Monthly Archives: May 2011

Flexible or fuedal

Judith Sloane (The Australian, 31/5) makes much use of the term “flexible”, which in the free-market lexicon is Orwellian code for “employer calls the shots”, because in practice a negotiation between individual workers and their employer is going to be very one-sided. Sloane describes this as “modern”, but “feudal” would be more descriptive.

It is for this very reason that workers form into unions, who are then in a position to negotiate on a more equal footing. And rather than fight the same battles over and over, both sides agree to set down awards. If awards were abolished altogether as Sloane wishes, the only way to stop them re-emerging would be to introduce undemocratic anti-union legislation. This is far too high a price for “flexibility”.

Clearly it has been a long time since Sloane has worked for anyone else, if she really believes the labour market has become more inflexible. What is actually happening out here is very different: permanent jobs are disappearing and being replaced by casual jobs, casual jobs in turn are being turned into phoney contractor arrangements so employers can sidestep their obligations, and dump their entrepreneurial risk onto their employees’ laps.

Howard’s pets

Chris Kenny tells of the “frustrations” of ABC Board members in trying to control the ABC’s content (“Whose ABC?”, The Australian, 28/5).

His only named source is Ron Brunton, a right-wing think-tanker appointed by Howard, whom Kenny describes only as an “anthropologist”, as if that earned him his seat. And could it be that Kenny’s other Board sources are “speaking anonymously” because they are Howard’s other pets, Keith Windschuttle and Janet Albrechtsen?

Whoever they are, none of them seems to understand that the Board is not there to meddle in content or do the bidding of whichever political party appointed them.

The troubles

Greg Sheridan’s brief history of the Irish conflict (“Ireland helps to heal wounds”, The Australian, 28/5) reminds us how religion can become interwoven into what were originally territorial clashes.

The first waves of English incursion into Ireland pre-date Protestantism by some centuries. It was only many generations later, when the descendants of the invaders were mingled with the original population, that “the troubles” became focussed on religion, which served as a badge of allegiance.

We see this pattern elsewhere: below the surface of religious hatreds, we find a history of territorial war or oppression. Where there is no such history, religions can coexist peacefully.

The Irish example is both a template for resolving such conflicts, and a salient warning against the religious intolerance which has lately been fed by the so-called “war on terror”, and has found hiding places among anti-immigration lobbies and fundamentalist groups alike.

Reclaim for whom?

The Australian’s editorialists seem to believe that as a privately-owned newspaper, it is exempt from the standards of impartiality that it accuses the ABC of breaching (“Leadership is needed to reclaim taxpayers’ ABC”, 27/5).

Their anti-ABC crusade is one of many, openly run in The Australian’s opinion pages by a commentariat hand-picked for their conservative views. On the other hand, the mildly progressive overall tone of opinion at the ABC is reflective not of some imaginary “coterie”, but of the general views of journalists worldwide and throughout recent history; that is, when they are hired without favour and their work is not filtered through the lens of their bosses’ idea of what is “mainstream”, rather than what is news.

If what is meant by “leadership” is top-down dictating of political content, politically-selective hiring, or perhaps even a return to Howard-style direct appointment of pet board members: well, maybe that’s how things work at News Limited, but not at my ABC.


Nick Dyrenfurth has a point: in their focus on Western hypocrisy, some on the Left appear uncritical of Islamic extremists (“Nihilist Left brings progressives into disrepute”, The Australian, 10/5 ). But he overreaches wildly by alleging that they “believe that Western-style democracy is in fact the real enemy” and “see no tangible difference between a theocracy and a democracy”.

Tellingly, Dyrenfurth misreads Guy Rundle by claiming he “downplayed” 9/11 in saying it “was no worse than a B-52 run over Vietnam” – on the contrary, Rundle’s point was that bombing innocent civilians is always an atrocity, whoever commits it, and even if its victims are not American.

Seeming to possess inside knowledge denied the rest of us, Dyrenfurth asserts the “impossibility of capturing or trying bin Laden”, but Geoffrey Robertson’s regret that this did not happen does not make a “nihilist”, but in fact shows an unshakeable adherence to the very values he is accused of lacking.

It is often the Left’s thankless duty to remind us to live by our own values, regardless of extremity.

Sheridan fails

A test of the fairness of an assertion about a group of people is to ask if it would be defamatory if made about a named individual member of the group. The Australian’s Greg Sheridan’s persistent use of the inflammatory term “illegal immigrant” for asylum seekers fails this test, is untrue in law, and can only be motivated by a desire to distort the truth.


The Australian rightly advises the media to “avoid applying a moral handbrake on issues that run counter to their world view” (“Sound of one hand tweeting”, 9/5), but ignores its own advice by devoting yet more editorial space to its drawn-out crucifixion of Larissa Behrendt over a tweet, while continuing to ignore the Bolt racial defamation case for which she is more legitimately noteworthy.

Hoary epithets

Cassandra Wilkinson demonstrates the inadequacy of one-dimensional Left vs Right political discourse in “Dark days for libertarians” (The Australian, 9/5).

These words once formed a clear polarity: god, king and empire on the one hand and liberty, fraternity and equality on the other. Today, self-styled conservatives mix traditional social values with decidedly radical economic and political ones, commandeering liberty (at least that of money to move around) and leaving equality and fraternity to the Left, who are bewildered to find themselves branded authoritarian.

Wilkinson is concerned with terms such as “progressive” and “liberal”, which have become uninformative: who now would oppose progress or liberty? But progress toward what? In particular, “liberal” is ambiguous: does it express opposition to heavy government, or is it a synonym for the progressive penchant for social change and government intervention?

Wilkinson reminds us that the political landscape is defined by specifically-stated goals and values, rather than by hoary epithets which have lost their meaning.


Greg Sheridan continues to make no sense on refugees (“PM is dodging hard decision on refugees”, The Australian, 7/5). He claims that the Howard policies deterred refugees by not guaranteeing residency, but under all past and present regimes, including Howard’s, the vast majority of applicants were granted asylum on their merits.

Sheridan is well aware that seeking asylum is not “illegal immigration”, and his continued use of the term is vexatious and inflammatory.