Archive for November, 2014

The view from Ultimo

November 25th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Richard Boyer, the ABC’s finest chairman, believed the public broadcaster should ‘stand solid and serene in the middle of our national life.’

Eric Lobbecke's illo in The Australian this morning

Eric Lobbecke’s illo in The Australian this morning

In 2014 the ABC is drifting along way from that happy position. Public affection for the organisation we once familiarly referred to as ‘Aunty’ is hard to come by, I write in The Australian this morning:

AS the Friends of the ABC are quickly discovering, a share of public outrage is every bit as hard to come by these days as a share of the taxpayer’s dollar.

The government announces the biggest cuts to the ABC for 18 years and what is digital denunciator GetUp carrying on about? Climate change, coal-seam gas, and the Manus and Nauru detention camps, that’s what. It takes metres of scrolling to reach a polite invitation to sign a petition to save the ABC.


One strategy for the ABC would be to play to its perceived strengths in the regions, I wrote in The Australian last Friday:

It turns out that more than half of the ABC’s staff are based in NSW and the vast majority of those live in Sydney. Four out of five of ABC’s corporate managers reside in the harbour city. Almost 50 per cent of its journalists are based in NSW or the ACT.

That the ABC should fail so badly on geographical diversity, the most measurable form of ­plurality, is a reflection on poor management decisions over many years. If managing director Mark Scott decides to cut staff at the ABC’s television production studios in Adelaide, the concentration in NSW will increase still further. At the moment South Australia is one of the few states where the concentration of ABC staff (7.4 per cent) roughly matches its share of the population (7.2 per cent).

There could be as many as 150 jobs cut in Adelaide according to some reports, about 40 per cent of the total. If so, SA would find itself in the same boat as Victoria (16 per cent of ABC staff; 25 per cent of the population), Western Australia (6 per cent; 11 per cent) and Queensland (9 per cent; 20 per cent).

The issue here is not jobs per se, though heaven knows South Australia badly needs them. If the ABC were in the business of refining oil for example, we wouldn’t give a Peppa Pig.

But if the ABC is serious about reflecting the national culture in all its glorious regional diversity, then it would matter if most of senior staff lived, say, between Bondi and Enmore.




Caught in the culture war crossfire

November 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Australian Defence Force no longer deploys soldiers or staff. It “brings together people elements”, according the mission statement of the Defence People Group, a directorate once known simply as HR.

I’m indebted to a Mr Thomas of Queensland for bringing this to my attention from the Defence People Group’s home page:

It brings together people elements from across the Australian Defence Organisation to deliver sustainable people capability in line with the People in Defence Blueprint, and contributes to Chief Operating Officer Organisation’s mission by delivering integrated people systems and building a capable workforce ….. People Policy and Culture Division develops and maintains a safe Defence working environment drawing on effective people management and a competitive employment package. This Division focuses on diversity and inclusion strategies, APS career management, and evolving Defence culture under Pathway to Change.

Could this be a clever parody, replete with the black humour (“people elements”…) for which our armed services are famed?

I hope not, because I’ve written my column about it in today’s edition of The Australian.




The right to intellectual bigotry

November 12th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Why don’t the principles of diversity and inclusiveness supposedly practiced by our universities apply to the conservatives?

This is the conundrum I explore in yesterday’s The Australian:

The paradox between academe’s proclaimed virtue of inclusiveness and the exclusion of conservative thinkers is explored in a paper to be published soon by the journal Behavioural and Brain Sciences. The authors, led by Jose L. Duarte from Arizona State University, say there was once considerable political diversity in the field of academic psychology, but it has all but disappeared in the past 50 years.

Social psychologists, of all academics, should be particularly alert to the dangers of epistemological homogeneity, or groupthink as some prefer to call it. They would be aware of the errors that can pollute the group’s thinking if no one in the room is prepared to disagree. Assumptions become embedded into theory and method, researchers concentrate on topics that support the prevailing narrative and avoid those that do not.

One explanation for academic lopsidedness, Duarte suggests, is simply that liberals find an academic career more appealing than do conservatives, particularly in a field such as social psychology.

But while self-selection is clearly part of the story, it would be ironic if the academic community used such arguments “to exonerate the community of prejudice when that same community roundly rejects those same arguments when invoked by other institutions to explain the under-representation of women or ethnic minorities”.

There is further discussion in a piece by Maria Konnikova, ‘Is social psychology biased against conservatives?’, in The New Yorker this month.

From The Spectator


Birth of the sophisticates

November 12th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Which state was leading to the way towards Australia’s bold, inventive technocratic future in 1964?

Here’s what Donald Horne wrote in The Lucky Country:

Brisbane falls backwards, Sydney falls apart, Melbourne moves forward to stay where it is, Adelaide moves ahead… Adelaide has moved into the technological age.

Albert Tucker's work on the cover of the first edition of Penguin’s ‘The Lucky Country’ -

Albert Tucker’s work on the cover of the first edition of Penguin’s ‘The Lucky Country’ –

In The Spectator this week I write that if South Australia was the test bed for the new technocracy, as Horne believed, we must assume the experiment has failed.

The technocrats and intellectuals Horne admired, a group that ‘understands the demands of the age better and sees life in more complicated terms,’ now dominate public life. Their triumph was a watershed in post-war history that changed sections of Australia beyond recognition. It explains why the ABC now broadcasts from a parallel universe, why our universities teach what they teach and why Labor is no longer the party of the workers. It explains why government grew so large, how the bureaucracy was allowed to take charge and why debt and deficit may become Australia’s permanent condition. [FULL COLUMN]

Also in The Spectator is Peter Coleman’s insightful consideration of Horne and his legacy. Coleman quotes from the review he wrote of The Lucky Country in The Bulletin in 1964:

‘There are many Donald Hornes in this engrossing new book. There is Horne the Prophet of Doom and Horne the Man of Confidence, Horne the Puritanical Censor and Horne the Hedonistic Pagan, Horne the Tub-Thumper and Horne the Poet of the People.”

What holds them together, I wrote, is Horne’s sense of an impending national catastrophe, of the growing threat to our survival as an independent country – and our rooted indifference to this or any other threat. This was the time when other prophets such as Malcolm Muggeridge were giving Australia another fifteen years at the most before it disappeared from history, blown away by some mighty emerging power such as Red China. What Australians desperately need, Horne said, are some ‘sudden shocks of reorientation’. For a start we must scrap White Australia and abolish the Monarchy. Then we must toss out all the second-raters – ‘the racketeers of the mediocre’- who still run the country.

Many of Horne’s critics believed that in getting stuck into Australia’s dominant second-raters he was basically expressing rage at his rivals who had master-minded his humiliating dismissal as editor of the Bulletin and the decision that he concentrate in future on editing a trashy entertainment weekly. (In those days he sometimes seemed to have more enemies than admirers. That is the price, he would say, which independent spirits must pay for rejecting the national mediocrity.) But there was far more to it than simple pique. Hurt and exhausted in the service of the Packer press, he now resigned, joined an advertising agency (or went into exile, as he put it), and began to write his apologia, his reflections on his life and times. Born of this complex and life-changing disenchantment, The Lucky Country is by far his best book.




Enlightened thought on the ABC

November 6th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Pilgrim Fathers fell on their knees and thanked God when they landed on American soil in 1620. In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet just got on with the job of building a colony from scratch.

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 12.30.48 pmBrendan O’Neill and I discussed Australia’s links with the Enlightenment on ABC’s Radio National’s Counterpoint this week.

America was settled by Europeans before the Enlightenment, and was obliged to call upon the Almighty for His blessing. Australia was settled after the Enlightenment, when it was man’s reason, ingenuity and energy that made the difference.

I explore this theme further in The Enlightenment Made Us, a monograph just published by the Centre for Independent Studies.

Screenshot 2014-11-05 17.51.11




Thanks to Bill Leak for the cartoon!

Australia’s Secret War: union sabotage in WW2

November 5th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 6.50.19 pmHal Colebatch’s ground-breaking account of wartime treachery by Australian unionists has been shortlisted for the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. I review the book in this month’s The New Criterion:

In 1942, Lockheed’s production lines in Burbank, California were operating at full stretch, turning out P-38 twin-engine fighters for deployment in the Pacific. Before the aircraft could engage the Japanese, however, they first had to survive an encounter with another enemy: the stevedores who controlled Australian ports.

Hundreds of thousands of Australians were in uniform and the country felt threatened by invasion. At the Breakfast Creek docks in Brisbane, however, the unionized workforce went to war with U.S. Military Police who were supervising the transfer of supplies.

The laborers, known in the Australian vernacular as wharfies, took umbrage when M.P.s searched their lunch bags and recovered more than 800 cartons of cigarettes. Brigadier-General Elliott R. Thorpe, who was stationed in General Douglas MacArthur’s Pacific headquarters, recalls what happened next:

As a means of “getting even” with the “bloody American MPs” the wharfies proceeded to wreck four P-38 fighter planes that had been shipped from the United States.

They simply hooked the lifting crane onto the planes and, without unbolting the planes from the decks, would signal the hoisting engineers to lift, which effectively tore the planes to pieces.

Australia’s Secret War presents a catalogue of similar stories in a confronting counter-narrative to more familiar wartime stories of courage, brotherhood, and sacrifice. The evidence gives rise to two important questions. First, what drove the unionized workforces in Australia’s ports, coal mines, and steel mills to disrupt the Allied war effort in such a reckless and treacherous manner? Second, what does it say about the blinkered outlook of historians who have not bothered to tell this story before?


Search for the missing intolerance

November 4th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

THERE was more bad news for the harmony industry last week with the publication of the 2014 Social Cohesion survey, I write in The Australian today.

Once again it appears Australians are rubbing along nicely and the social fabric is in remarkably good shape. If the Scanlon Foundation’s survey is accurate, the ­nation’s anti-discrimination professionals can look forward to another year of thumb twiddling.

On the face of it, the  survey provides little support for the theory that Australians are irredeemably racist folk who live in mortal fear of “the other”.

The failure of Australians to conform to this character assessment has been a continual source of frustration to the proclaimed experts. The absence of dis­harmony, like the absence of a rise in global surface temperatures for the past 15 years or so, challenges deeply held assumptions.

The search for the missing intolerance, like the search for the missing heat, leads the experts to present ever more convoluted theories.


The big man of big government

November 4th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments


Illustration: Sturt Krygsman, The Australian

Illustration: Sturt Krygsman, The Australian



LIKE many of Gough Whitlam’s proclaimed accomplishments, the transformation of Australia into a nation of functionaries was not, strictly speaking, all his own work.

Few would disagree, however, that when it came to the bureaucratisation of Australia, Whitlam stood head, shoulders and torso above anyone else.

When Robert Menzies spoke in 1942 of a future in which government “will nurse us and rear us and maintain us and pension us and bury us”, he was trying to scare us. When Whitlam spoke in similar terms he meant it as a promise.

“The quality of life depends less on the things which individuals obtain for themselves and can purchase for themselves from their personal incomes and depends more on the things which the community provides,” Whitlam said in 1975. Let’s not be fooled by that homely word “community”. We know exactly what Whitlam meant. The deep pockets of government would provide the cash and Whitlam, central planner par excellence, would write the program.


From The Australian, 28 October 2014