uneasy about contributing to this topic. My leanings are probably towards assimilation as a resolution, but I do not want to seize this particular opportunity to score points. Some of those from whose arguments I strongly dissent are nonetheless people whose moral commitment I admire. And in the end their evaluation might prove correct, and mine flawed.


First, I too thought you got it wrong re the allegation against Geoff Clark and his determination not to respond. I am less sure where I stand on the appropriateness of O’Shane commenting, given her public duties as a magistrate. There are good arguments both ways. As to the impact on Clark’s reputation, well, if some are prepared to think ill of him on the basis of unproven allegation, he is surely justified in dismissing such opinion as of no great merit. That is not to say I conclude the allegations are groundless; I am in no position to conclude anything, so without court-adjudicated proof I MUST adhere to the presumption of innocence. Any other course is for me too corrosive of our legal system to even contemplate.


Anyway, I won’t join any chorus of condemnation re either Fairfax’s decision to publish or your perspective. In highly charged and polarised matters like this, one almost inevitably ticks off half the readership whatever one does. The only sure-fire solution is to be timid: which would make for a useless newspaper and a thoroughly undermined Web Diary. So please, don’t ever be deterred from blazing away.


I confess to amazement about the way this story has evolved. Why on earth does it take an allegation against an Aboriginal leader to bring to light the tragedy of widespread abuse in Aboriginal communities? Frankly, I find it a bit sick. However, one could endlessly ponder the vicissitudes of collective social conscience, so I’ll drop that thought.


What strikes me reading the news concerning in-community abuse are the strong parallels between the Australian and Canadian situations. Sadly, in both countries equally well-meaning people are diametrically opposed in how they see resolution to the problems faced by their first peoples. More importantly, abundant evidence of past dreadful policy errors appears to have no cautionary impact on the assessment of contemporary ideas.


Here’s a comparable piece from the current Canadian agony. I hasten to add that the situation it describes, while all too common, is by no means typical – rather it represents the extreme. Moreover, another columnist in some other newspaper would probably see the situation described in an entirely different light. For Canadians, despite treaties, constitutionally entrenched native rights, and billions of dollars in government appropriations, are, just like Australians, still grappling with the seeming impossible.


Canada’s “Globe and Mail”:


Who will save Kitty Turtle?


By Margaret Wente, Saturday, June 23, 2001


Last February, 16-year-old Kitty Turtle shut herself up in her bedroom, blocked the door, and tied a noose around her neck. She dangled from the ceiling for three minutes before her brother-in-law broke in and cut her down.


Later on, someone asked her why she did it. She said it was because her boyfriend was going out with other girls. “I thought it would be much better for him.”


In Pikangikum, girls like Kitty try to hang themselves all the time. They hang themselves the way affluent suburban girls get anorexia. In this Northern Ontario reserve of 2,100 people, a dozen girls and young women have died by hanging since 1999. Five of them were 13 years old.


Michael Monture blames these and Pik’s many other misfortunes on Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault and the federal government. He says the people there are being denied the basic necessities of life. He is the native doctor who went missing last week after he went into the bush on a spiritual quest “to pray for the people.”


Dr. Monture’s disappearance and rescue, and his comments, have been a big story in the national media. He describes a devastated place where people have very little food and no clean water, where the school was closed for months, where the government has arbitrarily cut off funding.


His descriptions of the kids were especially horrific. High on solvents, they howl all night long. “They have a fire going in the garbage dump to keep warm while looking for things to eat. It’s very upsetting to think that this is Canada.”


Anyone not made of stone agrees with that.


Dr. Monture’s condemnations were echoed by many. Pikangikum Chief Louie Quill said there have been three more deaths since the government seized control of band finances last month. Matthew Coon Come, the fiery chief of the Assembly of First Nations, warned that the battle over Pik could become another Oka. David Masecar, president of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, accused the government of making the suicide epidemic worse because it has taken away people’s sense of control.


In fact, what’s killing the children of Pikangikum is very much worse than this. They have been utterly abandoned.


Kitty Turtle and her friends live in a world where children are unparented, unfed, neglected and routinely sexually abused; where most girls are mothers by 16; where there are no rules, no structure, no role models, and nothing to aspire to; where children are isolated from any other way of life and deprived of any firsthand knowledge of the broader world.


The usual diagnosis for these problems is that they are suffering from loss of culture. But they do have a culture, and it is very strong. It is a culture of violence, despair and death.


To keep people in such a place, especially children, seems unbelievably cruel. Yet that is our official policy.


By no means are all native reserves as bad as Pik. It may be the worst of the worst. “It was one of the most traditional communities in the North,” says John Donnelly, the Indian Affairs official who oversees the region. When he was there in 1975, he recalls, the Ojibway-Cree women still wore their traditional outfits of skirts and pants, and sat in the back rows at council meetings. “It could have been 1875.”


Geographically, Pikangikum is not so terribly remote. It is 300 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg; Red Lake, a mining town, is only 50 kilometres away. But there are no roads in. And for many years the settlement has been torn apart by infighting.


There are 13 different Christian churches, ranging from Mennonite to fundamentalist Baptist. There are family feuds, and factions, and the current chief is the third in 18 months. People there do not trust outsiders, but they trust each other even less.


Pik has probably the highest birth rate in Canada. Sixty per cent of the population is under 20, and a third are under 9. In other words, it has a thousand children in crisis.


A few months ago, psychologist Barbara Jo Fidler was asked by the regional counselling agency to prepare a psychological assessment of Pikangikum. She sought to portray the people as they saw themselves.


Her report (which has not been made public) is enough to break your heart.


In addition to the familiar story of poverty, addiction and joblessness, she wrote of “physical abuse, wife assault, child sexual abuse, sexual assaults/rape, [and] a high death rate by other causes besides suicide.”


Infant deaths and accidents are common. Everyone, she writes, “is in a constant state of grieving”. The homes have individual gravesites at their doorsteps, some adorned with flowers, photographs and small toys. “A walk in the community leaves one with a sad and eerie feeling that is almost beyond description,” she wrote.


Dr. Fidler asked many people, old and young, what factors contributed most to the breakdown of the community. Their most frequent answer: “lack of parenting.”


Of the children, she wrote: “They don’t have the coping skills to deal with any kind of adversity . . . the direct result of lack of parental limit setting and boundaries dating back to childhood.”


They are impulsive, desperate and in pain. And, like all kids, they imitate their friends. And that’s why girls like Kitty Turtle try to hang themselves when their boyfriends leave them.


Pikangikum is not short of social services. There are mental-health and substance-abuse services, crisis teams, volunteer youth patrols, a bereavement project, suicide-prevention programs and much more. But people don’t use them very much. When the school closed last year, a recreation program was set up for the kids. But no one came.


“The community problems are so huge the workers feel overwhelmed and demoralized,” wrote Dr. Fidler.


About $16-million a year in government funds flows into Pik. It is not true that there is no food. Although it is expensive, the local store is well-stocked. Social-assistance payments have not stopped. When the water-treatment system broke down last year from lack of maintenance, the government flew in bottled water.


Like other local services, the school is run by the community. Last year, it was shut after a broken valve was not replaced. When the fuel truck came to fill the school’s oil tank, the oil overflowed and did a huge amount of damage to the building. Cleaning up the mess took the band 10 months, and cost $1.6-million. The federal government supplied the money.


In her report, Dr. Fidler writes of the image that haunts her most. It’s not the graves or the flowers, or even the faces of the damaged little girls with whom she talked. It was the sight of a naked baby doll, hanging by its neck from a telephone wire.


You won’t hear these things from Dr. Monture (who is a Mohawk, from Southern Ontario, and new to the area, and looking for a job). You won’t hear them from Mr. Coon Come, or the chief, or any of the other people who hope to exploit the sufferings of Pikangikum to serve their own agendas.


It’s not they who will save Kitty Turtle. They are part of her problem.


Richard Ure in Epping, NSW


In wondering what to do next, perhaps we should step back a little and ponder what we think we do well and then apply it to where we have failed.


Australia has a proud record in welcoming new settlers to this country and most seem to want to become “one of us” within a generation. Perhaps Pauline is correct. Treating indigenous Australians as a special class seems to be causing more harm than good. Even if ATSIC was doing a super human job (and it does not seem to be) since when did adding another layer of politicians solve anything? By its mere existence ATSIC perpetuates a divide between indigenous Australians and the rest of us.


Assimilation probably wasn’t the best policy and multiculturalism seems to have worked far better with many times the number of new settlers than there are indigenous Australians today.


As we ponder our first 100 years as a nation, we are reminded of the almost unanimous dire predictions of early politicians and commentators were there to be a chink in the White Australia policy. Despite the doom laden fears, people the subject of this former policy are migrating to this country and moving to our suburbs daily with little fuss.


So long as indigenous Australians are seen as different, I can’t see us having effective mechanisms to deal with same problems the rest of society has. The main difference seems to be they have them in greater number.


Dianne Davis in Sydney


I watched you on Lateline on Friday night this evening (Friday, 22 June) and I wish to applaud your courage and conviction for speaking out – as an individual, not a journalist – about what you rightly describe as the “national emergency” of horrendous violence and abuse suffered by women and children in indigenous communities.


I wish to state upfront that there is also totally unacceptable levels of violence against women and children in European communities. But the facts and the research show that within indigenous Australia, it is at epidemic levels – as Evelyn Scott noted earlier in the week, it has become almost a “cultural norm”.


Excerpts from the Boni Robertson Report are almost too painful to comprehend; we live in a world where technology delivers accounts of suffering and brutality daily and perhaps we are in danger of becoming inured to it. But the Robertson Report and the stands taken by Aboriginal women of great dignity (Scott, O’Donaghue, Perris Kneebone, Pryor) must impel all Australians to take action – lobby our politicians, contribute to a fund, publicly demonstrate – whatever it takes. This is human tragedy writ large.


I found Michael Mansell’s response on Lateline to be the specious retreat of those who would rather play the race and Fairfax conspiracy cards, than truly confront the savaged minds and bodies of far too many women and children within his own community.


I believe something of huge benefit and goodness has emerged from the Clark drama, the “flailings” of Pat O’Shane, the past lethargy of ATSIC – and this is to absolutely blast the horror faced by many indigenous women and children onto the front pages of our newspapers, onto our television screens, and into our hearts and minds.


From horror can come good; let’s all make a commitment – with the guidance of enlightened Aboriginal leadership – to rebuild the many broken souls and bodies, and to protect future generations. That is real reconciliation. This is not so much a race issue but a profound human issue.


Greg Clarke in Canberra


I was amazed at how Michael Mansell on Lateline completely refused to address the substantive issues of the abuses going on and the lack of action by ATSIC. But I don’t see how any reasonable person can be duped by his constant harping about conspiracies, media conspiracies and Fairfax conspiracies.


Mansell was arguing as if he just doesn’t what the status quo disrupted, as if he’s hoping the whole thing will blow over. Heaven forbid if ATSIC looks bad over this – that sounds like Mansell’s worst fear! But really some major change has to happen if this chronic abuse is to be stopped.


The leading Aboriginal women like Evelyn Scott have got to keep pushing hard. I hope this issue does not die until something is done to stop the abuse, occurring, and it seems obvious that the current set of (mostly male) Aboriginal leaders won’t do it.


Sean Cody in London


I’ve been watching the debate and issues surrounding Clark and then the larger domestic violence and sexual abuse horrors unfurl over the past week, and it leaves me depressed beyond belief to read what people are experiencing today in Australia. The despair that has fallen over me has left me weeping as I have read some of the postings to the diary, but there is one thing that you have really struck on in your Friday entry – “It all depends on what we all do from here on”.


To deal with Geoff Clark, I’m sorry, but he MUST stand down. I neither believe nor disbelieve the allegations made against him, and I am undecided as to whether or not they should have been published originally – although I do tend to go to the side of approval. But the fact of the matter is that this information is now in the public domain, and regardless of whether it is true or not, its very existence now clouds every single thing that ATSIC will do with regards to the horrendous problems of sexual abuse and domestic violence in indigenous communities in Australia.


There appears to be no doubt that the most helpless and the most innocent in human society, children, are being violated to the very core of their being, and that their siblings and mothers are suffering the same fate. That action is required is, of course, a ridiculous understatement.


Action must come from a source untainted by any hint of similar action. Since ATSIC must be one of the driving forces behind fixing this dreadful situation, then surely it must follow that the head of ATSIC must not himself be in a situation that compromises his integrity with regards to these matters.


To the much larger issue of what can be done – I have no answers, only ideas. I do know that given the history of white and black in Australia, the response to the horrific problems facing certain members of the indigenous population must be driven by the leadership of the indigenous population. White Australia cannot step in as it has in the past and possibly spawn a whole new generation of stolen peoples.


However it cannot sit by and let the indigenous population deal with these matters on their own. Support and co-working must be at the forefront of our efforts, but the indigenous leadership must be at the vanguard.


I must stress this – one of the measures of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. Those Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders that find themselves to be the victims of atrocities perpetrated on them by their fellow community members, and who feel powerless to escape their hells, are surely some of Australia’s most vulnerable members.


How we, as a society, help them escape their predicaments is how we should and shall be judged. They are our brothers and our sisters, and we must NOT stand by while they suffer. More than commissions of enquiry, more than councils, more than working groups, there are things that each and every one of us can do.


If we see a situation where we believe domestic violence to be happening, then we must notify the appropriate authorities. If we do not, we are guilty of complicity through silence. If the appropriate authorities do not take the appropriate measures to investigate and, if necessary, deal with the allegations, then they are guilty of complicity through inaction.


I am not in any way suggesting vigilante action, nor the patronising and demeaning attitudes taken in the past as part of official policies of forcible removal – I am calling simply for compassion and care. Cultural sensitivities are of course to be considered at all times, particularly when one considers the treatment that the indigenous population has received at the hands of white Australia, but they should not stand as a barrier to the salvation of people suffering.


If we, as a society, do not act as a society – the non-indigenous and indigenous population working together – then we are all damned as a society.


Martin Williams


Buried in Danna Vale’s speech (in Time for action) is one enticing sentence: “It seems to me that the time has come to put aside fears of being politically and culturally intrusive and to do what is necessary to protect and support the women and children in these communities.”


Seems fine, doesn’t it? The priorities are right, surely? BUT, does what is necessary to protect and support Aboriginal women and children demand political and cultural intrusion, or even the fear of it? This statement is equivalent to “We have license to intrude politically and culturally, as we define it, to protect Aboriginal women and children.”


So Vale is crystal clear: if race and gender interests conflict – and they probably will – then regrettably, race is expendable.


It is instructive that Vale does not offer any examples of justifiable political or cultural intrusion, other than implying that the intruders will be white people. In fact, she offers no measures at all except in the broadest and most unsurprising terms (apart from a safe house suggestion, like yours, which need not be so intrusive) and – surprise! – is reduced to lauding the fact that the Howard coalition government has provided $6 million over four years for this or that programme, a party political bit of cheerleading just as barren of insight and vision as any of Beazleys current approaches to policy description. It’s just more money.


Race and gender interests need not be in conflict, but such political rhetoric sets up a very convenient division between them when a number of options may instead be available in stopping the violence. So why set the division up in the first place?


She even invokes that tired chestnut political correctness to denounce those who would dissent on any aspect of her argument, almost as if dissenters would consider the abuse of Aboriginal women and children to be defensible. Curiouser and curiouser.


I hope these comments do not come across as petty or too abstract. I fear they may even appear insulting or distract from the depravity and suffering inflicted upon the women and children described earlier. What I am suggesting is that the subtler elements that accompany this kind of political rhetoric ought not be ignored, for they have definite ideological and practical consequences for the future of Aboriginal people as Aboriginal people.


One other reason I am concerned about Vale is precisely that she went to the brink for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory subject to mandatory sentencing but then came back from the brink. She put herself on the line to defend the most basic of principles – the welfare of children – and compromised! She was too craven to cross the floor. I dont care how intimidating Howard

may be towards his backbenchers. This is the same theatrically gutless politician behaviour were used to from all sides of politics, but it no less damages her moral authority as spokesperson for Aboriginal welfare reform.


Vale’s emerging use of divisive tactics in advancing a necessary and complex cause may prove to be untenable. But if divisiveness is going to be an acceptable way of proceeding with this problem, then let us play her game for a moment.


If by chance a persons CV offers any reflection on her character and on her credibility in sticking up for the wretched, what do we see?


Consider the choice between Danna Vale, who decided to give away a job in juvenile justice to become a politician serving a comfortable, middle-class urban seat for a government whose policies on women’s and Aboriginal affairs speak volumes, and Pat O’Shane, a legal officer who has travelled the country for decades trying to oppose at times intractable prejudice against women and others in the face of bitter opposition, including that of fellow Aborigines and erstwhile friends.


There would be no contest. Except, perhaps, in a brave, new, yet strangely unchanging Australia where “political and cultural intrusion” is promoted as a default and neither adequately described nor feared.

Another world

Hey, we’ve made the mainstream! The Australian media section, via journalist Tim Blair, says the following about webdiary.


“The Sydney Morning Herald’s site, for example, is elegant, easy to negotiate, and carries most of the information contained in the print edition. But scroll down to the bottom right of the SMH website and you’ll find the gateway to Margo Kingston’s otherworldly Web Diary.


Margo, a noted political journalist and author, is allowed absolute freedom in her diary including, it seems, the freedom to run what would pass as her own PR campaign for Pauline Hanson. If you are suddenly struck by the need to hear the One Nation theme song (“a real pub stomp”, according to Margo) it’s just a click away at Margo’s diary. Margo recently described Hanson as “a breath of fresh air”, which shows what can happen to an agile mind when it spends too long in Canberra.


Actually, despite its name, Margo’s diary mainly consists of pieces written by a hardcore regiment of four or five regular reader/contributors, most of whom are obsessed with dairy deregulation. There is a whole archive of dairy deregulation pieces at the site, featuring this style of direct, searing argument:


“So, as with, say, the quantum theory of physics, throughout its evolution economic theory macro and micro was refined in the light of repeated observation, the results of tangible experimentation (unlike in natural science, mostly unintended, indirect and arm’s-length, but sometimes as in the case of Keynes deliberate, direct and even nail-biting), and re-evaluation of models.”

Forget dairies; it’s this diary that needs regulating. Incidentally, does Margo pay her writers? Is she running some kind of online sweatshop? Why didn’t the M1 demonstrators burn her effigy?”


Our Meeja Watch writer Jack Robertson was quick to respond to Tim Blair in the Australian online.


“Dear Tim,


Pretty cheap shot to dismiss Margo’s Web Diary as a ‘PR campaign for Hanson’, mate. You and I both know that she has done more than any journalist in this country to investigate, attempt to understand, and thus expose the emptiness at the heart of One Nation. Where were you when she was getting spat at by right-wing maniacs, physically assaulted by ON mobs, defamed across the country, and even abused by fellow journos for getting – of all things! – too ‘close’ to her subject?


Just where was Tim Blair when Margo was one of the few journalists who bothered to investigate One Nation where it really matters – on the ground in the rural and outer suburban electorates?


Can’t quite figure out why you would want to slag her off in such a self-evidently stupid way, mate. She’s actually, er…one of the more serious, independent and committed journos in this country. Don’t you think so?

Yes, I am one of her contributors. No, I’m not obsessed with dairy dereg. And no, we don’t get paid for our Webdiary contributions. Instead, we get to contribute to public debate without having to toe any editorial or proprietorial line. That’s what we get. Sound good to you, Tim?”


I’ve had my say on the budget online and on radio, so today it’s all yours, and to end, a sorry day idea from Fiona Katauskas – Reconciliation week is next week – and calls for radical action by ABC supporters fromPeter Dyce.


A couple of readers have asked for the figures on the joke funding in what was obviously a bogus innovation statement called “Backing Australia’s Ability” released in January.


Of the $2.9 billion to be spent over five years to merely lessen the rate of decline in research and development funding since the election of the Howard government, a miniscule $86 million will be spent in the whole of next financial year. The Herald’s higher education writer Aban Contractor calculated from the budget papers that:


* of the $736 million to the Australian Research Council, $19 million will be given in 2001/2

*$337 million for project specific infrastructure, $27 million in 2001/2

* $246 million to upgrade research infrastructure, $26 million in 2001/2

* $151 million for 2000 new university places, $14 million in 2001/2


And just to rub the bruised and battered nose of what’s left of our university sector into the government’s contempt, the sector will get a funding increase of 1.7 percent, a real cut given the projected 2 percent inflation rate.


Because we’ve focused on R&D a lot lately, here’s an edited budget press release from the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (if you’re interested in the group, call its executive director Toss Gascoigne on (02) 6257 2891, 0408 704 442).





“The science community welcomed Backing Australia’s Ability, but as a first step, the beginning of a process,” Dr David Denham said. “It was a partial solution to the issue of how Australia should invest in our national future.


“This Budget needed to deal with the outstanding issues, like the funding of our university system and CSIRO. At first glance, the Budget has failed to do so.


“Science and research are too important to be decided in the hurly-burly of daily politics. We face the constant danger of the important issues being swamped by urgent but less important matters.”


Dr Denham said that Australia is well below the average OECD investment in R&D, and trending downwards.


“The most dismaying fact is the gap is growing larger every day. Other countries see where the future is – why can’t Australia?” he said. “We will pay a heavy national price if we continue to neglect science, research and higher education.”


Dr Denham said science groups estimated Australia needs to invest an extra $13 billion over the next five years to reach the OECD average. The $13 billion would be split almost equally between the Federal Government, and industry and the State Governments.


The average spend in this area by the world’s leading economies is just over two percent of GDP, where Australia is currently spending about 1.5 per cent. It is measured by GERD (Gross Expenditure on R&D) as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).


“To reach this target, the Federal Government would have to make an announcement of the size of Backing Australia’s Ability ($2.9 billion) every year for the next four years,” he said. It would take a conscious effort to change national priorities if Australia wants to become a competitive modern economy.


“It will require a shift of national resources into areas that will pay the best dividends for Australia. Australians need to agree, as a nation, that this is where our future lies.


“The low Aussie dollar, the steady drain of our best talent overseas, our slide down international rankings – to a significant extent, all of these can be blamed at Australia’s failure to recognise the world has changed.”






Well done on being the sole voice pointing out the smoke and mirrors of Costello’s latest budget. All the big headline grabbing items, eg $1.7 billion for this or that over four years, only have miniscule amounts for the next financial year.


As a public servant of 9 years, the usual operation for new money is that it is equally divided up over the number of years. At our post budget briefing today, I asked if these generous amount for future expenditure could be cut and the answer was a definite yes.


So the stage is set for the next budget to cut all these programmes back if the Liberals get back in office. Or for the Labour to try and find the funds for the programmes as they start to blow out the bottom line. I’d like to see a consolidated breakdown by financial year of the items announced in the budget.


Another point is that not all the money announced is new money, but reordering of priorities.


On the media, I wonder to what extent you feel you are tilting at windmills. (MARGO: That’s exactly what I do.) I really enjoyed your comments on the media and the need for diverse ownership (MARGO: They’re in Webdiary MAy 21 – I’m saving up most of your comments on this till tomorrow.)


I’d like to raise a different point, and that is the depressing irrelevance of the quality press. I have a friend who works for Media Monitors. Like me, before getting his job there he would have looked at a Daily Telegraphabout six times in his life. Now it is his bible. The stories that make the news are not those covered by the Herald, except in rare circumstances, or those covered by TV, but those stories run by the Tele. The line that is run by the Tele is picked up by Alan Jones and his ilk which in turn is picked up by TV. My friend’s view was that TV put the story to bed but rarely kept the story going or introduced new material. Depressing isn’t it?


But perhaps the influence of the quality press is more subtle. The bankrupt solicitors who continued to practice but paid no tax was a story broken by the Herald. It was taken up by other papers later. So you influence the agenda, but don’t get the credit.


LINDA PETRIE in Capalaba, Queensland


This Prime Minister is more divisive than any other I can recall in my 53 years.


I am a disability support pensioner only 2 years off the aged pension, but I am outraged at the assumption that self-funded retirees have contributed to the ‘building of our nation’ while all other types of pensioners have not. This is classism at its worst.


In my active working 28 years of adult life I owned a nursing home employing 70 people for nine years.Virtually every single day of the balance of the 19 years of my working life I was employed in a variety of highly responsible jobs and paying tax nonstop before being thrown on to the scrap heap of humanity.


Since then I have worked as a volunteer for my community while continuing to look for work.


How dare this pompous man arrogantly engage in such inaccurate and destructive value judgements to execute the personal political policy agendas of an elitist and out-of-touch few!


S’all I can stand, I can’t stand no more.




I listened to your views on the budget on Late Night Live and absolutely agree with you. It is indeed highway robbery when a powerful body like the Government uses its muscle to take from the people over many years (and continue to take from ordinary people) and then give these takings to the people who can afford not to need them.


I am also concerned at the way money is been spent on education – one of the most important aspects of nation building next to family enrichment. By this I mean if we look around at the nature of family situations we find devastation all around – broken homes – drugs – homeless kids – violence.


We need a Government to work for the people. This is a long time coming – and we need the media to pursue that line of philosophical thought – what does it mean to work for the people?





The plight of one group of self-funded retirees – permanent invalidity pensioners – has, if anything, worsened as a consequence of Tuesday’s budget.


Two factors make life extremely difficult. The first is their very high medical costs. A huge wallop of income goes on pharmaceuticals, prostheses, vital occupational therapy items like grab rails for the toilet and shower or bath (to add insult to injury, the latter are ruled inadmissible for rebate by the Tax Office, are no longer subject to sales tax exemption and have full GST applied) and all bar bulk-billed medical visits.


The second is the cost of feeding, clothing, sheltering and educating often very young families. Invalidity retirees themselves may be quite young, albeit with reduced life expectancy. Their kids bear a very unlovely financial and emotional brunt. Spouses are often job-disadvantaged because they are single-handedly caring for partners and/or kids. Overwhelmingly they are ineligible for caring assistance.


As well, invalidity retirees usually find themselves with substantial fortnightly PAYE income tax obligations. A pension plus any kind of combined spouse income altogether totalling $48,880 wipes out any kind of Centalink medical assistance. A modest pension plus a very small spouse paypacket will easily do this and was at the crux of the “grey power” senior’s card push.


Medical costs, no matter how vast, don’t affect income assessment, although they may be partially rebated after spending thresholds have been reached. A spouse who may be trying to juggle care and work with a prudent eye to a future which may well involve the premature death of an invalid partner, can forget either a decent career or any kind of assistance. Many invalid pensioners will never live long enough to get within cooee of a senior’s card, which must be contributing to considerable savings. Let’s hope the money markets are happy with such rectitude.


The federal government has very good excuses for letting invalidity retirees, every one of whom is a fully fledged “self-funded retiree”, fall through the cracks on Tuesday night. The reasons are similar to those used for kicking around aged and other Commonwealth pensioners. The latter once didn’t count because government members felt no affinity with them and, up until recently, no need for their votes.


Invalid retirees are, let’s face it, unsightly sick people who are best kept tucked away in their suburban hideyholes or in hospital and medical waiting rooms. We are invisible and inaudible. We discomfort people with our pain and feebleness, our gait, our impaired speech, our smelly wounds and all the rest of it.


People in nice Country Road outfits out to enjoy themselves don’t want to be confronted by those who, as Ian “Spasticus” Drury would have put it, “wobble when they hobble and dribble when they nibble”. Ian knew only too well that the worst regarded were those disabled and invalid who didn’t cave in and, instead, attempted some kind of self-assertion.


Australia is an egalitarian society, but there are real votes in keeping invalids down, if you have the right touch. A good way of locking people away is to cut them off at the knees financially. That way, they tend not to go out much. Not as much as Ian Drury, anyway.


But as well, APRA, the body which collects statistics on the self-funded retirees of the 3,000-odd larger superannuation funds, openly admits that it has no idea how many Australians receive self-funded invalidity retirement benefits. That practice must be damned convenient, politically, but it is neither prudent nor authoritative.


It is, in fact, extraordinarily remiss of the agency neither to collate this data properly, nor to relay any kind of epidemiological, regional, environmental or even fraudulent trends to government and other interested parties.


Maybe this is why Mr Costello has signally failed to tackle the issue, and why his colleagues can affect so little interest in it. Setting aside common decency, which is hardly a paying horse in any kind of political race, public interest should demand that the numbers be made known.


If, for example, for epidemiological reasons, there was a jump in invalidity retirement among a few funds and it was misinterpreted as a mere blip but turned into a groundswell, the regulatory agency could another bushfire on its hands. Surely the risk of a few uncomfortable headlines about invalidity retirement gripes (and trends) would be easier borne than that. The figures would also give a disparate group of often quite ill people some idea of their standing in the community and tell them they were not alone.


But you don’t have to be a crack epidemiologist to work out the effect on the health and life expectancy of Australians facing the daily issue of how to spend very limited income on drugs, medical services, surgical aids and similar luxuries, or on feeding their kids.


And don’t forget, these blockheads will vote before they cash in their chips. Somebody should let the Treasurer know before it’s too late.







DISCLOSURE: PS: I’m a cartoonist who used to work mainly for the SMH on Stay In touch. I met you when I was flu-addled at the last National Young Writers’ Festival in Newcastle last year.


About a month ago, I was thinking about how the word “sorry” has become such a political tool, poisoned by those who seek to portray it as a word of blame and exclusion. It is, in effect, a prisoner of John Howard.


However as reconciliation activities like the Sea of Hands and the walk over the bridge have shown, many Australians believe in an apology and would like to say sorry themselves but don’t know how. They see the word as a symbol of hope and of the start of a better future for Australia- an expression of optimism, not negativity.


Anyway, after a long, drunken dinner party, a bunch of mates and I got together and started the “No Regrets” campaign, to reclaim the word “sorry”. The gist of it is this- we basically want the word to get as broad exposure as possible, spontaneously and nationwide on the day of the 26th. I designed a graphic for “Sorry” in the same font style as “Eternity”, written on the streets of Sydney for so many years.


With the help of the Nik Bueret of Octapod/Newcastle Young Writers’ Fest) we set up a website with our manifesto, some stencils and print-outs and simple instructions. We’re encouraging people to take to the streets on the night of the 25th and spread the word- chalk it, spray it, print it off and stick it to telegraph poles and make stickers to hand out to people.


I’ve distributed several hundred to shopkeepers on Oxford and King Sts in Sydney so that supporters of Reconciliation can stick them in their windows on the day of the 26th. Hopefully we’ll also get some bands playing on that night to hang up A3 versions of the “sorry” behind them on stage.


I ran the idea past the National Sorry Day Committee who gave it their thumbs up, and have contacted many community organisations, activist groups and unions. However it’s a non-partisan campaign and the more mainstream it is, the

better. If the young liberals took it on board, I’d be over the moon.


The website for the campaign is – It’s a symbol, but an important one, and I think that real reconciliation needs a blend of both symbolic and practical action.


Sorry is a start.







Mass demos, forums, trying to visit the local member, letters to the editor – I have started to think it’s time for a change of tack.


These pollies and other enemies of an independent media aren’t interested in engaging in debates. They don’t want to be reasonable or rational. They don’t want the ABC because it keeps showing them up for the pack of greedy shonks they are.


When we try to engage them in discussions all we end up doing is talking to ourselves. The other side really don’t want to know. We have had some big rallies and that is important but massive demos are a hell of a lot of work and last about ten nanoseconds in the average punter’s mind after the news clip is played.


It’s about time we started taking a few leaves out of the books of other political activists. Let’s use the 5 second sound bite; the 10 second news clip. The Pollies don’t want to talk or listen so let us get go out and embarrass the hell out of our so called leaders.


It’s time to start thinking of guerilla tactics. I am thinking of the young men who who got into the papers during the Ryan by-election by wearing Banana suits and just getting out there and in the news. Lets do the same thing NATIONALLY. We have to be in the public eye, not taking to each other.


We have to make the pollies know that we aren’t going to lie down. We have to make them look foolish in the eyes of the electorate.


I reckon that with a little effort and a few Banana suits we could make these pollies a laughing stock. Every time they stop in front of a doorway or get out of a car somewhere there is a Banana in Pajamas in the back ground. If there is one thing I know, it is pollies hate being laughed at.


The great thing is it only needs to be one or two people! each time. Bs in PJs could pop up and harass pollies anywhere, anytime. We need banner headlines. THE LONE BANANA STRIKES AGAIN. Get the student unions around the country involved. WE NEED BANANA HIT SQUADS. Hell we could make the banana a symbol of national dissent or rebellion!


Send bunches of Bananas to your least favourite polly. Write messages in each banana. Get greengrocers and shops to sell labelled bananas. Pelt pollies with rotten Bananas. Send bad Bananas through the mail to J Shier. I will leave the rest to your imagination.

Big Brother gives News its $ value

The tie-up deal between Network Ten’s Big Brother show and News Limited is just the latest in the descent of our major media groups into advertorial without disclosure. News Limited sponsors the show and runs Ten articles verbatim, despite Press Council guidelines banning advertorials being presented as news. The agreement mandated that News would show “ongoing editorial interest” in Big Brother. Simple really – news is just a commodity to be bought and sold.


Anne Davies investigated and wrote the story (Herald, May 2) and that was it.


I’ve been writing for some time that we in the media have to establish tough, consistent self-regulation or suffer government regulation. But it seems media moguls are so powerful that the rights and interests of readers don’t matter. Our society is recklessly creating a monster – media power without responsibility.


According to standard theory, there are four pillars of a vibrant democracy. They are the executive government (Prime Ministers, Premiers and ministers), Parliament (comprised of the supposedly freely elected representatives of the people) the judiciary and the media.


Of each pillar save for the media it is required that conflicts of interest be disclosed. The Prime Minister enforces these in the Cabinet room, and if a member of the executive does not disclose a conflict of interest and the media finds out, there is sheer, utter hell to pay. The politicians in Parliament can be tossed out every three years if they play fast and loose. Judges must stand aside from hearing a case if they have a conflict of interest, and if they fail to disclose a conflict their decisions can be overturned on appeal.


We in the media investigate, judge and crucify politicians and judges for conflicts of interest and other unethical behaviour. Yet when we are guilty, nothing happens and we mostly move on without angst or penalty.


In my view, like the other pillars of democracy the media grounds itself in an implied compact with the people. The compact would go something like – we will make news judgements on stories based on the available space each day. We might have a biased news judgement, one way or the other, but we will make it without the influence of commercial or political considerations. There will be a clear delineation between the news we deliver and the advertisements we publish.


Now that’s idealistic nonsense, right? Right, although the media companies do mouth platitudes like the public interest when it suits them. Media moguls have always influenced their papers on matters of editorial policy and on suppression of stories which concern them. This is why a group like Fairfax – which has been without “a proprietor” since young Warwick Fairfax destroyed his inheritance and for many years before then had a proprietor with a hands-off policy – is always under the political gun.


For the same reason the ABC is despised by both Labor and Liberal governments. Governments like media companies to have an owner because they are by nature control freaks. They like the idea of doing a deal.


What I could never understand is why they never realised that the proprietor always wins in the end, because he can switch sides when it suits his commercial interests. A longer term view would see government policy strongly in favour of media ownership diversity, because a diversely owned media will ensure that the media, as an entity, scrutinises the media proprietors, thus helping to keep the system honest.


This is a big reason why Packer and Murdoch want to sew up the ownership of our media – it is in both their interests to shut down criticism of them both. And are they even notionally independent of each other, now that they’re going into joint ventures like Onetel and Foxtel?


A factor dramatically increasing the need for diverse media ownership is that the Packer dynasty has spread its tentacles beyond the media to casinos and telecommunications. The Murdochs control a worldwide media company with interests in satellite TV, movies, ecommerce, television and newspapers. Who will scrutinise them? Your ABC? Fairfax? How long will these groups last?


With concentrated media ownership and the increasing ability for proprietors to use their media assets to cross promote their business interests, it is obvious that the media must now be regulated. As a society, we just cannot leave it to those much maligned people, the journalists. We, a subset of the people, are fighting against impossible odds to stay free and independent. And for thanks, you guys dump on us.



Journalists are, in general, not well paid. Their most basic impulse is to find stories that haven’t been told yet, for the thrill of the scoop, the desire to expose corruption or matters of public interest, and because of the competitive pressure to beat the opposition. One of the ugliest bits of rhetoric used by Howard to justify his attempt to hand Fairfax to Packer in his first term was that we needed a national champion to take on the world. The result would have been little or no competition within Australia, and that’s fatal to a healthy 4th estate.


In Western Australia, there has been only one daily newspaper for a long time, which damages the competitive impulse, and makes it just about impossible for a journalist to take a stand on principle. Brisbane and Adelaide joined WA when, in a despicable decision, the then treasurer Paul Keating allowed Rupert Murdoch, a foreigner, to take over the Herald and Weekly Times newspaper group. The then Trade Practices Commission let the bid through on the basis that Murdoch managers would buy HWT papers in those cities to compete with the Murdoch papers. Surprise, surprise, those papers were quickly closed down.


Sure, we’ve got our code of ethics, recently beefed up by the Media Alliance. But that is our professional association’s code, to which the media companies are not bound. Which young reporter would say no to an unethical request? Which young reporter would complain at a big-brother type scam? How on earth can we expect them to? Do you think journalists like being forced to be lackeys churning out advertorial rather than real journalists? If you do, you’re wrong.


To me, there is almost no alternative. A brave State government or a suicidal federal government should enact a law similar to the model for lawyers. There should be statutory backing for a media ethics body to hear and adjudicate complaints, with the power to apply penalties.


The Herald has spent years coming up with an internal ethics code, to which everyone in editorial would be bound but an enforcement mechanism is yet to be agreed upon. To me, the code is there to protect us in working for our readers. The reader must therefore have the right to complain on a breach of ethics. I would like the Herald to appoint an ombudsman, preferably a senior retired journalist, to handle complaints, make regular findings and write a regular column.


It is a very big decision to regulate the media, because State regulation raises the spectre of State control. But since the industry itself has become so arrogant, to the detriment of its readers and its journalists, that we should seriously consider a hybrid model. The media must keep control. What I’d suggest is that each big newspaper appoint an ethics monitor. If any question of ethics arises in the production of, or publishing of stories, the monitor would be consulted and express a view, possibly after consultation with ethics monitors in other media. If an ethical complaint arises, the matter would go to the full ethics committee, comprised of ethics monitors in the industry. This is just an idea. Any others?




Today is media day, and doing a sort of Q & A with contributions I’ve been saving up from Andy Latta, Andrew Elder, Alex Pollard and Don Arthur. Jack Robertson’s Meeja watch, on the news value of the leaked Stone memo, will kick it all off and a wonderful piece from the US online site The Nation, sent in by Con Vaitsas, will complete the trip.


The dairyupdate has three new entries. Walter Graham (entry 30) tells us why regulation happened in the first place – we weren’t producing enough milk for our own needs. He also believes competition policy was irrelevant to dismantling deregulation, and that the federal government was the patsy here, not the bogeyman. It’s a fascinating read. Tim Dunlop (entry 29) goes to town on David Eastwood’s insistence that democracy means majority rule. Tim believes, as I do, that the essence of democracy is the quality of its treatment of minorities. Its an old debate being passionately contested in the context of our dairy debate. Rick Pass (entry 31) tosses in yet another factor into the debate, arguing that Victorian farmers – who’ve pushed deregulation – benefit from grossly subsidised irrigation water as compared to their NSW and Queensland colleagues. The government, after spending a whopping $1.7 billion of our money to compensate the farmers, has just announced a $140 million top-up. Dairy deregulation must be hurting the Coalition very badly.


To those of you still stirred up by pollies super, public submissions on Peter Andren’s private members bill to start cleaning it up close on June 1st. The address is The Senate Committee on Superannuation, Parliament House Canberra, ACT 2600. You can get the detail from Webdiary entry Winning by sacrifice, or at




When politics is empty, leaks are irrelevant


By Jack Robertson


What is a political leak? Hard news? A scoop? Is it information our politicians didn’t want us to see, but thanks to a Free and Effective Press, we did?


Political leaks are none of these things. As far as I can see, the leak is now indistinguishable from any other political Press Release or spun Party message. Such is the blurring of the lines between political pack, quack, flak and hack, that I doubt a political leak can even truly be called a leak anymore.


A political leak, the Stone leak say, is information delivered by a political insider to us via the Press, and is thus no more valuable, as hard news, than any other party-delivered information. That such leaks are invariably intended to hurt certain politicians and help others is mostly irrelevant – unless you are a political insider yourself.


Political leaking rarely involves matters that affect us, but is invariably part of the power gaming that is increasingly turning us all off politics itself. And as Howard’s improved rating in the wake of the Stone leak suggests, the only people really interested in these power games work in Canberra.


Journalists urgently need to re-assess the leak (and other inside mechanisms) as reportage tools. Politics is the business of selling competing messages, and when the substance of the messages are the same, it becomes the business of presenting the message more seductively than the other guy.


In the early days of policy convergence, politicians still did this in reasonably straightforward ways. A Bob Hawke or a Paul Keating, while embracing what is now the centrist orthodoxy, could woo the electorate with old-fashioned political weapons like charisma, personality, heartfelt oratory, public gestures, the vision thing. Even in the 80s, if you faked all that well enough it could still get you elected.


The difficulty now is that we don’t cop surface stuff anymore. We are far too Meeja-savvy to take anything at face value. Thus the clout of the truly professional spinner – the sub-textual, post-modernist, second, third and fourth-guessing spinner (the Alistair Campbell, the James Carville).


We are now so primed to disbelieve everything our politicians say upfront that making the message sufficiently seductive requires great sophistication from spin doctors. In a post-Lewinsky, post-X-Files, post-reality TV world, the Public Arena operates on a weird inverse principle – the only time we are even vaguely likely to believe something involving politicians is when it comes in some sort of conspiracy package – a leak, an inside story, an off-the-record wink-and-nod, even a scandal.


The spinners know this better than anyone – it’s their job to invent new ways of selling information. Got a message you want delivered? Well don’t merely deliver it in public – if anything, deny it in public. Want to send a signal? Then signal exactly its opposite in public. Want to soften the blow of a forthcoming tough policy announcement? Then leak an even tougher one first, so the Minister can magnanimously knock the sharp edges off it when releasing the real policy.


A fundamental requirement for these subtler forms of message delivery is a Press willing to play along, happy to foster close off-the-record relationships with politicians. Yet such has been the Meeja’s acquiescence that the prospect of truly independent investigation has been overwhelmed by the ensuing symbiotic cosiness. (MARGO: There are honourable exceptions. The Herald’s political correspondent Laura Tingle has done great investigative work on nursing homes, the tendering process for the job network and the behaviour of charities since they’ve become quasi-government agencies. I agree it’s getting harder, especially as journalist numbers are being squeezed in Canberra and bosses are often unwilling to give a political reporter time to collect the evidence or enough space to report the story. Another factor is a trend towards blandness in newspapers, with packaging perceived as more important than content.)


Every journo ferociously nurtures their inside sources, striking a series of mildly Faustian Pacts in which both politician and reporter regard the other as the Devil, yet both are damned to Eternal Irrelevance in the eyes of an increasingly bemused public.


Journalists will argue that such mechanisms as leaks and off-the-record chats have always been central to political reportage. However, such is now the degree of sophistication with which our political operators try to tweak the Meeja, that these staples have surely become hopelessly compromised.


These days a leak is more likely to be an integral part of a Party’s sanctioned campaign strategy than an attempt at subversion, much less altruistic truth-telling. Even Margo mused – albeit dismissively – on the possibility that Howard himself authorised the Stone leak. The truth is, Canberra is now so thoroughly Byzantine that news and spin are impossible for even a Laurie Oakes to untangle, much less explain to us out here.


And this is what Canberra journos need to confront. These long-nurtured insider mechanisms are now so ubiquitous as to be effectively worthless. The public is just as sophisticated about information as reporters are, after all. Weve all watched enough Survivor and Big Brother to know one thing, at least, when it comes to Machiavellian Meeja gamesmanship – believe nothing.


This is a dangerous corner for the Canberra Pack to have painted itself into. The phrase is not Free Press, its Free and Effective Press, and the increasing passive reliance on the likes of the Stone memo, in place of pro-active investigation, suggests that our capitals journalists will soon represent little more than just another information outlet, undistinguishable, in the publics eyes at least, from a PM Press Officer or a Beazley electioneerist. The likelihood is that we will then simply choose to ignore them completely, too.


I found the Meeja coverage of Stonegate slightly sad, even a tad desperate, as if journalists were trying to convince themselves that the story was the Real McCoy, that theirs is still the Number One Political Patch in town. Yet I suspect that even the most cloistered of Canberra correspondents is beginning to sense an awkward truth: when the political rhetoric from all sides is already utterly empty, you can leak to your hearts content, but it won’t stop people looking elsewhere for something real to drink.





I’m interested in a small point your comment on April 10 (Webdiary, Natasha, Cheryl and Pauline), that you were “still surprised at how much of a tedious, arid, turn-off the political debate is from outside the Canberra hothouse, including its media presentation”.


I can see why it would be an enthralling environment to report in if you were swimming around in it, and would be interested if you could elaborate on the differences you now find (as you are now like the greater majority of us in being physically disconnected from the Canberra environment).


I’ve visited Canberra many times and often feel like a fish out of water – unlike the feeling I get when I visit any other capital city. There seems to be an unidentifiable “x” factor in Canberra. Speaking to Canberra ex-pats, the best explanation they can come up with is that Canberra is very “cliquey”


Maybe this is one of the reasons why you are now noticing the difference? This “rarefied” type of environment and it’s attendant reporting is the only thing that most of us get to see. so what are the differences, and how do they relate to the spin that politicians use?



MARGO: Canberrans constantly rail against reporters saying “Canberra did x, y, z”. They insists that it’s not the city making the decisions, it’s the bloody politicians from the rest of Australia. I take no notice of these complaints, because Canberra was built to house our federal government, and government is what Canberra does. It is a place of policy and politics. The journalists of the press gallery, and there are more than 100 of them, are here for one reason – to report policy and politics. The senior public servants live here, and talk policy and politics. With all the outsourcing, privatisation and decentralisation going on, you might think Canberra would be a shrunken little thing by now, but it has boomed since the election of Howard in 1996. Big law firms have moved in, to grab the outsourced legal work. Lobbying has become more lucrative.


The world of government is jam packed with political staffers, journalists, public servants, lobbyists and companies doing, thinking and talking policy and politics.


I’ve written about why the media-politician mix in Canberra has become dysfunctional and what can be done about it in the Webdiary entry ‘Hansonism: Then and now’. The danger is that politics can become an intellectual game of finding, deconstructing and interpreting spin. Both sides are guilty in this corruption of process, because the media’s news judgement is about finding conflict, inconsistency and evidence of disunity. Cynicism from politicians feeds journalists which feeds readers which worries politicians who blame journalists who blame their bosses who blame them. Readers tune out.


As a result, interesting political questions such as those raised by Kernot about the role of young people in political parties are crushed by disunity stories. Simon Crean’s sin in raising the need for more superannuation savings is pounced on by Howard as proof that employers will be slugged.


Political journos are trapped by cliched, formulaic writing styles. Experimentation is needed. They also find themselves looking out from the centre of political power, not outside looking in, where they should be if they are to serve their readers.



Now that some time has passed since the death of Mr Peter Nugent MP (see Webdiary entry A loss to Liberals) we can see how the media has missed some of the big issues in this matter and will keep doing so unless something radical happens.


Peter Nugent was a decent man pursuing noble causes in a sick-and-tired government, a government of, by and for the self-absorbed and the unimaginative. You rightly said something similar, but elsewhere he was given short shrift. Most of the Herald article announcing his death concentrated on the impeding byelection: to read that article it was almost as though Mr Nugent had died just to spite the government.


In this initial period we should, as they say in funeral orations, reflect on the man’s life and be grateful that he was here at all. He was the political equivalent of the Wollemi Pine, and only those with a bit of perspective (yourself, Michelle Grattan) picked this up.


There’s plenty of time to go into all that in-depth street-by-street analysis. The byelection won’t be for two months yet. By that time the good voters of Aston will be interviewed, direct-mailed, phone-polled and focus-grouped within an inch of their lives.


By that time – when the swinging voters in Aston and the generally interested outside it begin to take a real interest – the straight commentary will become stale for the media. By that time the major parties will have chosen worthy but dull candidates to contest the seat, and if you can dismiss Peter Nugent in a par or two what hope will the Lib and Labor people have?


Just before the byelection the media will be reduced to reporting on wacky independents, colourful locals, the dress sense of various personalities involved – anything but the real meat-and-potatoes analysis that will be in high, unspoken demand, but in abysmally low supply.


Major media will try any marketing strategy in this period except:


a) proper respect for the departed, and


b) straightforward explanation of the options before Aston voters, both of which would be so newsworthy and so unusual of itself that we could only hope for a news organisation to practice strategy of such a high order.


Instead of news strategy we have a meandering, blundering herd of media, avoiding some issues, trampling others. This is the real casualty of concentrated media ownership – as the number of players become fewer the consequences of breaking from the pack become too high for mere mortals. You may say this is too long a bow to draw on the reporting of this one issue – but after the voters of Aston choose a new Representative, revisit this email and see how it stands up.



MARGO: Part of the problem is a lack of corporate memory in the gallery, with more young people being posted here for only a short time. They don’t get a feel for the history, and where the players stand. Cheap and superficial cynicism can flourish in such an environment. However, in my view the reason why Nugent was pronounced dead as a forward to racy coverage of the latest problem for Howard is that news editors didn’t want an obituary. I believe their news judgement is wrong on this score. I’ve had several emails expressing the same distaste as you. Political reporting is nothing without context and flavour.


After he sent his email, Andrew sent me the following from the Private Eye website in Britain. We must move on from this forumla!!!!


FROM TODAY Private Eye will be running an extra 94 pages every issue to guarantee up-to-the-minute round-the-clock first-past-the-post in-depth behind-the-scenes in-your-face cut-out-and-throw-away reportage of tomorrow’s events today.


This is the A-team who will deliver the nation’s most indispensable election news before it even happens.


Man with glasses. With over 40 years’ experience at the cutting edge, the man with glasses will provide analysis and comment.


Woman you haven’t heard of. Reporting from the key marginals, the woman you haven’t heard of will write thousands of words about the ups and downs of the campaign trail.


Young bloke. With no experience at all, young bloke will be giving a unique Generation X viewpoint on the issues that concern first-time voters.


Man with bowtie. One of Britain’s top psephologists, man with bowtie will be conducting a daily poll of polls to keep you abreast of all the latest percentages.


Someone amusing. With his unique brand of wry humour, someone amusing will be taking a wry sideways look at the lighter moments of the election battle.


Another woman. To make the team look bigger and more balanced in gender terms, another woman will be getting a picture byline as well.


Alastair Campbell. Top government spokesman Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair’s press secretary) will be coming up with our stories, writing our headlines and telling us what to put in the editorials (some mistake surely).


More Top Team tomorrow




Margo, you mentioned on Late Night Live that the press had been chucked out of an ALP function. You referred to the press as “the public’s representatives”. Where did you get that idea from? Who elects opinionators and journos? No-one, they’re appointed by editors, who are employed by big media companies.


MARGO: This question is so hard. You have to get back to the basis on which the media has a privileged position in our society. Why are the journalists our bosses choose able to go to a press conference and ask hard questions? Why are we accommodated in the system? The only answer can be that in some sense we do represent the people. The phrase I use is that we’re here to scrutinise the powerful on behalf of the people and to bring the concerns of the people to the powerful. We can’t do the latter if we’re in the power club, and we can’t do the former if we’re under pressure from bosses to look after THEIR interests, if we’re not sufficiently informed to ask the tough questions, and if when we do ferret out answers bosses don’t want to run them or want them spun or beaten up.


So Alex, that’s where I get the idea from. I know its untenable, but I still believe it. It must be faith.

DON ARTHUR, former public servant, now a PhD student and our politics of ideas writer.


I’ve spent years watching public servants following a kind of code – a sense of what’s on and not on in the job. Most bureaucrats I know are outraged if they even suspect they are being asked to compromise their professional integrity (eg cook a selection process for a grant for political reasons).


Surely journalists are the same? I know we’re all supposed to be hyper-cynical these days but I’m guessing there are things most journalists can’t do without feeling like they’ve sold their soul – not just what’s in the formal codes, but something in the culture of the job. As a consumer of news I need to have faith in something like this – I can’t check every single story myself.


I’d love to see you write something on this. Can we trust journos? What kind of things chew away at their professional integrity? What questions should we be asking?


Or maybe the ad that offers “news you can trust” is just the info-product equivalent of “New Blixo-superwash – now with grime-busting enzymes” – one more scrap of unverifiable marketing hype. Maybe all it means is the serious looking TV anchor polls well on the “someone you can trust” question in a market research survey. Journalism inside out?


MARGO: We do feel just as outraged. Because Fairfax journalists cling to a culture that’s not quite dead – we have more ability to stay no. I have no criticism of News journos here – they just haven’t got the capacity in general, although you’ll note that when push comes to shove, they will leak the material to Fairfax or the ABC, or even the Australian’s media section (an interesting case study in a publication once scrupulous in giving News Limited organs the same scrutiny as the rest, but now descended into promoting News and critiquing the rest – what a shame that Amanda Meade got taken off the media gossip column after she correctly described Rupert Murdoch as a foreigner.)


It’s a brutal, harsh game, journalism. Most of us fight hard every day to get what we think is important into the paper, without being beaten up or otherwise spun. There is no doubt in my mind that credibility will be a media organ’s most valuable asset in this decade. Many of us are fighting for that credibility. We’re losing.

CON VAITSAS brings us this from The Nation,


May 7, 2001



Journalism & Democracy


By Bill Moyers

This article is adapted from Moyers’s speech to the National Press Club on March 22, hosted by PBS (The United States’ public broadcasting system) to observe his thirtieth year as a broadcast journalist. The chemical industry’s trade association did attempt to discredit the March 26 documentary, “Trade Secrets” (see “The Times v. Moyers,” April 16), accusing Moyers and Jones of “journalistic malpractice” for inviting industry participation only during the last half-hour of the broadcast. Moyers replied that investigative journalism is not a collaboration between the journalist and the subject.


Hi. My name is Bill, and I’m a recovering Unimpeachable Source. I understand “Unimpeachable Source” is now an oxymoron in Washington, as in “McCain Republican” or “Democratic Party.” But once upon a time in a far away place – Washington in the 1960s – I was one.


Deep Backgrounders and Unattributable Tips were my drugs of choice. Just go to Austin and listen to me on those tapes LBJ secretly recorded. That’s the sound of a young man getting high…without inhaling. I swore off thirty-four years ago last month, and I’m here to tell you, it hasn’t been easy to stay clean.


I can’t even watch The West Wing without breaking into a sweat. A C-SPAN briefing by Ari Fleischer pushes me right to the edge. But I know one shot – just one – and I could wind up like my friend David Gergen, in and out of revolving doors and needing to go on The NewsHour for a fix between Presidents.


But I’m not here to talk about my time in the White House. I haven’t talked much about it at all, though I do plan to write about it someday soon. During the past three and a half decades, I have learned that the job of trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth is almost as complicated and difficult as trying to hide it in the first place.


Unless you’re willing to fight and refight the same battles until you go blue in the face, to drive the people you work with nuts going over every last detail to make certain you’ve got it right, and then to take hit after unfair hit accusing you of having a “bias,” or these days even a point of view, there’s no use even in trying. You have to love it, and I do. (All lines in bold are my emphasis)


I always have. Journalism is what I wanted to do since I was a kid. Fifty years ago, on my 16th birthday, I went to work at the Marshall News Messenger. The daily newspaper in a small Texas town seemed like the best place in the world to be a cub reporter. It was small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy, happy and learning something new every day.


I was lucky. Some of the old-timers were out sick or on vacation and I got assigned to cover the Housewives’ Rebellion. Fifteen women in Marshall refused to pay the new Social Security withholding tax for their domestic workers.


The rebels argued that Social Security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that – here’s my favorite part – “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage”. They hired themselves a lawyer – Martin Dies, the ex-Congressman best known (or worst known) for his work as head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1930s and 1940s.


Eventually the women wound up paying the tax–while holding their noses. The stories I wrote for the News Messenger were picked up and moved on the Associated Press wire. And I was hooked.


Two years later, as a sophomore in college, I decided I wanted to become a political journalist and figured experience in Washington would show me the ropes. I wrote a man I had never met, a United States senator named Lyndon Johnson, and asked him for a summer job. Lucky again, I got it. And at summer’s end LBJ and Lady Bird offered me a job on their television station in Austin for $100 a week.


Looking back on all that followed – seminary, the Peace Corps, the White House, Newsday, PBS, CBS and PBS again – I often think of what Joseph Lelyveld, the executive editor of the New York Times, told some aspiring young journalists. “You can never know how a life in journalism will turn out,” he said.


It took me awhile after the White House to learn that what’s important in journalism is not how close you are to power but how close you are to reality. Journalism took me there: to famine in Africa, war in Central America, into the complex world of inner-city families in Newark and to working-class families in Milwaukee struggling to survive the good times. My life in journalism has been a continuing course in adult education.


From colleagues – from producers like Sherry Jones – I keep learning about journalism as storytelling. Sherry and I have been collaborating off and on for a quarter of a century, from the time we did the very first documentary ever about political action committees. I can still see the final scene in that film–yard after yard of computer printout listing campaign contributions unfurled like toilet paper stretching all the way across the Capitol grounds.


That one infuriated just about everyone, including friends of public television. PBS took the heat and didn’t melt. When Sherry and I reported the truth behind the news of the Iran/contra scandal for a Frontline documentary called “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the right-wing Taliban in town went running to their ayatollahs in Congress, who decried the fact that public television was committing – horrors – journalism. The Clinton White House didn’t like it a bit, either, when Sherry and I reported on Washington’s Other Scandal, about the Democrats’ unbridled and illegal fundraising of 1996.


If PBS didn’t flinch, neither did my corporate underwriter for ten years now, Mutual of America Life Insurance Company. (MARGO: PBS is part public, part private funded.) Before Mutual of America I had lost at least three corporate underwriters, who were happy as long as we didn’t make anyone else unhappy. Losing your underwriting will keep the yellow light of caution flickering in a journalist’s unconscious. I found myself – and I could kick myself for this – not even proposing controversial subjects to potential underwriters because I had told myself, convinced myself: “Nah, not a chance!” Then Mutual of America came along and the yellow light flickers no more. This confluence of good fortune and good colleagues has made it possible for us to do programs that the networks dare not contemplate.


Commercial television has changed since the days when I was hired as chief correspondent for CBS Reports, the documentary unit. A big part of the problem is ratings. It’s not easy, as John Dewey said, to interest the public in the public interest. In fact, I’d say that apart from all the technology, the biggest change in my thirty years in broadcasting has been the shift of content from news about government to consumer-driven information and celebrity features. The Project for Excellence in Journalism conducted a study of the front pages of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the nightly news programs of ABC, CBS and NBC, and Time and Newsweek. They found that from 1977 to 1997 the number of stories about government dropped from one in three to one in five, while the number of stories about celebrities rose from one in every fifty stories to one in every fourteen.


Does it matter? Well, as we learned in the 1960s but seem to have forgotten, government is about who wins and who loses in the vast bazaar of democracy. Government can send us to war, pick our pockets, slap us in jail, run a highway through our garden, look the other way as polluters do their dirty work, take care of the people who are already well cared for at the expense of those who can’t afford lawyers, lobbyists or time to be vigilant.


It matters who’s pulling the strings. It also matters who defines the news and decides what to cover. It matters whether we’re over at the Puffy Combs trial, checking out what Jennifer Lopez was wearing the night she ditched him, or whether we’re on the Hill, seeing who’s writing the new bankruptcy law, or overturning workplace safety rules, or buying back standards for allowable levels of arsenic in our drinking water.


I need to declare a bias here. It’s true that I worked for two Democratic Presidents, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. But I did so more for reasons of opportunity than ideology. My worldview was really shaped by Theodore Roosevelt, who got it right about power in America.


Roosevelt thought the central fact of his era was that economic power had become so centralized and dominant it could chew up democracy and spit it out. The power of corporations, he said, had to be balanced in the interest of the general public. Otherwise, America would undergo a class war, the rich would win it, and we wouldn’t recognize our country anymore. Big money and big business, corporations and commerce, are again the undisputed overlords of politics and government. The White House, the Congress and, increasingly, the judiciary reflect their interests. We appear to have a government run by remote control from the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute. To hell with everyone else.


What’s the role of journalism in all this? The founders of our nation were pretty explicit on this point. The First Amendment is the first for a reason. It’s needed to keep our leaders honest and to arm the powerless with the information they need to protect themselves against the tyranny of the powerful, whether that tyranny is political or commercial. At least that’s my bias. A college student once asked the journalist Richard Reeves to define “real news.” He answered: “The news you and I need to keep our freedoms.”


Senator John McCain echoed this in an interview I did with him a couple of years ago for a documentary called “Free Speech for Sale.” It was about the Telecommunications Act of 1996, when some of America’s most powerful corporations were picking the taxpayers’ pocket of $70 billion. That’s the estimated value of the digital spectrum that Congress was giving away to the big media giants. (MARGO: Surprise, surprise, that’s what Howard did for the TV networks here, too.)


Senator McCain said on the Senate floor during the debate, referring to the major media, “You will not see this story on any television or hear it on any radio broadcast because it directly affects them.” And, in our interview, he added, “The average American does not know what digital spectrum is. They just don’t know. But here in Washington their assets that they own were being given away, and the coverage was minuscule.”


Sure enough, the Telecommunications Act was introduced around May of 1995 and was finally passed in early February of 1996. During those nine months, the three major network news shows aired a sum total of only nineteen minutes on the legislation, and none of the nineteen minutes included a single mention of debate over whether the broadcasters should pay for use of the digital spectrum.


The Founders didn’t count on the rise of mega-media. They didn’t count on huge private corporations that would own not only the means of journalism but also vast swaths of the territory that journalism should be covering. According to a recent study done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press for the Columbia Journalism Review, more than a quarter of journalists polled said they had avoided pursuing some newsworthy stories that might conflict with the financial interests of their news organizations or advertisers. And many thought that complexity or lack of audience appeal causes newsworthy stories not to be pursued in the first place.


I don’t mean to suggest there was a Golden Age of journalism. I told you earlier about covering the Housewives’ Rebellion in Marshall, Texas, fifty years ago. What I didn’t tell you is that it was the white housewives who made news with their boycotts of Social Security, not the domestic workers themselves. They were black; I wasn’t sent to interview them, and it didn’t occur to me that I should have.


Marshall was 50 percent black, 50 percent white, and the official view of reality was that only white people made news. I could kick myself for the half-blindness that has afflicted me through the years – from the times at the White House when I admonished journalists for going beyond the official view of reality in Vietnam to the times I have let the flickering yellow light turn red in my own mind on worthy journalistic projects.


I’m sure that growing up a Southerner and serving in the White House turned me into a fanatic – at least into a public nuisance – about what journalism should be doing in our democracy. In the South the truth about slavery was driven from our pulpits, our newsrooms and our classrooms, and it took the Civil War to bring the truth home. Then the truth about Jim Crow was censored, too, and it took another hundred years to produce the justice that should have followed Appomattox.


In the White House we circled the wagons, grew intolerant of news that didn’t comfort us and, if we could have, we would have declared illegal the sting of the bee. So I sympathize with my friends in commercial broadcasting who don’t cover the ocean they’re swimming in. But I don’t envy them. Having all those resources – without the freedom to use them to do the kinds of stories that are begging to be done – seems to me more a curse than a blessing. It reminds me of Bruce Springsteen’s great line, “It’s like eating caviar and dirt.”


But I am not here to hold myself up as some sort of beacon. I’ve made my own compromises and benefited from the special circumstances of my own good luck. But the fact that I have been so lucky shows that it can be done. All that is required is for journalists to act like journalists, and their sponsors – public or private – to back them up when the going gets a little rough. Because when you are dealing with powerful interests, be they in government or private industry, and bringing to light what has been hidden, the going does – inevitably – get a little rough.


Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean – why the battle is never-ending. Some years ago my colleague Marty Koughan was looking into the subject of pesticides and food when he learned about a National Academy of Sciences study in progress on the effects of pesticide residuals on children. With David Fanning of Frontline as an ally, we set about a documentary.


Four to six weeks before we were finished the industry somehow purloined a copy of our rough script – we still aren’t certain how – and mounted a sophisticated and expensive campaign to discredit the documentary before it aired. They flooded television reviewers and the editorial pages of newspapers with propaganda.


A Washington Post columnist took a dig at the broadcast on the morning of the day it aired – without even having seen it – and later admitted to me that the dig had been supplied to him by a top lobbyist in town. Some station managers were so unnerved that they protested the documentary with letters that had been prepared by industry. Several station managers later apologized to me for having been suckered.


Here’s what most perplexed us: Eight days before the broadcast, the American Cancer Society – a fine organization that in no way figured in our story – sent to its 3,000 local chapters a “critique” of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food. We were puzzled: Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it hadn’t seen, that hadn’t aired and that didn’t claim what the society alleged?


An enterprising reporter in town named Sheila Kaplan later looked into this question for Legal Times, which headlined her story: “Porter/Novelli Plays All Sides.” It turns out that the Porter/Novelli public relations firm, which has worked for several chemical companies, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society. Kaplan found that the firm was able to cash in some of the goodwill from that pro bono work to persuade the compliant communications staff at the society to distribute some harsh talking points about the documentary that had been supplied by, but not attributed to, Porter/Novelli.


Others used the society’s good name to discredit the documentary, including the right-wing polemicist Reed Irvine. His screed against what he called “Junk Science on PBS” called on Congress to pull the plug on public broadcasting. PBS stood firm. The report aired, the journalism held up (in contrast to the disinformation about it) and the National Academy of Sciences was liberated to release the study that the industry had tried to cripple.


But there’s always the next round. PBS broadcast our documentary on “Trade Secrets.” It’s a two-hour investigative special based on the chemical industry’s own archives, on documents that make clear, in the industry’s own words, what the industry didn’t tell us about toxic chemicals, why they didn’t tell us and why we still don’t know what we have the right to know. These internal industry documents are a fact. They exist. They are not a matter of opinion or point of view. They state what the industry knew, when they knew it and what they decided to do.


The public policy implications of our broadcast are profound. We live today under a regulatory system designed by the industry itself. The truth is, if the public, media, independent scientists and government regulators had known what the industry knew about the health risks of its products–when the industry knew it–America’s laws and regulations governing chemical manufacturing would be far more protective of human health than they are today. But the industry didn’t want us to know. That’s the message of the documents. That’s the story.


The spokesman for the American Chemistry Council assured me that contrary to rumors, the chemical industry was not pressuring stations to reject the broadcast. I believed him; the controversy would only have increased the audience. But I wasn’t sure for a while.


The first person to contact us from the industry was a public relations firm here in Washington noted for hiring private detectives and former CIA, FBI and drug enforcement officers to do investigations for corporations. One of the founders of the company is on record as saying that sometimes corporations need to resort to unconventional resources, and some of those resources “include using deceit.” No wonder Sherry and I kept looking over our shoulders.


To complicate things, the single biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the chemical industry over the past twenty years in the House has been the very member of Congress whose committee has responsibility for public broadcasting’s appropriations. Now you know why we don’t take public funds for reports like this!


For all the pressures, America, nonetheless, is a utopia for journalists. In many parts of the world assassins have learned that they can kill reporters with impunity; journalists are hunted down and murdered because of their reporting. Thirty-four in Colombia alone over the past decade. And here? Well, Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes said to me recently that “the 1990s were a terrible time for journalism in this country but a wonderful time for journalists; we’re living like [GE CEO] Jack Welch.” Perhaps that’s why we aren’t asking tough questions of Jack Welch.


I don’t want to claim too much for our craft, but I don’t want to claim too little, either. The late Martha Gellhorn spent half a century observing war and politicians and journalists, too. By the end she had lost her faith that journalism could, by itself, change the world. But she had found a different sort of comfort. For journalists, she said, “victory and defeat are both passing moments. There is no end; there are only means. Journalism is a means, and I now think that the act of keeping the record straight is valuable in itself. Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader.”


And, one hopes, the viewer, too.

Us and them

Sex and race politics and the conflicted intersection between the two if you’re an Aboriginal woman. This is a debate we never had in Australia, but it has raged for decades in the United States.


Remember the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Judge? A black woman accused him of sexual harassment, black women divided, with many supporting Thomas over their sister. Remember O.J.Simpson’s trial for the murder of his white wife? Most black women supported him.


The Geoff Clark allegations and Pat O’Shane’s extraordinary response marks the beginning of the debate here, and not before time.


How difficult it must be to be an Aboriginal woman. Which comes first – loyalty to your race, or your gender? If you are oppressed by your own culture, do you suborn the injustice of your treatment to the betterment of the race you belong to, even if that betterment perpetuates discrimination against you?


This dreadful dilemma goes to the heart of the controversy over Pat O’Shane.


Today, I received an email from an Aboriginal woman and lawyer who used to work for ATSIC. She fears repercussions if she uses her real name, and has chosen the nom de plume Rhonda Dixon.


I have just read your excellent article “Rape and racism”. Thanks for speaking up on these matters. As an Aboriginal woman I feel very cheated by our so-called leaders, and in particular the high profile Aboriginal women who travel the circuit (or circus) speaking about community and sexual violence who continue to remain silent about the misogyny extant within organisations such as ATSIC.


For some of these Aboriginal women it is a matter of survival that they remain silent, but for others it is most likely that they have made a conscious decision to remain silent purely out of self-interest and career mobility.


Unfortunately it seems to be the case that Aboriginal women in ATSIC manage like men or at least play the same machiavellian games as their male counterparts.


Sadly, in our community there is often resounding silence whenever the sexual predatory behaviour of some of our Aboriginal leaders is questioned. Personally I found it sickening whilst working in ATSIC to be hit upon by men in the organisation. In my working life the only men that have made sexual advances towards me in the workplace have all been Aboriginal men with high profile ATSIC positions.

This is telling of the structure and culture of the organisation. Again thanks for having the fortitude to write that piece, as it really needed to be told.


Pat O’Shane’s decision to reject the testimony of three Aboriginal women and to back the Aboriginal man they accuse of rape is consistent with her long term approach to the conflict between gender and racial identity.


Twenty five years ago, O’Shane wrote a piece in Refractory Girl called “Is there any relevance in the women’s movement for Aboriginal women?”


She argued that since the colonisation of Australia, Aboriginal women often occupied positions of dominance in the family and leadership in Aboriginal communities, and that because “Aboriginal men have lost both their status and self respect” their status was rock bottom.


“Is this the price that we, as women, want to pay for our (seemingly) greater status? The enslavement of men! What has happened and is happening is that Aboriginal women are being held to ransom. What white society does is strip the Aboriginal man of any human dignity and then appears to elevate the role of Aboriginal women – in white society.


“It is often said by Aboriginal women that racism is the greatest problem facing them in this society. I must add my voice to theirs. The discussion as to the apparently higher status of Aboriginal women vis-a-vis white society is part of the whole question of how racism is practiced.


“The problem of racism is one that all women in the women’s movement must start to come to terms with. There is no doubt in my mind that racism is expressed by women in the movement.

“It appears to me that, whereas for the majority of women involved in the women’s movement, sexism is what the fight is all about, for Aboriginal women – when they look at all the medical, housing, education, employment and legal statistics – it becomes very clear that our major fight is against racism.”


It could be that O’Shane’s view that the publication of the claims against Clark were racist overrides any sympathy she might have for the three Aboriginal women involved.


The Clark story and the O’Shane reaction have triggered polarised responses from readers. Today, Bill Hartley, Graham Daniell, Fiona Ferrari and Martin Williams have their say.




Disclosure: Bill is a former AMWU Media and Publicity Officer, Victorian ALP State Secretary and ALP National Executive member. He clashed with Bob Hawke over the Palestinian issue, and was expelled from the ALP in the late 80s. He is a contributor to community radio station 3CR in Melbourne. This is a letter he wrote to The Age which was not published.


May I quote the guidance clause from the journalists’ code of ethics, as developed by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and adopted by the Guild’s membership?


“Basic values often need interpretation, and sometimes come into conflict. Ethical journalism requires conscientious decision-making in context. Only substantial advancement of the public interest or risk of substantial harm to people allows any standard to be overridden.”


In my view, the Editor of The Age should reprint the full code of ethics so the public can by journalistic criteria judge the performance of the paper and my colleagues in the Guild (I have been an MEAA member since 1958) in the case of Geoffrey Clark and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).


I have The Age or Sunday Age thrown over my fence every morning while cable provides a world television view via channels like CNN. It’s been one hell of a week for media junkies. For hours on hours CNN voyeuristically glued its cameras onto every sordid detail of the Indiana killing of Timothy McVeigh.


For some sub-editor to headline (columnist) Terry Lane’s self-congratulatory indulgence “The Geoff Clark story was simply great journalism” was truly beyond the pale.


The Age – which clearly has a problem – reminds me of the regular signature line used by the once popular cartoon characters, Katzenjammer Kids: “They brought it on themselves”.




I have to disagree with you over this one. This is about whether any person, no matter who they are, can make a statement of belief without being shouted down on the basis of nothing more than political correctness.


Pat O’Shane has committed the Cardinal Sin as far as feminists go – she has defended a man against unsubstantiated claims by women.


If she had said that in her opinion, men often abuse women, what criticism would she have received? Would there have been calls for her removal or banning her from hearing rape charges? If not, why is there a difference?


Please explain.


MARGO: Entrenched gender bias against women and in favour of women in the legal system is in the process of being broken down. We’re talking about the group in a weaker position, structurally and often formally, in terms of a lack of power, the lack of a voice, and the lack of money. That is the difference. If, as I said yesterday, she had effectively accused Clark of rape by saying “most rapists lie about what they’ve done”, she would be equally guilty of prejudging the issue. But she would not be feeding into the fears of many women that it’s no use reporting rape because the victim invariably loses.




I was shocked at Pat O’Shane’s diatribe on Lateline last week. I always thought she was a feminist. I remember seeing her about 10 years ago at a Reclaim the Night march in Sydney arguing passionately for the need for separate community-based legal services for indigenous women because women were not being adequately served by the generalist Aboriginal legal services.


O’Shane is just way off the mark – I can’t believe she can be so cruel to those women who have come forward with their stories.


On the decision to publish, Fairfax got it right. Women who have been raped do not get justice under our legal system-most are deterred from reporting to the police and very few proceed to court due to the prospect of a ‘second rape’ by prosecutors and the low conviction rate of those accused of rape.


That means the media must sometimes fill the gap so women can get some justice. I commend the editors of the Age and the journalist who wrote the story. It was courageous but they did the right thing.




Disclosure: White, male, Capricorn. Other categories available on request


“The case against O’Shane,” you state, “is open and shut.” What case? The case for her sacking, or for something else? You don’t seem to be willing to say as much though you imply it with words like “This prejudgment is intolerable behaviour for any self-respecting lawyer, let alone a magistrate.” Could you clarify?


(MARGO: I don’t think she should be sacked. I believe she has betrayed a core judicial principle by prejudging the truth of the allegations. Her legal credibility, in my view, is in tatters. However, the bedrock principle of judicial independence is more important. Sacking should be eschewed except in extreme circumstances such as the commission of a criminal offence, persistent failure to pay tax or failure to do the job.)


O’Shane has set herself up for a fall in the most bemusing manner, yet I find it impossible to believe that she consciously attempted to fall on her sword. She may have just thrown caution to the wind and decided to have a spray over the decided opportunism of the media on these issues. Maybe it took ill-considered words from someone inside the judiciary to ram home the point.


If the case against Clark is so strong and so convincing then why debilitate any legal resolution for everybody concerned with an extra-legal investigation at the hands of Fairfax? Why was new evidence not referred to the police again and left with them until the police could provide a conclusive decision on the prosecutablility of the case? At least there could have been a prospect for a fair trial. All of this wouldn’t be because the sexiness and freshness of the story was under threat, would it?


This is a colour-blind issue in theory, but O’Shane no doubt sensed a colour problem in its execution – and she has a point – and flew off the handle. And unlike dinosaur male judges who 30 years ago (as well as very recently) opined in such a way and on a regular basis and, crucially, whose judgments reflected such bias, O’Shane’s words come from a completely different corner and from an entirely different motivation.


Besides, any truth in her assessment of women in her courtroom has not been challenged and certainly not in your comments. She said “a lot” of women make up stories, but you paraphrase her as saying “commonplace”. Did O’Shane say or imply – indeed, does she believe – that “a woman’s version of events should be doubted as a matter of course”? For God’s sake! You state and seem to seriously believe that O’Shane is consciously and deliberately attempting “to take us back to the days before women won respect for their rights on being raped.”


O’Shane may have been desperately clumsy in her delivery, but do you seriously accuse her of a

philosophical and professional bias against women and black women in particular? I’d like to see you two have that conversation. After using words like these, I feel you are almost morally obliged to secure a personal interview with her to thrash this one out. She is entitled to a right of reply in this forum, and who knows, after she gets sacked or resigns you may just have the opportunity to find out where she was coming from.


Noone, but noone, has referred to her judicial record. Surely such discrimination against women, and particularly black women would stick out like a sore thumb if she was genuinely malevolent (femalevolent?). Do you seriously think that black women across Australia can now identify their ultimate enemy in the judicial system as Pat O’Shane?


How about speaking to some black women and getting their opinions on the matter. I’m interested not just in a “feminist” opinion; I’m also interested in the opinions of the same black women O’Shane is alleged to have sold out, the same women who a large chunk of white Australian feminists have ignored or taken for granted for decades – and there are black female academics who will tell you this in no uncertain terms.


By the way, you say, “Sure, a few women fabricate rape, about the same proportion as allegations on non-sexual matters.” What research are you citing here?


If Clark has dug his own grave, then so be it. If he did these things, then prove it and punish him. I just find it really interesting that although O’Shane may have contributed to her own downfall with politically and professionally ill-chosen words, there are a whole bunch of people – I think the self-appellation of some of these people is “feminist” – whose fight for gender justice is going to be sullied by their enthusiastic attacks and for not realising that there might be times when, for people like Pat O’Shane, it hurts more to be an Aborigine than to be a woman.


The beauty of all of this is that the assimilationists among us, the right wing, the Haslucks, the Howards, the Herrons, the Ruddocks and their ilk, can sit back and chortle with barely concealed delight as some in the left and some “feminists” manipulate or otherwise fail to look beyond a literal reading of the words O’Shane used, and do what dirty work they can to defend their own ideological territory.


Your critique of O’Shane is almost largely valid and I think passionately sincere, yet there is something very important missing here.


Funnily enough, after all the debate and hand-wringing and accusations, which part of the community is going to suffer most from the grubbiness of the attempted destruction of two of the most important Aboriginal figureheads and power brokers and from the effective damage to black participation in the upper establishment? Aborigines, of both sexes.


Reconcile that.

… meanwhile in Canberra

After the storm, silence. In the Canberra press gallery, the phones have stopped ringing their heads off. A fractured government drags itself off the floor and goes on. As it must, for on May 9, 1901, the national parliament opened for business in Melbourne, and on May 9, 2001 the parliament returns to Melbourne for a commemorative sitting.


The commemorative election promises to be a brutish affair, with a discredited government resorting to low blows and an aimless, meta-cynical opposition resorting to cheap shots. There is, however, the chance of an autumn blessing.


At the Save our ABC rally in Sydney the weekend before last, Former ALP national president Barry Jones said his work on producing a blueprint for a knowledge nation was complete. He heads a committee of mega-brains working on the topic for Beazley, and he said that at their final meeting, they decided the draft had to be radicalised because the task was now urgent. The document would be presented to Beazley this month, he said, and released for public comment. Let’s hope it is. It may give us hope. It could even bring Elen Seymour’s dream of a return to Sydney’s sun from Canada winters a little closer to reality. She replies to her critics on the need for foreign investment in Australian R&D at the end of this entry.


Your reaction to the Stone incident was intriguing. Some told me to do a diary entry on it pronto, others complained when I did that I’d been seduced back into the game. Peter Gellatly in Canada wrote tartly: “Your brief stint back in Canberra hasn’t been good for your perspective. Who gives a damn about this? Isn’t public titillation adequately served by the “National Enquirer” and “Survivor”?”


Fiona Ferrari has it absolutely right: “This is the typical conflict-based story the media loves…… when are they going to grow up and allow party members to publicly express discontent?”


“Amen! And so what if Howard survives or Costello replaces him? This is not a celebrity divorce case (which would be puerile enough), its about something that should be utterly mundane: either the Libs’ record in government stands the test or it doesn’t. The career ambitions of individual party aspirants are no doubt of vital importance to them; but why should we care? Drop it – it’s not worth writing or reading about.”


Mark Halliwell was of the same mind. The question wasn’t who leaked and why but “Who cares, and Can we trust these people?”


“When I see and hear the most senior people in our government making comments about not putting pen to paper on issues concerning peoples’ opinion and the conveyance of those opinions to the Prime Minister so that he might finally get the message, I get very worried! What else is being said or done in the corridors of power that we don’t know about? The remarks of Costello and Stone et al suggest that we, the people, are to be kept in the dark at all costs. It’s a worry.”


I know the content of the Stone memo was no surprise to voters – they already know the government is mean, tricky and out of touch and they’ve said so at two State elections and the Ryan byelection. But the leak has given Beazley and co great ammo, not least in election advertising. It has also triggered the public display of what had previously been subterranean leadership tensions. Sorry guys, but you can’t take the politics out of the journalist. There’s nothing like the adrenalin hit of a Liberal leadership story.


An anonymous contributor has a diabolical theory for the leak. He says Howard leaked the memo to help him win the election! “It can be buttonholed as the classic manoeuvre that attack is the best method of defence Where is opposition leader Kim Beazley? Last weekend I scanned Saturday’s Herald and could not find one story attributed to Beazley. In a week punters following the scam will turn off and declare the coalition as being a party that listens. Howard, as already stated, is following the Peter Beattie strategy nearly to the letter. If Beattie were to lead Labor into the federal elections he would carry the nation by panels of fencing. Instead Beazley is going to lose the unloseable election and Howard will resign midway through next year.”


Well, if that’s the case, wouldn’t Howard have got Stone to type up a letter to leak which didn’t dump on Costello? Why rub a wound raw? Beazley’s silence was deliberate. Lie low, let the Liberal disunity dominate the news. DON’T make the whole thing party political. Let Liberal voters stew in their party’s juice.


Lisa Summerhayes joins Fiona Ferrari in shock at my preference for Costello over Howard.




Sometimes your views certainly surprise me. I remember you admitted that in the 93 election you voted for Hewson because you thought he was a ‘social progressive’; This was big of you to admit, as it seems somewhat naive. (MARGO: I voted Labor in 1993 and Liberal in 1996, on the ground that after 13 years, it was time for a change. I wanted to vote for Hewson in 1993, but Howard’s industrial relations policy turned me off.)


I know you are a libertarian – as many of us are – but this continued faith in social progressivism in the Liberal Party is a not only idealistic, but misguided. (MARGO: I’m not idealistic about this at all – for years my work has recorded with sadness how the moderate tradition of the Liberal Party has withered to almost nothing.)


The two guys you support in recent Libs leadership battles – Costello and Hewson – may not be the Lyons Forum-style 1950s social conservatives Howard and his ilk are, but that doesn’t mean they’re progressive by any normal standards either. Fiona Ferrari, Webdiary Friday, is right – where is the evidence for Costello’s progressiveness?


He is a religious man whose life thus far has indicated adhesion to two things – a moderate but still conservative view of society, and the belief in Friedmanite/Thatcherism style extreme dry economics.


Which leads me to point two: not only are you favourably judging these guys compared to their truly right-wing comrades, but you provide no evidence of their commitment to libertarianism. The reason you can’t provide any proof is that the whole party is beholden to dry economic hegemony.


So the important point here is that even if you could illustrate that these guys are good on some social issues, the point is moot, as such a an approach will always be overruled by the dries, who in this case are the same guys anyway. There is no automatic reason why the Adam Smith/Friedman tradition of economic freedom can’t be combined with Mill-style liberty in the social arena. As pollies like Kennett show, it can be done in part, and is more philosophically consistent.

But in federal politics it has yet to be done (the Fraser government was of the Keynsian variety, combining moderate social and economic policies). The dry part of Costello will always win against any social wetness he may harbour. (MARGO: Except on the republic and, maybe, saying sorry. And except on the Woodside decision! Stone’s memo to Howard clearly shows that Costello was doing his best to make wealthier people actually pay their fair share of tax – all his efforts since put in the bin under pressure from the core Liberal constituency.)


I can only imagine you being a “Costello supporter” in relation to the other option in the Liberal Party. If you really support him over Beazley – as your last entry implied – you are truly a perverse social progressive indeed. I know Costello looks like Bob Brown next to Howard on social issues, but let’s not kid ourselves – Labor has and has historically had more progressive social policies than the Coalition. Labor is more able to allow a little progressivism in the form of actual government programs into the equation because they are not – QUITE – as beholden to dry liberalism these days as the Libs.


Don’t let your personal dislike – and your issues with leadership weakness – of Beazley to, outweigh common sense about the political traditions these guys come out of. I know you don’t like to be seen as traditionally ‘left’ and beholden to the Labor party, but…


MARGO: This is my position. In a leadership contest between Howard and Costello, I would support Costello. The fact that he is still an enigma with regard to much social policy is in his favour. Howard is not an enigma, and I hate what he stands for.


As you know, I despair of Labor. My current voting intention is to vote for the Greens and put the major parties as low as possible on my voting forms for the Lower House and the Senate. I will put Labor before the Coalition simply because they’ve done enough damage and there’s a chance Labor will repair some of it. Given that I believe Labor will win the election, I’d like to see a replay of the Greens’ balance of power when Keating was Prime Minister. The Greens would keep Labor honest by forcing it to articulate its reasons for compromises on principle. I have invariably voted Democrats in the Senate, but believe that they would be too nice to a Labor government.


I’ll take no pleasure in voting this time, for the choices are odious. I anticipate my pleasure will lie in helping to create and maintain our online election site, which we’ll get down to seriously after the budget.


Now to our David Svenson , our crusty engineer in Ryan, a Liberal who returns to the diary with some comments on some of you.


“The egocentric who asks why he should contribute to the web diary is an obvious nut-case & needs to consult a psychiatrist before he does himself & /or others some serious damage.


David Davis is right about the loss to the Libs of Peter Nugent. He is quite wrong about small l liberals not being welcome in the Liberal Party by the vast majority of us – far more welcome than the likes of that far right winger ex Senator from WA!


“What a brilliant young lady is Elen Seymour. She has, and I hope will continue to raise the standard and soften the tone of debate in your web diary. She has obviously cast off the left wing leanings of the young and grown wise.


Jack Robertson has exposed, somewhat laboriously, the lack of substance in the free market theory and noted that the Royal Anglo-Dutch oil men won’t desert Oz because they know that Oz is a good place to make a quid in the bucketfuls required to sustain their voracious appetite for lucre (provided, of course, that the punters are not stupid enough to allow the ALP another turn at their cookie jar in Canberra!


“We must be indebted to Con Vaitsis – a self-confessed member of the rorter’s party. In claiming that most politicians are just ordinary workers without outstanding skills, Con can only be describing his own party politicians, who were lured into politics because it is such an attractive job.


“In my view, politics is an extremely onerous calling. A good politician should really be well educated, intelligent, tolerant, patient, indeed a paragon of every virtue. Little wonder that good politicians are hard to find. We should be satisfied with those mature ladies and gentlemen who have been successful in their working lives, have demonstrated their community spirit and have secured their financial future, so as to be unconcerned about the lurks and perks of office. Unhappily all too few meet such criteria.


“Margo, your charter does you credit. Your points that the future lies in the collaboration between journalists and the readers of newspapers which have lost their connection with the readers they serve are all too true. However thinking readers (mostly the only people still reading newspapers) tend to be contemptuous of Oz Media reporters who too often lack intellect and an in-depth education – probably why they have been brain-washed by Marxists & sundry other useless socio-political-economist experts!”


Welcome back, David. I missed you. You’ll recall that Imre Salusinszky’s column of last week on M1 provoked an impassioned response from Kelsey Monroe and David Teh. This week, Don Arthur bites back at Imre’s piece today, on the dairy debate. This could become a regular thing. Then it’s onto the globalisation debate triggered by M1, with Jenny Forster, Peter Gellatly, and our politics of ideas man Don Arthur. To end, David Svenson’s wise woman in Ottowa, Elen Seymour, continues the increasingly constructive foreign investment debate.




By Don Arthur


Imre Salusinszky, scourge of moist-thinking people everywhere, has finally joined the dairy debate (SMH 7/5). Dr Dry doesn’t seem to see much difference between openly reactionary Hansonites and supposedly progressive Kingstonites like Tim Dunlop. In the desiccated world of Imre Salusinszky there are only two kinds of people – those who believe in freedom and progress and those who don’t.


The trouble is I can’t figure out which kind of person I am.


Soggy, reactionary people are supposed to be in favour of taxpayer-funded university places – free education. Instead I’m a big fan of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). I don’t have any in-principle problem with people part-paying for their degrees (human capital) any more than I have a problem with farmers having to pay for their land and equipment (physical capital).


What I’m most against are barriers to opportunity. Education plays a huge part in establishing the social pecking order. I don’t want a funding system which selects for wealth over academic ability. It wouldn’t do a lot to promote equality of opportunity. You’ve all heard the line about med students who come from the economic cream of society – rich and thick. No thanks.


But maybe Dr Dry thinks that using government money to promote equality of opportunity is inefficient or involves some kind of infringement of personal freedom. If so it’s time to speak up. Perhaps he’d like to abolish payment of the Youth Allowance to students whose parents can’t afford to support them through school and uni. Word up Dr D – I’m listening.


Soggy sods like me are also supposed to be opposed to genetically modified organisms. My solidarity with fellow citizens of the soggysphere must be failing. I’m finding it hard to feel threatened by cotton that doesn’t need to be sprayed with quite so much pesticide. Maybe I’m missing the technophobia gene.


As a denizen of dampness I’m also supposed be against importation of books and CDs. But again I’m confused. I buy a lot of my books from the US because I can’t find a bookstore here that stocks what I want. Could it be that I’m in favour of free trade? Golly!


What about those bastards who make DVDs that won’t play on Australian bought machines – are they in favour of free trade or just in favour of high prices? They don’t want you to play US-bought DVDs on an Australian player but they refuse to press the titles the titles you want on discs coded for you zone. But they’re capitalists aren’t they – and as Big Tony says, ‘capitalism’ is just another way of saying ‘freedom.’


Our hydrophobic columnist also gives a useful definition of ethnophobia – it’s the opposite of free trade. Bob Menzies might have wanted to keep funny coloured foreigners out of the country but he was all for selling pig iron to the Japanese – no ethnophobia there obviously. Am I ethnophobic if I get nervous about selling uranium to countries that make nuclear weapons? I guess so. I must be an illiberal bigot.


And before Con Vaitsas writes in telling me not to bother with crazed columnists like Dr D or Mr PP I’ll come right out and admit it – I love reading these guys. I want them to keep writing. Every now and then they push my buttons and I get to find out where they are.





By Jenny Forster


I’ve been outside for a few months, tie-dying some sheets, growing some plants and scraping the rust off my fondue set, and notice David Davis from Switzerland is still on the site.


David, I’m amazed to see you have become disenchanted with the Liberal party’s laissez-faire capitalism, where the user pays for everything and if you can’t afford to pay then bad luck. It seems the global expansionist policy spreading across the world is leaving a lot of pain and misery in it’s wake. Governments keep telling us “There’s no gain without pain”, but people in rural Australia and the working poor in the outer suburbs of the large cities are screaming ‘Ouch’ and looking around for someone to blame.


David, you and I might yet end up in voter limbo together because I think the other mob is going to be just as stuck for money and answers.


Take the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS) . During the capitalist boom times of the 50’s 60’s and 70’s it was a great safety net. Now it’s costing a fortune due to the price of drugs and the pressure from drug companies to get their product on “the list” .


Late last year the Liberal government disbanded the PBAC which monitors what goes on the PBS and appointed 10 new members (including a former industry lobbyist), thus removing the ‘memory’ of the PBAC . The multinational drug companies want to see our PBS disbanded as it is too good a model for developing countries – the population is provided with appropriate drugs at appropriate prices. The South African government was taken to court by a group of global drug companies to prevent the supply of generic HIV Aids drugs at a fraction of the original cost.


John le Carre has abandoned the cold war and taken up the multinational drug companies as the bad guys.


For an old left-leaning, green, feminist, Fairfax and ABC loving hippie like myself it is very complicated as the argument seems to have moved off shore.Very far out.


Here’s a free kick for you David: in the 60s and 70s when capitalism was still in expansion mode it was easy for us to demand health care, abortion clinics, child care, free universities and women’s rights, and to drop out (with our records, stereos, vans and plentiful cheap share houses). The system could accommodate us .


As the song says, I can see clearly now. Seems we both can.




I wanted to illustrate Don Arthur’s point about economic theory and values. Don said: “Economics is great for creating the kind of world many economists seem to want to achieve, but the theory doesn’t even mention the variables I really care about.”


A week or so ago an article in the Economist lauded moves towards retail spot pricing of electricity in the UK. The intent apparently is to install new electricity meters which continuously display the retail spot price – thus enabling consumers to alter their electricity consumption patterns to minimise cost.


Of course no-one wants to sit staring endlessly at the meter, so this initiative will no doubt spawn a new market for computer controlled appliance timers, thus fraudulently adding to GDP.


What a crazy perspective. If this wacky scheme is implemented, instead of the smooth clockwork of Monday to Friday drudgery, chaos shall reign. Home at six, but wait: dinner’s not ready because the oven timer has sensed a price peak and not switched the oven on. The roast is still raw!


The whole point, surely not so easily forgotten, of building a national electricity grid was to provide the populace with reliable and price-stable energy, thus permitting people to attend to their other needs. Ditto for other utilities: using these is not in any way akin to taking a discretionary vacation during the low season, or buying a new stereo at an after-Xmas sale.


How much GDP shall be lost (ie if we count the unnecessary diverted activity as negative, which we should) by this deliberately crafted mayhem? And in any case, why is the solution to fluctuating electricity demand not the responsibility of the supply industry?


Imagine McDonalds pricing its breakfasts at a premium between 8am and 8.30am because that’s when most people want to eat. What’s next? Such insanity only makes sense on pretty, full-colour supply and demand graphs. I’m with you, Don!



F2 on economics


By Don Arthur


Fiona Ferrari is amazed at “how straight economics has come to infiltrate all our powerful institutions- the media, the bureaucracy and political parties- and to become the dominant ideology strangling our thinking.”


I’ve been pretty impressed too at the way the economic mindset has been making ground over the past couple of decades.


Just to get things straight – I’d leave the country if all the economists in treasury were replaced by innumerate cultural studies graduates or the place was taken over by green-tinged professional ethicists like Peter Singer – I’m not going to argue for that. I’m not calling for a war against economics and economists and I don’t want to abolish capitalism.


It’s interesting that Milton Friedman (the most famous of all neo-classical economists) agrees with Fiona about the falseness of economic assumptions. He thinks it’s a good thing. He disagrees with Cathy Bannisterthat false assumptions necessarily lead to false predictions (and I think he’s right). All Friedman demands from economic theory is that it make accurate predictions. On this account we don’t need to actually believe that people are rational and selfish, we just assume they are when we’re making economic predictions.


So far so good. I don’t know what all this ‘correspondence to reality’ business is all about anyway – if theories make good predictions about things I care about then I’m for them.


It’s in the next step where I start to have a problem with ‘positive’ economics – it’s just a short move from assuming that ‘if people were rational utility maximisers…’ to suggesting that they actually are or ought to be. One of the things rationalist technocrats like to do is to improve the fit between theory and reality by simplifying reality so it’s more theoretically manageable.


For example, in agriculture it is easier to predict outcomes when fields have a regular size and shape, where all the plants are genetically identical, and where the inputs are uniform (sun, water, nutrients ). Technocrats are frustrated by the messiness of reality – they want to make it simpler, more predictable and more tractable. Econocrats are no different.


Economic thinkers have moved into the law (Richard Posner), into public administration (William Nihkanen) and into political science (James Buchanan). All these domains are now at risk of becoming simpler and more manageable for economists.


Economic theorists argue that if we assume that people are rational and selfish in the economy we ought to assume they are the same way everywhere else. Since they are rarely encouraged to study psychology or sociology they are often unaware that people can and do behave differently in different social roles.


It’s a short step from making assumptions about people’s behaviour to creating institutions which actually demand that people act in this way – reality starts to change to fit the theory.


One example is where a public service moves towards performance-based pay. The idea is that bureaucrats will try to serve their personal interest rather than the public interest. The new more-money-for-meeting-targets plan is an attempt to bring self interest and public interest together (eg managers could make money by cutting programs that don’t work). Pretty soon bureaucrats get the idea that they’re mugs if they don’t go after the cash and promotions. After making that mental leap it’s not such a big step to meeting targets by undermining your colleagues – er, sorry – internal competitors. After all, it’s not your job to look after the department’s larger goals if senior management are too dumb to connect those goals to your interests. Your job is to look after yourself – senior management said so.


So the end result might be simpler and more manageable, but there’s no guarantee it will deliver more of what we value.



MARGO: Excellent! I’ve never seen performance pay so ruthlessly exposed for what it is – in the public and private sectors. I shall test the thesis of making people fit the program when welfare reform is announced in the budget.





Going Global


The story so far: The Woodside decision has appeared regularly in the webdiary but debate heated up after Costello turned down Shell. It begins with my comment in “Costello Toasts Woodside”. In “A loss to Liberals”, the Herald’s resources writer Jane Counsel analyses the decision and Marc Pengryffn thought it was all about Costello’s leadership ambitions. In “What’s the point?” Jack Robertson analysed media coverage of the issue and Elen Seymour, a tax lawyer, made the case for more foreign investment. In “Dairy, drugs and David Davis”, Marc strongly disagreed strongly with Elen’s stance. in “Taking it to the streets”,Tim Dymond and Paul Pagani tore strips off Elen, who engaged most constructively with Marc. In “M1” Tim and Mart returned the compliment.


I am motivated to respond through fear that people will think they have vanquished me, the capitalist pro-globalisation demon!


If my arguments seem economic determinism it is because I thought I was discussing economic issues. I reject the idea that just because I drone on in a “rationalist” manner that I am attempting to distance my economics from my politics. Instead I thought I was displaying my political leanings quite clearly!


What I am trying to do is widen the political debate beyond simplistic ritualistic fights between good and evil. Additionally, I am sorry if people believe that national pride means fanatically keeping things at the status quo of what it means to be Australian. One of the things I love about Australia is how Australian it is to be ever-changing and to have many faces!


I get the sense that quite a few of you think I am promoting a free for all into Australia for corporations, to come in, exploit us then nick off once our ground is empty and our people slaves. Quite often the spectre of exploited “third world” countries is raised in the hope of spooking me and presumably other people from agreeing with me.


However, being the devil incarnate myself (I did mention a law degree did I not?) I am not so easily frightened. My rebuttal is this.


First – how come no one ever talks about the revival of the economy in Ireland in this debate? Ireland has a roaring economy – so much so that the IMF in its recent report World Economic Outlook has commented that the recent downturn in the global economy is likely to be a good thing for Ireland, to stop it being burnt by inflation. How did Ireland become this economic powerhouse? It lowered its corporate taxes and offered massive R&D concessions.


Canada too offers huge R&D concessions to companies which has been so successful that they now have “Silicon Valley North” in Ottawa. As a flow on result the housing sector is booming, franchises are panting to get in the door, service jobs are advertised everywhere and although there are (as in Ireland) some social upheaval to do with dealing with massive population explosions and some of the usual “bloody immigrants”, no one is talking about raising corporate taxes to stop the flow of capital and people into Canada.


I concede there is some truth in the apocalyptic vision of a stripped, bare-bones Australia at the ravenous hands of multinationals. This is because like so many of third world countries we are a commodities based economy – we sell what we dig up or grow.


Where this becomes problematic is that organised co-operative nations party to agreements such as the European Union and NAFTA seek to control the entry of commodity products into their protected regions. As mad cow/foot and mouth has shown, almost nothing can force the US or Europe to lower such barriers.


So sticking to what we do best *now* in the name of national interest – and not doing anything else – we achieve the opposite effect to our intentions. We are at the mercy of groups who will be able to dictate to us how much we sell and at what price and to whom.


It is this path that may force us into prostitution to the big players. It might be that we will then have to disband our labour laws and sell our children to corporations at any price or be the hole in the ground the US takes its commodities

from and craps in when its done.


By taking action now we may be able to avoid this hellish path. It is better to dictate some terms than none! This is my optimism, Marc, that if we act soon we will fare better in the globalisation game. If we act too late we may become the third world nation people tried to avoid by refusing to let multinationals in!


So what I am advocating is not free trade. It’s a mistake to confuse free trade with taxation-based corporate incentives ? They are opposites. Can I suggest that Australia is hurting now because it picked free trade instead of protectionist policies combined with low tax?


The US understands this point and defends voraciously its right to be a low tax regime. The US sees this as being in its national interest and a question of national sovereignty. Why is it Australia sees its national interest and sovereignty as being tied to discouraging capital from flowing into Australia?


It does not have to be about tax. I just happen to understand tax and how it affects corporate decisions. I agree with Tim Dymond when he says “To conclude on the basis of a single decision to keep an important resource in local hands that Australia no longer welcomes foreign investment is ridiculous”.


It’s not that any single decision by Costello leads to decisions by multinationals to not invest in Australia, it’s the old thousand cuts scenario.


Australia has an aggressive tax authority. Australia has expensive labour. Australia has a small market. Australia has a high corporate tax rate with little relief by way of subsidies. Australia has a government that wishes to keep things ‘Australian’. Each on its own is insufficient to deter a multinational, but cumulatively its just ‘too hard’ to invest.


I would rather see tax incentives than cheap labour incentives. If this is kotowing to the forces of globalisation (ok, it is!) then so be it. By embracing the devil maybe we can get some devilish powers ourselves!


And really, how many of you would still be against globalisation if it was MeatPies TM rather than McDonalds TM or the rivalry was between Apple computers and MicroAussie computers?


How many of you would instead be whinging about countries that won’t allow BigAussie Pty Ltd to buy up its national resources?


And how many of you will refuse to work at the Australian branch of BigAmericaCo or stop your kids from working there?


Or is it that you think that to be truly an Australian means never being global?

‘Front bar’ knowledge nation

Labor’s ‘spaghetti’ diagram

I wrote a piece on Knowledge Nation for this morning’s “Last Word”, an opinion spot on the back of the Herald’s front section. It’s reproduced below, and you’ll see that I used quotes from three Webdiary contributors.

Typical journalist – I first thought of the proprieties of this at home last night. My apologies to those concerned.

I’m very proud that we’ve created a space here in which readers feel safe to contribute, knowing that their work will be respected. I hope to quickly regain your trust in this regard. It looks like I might get a semi-regular Last Word spot, and am keen to bring readers’ voices in. I promise to obtain the prior permission of contributors before doing so.

First, the piece, then your latest ideas on knowledge nation.

Picture this: A nation smart enough to think, not snigger

Cynics leapt to mock the Knowledge Nation vision of Barry Jones and Kim Beazley. The rest of us should stop and think about it, says Margo Kingston.

Confession of a fruit loop: I love Barry Jones’s diagram. Vision ain’t a word, it’s a hard slog. Decisions here bounce onto consequences there, and top-drawer minds are required to visualise the goal and make it happen.

When was the last time a political party produced an unashamedly intellectual document which dared to use big words and invited debate and critique before decisions on priorities and how to pay for them were made?

Horrible, isn’t it? No wonder the media didn’t have a clue what to do with it, until THAT diagram gave them the excuse for cheap ridicule and a lecture for Kim Beazley on his shocking blunder in letting Australia’s leading public intellectual have a go at engaging the Australian people in a vision for a future.

As Herald online reader Tom Moore put it: “The contemporary political imagination is scared of the manifesto. A manifesto holds political parties to things. A manifesto demands that parliamentarians account for their conduct … A manifesto will get you into more trouble than it’s worth.

“My greatest fear is that its clarity of vision will take second place to the negative politics that goes with the territory of electioneering. Now is the time for Kim Beazley to reanimate public life in Australia by demonstrating that manifestos are still good for something.

“Its definition of ‘knowledge’ is surprisingly broad and expansive. The Knowledge Nation isn’t just a country committed to learning or research.


“The Knowledge Nation emerges in our own self-awareness of who we are culturally, as Australians, in our wonderful diversity. Our knowledge resources, in the face of the momentum of globalisation and neo-liberal forces, are the most valuable things we have as a nation.”

In my view, this manifesto seeks to tackle the underlying issue in the next Federal election – the role of government – which has become as commodified as every other institution crushed under a ideology which sees nothing of value in values on which it can’t put a short-term dollar value.

Herald reader Andrew Elder puts it this way. “When I think about science/education funding, I think of arguably the greatest scientific discovery in this country: Howard Florey’s contribution to the discovery of penicillin. At the risk of sounding like Barry Jones, Florey was a professor at the University of Adelaide who got a CSIRO grant to study mould growths in citrus fruit. His discoveries took him in a different direction, and the powers that were at that time trusted him and supported him to an end that could not have been foreseen.

“Can you imagine the outcry if that happened today? Radio talkback would blast him as a fraud against taxpayers and citrus growers; and where is the politician who wouldn’t take their line? Instead of being supported and trusted, the latter-day Florey would be roused out by a bunch of bureaucrats and probably sued.

“Then, as some foreign scientist was awarded and rewarded for his work, the latter-day Florey would feebly claim: ‘Hey, I did that.’ How would the Aussie media respond? Jeers (‘Yeah, right!’) or forehead-slapping (‘Another Aussie invention ripped off by the Yanks’).”

Knowledge Nation talks about the disappearing public intellectual, the need to reassert the value of the humanities and the need to rebuild great national institutions like the CSIRO, the National Library and the ABC. It talks to people like Elen Seymour, who says she’s freezing in Ottawa because her research scientist husband had to leave Australia and is desperate to come home and put on her bikini.

Elen wrote: “It didn’t seem outrageous to me to use ‘big words’ in a document that talks about education, the economy and revitalisation of the cultural and intellectual scene of Australia. Especially not when the document took pains to actually explain what these ideas are all about. If a crappy diagram was all the fault people could pick out of the document (and the lack of hard numbers) then maybe – just maybe – there is sufficient will amongst Australians to do the hard yakka to get back into line.”

Since pygmies in the media have chosen the path of anti-intellectualism, let’s hope they retire to snigger corner and let people who care have a read and a think and make a contribution to a fundamental debate.

There’s lots to critique in this experiment in intelligent democracy. But really, there’s nothing to laugh about. Thank you, Barry. You’ve done good.




By Jack Robertson

The Great Thing about the Human brain is that it is infinite. (Mine is, anyway, dunno about Paddy McGuinness.) There is no limit on how big or how far ahead we can think – except, of course, our own puny, miserable, watery, scared, self-doubting, provincial, hillbilly, luke-warm, battleship-grey, strait-jacketing, self-imposed limitations.

Inadequate thinkers always get scared when genuine ponderers like Barry Jones get on a superheated roll – especially inadequate Bean Monkies. Economists simply can’t handle anything that they are unable to squish instantly into the dull, numbing profit/loss columns of a fiscal spreadsheet. It makes them extremely uneasy.

They gaze upon other peoples big, bold ideas and soaring abstract explorations of the Humanly possible (as opposed to the economically inevitable), they reluctantly allow their minds to wander for a bit entirely unfettered by the plodding principles they learned in Accountancy 101, and in their middle-aged and faintly regretful mediocrity, they start to belatedly wonder whether there is more to life than the financial pages, after all.

Terrified by their own lack of imagination, they run away to take refuge in self-nobbling phrases like fiscal responsibility and economic rationalism .

Knowledge Nation, as Margo rightly observes in today’s hard copy Herald, has got em scared shitless. They are the Bean Monkies – they run our present government, they run our banks (dreary twerps like David Murray whose life is nothing but numbers), they even run our Universities, these days.

Their first and instinctive reaction to the Knowledge Nation document has been to wonder where the money will come from. Isn’t it funny how no-one responded in this way to that moment when Samaranch said the magic words: Siddennee? I can’t recall much number-crunching disapproval when we elected to bung troops into East Timor, either. Yet neither of these Oz adventures was ever going to make a profit, at least in dollar terms.

This latest chunk of Jonesian Jauntiness is a fantastic development for political life and the life of politics in Australia, because it will flush out the small-minded twerps at last.

The KN blueprint might just finally clear the air on the great globalisation debate in this country, too. For a long time in the Oz Meeja now, Bean Monkies like Imre Saluszinsky and Michael Duffy have been waging an unsubtle campaign to paint those who question elements of rampant economic fascism (often incorrectly called globalisation by the IMF and the WTO) as Hansonite fellow-travellers.

Whether it’s Tim Blair taking the piss out of our own dairy debate, or a first-rank Bean Monkey like Robert Gottliebson decrying economic bunkerism, there has been a concerted effort to portray people who get uneasy about developments like the Billiton/BHP take-over or the Woodside matter as somehow small-minded and backward-looking .

And yet the true provincial thinkers in this country are those who would have us lie back, part our thighs, and let the global economy dictate terms to us. They seek intellectual refuge in citing what is supposedly beyond our control because otherwise they might have to be creative instead of reactive, the essence of KN.

The Bean Monkies say things like ‘We can’t do this because…’ and ‘You are living with the fairies if you think that is possible’ because if they don’t, the unstoppable impulse of imagination might creep into their hollow cranial cavities and demand they start to really LIVE. So theirs is a world full of inevitable things that happen to them, not one where they can make brilliant things inevitable for others.

Knowledge Nation suggests that life can be otherwise, and so of course, there have been many who reject it instantly simply because they haven’t been told how we will pay for it, yet. Bound by the wallet, before they even allow themselves to think. These are the true 1950s suburbanites. These are the small grey accountants who are now running our lives, the true intellectual Hansonites – still living in a self-imposed cerebral desert, a world they have (wrongly) convinced themselves is a terra nullius of the imagination.

I listened to the first episode of The Continuing Crisis a few weeks ago, the new Radio National program hosted by Saluszinsky and Blair, and a single remark by the Herald s own economist Steve Burrell summed up the entire last two decades of small-minded mediocrity that has masqueraded as political leadership throughout the globalising world. They’d been vox-popping a few pensioners at supermarkets about the issue of Australian-made versus imported products, and one old biddy had suggested that she would only buy Oz-made stuff if it were cheaper than the imports. Steve Burrell’s summarising comment says all you need to know about the Bean Monkey view of the future. As an economist I find it encouraging, he noted, to see people behaving the way economic theories say they should.

Inspiring, isn’t it?

Knowledge Nation may be pie-in-the-sky, it may be economically vague, it may be a wish-list, it may be reaching out for the stars when we’ll probably all still die with our feet in the gutter, anyway. And the Bean Monkies may snicker and sneer and snarl, but I personally would much rather live in a world of infinite, endless possibility, than remain trapped within the mind-numbingly boring pages of a Treasury spreadsheet.

Robert Lawton

Your colleague Alan Ramsey has had enormous fun lampooning the Knowledge Nation report, in the usual “front bar test” manner (Herald, Wednesday). I’m happy with front bars, there should be more of them. But pouring scorn on this effort on the basis of one odd diagram has hoisted the front bar into a position it never sought.

On this test, if it looks funny or the bloke who spruiks it raves on about stuff you never heard about and don’t get, it’s dog meat and whoever let it loose is a clown, a dead loss and a

moron. Aussie Rules state readers will recognise a Sam Newman-style cruelty here. Such clown or clowns have simply given their opponents free kicks and endless opportunities for ridicule and shaming.

I think the “spaghetti and meatballs” response amusing, but essentially cheap and meretricious. Yes it’s a silly diagram. Yes a lot of the stuff isn’t costed. Yes there were probably too many people on the working party. Yes some of the ideas are silly for Australia (picking market sectors in 2001 is the same as picking Tricontinental, Rothwells or State Bank in the 80s). And yes, Beazley so often opens his mouth merely to change feet (“I’m staking myself on this” was a gimme for “skewering”).

But as you’ve said before, why does every even slightly left field thought in the public life of this country get slapped down and made mock?

There’s plenty of stuff in this document worth considering, as in every Jones production. It doesn’t have to be chewed through on one news cycle alone.

But perhaps Alan, the PM, (usually) Beazley, Crean et al could leave the front bar every now and then.

After all the drinkers are there to drink, smoke (while they can), flirt with the barmaid, play darts, back a sure thing, tell tall tales…it’s not a place for governing countries. The boys’d tell you that straight out, they don’t see themselves as the answer.

So why are they the judges?

Elen Seymour in Ottowa

Boy, were we all excited reading this here in Canada! Here! Messrs Beazley and Jones! We’re over here! It was a bit like reading about the promised land.An R&D culture and sunshine? Yes! Broadband? Yes! (My husband works in photonics). University funding? Yes! Tax Concessions – well I don’t want to crow too much but Yes! And look, its already working, Peter Doherty is coming home!

On a more serious note, I share some people’s concerns that this “manifesto” is going to be spoiled by political fighting and budgetary restraints; it probably is already mostly doomed by the $300 per cardigan giveaway by the incumbents (if you call right now with your vote we will throw in a free set of steak knives!).

Michelle Grattan puts it nicely by saying the government can’t come out with the knives too sharp against this manifesto but the government is working really hard to screw it up anyway.

I find it a bit galling of Howard to have described the report’s proposals as a wish list “that you might adopt if you had unlimited money and unlimited time”. Who’s damned fault is it anyway that we will have to pedal as fast as we will to catch up, that there is not the money for it? Not that the current government is totally to blame; Keating and Hawke also have to share some of that guilt but does Howard really think we will overlook his critical role in the downturn in education and R&D?

The feedback from experts and mug punters alike has so far has been most interesting and sometimes disappointing. The appallingly Australian rubbish about it being too intellectual and the weirdness about the political death capabilities of one diagram apparently drawn by an over-keen Barry Jones are just two cases in point.

It didn’t seem outrageous to me to use “big words” in a document that talks about education, the economy and revitalization of the cultural and intellectual scene of Australia. Especially not when the document took pains to actually explain what these ideas are all about.

And guys, its a diagram! Actually I find it kind of reassuring at one level because if a crappy diagram was all the fault people could pick out of the document (that and the lack of hard numbers) then maybe – just maybe – there is sufficient will amongst Australians to do the hard yakka to get back into line.

But to equate a bit of ridicule with the end of the whole banana, or even the death knell for electoral success of the Opposition, is ridiculous and insulting to the voting public. And if people do allow them to be distracted by a bloody diagram then perhaps the truism of “you get the politicians you deserve” contains more truth than one dares to hope.

David Palmer in Adelaide (in A Manifesto!) seems to have missed a key point. The whole point of broad banding everyone and digital this and digital that is all of that dematerialization, weightlessness stuff – the replacement of books with their heavy paper with digitized streams of information that can easily be accessed by anyone with the right toys.

One reason people are not using the internet for information is the limitations of the current system of copper wires which restricts the amount of “stuff” that you can get. Once you get fibre optic cable the capacity for transmission of information increases amazingly.

The other reason is of course content, something Knowledge Nation also sought to address (for example see Recommendation 19, Improving the position of arts, humanities and social science in Australia). But it is a bit Catch 22. No one is creating content because there is no demand, there is no demand because there is no content.

Hopefully once word gets out that there will be the capability, people will demand that this capability be utilized, and then we will have the kind of content that will see the local library becoming less relevant. Information will become weightless.

One final, critical reason for the lack of content is some pretty restrictive regulatory practices. Note the self-interest in the next statement but also its truth; there is no “real” reason why I or anyone else cannot watch live say pay per test coverage by whatever channel on my laptop of the Ashes series. India already does so, why doesn’t Australia?

On a different angle, I strongly agree with Knowledge Nation’s claim that a campaign to raise awareness of Australia as something other than a cool holiday destination is long overdue and critical. We need to get Australia just as much in the consciousness of the world as Ireland, Finland and Canada.

I have spoken of the role of taxes ad nauseum, but I concede tax concessions are of limited value if no one thinks of us whilst planning their global expansion. Except for California, they know where we are, “Hey look honey a free six pack of Australian scientists with every patent!”.

I have seen this lack of awareness of Australia as a modern economy first hand. I have been told in surprised tones that “the Sydney Olympics were really good, because it showed that Australia has big cities and is pretty modern.” Remember I work in a global organization with otherwise educated and intelligent people.

Time and time again I hear surprise that Australia is something other than a backward country full of kangaroos and Croc Dundee types. Ordinary people are barely aware that we are multicultural, that we have one of the highest rates of technology uptake in the world, that we live in big cities with big buildings and that we went metric in the 1960s.

They listen open-mouthed when my husband and I say nearly everyone has a mobile in Australia, how you can have one for as little as ten dollars a month with “free” voicemail, free caller id and how we only have one network, digital. My husband and I stood staring at the phone kiosk selling analogue mobile phones when we first arrived here.

What’s more, I am constantly surprised when I hear of things proudly announced as new here in Ottawa that I had long since taken for granted in Australia. The legislation of the province was available on the internet for the first time only a few months ago. I finished my law degree in 1997 in NSW I was heavily dependent on the internet for statutory references, accessed through public websites at no cost. The Australian Tax Office has a world class research facility on-line.

There IS a lot to do, and maybe John Howard is right and it’s all just one big fantasy, but Australia does has a good foundation upon which to build the Knowledge Nation. There are a lots of reasons to believe we can pull it off and leapfrog well into the front of the game.

The question is, do politicians have the guts to do what it takes, and does Australia have the guts to make them do it? I hope so, or it’s going to be a long winter here in Canada.

Susan Stock in Glebe, teacher-librarian

About ten years ago I visited Switzerland with my then partner, who was trained as a school teacher in Switzerland. His sister put on a party for his fellow students, all school teachers of some 15 years experience.

They told us that in Switzerland, teaching is the second hardest course to get into after leaving school, after medicine, and that they were on salaries of around $A150,000 per annum – higher than than engineers, dentists or economists. Unlike Australia, respect for school teachers in Swiss culture was extremely high.

Switzerland IS a knowledge nation, having few natural resources and relying on the calibre of their human resources. We should look at countries like Switzerland and Germany for ideas and models, not just the USA and UK.

David Davis in Switzerland

I feel hesitant to comment on Knowledge Nation report. I am sympathetic to the cause but am deeply skeptical. I don’t want to be overly critical of any document which promotes debate on these issues. Now I am not so sure what the big deal was. It seems to be a rehashing of all that we know anyway – written in an irritating partisan style. Not surprising really.

There are so many comments in the report referring to the decline of investment in “knowledge” since 1996, which so surprisingly (not) coincided with the election of the Howard government.

I don’t buy all of that. I think many of these problems have existed for decades. That being the case, it is probably better to get on with solving the multifaceted nature of the problem rather than bickering about whose fault it is.

I hope this report keeps “knowledge” – however it is defined – on the agenda.

I was irritated by the inane promise of free phone calls by 2010. Any person who is remotely excited about a promise like that, in this era, needs psychiatric therapy. I can see why the price of phone company shares remained unaltered. Who can be bothered with all this garbage or take it seriously?

The declining cost of telecommunications is inevitable. Then again, free phone calls by 2010 is slightly more believable than “no Australian child will live in poverty by 1990”. If the promise of free phone calls by 2002 was being made, THEN there could be cause for minor excitement. But 2010 – what are they thinking? They can only even guess the direction technology will take.

Remember, ten years ago, bugger all people had Internet access or had even heard of it. Only boffins knew of its existence. In a communications and technology revolution, a promise of free phone calls in eight years is ridiculous.

I also noted comments about high school retention. Shock, horror, high school retention went down in the prosperous Howard years. Did anyone consider that high school retention was greater during Keating’s reign of terror due to the “recession we had to have”? There wasn’t much point in leaving school in an era when youth unemployment rose to horrific levels. Statistics, damned lies and statistics.

The phone call promise and the drawings were the sideshow. The high school thing had the rigour of a high school economics student.

Beazley’s question – do we want to be a knowledge nation or a poor nation – really grabbed my attention. Australians are usually more reluctant than Americans to openly covet wealth. That’s fine. Aussies seem to covet lifestyle. That’s wonderful – but a good lifestyle and standard of living doesn’t just happen. This is a key moment and Australia can either take the dumb, poor path or the clever, knowledge path.

If Labor’s Knowledge Nation is a red flag being waved – then good. Either they or the Libs need to get busy and get serious.

Finally, don’t dismiss the expats. They know other models and I am sure many would return if things were different. I suspect the magnitude of the “brain drain” is under estimated. Check out the picture in today’s Herald of the Aussie Nobel Laureate, Professor Peter Doherty. He is surrounded by Australian scientists in Memphis. Professor Doherty is going back to Oz but how many others are there like those in the picture who will stay overseas? For how long can Australia afford to export knowledge and talent to enrich other countries? If such talent only comes back belatedly – it is a tragedy.


David had two takes on the diagram.

Take one:

I just looked at that spaghetti and meatballs diagram and it’s not interesting. In my opinion there should be more of the spaghetti and less of the meatballs.

Take defence as an example. It earns a meatball (deservedly so) but it only has spaghetti leading to the Knowledge Nation meatball and the government meatball. What about R& D in Defence and collaboration with industry and education? I note there is no spaghetti linking such meatballs.

That’s why the diagram is indeed a joke. There’s no point in drawing a diagram unless in can

graphically represent something better than words. It’s not good enough to write a reasonably good report and then spoil it with stuff like this. I think most people already appreciate the linkages and the diagram is of no help.

Take two:

A few days ago I was looking at a Joan Miro painting I have looked at many times before and suddenly saw a whole pile of things I’d never noticed. Perhaps that’s the point of the Jones diagram – it’s more like a work of modern art. Perhaps its something to be pondered over rather than jumping to hasty conclusions.

I may have started with the wrong assumption. I assumed the diagram was supposed to simplify the Knowledge Nation concept. That’s why I was critical. Now I am wondering if its purpose is more to make us think rather than anything else.

Has Barry Jones explained this diagram anywhere? I’d like to see him do it on video.

Back when Web Diary was dealing with lesbians and IVF you asked for diagrams. I had a go at it and it ended up a disaster. It was a kind of spaghetti and meatballs things with strips of cheese representing the political process from left and right sides. I also made the mistake of trying to size the meatballs in relation to their impact on the issue. I even tried some colour coding. It all got too hard in the end.

What I’d really like to know is Barry Jones intentions. Is the diagram meant to clarify or to generate discussion? If the latter is the primary purpose – he has succeeded! I am still not convinced it clarifies the concept.

Again I come back to the defence meatball. Why is its spaghetti a TWO WAY arrow back to government? Another example of the arrow problem – manufacturing feeds into the Knowledge Nation meatball but agriculture only feeds from it. Is this really the view? I suppose if you assume that the CSIRO is the only “knowledge part” of agriculture, it makes sense. Why doesn’t “biotech” gets its own meatball rather than only being parts of others?

If you make your eyes “all blurry” the whole thing looks like a spiders web – with the government being the spider (note the long legs) and the “Knowledge Nation” being the tasty prey caught in the middle.

Or perhaps it is the solar system with the Knowledge Nation circle being the sun. If that was the case than the government would be Uranus (how fitting), TAFE would be Mars and Infrastructure an enlarged Pluto. Then again, the government looks more like Jupiter if you compare it to… mmm it all gets too hard as well. If its the solar system, I am grateful the government is not the sun at its centre. At least he got that part right.

By the way, I’m not sniggering – I’m having some fun while thinking about the issue. There’s no crime in that.

Finally, I have to come back to that wretched defence meatball. There is virtually nothing about that one I like. It beats the hell out of me why it should be as big as tourism or banking and insurance. The defence meatball is the wrong size, has the wrong arrows and is far too close to the centre.