Almost as bad is the claim that ’99 per cent of scientists believe’ as if scientific truth is determined by votes rather than facts.”Votes? What votes?Abbott seemed to be suggesting that the 97 percent consensus (the 99 was a mistake by Abbott, it’s actually 97) was based on some bogus poll.Wrong.There was never any poll of scared scientists who pretended to be in furious agreement about climate change lest they be branded as heretics. In fact, the paper which first identified the 97 percent consensus was a 2013 survey of the scientific literature that was already out there.And what 97 percent of that scientific literature effectively said was: it’s happening and we’re causing it.
In an article in today’s Australian, Janet Albrechtsen waxes lyrical about departing boss of the Minerals Council, Brendan Pearson, who she claims was “shoved out of his job as boss of the Minerals Council of Australia by those who prefer feel-good corporate bromides and green myths over energy facts and figures.”These purveyors of “green myths” were, among others, BHP and Rio Tinto who said they had lost confidence in Mr Pearson due to his unstinting advocacy for coal, something Ms Albrechtsen, on the other hand, considers a virtue, Source: Why are we letting the fossil fuel industry make the rules on climate change action? – » The Australian Independent Media Network
The prominent white supremacist is given a platform on Israel’s top-rated news show, and the host doesn’t once challenge his anti-Semitism or hateful views. By +972 Magazine Staff Israel’s most popular prime-time television news show gave white supremacist Richard Spencer a platform to try and convince Jewish Israelis that White Nationalism is analogous to Zionism, adding that Israelis should relate to him and his ilk. [If the video below doesn’t play, watch here or here] “As an Israeli citizen, as someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood, and history and the experience of the…
The Murdoch media have gone the full Abbott with multiple articles spruiking a comeback for the former PM.
Finally, to those who jump, without hesitation, to the defence of Cardinal Pell and assume that his accusers are “deluded” or “confused” or hold some maniacal vendetta: As stated above, George Pell is entitled to the presumption of innocence, but that does not mean that his accusers deserve to be summarily dismissed in the way that children almost always had been until the royal commission turned decades of silence and obfuscation and failure-to-believe on its head.
Fox News’ Fox & Friends falsely claimed that Sweden’s reintroduction of the draft was due to violence in the country precipitated by refugees, when in fact the draft is being reintroduced to counter Russian aggression in the region.Despite Fox’s assertion, Sweden’s government is reintroducing the draft for men and women in the count
“A new radical Islamic terrorist has just attacked in Louvre Museum in Paris. Tourists were locked down. France on edge again. GET SMART U.S.”
Six people died at the Quebec City mosque, and one person was slightly injured in the Paris attack.
At noon today, Donald Trump will swear the oath of office and become president of the United States. His ascent would not have been possible without the years of vitriol that the right-wing media directed at his predecessor.That hatred of President Obama, and the related scorched-earth efforts to smother his agenda, prepared the way for Tru
Murdoch and its unthinking “echo chamber” in MSM attempt to conceal the Coalition’s disastrous real news with “fake news”.
Dave Donovan explains in detail just exactly how far The Australian went to smear IA contributor Peter Wicks.
By TeleSur | – – After a series of violent attacks and recrimination, an esteemed Muslim academic flees the U.S. …
Fox News’ media critic Howard Kurtz attributed a fake quote to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, predicting that she would have to answer in tonight’s presidential debate for calling primary opponent Bernie Sanders’ supporters a “bucket of losers.” But Snopes.com and BuzzFeed have already reported that this quote — origina
Journalists at Australian on shortlist for ABC news director. Plus Sarah Ferguson’s candid advice for anyone thinking of going into marketing
The commentators who thought Tony Abbott was their champion are desperately looking for relevance after the coup.
A British woman who can’t recall any of the conversations she has had over the past decade will head up the UK arm of one of the world’s largest media organisations.
A spokesperson for the company said Ms Brookes, 47, was the obvious choice for the position. “Apart from the fact that she has absolutely no recollection of what happened at the previous companies she ran, she is the perfect choice for this role,” the spokesperson said.
“She has a knack for a good story, she’s great with people. Sure she couldn’t remember whether the Prime Minister of Great Britain attended her 40th birthday party. But then, who does remember these sorts of finer details?”
The spokesperson said Ms Brookes would run a tight ship as CEO of UK operations. “Although naturally we don’t expect her to have any idea about what’s actually going on at the company”.
Whatever the Daily Telegraph pays Piers Akerman to spread his unique brand of ‘commentary’, it’s not enough. So if you’re reading this Rupert Murdoch, double the man’s salary.Akerman’s column this week attacking the independent Australian documentary, Gayby Baby – and the Tele’s complementary campaign of smearing shit all over itself and then grinning like a five-year-old – has done more than any hard working publicist could ever do to promote a film that every Australian should see.
John Pilger – Episode 12
the role of the corporate media in manufacturing narratives, its relationship to capitalism and commodification, and the importance of independent media to pierce through the propaganda. Pilger provides his blistering critique of the especially insidious liberal media whose misinformation and disinformation is so critical to the ruling class. Eric and John touch on an array of other topics including Greece, Ukraine, and debt as a neocolonial weapon. All this and much more on a slightly abbreviated Episode 12 of CounterPunch Radio, featuring as always intro and outtro music from the Dr. of the Blues, the man with a PhD in Boogie Woogie,
LONDON — Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid Sun has spoken, urging voters to back David Cameron’s Conservative Party in Britain’s election — unless they’re in Scotland. There, it says, they should vote for the Scottish National Party.
The differing endorsements raised a few eyebrows Thursday, since the London-based Sun dubbed the pro-Scottish independence nationalists “saboteurs” determined to wreck Britain.
But the Scottish edition — which has a separate editor — said the SNP would “fight harder for Scotland’s interests” and praised leader Nicola Sturgeon as “a phenomenon.” Its front page depicted her as Princess Leia from “Star Wars.”
The SNP is predicted to win most of Scotland’s seats on May 7.
Murdoch’s newspapers were long a powerful force in British politics, but their influence may be waning in the Internet age.
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly continues to insist that he never misrepresented or embellished his wartime reporting experiences and other previous episodes—even after CNN, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Media Matters, and Mother Jones reported significant discrepancies between O’Reilly’s accounts and what actually occurred. Last Tuesday, O’Reilly appeared on David Letterman’s show, where he maintained he had always been “accurate” when discussing his journalistic exploits and had never “fibbed” on air. (“Not that I know of,” he said.) Yet O’Reilly’s characterizations of his reporting during the Falklands war, El Salvador’s civil war, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and the 1977 re-investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination have been repeatedly challenged, in several cases by former colleagues. Now a principal character in one of O’Reilly’s more dramatic tales—in which the Fox commentator plays a heroic role—says this particular story is not accurate.
THE CABIN ANTHRAX, MURPHY, N.C. (CT&P) – This month’s edition of Scientific American is somewhat of a departure for a magazine that normally steers well clear of politics. It boasts several well-researched articles examining the right wing in general and the Tea Party in particular.
“We wanted to highlight how a group could overcome the serious handicaps of its individual members to become a viable political force in our society,” said SA editor Michael Moyer. “The rise of the Tea Party, the Christian Right, and their propaganda arm, Fox News, illustrates how a species crippled by superstition, racial hatred, and lower than average IQ’s can rise to a position of prominence in the modern nation state.”
The issue, which is on news stands now, traces the growth of the Tea Party from a ragtag army of inarticulate individuals all the way to this year’s midterm elections, when an alarming number of the insecure cretins won national political office.
“We tried to get inside the minds of these people, as frightening as that prospect was,” said Moyer. “We really wanted to find out what made these people tick. We placed particular emphasis on finding the common threads that unified this group of backwoods bumpkins.”
“What we found was fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of minorities, fear of science, fear of gay people, fear of just about any fucking thing you could imagine. The overwhelming consensus was that this group of people yearns to return to the days before the Enlightenment, where their outdated ideas and archaic societal standards ruled with an iron fist.”
The SA team spent a great deal of time analyzing the movement’s leaders Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and a host of other kooks such as Steve King and Louie Gomhert.
“One only has to look at the leadership of this movement to see how incoherent and insane their beliefs really are,” said Moyer. “If you go back and examine some of the speeches and statements made by Bachmann and Palin over the last decade, it reads like something out of H.P. Lovecraft. Nothing makes sense. For example, last weekend in Iowa, Palin was apparently possessed by one of her demons and began writhing around the podium and speaking in tongues. It was truly scary.”
Although the writers and editors at SA came to no definitive conclusions about the future of the right wing and the Tea Party, Moyer said that they will most likely be swept away by the tide of history.
“To paraphrase Huxley, extinguished theologians, and in this case reactionary political factions, lie about the cradle of progress as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules,” said Moyer.
Although many midterm Congressional races were won by Tea Party supported buffoons, the facts seem to support Moyer’s argument.
Gay marriage, Obamacare, and decriminalization of marijuana, three policies that the far right is rabidly against, are more popular than ever and gaining national acceptance.
“It gives us hope for a bright future in which the voices of these kooks are drowned out by the voices of reason and science,” concluded Moyers. “I am a fervent supporter of free speech and support these people’s right to be as ignorant as they want to be, but I fully believe that they will be remembered by history as the wingnuts they truly are.”
Abbott must be having a horrible Christmas break. He can’t have missed that his old buddy, his mentor Rupert has completely dropped him and in doing so, has given permission for his newspapers to admit that PM Abbott is a dud. They’re still not yet ready to admit he’s always been a dud and that they were stupid to support him in the first place (as if they’ll ever be ready for this sort of atonement), but they’re willing to go as far as actually reporting his poll numbers, which speak for themselves, and saying that if only he could get his ‘message’ right, their neoliberal Tea-Party agenda would be gratefully accepted by the electorate instead of wholeheartedly rejected. It’s fascinating to watch an entire news organisation finally coming round to the fact that the public knows better than they do whether someone is a good PM or not. I thought the whole definition of ‘news’ was telling us all something we didn’t know, and being first to the story? Abbott’s incompetence is old news, and News Ltd coming to this realisation last is really the only thing you need to know about the incompetence of News Ltd. ‘Oh Abbott’s polls are bad!’ they all cry in unison! ‘We totally didn’t see that coming!’.
So what are News Ltd going to do now that their favourite son has spectacularly failed? If you’ve been paying attention to the number of puff pieces being written at News Ltd about their chosen successor, Julie Bishop, you will see that a Libspill is clearly being planned.
As soon as I realised that Julie Bishop was being put forward as the most likely replacement for Abbott, I realised just how screwed the Abbott government is. Because if Bishop is deemed as the ‘best performer’, it shows just how badly the rest of them have performed. Think about it for a second. What exactly has Bishop done which is so high performing? Perhaps if the definition of high performing is ‘not stuffing up as badly as the rest of the Abbott ministry and being protected by News Ltd so even if you did stuff up the public never heard about it’, then Bishop has been high performing. But all I’ve seen is very basic no-more-competent-than-you’d-expect-of-an-average-politician-statements from her in response to international tragedies, such as disease, terrorism and plane crashes, and of course I’ve seen her slashing the Foreign Aid budget, making Australia the stingiest rich country in the world, bar none. I can see that News Ltd are clearly happy about this, but as I’ve said previously, News Ltd’s opinion and the general public’s opinion do not match and are increasingly at complete odds so News Ltd being happy about something more than likely works against Bishop in the long term.
But even more interesting than the claim that Bishop is ‘high performing’, is News Ltd’s strategy of backing a female Prime Minister, after systematically mauling our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, with a sexist, low-life, scum-filled campaign of hateful lies and misinformation. Just to remind you all, Julia Gillard was the most successful Prime Minister this country has ever had. You won’t ever see any such analysis done in News Ltd papers, but this Guardian article has run the figures showing Gillard as the winner. So keeping this in mind, and keeping News Ltd’s vile anti-Gilllard campaign in mind, how are News Ltd going to position Bishop, a female, unmarried, childless ex-South Australian lawyer as PM material, when they so blatantly positioned Gillard as unfit, whilst appealing to the scum who read their newspapers, who were only too happy to agree? They built the anti-female-leader narrative, so how are they going to tear it down in support for Bishop?
So far, I have seen three strategies at work.
The first is to dress Julie Bishop up in her favourite ridiculously expensive clothes, to do a bit of airbrushing and to photograph her looking relaxed and feminine as if she doesn’t have a care in the world (or an office, or a desk, or, for that matter, a job. Notice how male politicians are never photographed posing as if they’re in a fashion magazine?). It’s also worth noting at this point that when Gillard posed for a Women’s Weekly photo shoot in 2007, Bishop was reported as saying:
“I don’t think it’s necessary to get dressed up in designer clothing and borrow clothing and make-up to grace the cover of magazines… You’re not a celebrity, you’re an elected representative, you’re a member of parliament. You’re not Hollywood and I think that when people overstep that line they miss the whole point of that public role.”
Clearly Bishop thinks she is Hollywood and is a celebrity and that’s the end of that.
The second strategy to ready Bishop for the position as Australia’s second female Prime Minister is for her to paint herself as not a feminist, and not as having benefited from feminism to get where she is. It was all her, apparently. And women who think they need feminism to get ahead need to stop complaining and get on with it, apparently. I feel that Bishop claiming she’s got where she is without the help of the feminist movement is akin to the captain of a football team being presented with the Grand Final cup and saying ‘thanks so much for all the applause. Clearly I played really well and that’s why the team won. I don’t know what all those other guys on my team were doing, but without my individual effort, the Grand Final cup would not be mine today’. Feminists have every right to be offended by Bishop’s suggestion that their hard fought battles are just a campaign of whinging. And of course they have every reason to laugh at Bishop, who is one of two women in Abbott’s cabinet, after being the only one for the first year, presumably because all the other Liberal women of merit were too busy complaining instead of being merit selected in a cabinet that is full of un-merit-worthy men. You’ve got to laugh so you don’t cry!
Finally, the last strategy to prepare Bishop for a leadership challenge is for News Ltd to claim that she is nothing like Gillard, and so should never be compared. Please look away now if you don’t feel like being angry for at least the next month over the following statement that was made in this Courier Mail Julie Bishop-fan-mail-puff-piece. Or do what I do and try to turn your anger into productive rage:
‘Dignified yet determined, Ms Bishop has succeeded where Julia Gillard failed, by showing that women can perform at the highest levels of political office without either hiding behind their gender or sacrificing their femininity. A passionate advocate of women, Ms Bishop believes in merit-based promotion, and her own hard work is now reaping rewards, both on the international stage and in domestic polls. And the damage done by Ms Gillard to the public perception of women in leadership roles is slowly being healed as voters regain confidence that a female politician can deliver’.
So this is the campaign and it’s well underway. There’s no sign yet as to how News Ltd will deal with Bishop’s embarrassing past of plagiarism, or her seedy career as a lawyer fighting against asbestos victims, and apparently once asking ‘why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying’. But we will watch and see as News Ltd comes up with new techniques of dishonesty to repel any criticism of their new-found-favourite candidate. And of course, it will be fascinating to see how such a leadership spill could possibly be orchestrated without use of the words ‘blood’ and ‘stab’ littered throughout the reportage. No doubt that’s the last piece of the puzzle that needs to be worked out before we wake up to find Abbott gone, and PM anti-feminist-pro-Armani-asbestos-Julie in his place.
There are ways for the media to cover stories such as the Sydney siege without committing gross ethical violations.
AUST gets wake-call with Sydney terror. Only Daily Telegraph caught the bloody outcome at 2.00 am. Congrats.
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) December 15, 2014
In one brutally insensitive tweet, Rupert Murdoch told the world everything it ever needed to know about the central tenet of the News Corp culture: nothing matters except the story.
It is a culture in which the ends justify the means.
It is a culture that celebrates cruel vulgarity, infamously exemplified by the headline “Gotcha” in the London Sun when, during the Falklands War, the British forces sank the Argentine warship the General Belgrano, with the loss of 368 lives. In Stick It Up Your Punter!, their account of life on The Sun, Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie wrote that although even the editor, the egregious Kelvin MacKenzie, had second thoughts about the heading, Murdoch said:
I rather like it.
This is a culture that ultimately leads to the kind of criminality exposed in the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the British branch of Murdoch’s empire in 2011. It is a culture that says if that’s what it takes to get the story or sell a newspaper, let’s do it.
In the case of the Lindt Café siege, it is a culture that permitted the publishing of the faces of hostages as they were forced at gunpoint to hold up the gunman’s black flag in the café window. There was a strong news case for showing them holding up the flag but no case for showing their faces.
These are images that are likely to haunt those hostages all their lives. The risk of doing harm should have been obvious. The disregarding of that risk is unjustifiable and unforgivable.
It is a culture that permits the publication of a door-stop photo of the father and husband of Katrina Dawson, who died at the gunman’s hands. They are leaving the hospital where Dawson died. The photo is clearly taken against the husband’s wishes: he is covering his face with his hand. The father’s face is a mask of shock. The intrusion on their grief is another unforgivable act.
There are ways to cover these stories without committing these gross ethical violations, and much of the other media showed how to do it. Channel Nine’s graphic live footage of the final police assault, and other television footage of hostages dashing from the scene, were vivid and immensely strong pieces of news reporting. ABC TV’s careful pixelating of faces of hostages in footage taken during the siege was another example of good ethical decision-making.
This is a clear violation of a foundational privacy principle that says material supplied for one purpose shall not be used for another purpose without the provider’s consent. Many people – young people in particular – post material on Facebook for the purpose of sharing it with their friends. They do not anticipate that it will be used by the media in whatever context or for whatever purpose the media thinks fit.
The focus of this article has been on News Corp because the connection between its performance and Murdoch’s tweet is the principal point of argument. However, that is not to say News Corp coverage was all bad, nor that others were blameless.
The coverage of the Lindt Café siege is as a strong a candidate as we have seen in recent years for the Australian Press Council to conduct an investigation into the performance of the newspapers generally, and for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to use its own-motion powers to do the same in respect of radio and television.
The mixed quality of the media performance was illustrated by the responses to it by the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, and the chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor Julian Disney. Scipione publicly thanked the media for acting responsibly in the way they covered the siege:
For you to act the way you did, to be responsible, all I can say is “thank you”.
Disney issued a statement, saying:
Much of the coverage has been excellent and has not hesitated to tell painful truths when necessary. But there have been some deeply regrettable errors and exaggerations, spreading dangerous misinformation without any reasonable basis. This type of material can be a serious risk to public safety, as well as causing an unjustified level of fear and distrust across the community.
It was a general statement of assessment, and did not make specific allegations against any particular media outlet.
However, it provoked a response from News Corp broadsheet The Australian, which has been running a campaign to undermine Disney in his last year as chair of the Press Council.
In a front-page story, it accused Disney of “triggering concerns” – by whom, one wonders – about “whether his organisation has abandoned the rules of procedural fairness”.
The basis for this accusation was that Disney had spoken without hearing the media’s side of the story. The weakness in this argument is that Disney was not making a finding against a specific newspaper, but making a general statement about the performance of the newspapers as a whole.
However, the motive for the story became clear in its last paragraph. There, The Australian quoted its own editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, as saying Disney:
… has just dealt the Press Council out of any future complaints about the role of the media during this week’s events.
This was clearly meant as a shot across the bow of the Press Council. In the event that the Press Council does decide to hear complaints about the coverage of the siege, it is reasonable to suppose that News Corp will challenge its fitness to do so. This may not thwart any such inquiry, but it might make it more difficult to accomplish, especially if News Corp decided not to co-operate on the grounds of apprehended bias.
This brings us finally to another aspect of the News Corp culture: every critic is an enemy, and we take no prisoners.
The ABC will soon be GONSKI! They are a Biased Lefty, Commie, Greeny Pinko mob… If you listened to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his inner sanctum, Australia is facing yet another war. Not with the people smugglers (again, still), or Indonesia (from fallout of the PM’s handling of spying allegations, people smuggling, general relations…) but with the national broadcaster, the ABC.
This week, Mr Abbott accused the ABC of taking ”everyone’s side but Australia’s“, wishing it would have some “basic affection for the home team”, after the ABC last week reported allegations of navy personnel torturing asylum seekers who were recently towed back to Indonesia. Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily Telegraph—not one for hiding its political allegiances*—backed up the PM’s rant, calling the actions from the national broadcaster as ”un-Australian“, labelling the organisation “The ABC of Treachery” on its front page.daily-telegraph-headline
You could suggest the noise is another government sleight of hand to direct our attention from other matters, such as the secrecy behind the stop the boats campaign and other wobbles, or the prelude to cuts to the broadcaster’s funding.
Funny thing is, though, it wasn’t just the ABC that reported on events. In fact, Seven News and Fairfax Media also carried the news of the torture claims from asylum seekers, gathered by their own reporters. Yet Mr Abbott has failed to publicly attack either outlet.
While some likely members in his camp stand firmly behind his ranting, others (namely Malcolm Turnbull and member for Reid’s Craig Laundy) stand by the ABC.
Perhaps, as writer John Birmingham suggests, Mr Abbott should just call the “waaaaambulance” and be done with it, and leave the journalism to the journalists—remember, Mr Abbott, you used to be one.
Freedom of the press as News Corp dictates.
When a white Culture overlay has little or no empathy for indigenous cultural psychology. When a white cultural ego dominates a landscape of human emotions. Little recognition is given to minorities completely flattened by the impact of constant dominance and being at crossroads leaves nothing any longer taken for granted. Crossroads give birth to individual uncertainties in youth that can create existential despair and death welcoming.
Strange how politically useful politicians and the media find it to create that sense of emergency about terrorism , economic emergency, to create false realities for political ends. But how those same governments in doing so can totally ignore the real feelings of our indigenous and other minorities it’s citizens particularly their non voting youth and then simply write them off as if it’s their own cultural and psychological inadequacies.
It’s a case of who do you believe? I suggest the people who advocate there was nothing here but bush before the British arrived are profound liars. They appropriated or discarded everything that went before them and have created the myths that have dominated our psyches since but find hard to eradicate. The ghosts that remain and haunt not all of us but those at the crossroads particularly the youth of minority cultures the indigenous kids, the migrant kids that are told they should move on forget and assimilate to be worthwhile.The kids born of poverty sold a promise of equal opportunity who blame themselves when they realize the unachievable outcomes.
Have a look at this face we don’t need Scott Morrison to to feel globally ashamed. We’ve been towing back the boats of indigenous Australia since our arrival and blaming their their drownings on people smugglers we call their Culture.
Lookin Philinka’s eyes she’s better than you Bolt, Morrison, Abbott purveyors of the myth of hate for little more than cultural elite ego, and profit. I can’t speak from the personal experience suffered but I can empathize with the general condition you maintain. I can ask you Christian bastards to listen to all our Australian citizens black white or brindle on behalf our common humanity .
Supporters of Darren Wilson and apologists for Ferguson officials are desperate to change the subject. Here’s why
From the very beginning, before St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch had uttered the first word of his defensive and dissembling speech, the fix was in. The conspiracy this time was not to protect Officer Darren Wilson from standing trial for the killing of Michael Brown, though that was certainly related. This time, the conspiracy was to organize the announcement of Wilson’s exoneration in as provocative a way as possible. The ultimate goal was to manipulate the public and the press into forgetting the real story of Ferguson — of police brutality and racial injustice — and bickering about the morality of rioting instead.
At the very least, that’s the impression I’ve had throughout the Ferguson controversy, especially as the wait for news from the grand jury dragged on, and as the county’s offices began leaking pro-Wilson factoids like a sieve. And after witnessing last night’s spectacle, which was preceded by multiple delays and conspicuous readying of the state’s police forces, I’m no less convinced that the powers that be in Missouri approached the Wilson verdict with little concern for accountability or justice. All they wanted was to improve the Ferguson power structure’s battered images — not by doing good, but by making the protesters look even worse. It’s a tried and tested strategy; as Rick Perlstein has documented, it helped make Richard Nixon president.
A quick look at the nation’s front pages on Tuesday indicates that the plan worked on some, but fewer perhaps than these would-be Pat Buchanans wanted. By maneuvering to incite disorder and polarize public opinion along race lines, these would-be Nixons probably thought they could “cut the … country in half,” as Buchanan recommended, and walk away with “far the larger half.” But while some of the biggest names out there fell for the trick, focusing on the small number of rioters instead of Wilson’s verdict, most editors understood that the controversy in Ferguson remains what it’s always been: A jarring and dispiriting reminder that the Declaration of Independence’s assertion of universal human equality (the “promissory note,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once called it) remains, for millions of Americans, a debt unpaid.
There’s a lesson here, one that those outraged by what’s happened this year in Ferguson — and happens countless times throughout America, each and every day — should keep in mind as they contribute to our amorphous yet powerful national conversation. Put simply, we must not allow supporters of the Wilson verdict to distract us by making this a conversation about rioting or poverty or race. That’s not to say we should condone the riots; and it’s certainly not to say we should avoid subjects that involve issues of race and poverty. What it means instead is keeping in mind that riots are nothing new, that the unique struggles of the African-American community can’t be simply attributed to poverty, and that discussions of “race” that aren’t linked with specific policy changes often result in little more than frivolous declarations of privilege.
If we can combat the dual influences of a Ferguson elite that wants national attention to drift elsewhere; and a national media that dislikes policy and favors more watchable, clickable, shareable and fundamentally empty manifestations of the culture war — if we can do that, there’s hope that even though the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson will always be an obscenity, it won’t have been entirely in vain. So let’s ignore those in American society who would rather debate the merits of trashing a bodega than the killing of a child, and let’s not listen to those who would use this opportunity to relitigate the civil rights movement, the Rodney King riots or the Trayvon Martin case. Let’s honor the wishes of Michael Brown’s parents and decline to “just make noise” in favor of making “a difference.”
How to define that difference — whether through body cameras on police, constraining the power of prosecutors, mandating that police departments reflect the communities they serve, etc. — is the debate we need to have right now. The culture war can wait.
In July, incoming senator James McGrath became the latest Liberal Party politician to accuse the ABC of bias. “While it continues to represent only inner-city leftist views, and funded by our taxes, it is in danger of losing its social licence to operate.” His most senior colleague, Tony Abbott, told the Australian Financial Review while he was opposition leader that “there is still this left-of-centre ethos in the ABC”. Last year, Cory Bernardi launched an impassioned attack on the national broadcaster in a party-room meeting, reportedly calling it “a taxpayer-funded behemoth that is cannibalising commercial media while spreading a message that ignores the majority views of Australians”.
A belief that the ABC is biased toward the “left” is an article of faith among the right that emerged during and after the Vietnam War and the cultural revolution. Bias is now assumed by a small army of media commentators, including Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine, Janet Albrechtsen, Peter Reith, Gerard Henderson, Alan Jones, Piers Akerman, Greg Sheridan, Sharri Markson, Judith Sloan, Tom Switzer, Paul Kelly, Niki Savva, Nick Cater, etc, etc.
The main problem with the theory that the ABC has a left-wing bias is that it’s not true. None of the neverending stream of independent reviews commissioned by both the ABC and governments from time to time has ever found bias.
And yet, the Right continues to allege bias – and not just in the ABC. News Corp’s flagship tabloid columnist Andrew Bolt, for instance, also finds left-wing bias in the Fairfax press, the universities, the courts, not to mention the Labor Party and the Greens. During the period of the last government he also dismissed as left-wing Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. His list of “leftist columnists in Murdoch’s Australian newspapers” includes Graham Richardson, Laurie Oakes and Malcolm Farr.
To qualify as a “leftist” for Bolt, one must believe at least one of the following heresies: that climate change is happening and man-made; that the Stolen Generations exist; that minorities should be protected from bigotry; that companies should be restricted from selling harmful food products to consumers on the free market; that governments should go into debt during downturns or times of slow growth; that experiences of Indigenous people should be incorporated into the narratives of Australian history; that education should promote critical thought; that governments should support education, health care and public broadcasting out of general revenue; that social security is a vitally important safety net; that taxes should be progressive and redistributive; that prison should be used only rarely; that employees should be entitled to minimum wages and conditions, and penalty rates for long or irregular hours; that drug use should be decriminalised; that fossil fuel-based energy should be replaced by renewable energy sources; that the powers and activities of police, security and intelligence organisations should be kept in check and subject to scrutiny; that most government information should be freely available; that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry; that the power of governments and corporations should be limited and subject to scrutiny; that the rights of people seeking asylum should be protected; that Australia should be a multicultural community. Together, this is broadly the policy platform of the Australian Greens – a political party the right describes as “extreme”.
“Extreme” – or just evidence-based and respectful? Most of the positions in the above paragraph are standard positions based on the best available evidence in respective fields – climate science, history, nutrition science, economics, pedagogy, criminology. Even the idea that governments should invest in preventive health and public education is an uncontroversial conclusion based on economic evidence that governments get a substantial return from investment in these areas – unlike defence, which is often a sunk cost. The above positions on same-sex marriage and asylum seekers and multiculturalism are based on a philosophy of respecting and empathising with people who have come from backgrounds and had experiences different to one’s own.
Labelling these positions “left-wing” is akin to labelling scientific and sociological research as a leftist activity, and compassion and empathy as leftist impulses. This side of the Enlightenment, that’s patently ridiculous.
Not that the ABC or the universities, for instance, can be said to preach these views, or even hold them to the exclusion of all others. What the ABC does, uncommonly among broadcasters in Australia, is allow the space for the discussion of secular and humanist ideas in rational ways. It also allows space for the discussion of non-secular, conservative and dogmatic views, including occasionally socialism and capitalism, though nearly always in a pluralistic framework. The universities do largely the same thing. The Right curiously marginalises itself by calling this kind of pluralism left-wing. Are we to assume the Right wants dogma instead?
The Right in the inappropriately named Liberal Party and its media cheer-squad, however, often take strong positions against the evidence base, and in favour of so-called “conservative” ideas that in practice stigmatise and marginalise people who aren’t causing anybody any harm. Global warming isn’t happening and, if it is, it’s a natural event. The carbon “tax” wasn’t working and it was costing jobs. No Indigenous child was ever stolen for “purely racist” reasons. The responsibility for healthy eating choices rests with individuals, and for children’s choices, with parents. Government budgets should always be in surplus, so downturns should be met with austerity – and Australia’s current budget deficit represents a crisis. We’re spending too much on health and education. Schools should teach children about the achievements of western civilisation, “Judeo-Christian culture”, British settlers and the Australian nation. Welfare recipients are probably bludgers, or “leaners”. Taxes should be regressive and should “reward hard work”. More criminals should go to jail to keep the community safer. Coal should continue to power Australia’s energy needs and its exports. Nobody who has nothing to hide should be worried about more powers for ASIO. Marriage is between a man and a woman.
Many of these positions, when they inform policy, actively cause harm, socially or to the environment. Many ignore lessons of history and research. They’re based on a set of values that are clearly out of step with our best knowledge about human behaviour and the world around us.
* * *
Our values inform our theories of human behaviour and social relations, and our theories in turn become the “frames of reference” we use to understand and analyse other people’s statements or behaviour. If we’re not careful, we can misinterpret another person’s motivations entirely, by applying to them our own frame of reference. Psychologists call this “projection”.
The “Left” that the right complains about – a small, self-interested, influential but out-of-touch and loopy elite that’s engaged in a fierce battle of ideas in the pursuit of weird policy outcomes – doesn’t actually exist. If there’s a group of people that could be described in that way, it’s not “leftists”. It’s the Right.
Those of the Right assume that people who disagree with them are engaged in a similar, explicitly ideological project. Very often, they’re not. Very often, “leftists” are climate scientists, nutritionists, historians, researchers, social workers, teachers, lawyers, humanists. When they intervene in a public debate on the side of the evidence, they often disagree with the Right’s project – and are attacked and/or dismissed as “leftists”.
When Joe Hockey, Gerard Henderson and Judith Sloan establish themselves as unswervingly “pro-business”, they often align themselves with the private interests of corporations – and often against the private interests of employees (in industrial relations disputes), or the public interest in environmental protection, nutritious food and relative social equality. When they establish the maximisation of shareholder returns as the highest value, they see people with different, pro-social values – people for whom the maximisation of shareholder returns has nasty consequences in terms of health and job security – and dismiss them as “left-wing”.
When Andrew Bolt and George Brandis establish themselves as unambiguously in favour of the free expression of bigotry, they align themselves with the private interests of racists, against the private interests of their victims and the public interest in multicultural harmony. When they establish the freedom of bigoted speech as the highest value, they see people with different values and dismiss them as “left-wing”.
The frame of reference the Right uses is self-interest, based on rational choice theory, the theory of human nature that informs economic rationalism. So when the Right sees unions pushing for better pay and conditions for their workers, it sees their activities through the frame of self-interest – and assumes rent-seeking. (The right remains oblivious to, or approving of, the far more prevalent rent-seeking behaviour among corporations.) When the Right is confronted by scientists and governments urging reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, it assumes rent-seeking and goes looking for possible motives. Do the scientists benefit through career advancement? In grant applications?
I’m not suggesting there’s no rent-seeking in unions, that there’s no self-interest in ABC journalists protesting against budget cuts. But the modern Right sees only self-interest through its myopic frame of reference, and dismisses any evidence of alternative values as either deceptive or “extreme”.
* * *
There are senses in which the “Left” can be said to exist, of course. The theory of communist socialism after 1848 and especially 1917 dominated an explicitly left-wing agenda for much of the 20th century, with terrible consequences wherever its proponents took the power of the state. When the modern right complains about “leftists”, it’s as if it’s still fighting the Cold War. But for practical purposes this communist Left doesn’t exist anymore in Australia, and hasn’t for at least 40 years.
There’s an even older Left. The democratic ideas the French commoners propagated in 1789 were “left-wing”, if only because they sat on the left of the Estates General and demanded a National Assembly. “Left” politics came to be associated with the challenge to illegitimate power and privilege.
If this challenge is what the Right objects to when it dismisses scientists, researchers and humanists as “leftists”, then surely that exposes its own project as illegitimate. Surely we’re all democrats now? Even if a pro-democracy, pro-equality attitude could have been described in 1789 (or 1989) as “left-wing”, it’s now being demonstrated – through the work of social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson, among others – that policies that encourage greater levels of equality within societies actually do generate both material and intangible benefits for everyone.
If a Left exists in Australia at all, now, it’s simply as a shorthand description of those who don’t agree with the prescriptions of the modern Right, which seems primarily interested in reversing many of the intellectual and democratic gains of recent decades and centuries and restoring and confining power and privilege to the few rather than the many. To be labelled “left-wing” by the modern Right is probably an endorsement that one’s ideas are sound.
In the end, the Left exists largely in the Right’s own mind – as a straw man onto which to project its delusional and self-interested chatter.
My sprained ankle is recovering nicely, but I’m still taking more frequent breaks than usual to elevate it and keep the swelling down. Naturally that means more TV watching, which is how I ended up viewing a segment on Fox a few minutes ago about President Obama’s declining approval rating on the economy in the latest Gallup poll. Both the fill-in anchor and Fox’s poll analyst claimed to be puzzled: the economy is showing signs of life lately, after all. So how is it possible that Obama’s approval ratings were falling?
The poll analyst had an answer ready: Obamacare. You see, as it becomes ever clearer that Obamacare is a raging disaster, people are assuming that means disaster for the economy as well. They think it means higher taxes, bigger deficits, more inflation, higher copays, etc. etc. etc. And what with all the news about pieces of the law being postponed, clearly the public really is expecting a disaster of biblical proportions.
Perhaps this just sounds like standard Fox News nitwittery? Not at all! Because the two on-air personalities weren’t just shooting the breeze about stuff they had no evidence for. They did have evidence. They had the evidence of the very same Gallup poll they were commenting on in the first place. You see, Gallup actually asked people if they approved of Obama’s healthcare policy. And guess what? It’s pretty much unchanged. If the American public is expecting an epic healthcare meltdown over the next few months, they sure aren’t showing it. And they sure aren’t blaming Obama for it.
This is what sets Fox News apart from the common herd. Aside from Shep Smith, whose bipartisan contempt for idiocy appeals to me, I barely ever watch Fox. I only do it in the mornings if I have to spend some time doing a boring exercise, or elevating my ankle, or something similar that plunks me in front of the TV. But despite the rarity of that happening, practically every segment I ever see produces some kind of obvious boneheaded misdirection that’s worthy of a blog post. Every one. It’s amazing. It’s one thing to blather on in the absence of facts, but it’s quite another to deliberately ignore evidence right in front of your face because it would interfere with whatever agitprop you happen to feel like phoning in. At some point, you’d think it would get embarrassing, especially on what’s supposed to be a straight-news show. But it never does.
Some thoughts about class in Australia
The C word
During a recent interview, a journalist pulled me up for using the c-word.
“Class?” she asked with lifted eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
I found myself chewing the air a moment. Had I said something foul, something embarrassing to both of us? Discussing two of my fictional characters in terms of the social distinctions that separated them, it seemed I’d somehow broached a topic that wasn’t simply awkward, it was provocative. There was a little charge in the atmosphere. I tried not to put it down to the fact that I was talking to an employee of News Corp Australia. The reporter in question is a person of independent mind, and I admire her work, but she is, after all, in the employ of Rupert Murdoch, whose editors and columnists maintain a palace watch on what they like to call “the politics of envy”. A blur of competing thoughts went through my mind. Was she being ironic, or did she really expect me to defend any casual reference to class relations? Was I being paranoid, or was this the kind of clarification necessary in the new cultural dispensation? Did the nation’s drift to the right mean that we all needed to be a lot more careful about our public language, lest we expose ourselves to charges of insufficient revolutionary zeal?
After a mortifying beat or two, I made a clumsy attempt to explain myself, and soon saw that whatever the journalist’s own thoughts were on matters of class, the fact that she’d challenged me on my use of the word meant she’d somehow done her duty. To whom she’d fulfilled this implicit obligation wasn’t immediately clear. Beyond my initial twinge of anxiety I didn’t seriously think she had a proprietor or even an editor in mind when she baulked at the offending word. Afterwards I came to the conclusion that a Fairfax journalist or Radio National presenter might well have posed the same question out of a similar sense of duty. In itself it was, of course, no big thing; it just caught me unawares. All the same, it was a signal of the ways in which something fundamental has changed in our culture. In calling me out over my use of the c-word, the interviewer was merely reflecting the zeitgeist. I should have anticipated it. I’ve been making assumptions about our common outlook that are plainly outdated.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that citizens in contemporary Australia are now implicitly divided into those who bother and those who don’t. It seems poverty and wealth can no longer be attributed – even in part – to social origins; they are apparently manifestations of character. In the space of two decades, with the gap between rich and poor growing wider, Australians have been trained to remain uncharacteristically silent about the origins of social disparity. This inequity is regularly measured and often reported.
In October, John Martin, the OECD’s former director for employment, labour and social affairs, cited figures that estimated 22% of growth in Australia’s household income between 1980 and 2008 went to the richest 1% of the population. The nation’s new prosperity was unevenly spread in those years. To borrow the former Morgan Stanley global equity analyst Gerard Minack’s phrasing about the situation in the United States, “the rising tide did not lift all boats; it floated a few yachts”. And yet there is a curious reluctance to examine the systemic causes of this inequity. The political economist Frank Stilwell has puzzled over what he calls contemporary “beliefs” around social inequality. Australians’ views range, he says, from outright denial of any disparity to Darwinian acceptance. Many now believe “people get what they deserve”, and to my mind such a response is startling and alien. Structural factors have become too awkward to discuss.
As the nation’s former treasurer Wayne Swan learnt in 2012 when he published an essay in this magazine about the disproportionate influence of the nation’s super-rich, anybody reckless enough to declare class a live issue is likely to be met with howls of derision. According to the new mores, any mention of structural social inequality is tantamount to a declaration of class warfare. Concerns about the distribution of wealth, education and health are difficult to raise in a public forum without needing to beat off the ghost of Stalin. The only form of political correctness that the right will tolerate is the careful elision of class from public discourse, and this troubling discretion has become mainstream. It constitutes an ideological triumph for conservatives that even they must marvel at. Having uttered the c-word in polite company, I felt, for a moment, as if I’d shat in the municipal pool.
The nation of my childhood was not classless. The social distinctions were palpable and the subject of constant discussion
Australia’s long tradition of egalitarianism was something people my age learnt about at school. I recall teachers, dowdy folk of indeterminate politics, who spoke of “the fair go” with a reverence they usually only applied to Don Bradman or the myth of Anzac. Australia’s fairness was a source of pride, an article of faith. The nation of my childhood was not classless, however. The social distinctions were palpable and the subject of constant discussion. Where I came from – the raw state-housing suburbs of Perth in the early ’60s – there were definite boundaries and behaviours, many imposed and some internalised. The people I knew identified as working class. Proud and resentful, we were alert to difference, amazed whenever we came upon it. Difference was both provocative and exotic, and one generally cancelled out the negative power of the other. We expressed the casual racism of our time. We played sport with blackfellas but didn’t really socialise. We laughed at the ten-pound Poms with their Coronation Street accents but felt slightly cowed by their stories of great cities and imperial grandeur. The street was full of migrants who’d fled war-ravaged Eastern Europe. Like most of the locals, they worked in factories and on road gangs. They told us kids we were free, and we thought they were telling us something we already knew. As a boy, I believed that Jack was as good as his master. But I understood that Jacks like me always had masters.
I watched my grandfather work until he was in his 70s. Sometimes I carried his Gladstone bag for him. It seemed to signify his dignified position as an ordinary worker who did a decent day’s work for a decent day’s union-won pay. He’d started on the wharves in Geraldton, in Western Australia’s Mid West region, and spent decades as a labourer at the Perth Mint, and though the meekest of men he reserved a sly defiance for his “betters”. He was a union man, but his allegiance was more tribal than ideological. The most memorable thing he ever said to me came when I was 14 or so. Rolling one of his slapdash fags on the verandah of his rented house in sunstruck Belmont, he announced that I should press on with my “eddication”, because “that’s yours for life, and whatever else the bosses can get offa ya, they can’t take what’s there between yer ears”. This was the same man who’d pulled my mother out of school at 15 because there seemed no point in her staying on, the bloke whose sons were sent into apprenticeships without a second thought. Twenty years earlier, his world had been narrower, more constrained, and I’m not sure whether he encouraged me out of regret for curtailing my mother’s dreams or whether he was infected by the new sense of promise that was in the air with the rise of Gough Whitlam.
The summer of that sage moment, all things seemed possible to working people in Australia. It was as if all those Jacks and Jills with masters began to feel a new sense of promise for their children and grandchildren. As an adolescent in this new period of flux, it seemed the frontiers between classes were suddenly more provisional. Some will say class boundaries were always notional, but if they had been as permeable before Whitlam, there was certainly no evidence of it in my family, no sign of it in our street. The lines were fixed. Until the 1970s, young people followed closely in their parents’ footsteps. Not just out of solidarity or emulation, but because to a large extent origin was destiny. The children of tradesfolk became tradesfolk, and the offspring of doctors tended to find themselves in the professions. The Whitlam government didn’t completely bulldoze the walls between classes, but it did knock a few holes in the parapet, and without those liberating gaps my future would have been very different.
Compared to most fields of endeavour, sport and entertainment seem relatively porous in social terms. The arts – which often combine elements of sport and entertainment – are a little like them in this regard, though historically they have always been more class-determined than it’s comfortable to admit. Ask any director at a major theatre company in this country how many of their actors were educated in public schools. They’ll have to have a good hard think. Traditionally the world of letters is similarly class-bound, though it has changed in my decades as a practitioner. In Australia, as elsewhere, it has always been common for members of the gentry to impoverish themselves for the sake of literature, or to at least fall a few pegs into raffish bohemia along the way. Tom Keneally stood out in Australian letters because for a long time he was the most visible exception to the class rule. Hailing from Sydney’s Homebush, a son of working people, Keneally wrote himself, by accident or design, into the bourgeoisie. In his early years, he laboured in the shadow of Patrick White. The great laureate was invariably presented to the world as an oddball, but in truth White’s trajectory embodied the rule. Our purse-lipped Jeremiah was a scion of the squattocracy. His was a life of inherited mobility. He began writing in spats and ended up scowling contentedly in a cardigan and beret, and to that extent he conformed to a pattern very familiar indeed. He was, whether he knew it or not, the norm.
So as a child of the working class who has prospered to a degree unimaginable to my parents and grandparents, and done it in the arts, I am conscious that my own trajectory is atypical. And yet a career like mine is not quite the rarity it would have been a generation ago. My contemporaries Richard Flanagan and Christos Tsiolkas, who also make their living as literary novelists, are but two examples of this slow erosion of the status quo. Both seem to have emerged from what were once termed the lower orders and found themselves – by reason of income and social recognition – in the middle class. I’m not sure how they feel about their new social station, but I am reconciled to mine. In middle age I am conscious of my good fortune and happy to acknowledge that it’s more a manifestation of cultural history than individual talent. My own inheritance was a social tradition. I grew up in a country that codified the dignity of labour, that treasured decency and fairness, where the individual was valued and the collective aspirations of ordinary people were honoured, and I came of age during a social convulsion by which the culture enriched itself in a hectic explosion of hope and innovation. In that sense, I consider myself luckier than any lad born to a fortune in a previous generation.No one in my family spoke about economics; the future was never about money.
I was the first of my family to finish school, the first to complete a tertiary education. Like my younger siblings, I surfed the pent-up force of my parents’ thwarted hopes. They wanted us to have lives that were less subject to the whims of others – the bosses my grandfather spoke of – and they knew that access to education was the key. No one in my family spoke about economics; the future was never about money. What my parents dreamt of was simply a larger, more open existence for their children. Their hopes were rarely expressed in ideological terms. They were not political people and certainly not radicals. Billy Graham inspired them more than the distant and slightly poncy Gough. They urged us to use the gifts we were born with and to refuse to accept the status quo.
We acknowledged class distinctions as facts of life. In high school and university, class was a constant topic of conversation and study. Even at the utopian apogee of my youth I could never have imagined a time when class might be rendered obsolete by history. I certainly never foresaw an age when the very word might hang in the air like something forbidden.
Fifteen years ago, at a book party in London’s Soho, the literary editor of a newspaper, in his cups, suggested I was a bit “chippy”. I was dumbstruck. Even after the fellow was poured into a cab and my amused UK publisher had time to explain the meaning of the term, I remained bewildered. Apparently, at the sort of gentlemen’s club indispensible to British publishing, it was impolite to mention one’s social origins; it made people uncomfortable. Even the most casual, lighthearted reference to class was viewed as “making a song and dance about it”. I was among people who either had been to Oxbridge or were pretending they had. Their accents and manners – even those who’d already begun to speak like Jamie Oliver – were shaped by conceptions of class. As an exotic, I’d had something of a free pass that evening – until I mentioned the c-word. Lesson learnt, I filed that evening’s faux pas under Foreign Customs. Now a similar awkwardness has arisen at home.
In the past few years, some friends have remarked upon my anachronistic class-consciousness. Invariably they’re the children of professionals, graduates of elite schools – all of them lovely, decent people. One, the son of an architect, gave me a blue collar for my 45th birthday. It was funny; I enjoyed the joke, but I wonder what he would’ve had in store had I been a woman and a bit gender-focused, or Aboriginal and a tad race-obsessed.
If I remain preoccupied with class, it’s not because I’m chippy or resentful. I don’t feel embittered or damaged. I have no hard-luck story to tell. But social distinctions still fascinate me. Perhaps, if I try to take the most disinterested view, their apparent demise has rendered them more compelling; their political invisibility makes them more vivid. But I find it hard to see class dispassionately, because within my family it’s still personal and immediate; it’s still a live issue. I feel it grinding away tectonically in the lives of relatives and friends who may not want to talk about class but who are subject to its force every day.It hasn’t been the vanquished workers pressing the language of class warfare into service. It’s the growing middle class
In 2010, when my face appeared on a postage stamp, I had to submit to the good-humoured sledging of relatives at pains to restrain their pride. In my family, teasing is a blood sport and a measure of affection, so I copped it with pleasure. I enjoyed their refusal to seem impressed. Of course, there were lots of jokes about having to lick the back of my head. But at certain moments it was painful to be reminded that some of them could moisten the stamp but not write the letter it was supposed to send on its way. These are the family members who only follow my stories in audio format – not because they’re too busy to be bothered with books but because they are functionally illiterate. Their curtailed educations, which have sorely constrained their adult lives, were not a manifestation of character. They were outcomes of class. When I’m with those of my friends who are privately educated, I can’t help but be mindful, now and then, of those intimate and often shameful family constraints. Prosperous Australians, even those who’ve snuck under the wire like myself, forget so easily that others are still living over-determined lives in another economy altogether. They aren’t all faceless abstractions, either. Many of them are old neighbours, school friends, relatives, and often they live close by, in the same postcode as you.
When I was young, I didn’t know people like me. By which I mean middle class: comfortable, confident, mobile. I never mixed with people from outside my own socio-economic bracket. There was no opportunity. And it seemed there was no need. I didn’t know anyone who went to a private school. The Catholic kids across the street went to the convent, but that was a step down from state school. It wasn’t until I went to the Western Australian Institute of Technology, now Curtin University, that I came into contact with people my age who’d had private educations. If Whitlam hadn’t abolished tertiary education fees in 1974, I doubt I would have made it to university at all. My parents certainly couldn’t have afforded full tuition, and if there were scholarships available to bright young oiks back then we didn’t know about them. Like so many others of my generation, as the first of a family to enter university I was an outrider on a strange and wonderful frontier. All of us were changed as a result. It expanded the curtailed and tribal world of my immediate family – exploded it forever.
“The Uni”, as my parents called it, was a revelation. The campus of the 1970s was a circus. Everywhere you looked there was a performance, an inversion, a spectacle. It was liberating and surreal. Imperious daughters of the gentry experimented with meekness. Rough-knuckled boys slowly came out as gay. Confused by all the costume and panto, some of us began shyly to ask one another about our backgrounds. For many, the schools we’d come from had given us a certain confidence that only applied within tribal boundaries. Even the posh kids were wrong-footed by the new rules. We were all at sea, only revealing ourselves in cautious increments. We looked wistfully to our new teachers as they strolled the corridors with remarkable aplomb. The tenured Marxists in liberal arts courses were not the first bourgeois citizens I ever encountered, but they were the first I spent significant time with. Their self-assurance was epic, marvellous, dizzying. Some of them took modish intellectual positions and had delusional self-hating politics, but what was most intriguing about them was not the choices they made but the fact that they’d had so many choices to make. Range of choice, I discovered, was a key indicator of class. Some choices are conferred by birth, while others have to be won by hard work. A few can only be achieved by legislation.In many instances, the “battles” of Middle Australia are self-imposed. But in recent years they have been valorised and pandered to
I didn’t miss the determined certainties of being working class. Nor did I miss its self-limiting tribalism. But I probably wasn’t prepared for the growing self-interest of the class I gradually joined. For if there’s solidarity at work anywhere in our society these days it’s among the very rich, and the middle class has watched and learnt. Middle Australia is increasingly class-conscious, and it looks to bolster its interests at every turn.
Once the old class-based educational barriers had been down for a decade, Australia seemed to have broadened somewhat. By the 1980s the old working class was harder to identify. Manufacturing was on the wane, but tradespeople began to earn incomes that were once the preserve of the middle class. It was confusing, even upsetting, for some older Australians to learn that a plumber might earn more than a teacher. This was well before the minerals boom that has enabled a bus driver in the Pilbara to pull down the salary of a doctor in Hobart.
Despite all these changes, class never disappeared from cultural consciousness. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the poor and overlooked who resorted to class discourse. The union movement that had once given voice and language to class struggle had been smashed or had imploded. Margaret Thatcher declared there was no such thing as society, and Australian governments gradually internalised that view and appropriated policies that sprang from it. Governments of both major parties oversaw a transition from collective citizenship to consumer individualism that remade our conceptions of taxation, health and education. Federal ministers – Labor and Liberal – who’d been educated in the era of Whitlam promptly pulled the ladder up after themselves. It was pay-as-you-go for my kids. Or graduate in debt. Workers were encouraged to see themselves as contractors, employers as entrepreneurs. Looking back, it seems now like something of a counter-reformation, an ugly regression. But it hasn’t been the vanquished workers pressing the language of class warfare into service. It’s the growing middle class.
The success of Middle Australia hadn’t brought the confidence you’d expect. By the turn of the century, these prospering folk seemed defensive, even a little besieged, and the class basis of much of their social discourse was either unacknowledged or completely unconscious. The boho-bourgeois inner city has long been plagued by smugness, something the suburban middle class might aspire to if only it weren’t so anxious. It takes a deep level of entitlement to be that smug. Middle Australia settled for just being fractious and snooty. Only in the past decade did we begin to hear successful tradespeople being called “cashed-up bogans”. What else could that signify but class anxiety? Very quickly, a large cohort of middle-class people found a means of codifying contempt for those rough-handed interlopers who’d been elevated by the minerals boom into Middle Australia without the benefit of the social conventions and tastes the old middle class was born to. What was the source of all this anxiety? That Jack might leapfrog his masters and give them the finger in passing. That they, Robert Menzies’ “forgotten people”, might be overtaken by the lower orders.
When I was a kid, most people in the suburbs were likely to describe themselves as battlers – code for unpretentious, working-class toilers. Nowadays, largely as a result of the nation’s remarkable prosperity, the social centre has broadened to the degree that “Middle Australia” is normative. People are just as likely to describe themselves as battlers, but their historically large incomes belie the nature of their struggle, which often has more to do with material ambition than any issue of real hardship. In many instances, the “battles” of Middle Australia are self-imposed. But in recent years they have been valorised and pandered to. At no time was this more obvious than during the Howard years, when the term “Howard’s battlers” was deployed as a deliberate attempt to appropriate the power of class language while simultaneously declaring class a dead issue. Once it was rebadged, the middle class that the conservatives had first courted and then ennobled felt increasingly emboldened to expect greater patronage, extra tax cuts, more concessions, a larger slice of the welfare pie. As a result, subsequent governments have been forced to contend with a middle class that has an increasing sense of entitlement to welfare. And these funds were duly disbursed – largely at the expense of the poor, the sick and the unemployed. This, of course, was the real politics of envy at work. John Howard exploited middle-class resentment of the so-called welfare class and pandered to a sense of victimhood in Middle Australia that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard either couldn’t refuse or wouldn’t see. Battlers morphed into “working families” as prospering Australians were taught to minimise their good fortune and expect more state aid. From the subsidisation of private schools to the tax rules favouring the superannuation prospects of the already comfortable, this is the new welfare paradigm. Evidence of it was everywhere before the recent federal election as single mothers were stripped of benefits and middle-class parents who earnt up to $150,000 a year were promised a full wage for six months to stay home and look after their own children.The soundest measure of a person’s social status is mobility. And the chief source of mobility is money
As the Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor Ross Gittins wrote in the lead-up to the September poll, “If you think the class war is over, you’re not paying enough attention.” He said: “The reason the well-off come down so hard on those who use class rhetoric is that they don’t want anyone drawing attention to how the war is going.” To suggest that ours is a classless society or that matters of class are resolved because of national prosperity and the ideological victory of the right is either tin-eared or dishonest. At least the Americans are brutally frank about it. Gittins went on to quote the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who declared: “There’s class warfare alright, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Australia may be dazzlingly prosperous, and keen to project a classless image to itself and others, but it is still socially stratified, even if there are fewer obvious indicators of class distinction than there were 40 years ago. Accent surely isn’t one of them. Postcode can be telling but not conclusive. Even job description can be unreliable. In an era of lax credit regimes, what people wear or drive is misleading, as is the size of the homes they live in. The world of surfaces has never been trickier to read. People have begun to live more ostentatiously, projecting social aspirations that owe more to the entertainment industry than political ideology. The soundest measure of a person’s social status is mobility. And the chief source of mobility is money. Whether you’re born to it or accumulate it, wealth determines a citizen’s choices of education, housing, health care and employment. It will be an indicator of health, of longevity. Money still talks loudest. Even if it often speaks from the corner of its mouth. Even if it covers its mouth entirely. And governments no longer have a taste for the redistribution of wealth. Nor are they keen on intervening to open enclaves and break down barriers to social mobility. Apparently these tasks are the responsibility of the individual.
Where once Australia looked like a pyramid in terms of its social strata, with the working class as its broad base and ballast and the rich at the top, it’s come to resemble something of a misshapen diamond – wide in the middle – and that’s no bad thing in and of itself. I say that, of course, as a member of the emblematically widening middle. The problem is those Australians the middle has left behind without a glance.
At the bottom, of course, there are the poor, who make up almost 13 per cent of Australia’s population. The most visible of them will always be the welfare class: the sick, the addicted, the impaired and the unemployed, who only exist in the public mind as fodder for tabloid TV and the flagellants of brute radio. But if ever there was a truly “forgotten people” in our time it must be the working poor. These folk, the cleaners and carers and hospitality workers, excite no media outrage. They labour in the shadows in increasingly contingent working situations. Described as “casuals”, the only casual element of their existence is the attitude of the entities that employ them. Often on perpetual call or split shifts, their working lives are unstable. Many of them women, a significant proportion of them migrants, they have little bargaining power and low rates of union representation. As Helen Masterman-Smith and Barbara Pocock vividly document in their 2008 study, Living Low Paid, these people work in hospitals, supermarkets and five-star hotels. They mind the children of prosperous professional couples and wash their incontinent parents in care for an hourly rate most middle-class teenage babysitters can afford to turn their noses up at. It is upon these citizens’ low pay and insecurity that the prosperity of safer families is often built.
For these vulnerable Australians, there is little mobility. And precious little of what mobility affords – namely, confidence. The cockiness that irritates the old middle class when they encounter fly-in, fly-out workers with their Holden SS utes and tatts and jetskis is rare among the labouring poor. For years I worked in a residential high-rise where the looks on people’s faces in the lifts and on the walkways ranged from wry resignation to unspeakable entrapment. Single mothers on shrinking benefits, injured workers on disability allowances, middle-aged people stocking supermarket shelves at night. Even the most functional and optimistic of them seemed tired. They were not exhausted from partying, from keeping up with all their dizzying choices; they were worn out from simply hanging on and making do. As an accidental tourist in their lives, I was struck by this weariness. And I felt awkward in their presence. Their faces and voices were completely familiar. They smelt like the people of my boyhood – fags, sugar and the beefy whiff of free-range armpit – but despite the cheerful, non-committal conversations we had on our slow ascents in the lift, I felt a distance that took many months to come to terms with. Like the expatriate whose view of home is largely antique, I was a class traveller who’d become a stranger to his own. For all my connection to family, for all the decades I’d spent in fishing towns among tradespeople and labourers, the working class I knew was no more. My new neighbours were living another life entirely.
The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes about the contrast between the “light, sprightly and volatile” working lives of mobile citizens at the top of society and those who are largely without choice and prospects. Comfortable, confident people, heirs of the new individualism, often view strangers in cohorts below them in astoundingly superficial terms, as if they have adopted a look, chosen an identity as they often do themselves, as if life were a largely sartorial affair. Faced with your own surfeit of choices, it’s easy to assume everyone has so many. The “liquid” elite understands exotic poverty – it rallies to it tearfully – but it often fails to recognise domestic hardship: poverty of choice, poverty born of constraint, the poverty that is working servitude or the bonded shame of unemployment. Despite the angelic appeal of market thinking, there is no gainsaying the correlation between success and certain family backgrounds, geographical locations, ethnicities and schools. Pretending otherwise isn’t simply dishonest, it’s morally corrosive.
The culture that formed me was poorer, flatter and probably fairer than the one I live in today. Class was more visible, less confusing, more honestly defined and clearly understood. And it was something you could discuss without feeling like a heretic. The decency of our society used to be the measure of its success. Such decency rescued many of us from over-determined lives. It was the moral force that eroded barriers between people, opened up pathways previously unimagined. Not only did it enlarge our personal imaginations but it also enhanced our collective experience. The new cultural confidence this reform produced prefigured the material prosperity we currently enjoy. It was government intervention as much as the so-called genius of the market that underpinned our current prosperity, and it amazes me how quickly we’ve let ourselves be persuaded otherwise.
I have no illusions about overcoming class distinctions completely. Nor am I discounting the role that character plays in an individual’s fortunes. But it disturbs me to see governments abandoning those at the bottom while pandering to the appetites of the comfortable. Under such conditions, what chance is there for the working poor to fight their way free to share in the spoils of our common wealth? No one’s talking ideology. There is no insurrection brewing. For many Australian families, a gap in the fence is all the revolution they require. But while business prospers from the increased casualisation of its workforce, and government continues to reward the insatiable middle, the prospects of help for the weakest and decency for all seem dim indeed.
Does Australia really need a national newspaper? Or is its existence just about one man’s pride? The man who helped established The Australian with Rupert Murdoch, Rodney E. Lever, comments.
IN 1911, THE LABOR GOVERNMENT under Andrew Fisher consolidated existing local and State banks into one Commonwealth-owned bank to secure and support the wealth pouring from the gold miners, as well as sheep, cattle and general agriculural farming led by the squattocracy.
In the British mind, Australia was still a colony and the mother country was entitled to a share of Australia’s wealth. When Victoria suffered a major financial crash after feverish home and roads building for a growing population between 1890 to 1901, the British banks felt no obligation.
Ben Chifley became prime minister of Australia at the end of World War II and went to an Imperial postwar conference in London with his Director-General of the Department for Postwar Reconstruction, H. C. (“Nugget”) Coombs, where together they ensured that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia would be able to meet the needs of their own country without future reliance from the exhausted British Empire.
During the period of the Victorian crash, a bankruptcy lawyer named Theodore Fink made a personal fortune from the crash. He found an obscure legal avenue in British law that had been copied word for word into Australian Law and remained there even after Federation. That discovery saved many businessman and some newspaper owners from debtor’s prison. In lieu of payment, Fink took property and land, as well as taking possession of a number of early Victorian newspapers.
Keith Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s father, rose through the company to become a director and, when Fink died in 1942, became chairman.
After his father’s death, Rupert genuinely expected that he would replace Keith as the head of the company, or at least obtain a senior role. He told me about it himself. He said he had been robbed of his inheritance.
He was refused a place on the board. He would have to earn that position first and he was not popular in the company’s executive management. His mother, against Rupert’s wishes, was persuaded to sell Keith’s own Herald and Courier-Mail shares back to the company.
Rupert chose to use what was left of the family’s assets after death duties to establish himself in the publishing business.
One of the Murdoch family assets was the magazine publisher, Southdown Press, in Melbourne, as well as the Adelaide afternoon paper, The News. He continued to use the National Bank to finance his future acquisitions. The chairman of the National Bank, John Getty, had replaced Keith Murdoch as chairman of the Herald and Weekly Times.
Ron Corbett was in charge of the finance at Southdown Press. We often played weekend golf with two senior executives of the CBA and discussed switching our accounts from the National Bank.
The Fairfax family then purchased the Norton papers, including the afternoon Daily Mirror and the three editions of the weekly Truth in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, before virtually handing them over to Rupert so that he would then be satisfied.
When Rupert completed his purchase of the Truth group, he made me the manager for the incipient, yet still unnamed, national newspaper.
The first serious plans for the new national paper began in Melbourne, in a rented building conveniently across the road from Truth. There was no lift. Visitors had to climb a staircase up three levels to the very top offices occupied by a small staff of salesmen, hoping to raise support by securing early advertising contracts.
Keith Barrow, the Adelaide News’ advertising manager, had a heart problem and died tragically soon after coming to Melbourne. Rupert was bounding up those stairs one day and saw Keith struggling.
Rupert told Keith’s deputy:
“Keith’s too fucking old. Tell him to go home.”
Keith came to see me and cried. I gave him a cup of tea and my best advice.
His deputy came to me also in tears, asking:
“What should I do?”
Keith died one week later.
He had worked for The News all his life.
I was required to fly to Canberra every Monday morning for what was loosely described as a “conference”. More accurately it was a “free for all.” The growing number of would-be journalists and executives were all pushing their own often impractical ideas.
Rupert asked me what “column rules” were. Someone had urged column rules and someone else was demanding no column rules. It was that silly!
I wrote an article for Crikey some years ago describing how journalists and would-be editors had flocked to Rupert’s door wanting to be part Australia’s new national newspaper.
Some practical issues bothered me. Not least of them was how papers printed in Canberra could be distributed all over Australia seven days a week. The more I thought about it, the more impossible it seemed.
Anybody who has lived in Canberra for some time would know of its notorious and unpredictable winter weather. Interstate and international planes were often locked in by heavy cloud, particularly early in the day.
Rupert said he would use private charter planes. But charter planes and passenger planes were frequently locked on the ground sometimes until lunchtime. Canberra’s winter weather is notorious for heavy fogs that last for hours. Private charter planes faced the same control tower restrictions as commercial passenger planes.
Thousands of freshly printed copies of the new paper sat nearly all day until it was too late to send them. They went to the tip instead. Reliability and regularity are essential for regular newspaper readers.
When I was a night-shift copy boy at the Daily Telegraph, earning twenty five shillings a week, I would nearly always be too late to catch the Manly ferry home.
Sometimes I slept on a couch in the Women’s Weekly offices on the top floor. Other times, I would hitch a ride on one of the trucks that delivered the papers to newsagents on the beaches from Manly to Palm Beach.
I made friends with the Manly driver and we had a deal that I could ride on the back of his truck and throw off the marked bundles at each of the newsagents. It saved the Manly driver time and got me home before dawn.
I would jump off at the Corso and he would go further north. I had a one-and-a half-mile walk up a steep hill to reach Bower Street.
I told Rupert that he had serious problems getting The Australian distributed if they arrived late. The agents already did two runs for home deliveries every day. They’d never do a third run.
“Crap.” he said. “They’ll have to do another.”
There was nothing in the agent’s contract that required three daily deliveries.
Agents have rights, too. They would deliver The Australian with the afternoon paper, effectively a day late with the yesterday’s news. Customers were soon cancelling The Australian in droves, refusing to pay the agents.
Rodney E. Lever generously gifted Independent Australia with the first (incredibly rare) dummy edition and number one edition (above) newpaper pulled off their respective print runs.
After a dummy edition was produced on July 14, 1964, the first public edition of The Australian paper was distributed the next day.
“A clean and handsome thing,” wrote Keith Inglis in Nation magazine after, 1964. It was the only really good thing one could find to say about a paper that led its front page with an hysterical beatup threatening the collapse of the Federal coalition. It didn’t happen then and it hasn’t happened since.
In Canberra, I met Solly Chandler, who had retired from Fleet Street after a long stint as deputy to the legendary Arthur Christiansen, editor of Max Aitken’s Daily Express for 24 years, and the man who revolutionised newspaper layout and set new standards that the rest of Fleet Street eagerly copied.
Hank Bateson of the Sydney Mirror was The Australian‘s editorial manager in 1964. A level-headed veteran of the Norton group, Hank was enthusiastic for Solly to be editor. Others argued that the editor of the new national daily had to be someone born in Australia.
In the end, Rupert chose an economics graduate with disputed journalistic abilities. It was the first and worst mistake he made, the forerunner of many more. None of Rupert’s papers have had so much pressure put on the staff than The Australian. The level of internal disputation, the on-the-spot sacking of a range of great editors and journalists were all signs it would never last.
It beggars the use of the word “if.”
In the aftermath, just about everybody wished for Solly Chandler, an all-round newspaperman; an editor and writer as well as a creative technician. He had a puckish sense of humour and a gift for attracting bucket-loads of readership, whether he was running a racy tabloid or a sober politicised broadsheet.
Rupert had hired Solly to be the editor of The Australian. On one of my early visits to Canberra, he told me the sad story of how the whole concept had turned into disarray and calamity. In the frenzy of personal ambition that surrounded Rupert at that time, he was run over by the pack.
Solly was a quiet, modest man of few words, but a mercilessly ruthless editor ‒ he never sacked people, he “strangled” them ‒ and he demanded the best.
When Solly came to Melbourne to edit Truth, he and I became close friends, attending race meetings, dog tracks and hobnobbing with some of the more powerful personalities and politicians. He had a way of making friends and influencing people, and picking up odd conversations that he turned into a story.
He would hang out with state premiers, federal politicians, senior public servants and some of Victoria’s worst criminals. At first, he was working close to 24 hours a day, sleeping in the office, and writing most of the paper himself, leaving only the racing editor, Ron Taylor and Molly O’Connell — Truth‘s jealous guardian of the paper’s archives and an incredible source of information.
Everybody else, he strangled.
Truth began to attract a team of brilliant young journalists, most of who are still alive and working elsewhere. At the end of his first year, Solly had doubled the circulation, then trebled it.
Solly’s wife Wynn was a joyful personality. When my wife, Pam, gave birth to a daughter, Wynn came to our house and stayed for several weeks. She looked after all our young children, bathing them, putting them to bed, reading them stories, giving Pam the break she badly needed, since I had long hours at work.
Solly Chandler (right) and Hank Bateson looking at a page one proof with Murdoch on 15 July 1964. (Image via Inside Story)
I wrote a story myself for Truth and it splashed the front page. The Hollywood movie star Judy Garland came to sing to a huge Melbourne audience in the old John Wren wrestling stadium, as did other stars from time to time, including Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope.
Judy Garland was an hour and a half late that night and so inebriated when she finally arrived that she could barely squark the words of her traditional musical triumphs. It was a Thursday night and a tragic experience that brought tears to the eyes of the thousand or so people who had waited for her. I was sorry for her but I had to go back to the Truth office and write a story, without being too cruel.
In Truth, Solly had captured the spirit of John Norton. It was too much for Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. When Rupert closed Melbourne Truth, it was because his mother was embarrassed. Unwittingly, Solly had stepped into an area that shook the good and not-so-good citizens of Toorak, her friends and her charity contributors. It was as simple as that. Ultimately, Rupert closed Truth in Sydney and Brisbane. The era of the wild men was over.
Solly went to Sydney seeking another job. I was in Darwin then. He wrote me a long private and personal letter. I didn’t even have time to reply. Solly died just a day or two later while among friends at the Hotel Australia. He suddenly collapsed on the floor and was dead. He loved to sip a good brandy, but I never ever saw him drunk. It was too late for me to write back.
Solly had attributes that could have made The Australian a great newspaper. He was not just a tabloid man, or a Truth man. He was a newspaper giant who understood that elegant design, good concise writing, a sense of humour and intelligent and substantial content all need to work together to make a newspaper successful.
The Australian today shows no sign of ever being able to reach a peak of excellence comparable with Brian Penton’s wartime Telegraph or The Age in E G Perkins’ short seven years as editor or Ted Bray’s Courier-Mail.
It falls well short of Melbourne’s Herald and The Sun in the days when Rupert’s father worked for Theodor Fink (the true founder of the Herald and Weekly Times and its chairman for 40 years, but now the invisible man in the company history).
Keith Murdoch learned his craft as a reporter in the streets and suburbs of Melbourne, not at Oxford University where Rupert learned nothing. He has been criticised for his leanings in politics, but Keith is still a significant memory, as well as having formed the crucial partnership between the famous Reuters news service and AAP, he was a genuine, if often controversial, newspaperman.
His personal papers in the archives of the National Gallery in Canberra have revealed more of his character than any of the books he inspired. Childhood speech difficulties made it easier for him to write than talk. Many of the notes he wrote to members of his staff exist in his personal papers.
To his editorial staff:
‘No cheap or sloppy thought should find expression in our papers. We should always leave the reader feeling he has been reading a wholesome, fragrant newspaper, fearless in tone but appreciative of all that is good.’
To a reporter:
‘The general public is censorious, suspicious, and self-opinionated. We should always remember this. The reader does not always believe everything we say.’
To one editor:
‘Flaring headlines over flimsy matter simply nauseates readers.’
How true. How true indeed.