Archive for August, 2014

The PM they could not tame

August 19th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Wayne Swan’s new book, The Good Fight, presents a disturbing picture of the atmosphere in which the NBN fiasco developed, I write in The Australian today.

Nothing made Rudd angrier, ­apparently, than soundly based independent counsel. “He was intolerant of detailed advice, especially of a deep and highly technical nature — the kind that comes from public servants with decades of experience,” Swan notes.

Debate or dispute “undermined his sense of control of minutiae”; Rudd’s outbursts “were often disproportionate to the matter at hand”; he “burned through staff like a child flicking matches from a box”. Advisers laboured within “a culture of fear and blame that had its origins in Kevin’s temperament”. Far worse, says Swan, “their advice was not listened to”.

Like every good horror story, the vampire gets skewered in the end, but in circumstances that leave open the possibility of a ­sequel. The frail character of Australia’s 26th prime minister plays the central role in Swan’s narrative, but its subplot reveals a frailty within public administration that ultimately may prove more ­destructive. 

If the job of our professional, well-remunerated public service is sometimes to save politicians from themselves, how do we account for its spectacular failure to avert the Rudd fiascos? Will any heads roll for the frank and fearless ­advice not given? Will careers be ended as a consequence of their cravenness and complicity? Or will their salaries and novated leases continue to be honoured ­irrespective of the fortitude — or lack of it — they bring to their day jobs?


Free speech in Australia

August 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Abbott government’s retreat on its planned amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act has flushed out the real conservatives in Australia. They are the ones desperate to defend illiberal institutions like the Human Rights Commission.

Last week, I wrote in The Australian:

The repeal of 18C was a disruption to the grievance industry’s business model that they could not countenance. Its flaws are self-evident, but like a diseased tree in a Tasmanian forest, its felling was unimaginable.

These are Australia’s true conservatives, the ones defending the cultural institutions they have either taken over or created in the 50 years since Donald Horne wrote The Lucky Country. Page 2 of 3

Free-speech phobics cling on | The Australian 18/08/2014 7:16 pm

Horne’s list of special interest groups is relatively short: the wheat, sugar and wool lobbies, the churches, the RSL, the four newspaper groups, BHP, the Chamber of Manufacturers and the unions in the Labor Party.

Today’s list would be many times longer, but like the reactionaries in 1964, their grip on the levers of cultural power is less secure than they imagine. There is precious little support for their worn-out causes outside of the beret-wearing zone.



Welcome to Disney World

August 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 7.43.10 pmMy column two weeks ago challenging the Australian Press Council’s illiberal mission creep under chairman Julian Disney has been followed by a series of articles and editorials in The Australian expressing similar concerns about this increasingly censorious body.

I wrote:

Until Disney became chairman the council largely abided by the liberal convention that news reports and commentary should be judged differently, and that opinion required no justification other that it was honestly stated.

That was the view Disney appeared to come to in 2012 when he dismissed a complaint against a March 2012 column by Piers Akerman in The Daily Telegraph headlined “Greens and their crazy cronies are holding a gun to our head”.

Yet it was clear from the small print that Disney was itching for a fight. He warned: “While columnists and other writers of opinion articles have a wider licence than applies to news stories, it is ‘not ­unfettered’.”

The judgment laid out the ­welcome mat to the Greens and their crazy cronies who find lodging complaints with the industry-funded watchdog somewhat easier than competing in the ­marketplace of ideas.