Abandon pride

Sharryn Wightley (The Australian, 30/3) is among several letter-writers who object to formal apologies to groups harmed by national policies because they were, as she puts it, “part of the times and had nothing to do with me”. Fair enough, but to be consistent she must also abandon any pride in national achievements she was not personally involved in.

Respect for Orwell

Terry McCrann (“1984, The sequel”, Herald-Sun, 26/3) invokes George Orwell to bolster his criticism of our ill-starred but nonetheless democratically elected government. This is a disservice to the memory of Orwell, a lifelong Leftist and class warrior who, if alive today, would favour Labor over the Coalition, and the Greens over both. In particular, Orwell would have supported the ownership restrictions in Labor’s failed media bill. One of his pet hates was newspaper magnates using their mastheads to peddle anti-Left propaganda such as McCrann’s.

Morrison’s blunder

The Australian’s editorial “All compassion, no solutions” (5/3) and Chris Kenny’s follow-up piece “Racism rant won’t wash with the public” (9/3) both attempt to apologise for Scott Morrison’s recent grubby dog-whistling, with misleading claims that “issues of identity, security and refugee status remain” for asylum seekers released into the community. In fact, normal identity, health and security checks are always done before moving people into community detention; any found to be a security risk are not released. 

Morrison’s latest blunder has little to do with community policing, and even less with immigration, “border protection” or deaths at sea. “Behavioural protocols” and “tracking” for asylum-seekers, among other “commonsense” proposals conveniently omitted from Kenny’s list, trample democratic principles – including equality before the law, which applies regardless of residency status.

Kenny denies any racial element in Morrison’s position. But can anyone recall such radical suggestions during the influx of white refugees from the Balkan wars?

Kenny may regard these concerns as “moral posturing”, but even Morrison’s colleagues share them, and several have already wisely distanced themselves from his remarks. Kenny should do the same.

Unions passé in Fiji

A recent slew of opinion pieces in The Australian declares that union involvement in politics is somehow inappropriate or even passé; but be careful what you wish for. History shows what happens when such notions have free rein, from the Polish Communists’ failed suppression of the Solidarity movement, to the recent edicts of Fiji’s military dictators.

Labour rights are inherently political. Despite decades of legislation aimed at fragmenting and disempowering the workforce, unions remain a mass movement founded on freedom of association. Attempts to stifle the natural political expression of this fundamental right are anti-democratic.

Long may we change

Scott Morrison’s view (“Advance the bold idea of diversity”, 25/1) that “cultural tolerance is not a license for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values…of Australia” overlooks the fact that our fiercely defended “freedom to offend” cuts both ways.

He further states “respect for diversity does not provide license for closed communities”, forgetting that freedom of association is an important plank of our democracy. Accordingly, there are already many non-migrant closed communities in this country, many of them Christian. Does he propose to outlaw them all, or only migrant groups?

Morrison’s view of immigration as on condition that “people have come to join us, not change us” jars with history. Immigration has already transformed Australia from the dull, smug, parochial monoculture I recall from my childhood, to the vivacious global citizen it is now. This was not achieved by social engineering, by telling people they must live according to some imposed template of Australian-ness. People came with their new ways, the old and new blended and adapted to each other or not as they chose, and our contemporary multi-culture was formed naturally. Long may we change.

Creativity not new

Donald Richardson’s point that the arts do not generally fund themselves is well taken (The Australian, Letters, 23/1), but his dismissal of creativity as “a concept bandied about in the arts these days” is inaccurate. The first modern artistic application of the term was to 17th century poetry, and by the 19th it was commonplace across all the arts. In the 20th, it transferred to other disciplines as well.

Creativity is not merely to “act divergently”, but to solve novel problems using divergent thinking. Richardson points out that some crimes may fit this description, but that does not make them any less creative!

Richardson labels creativity as “pop psychology” because “no one has identified any mental or physical capacity responsible” for it. Even if this were true, it would remain a valid heuristic term, just like resourcefulness, empathy, ambition, or any other well-understood qualities that doubtless reflect poorly-understood brain functions. But in fact it has been the subject of a great deal of fruitful scientific research as early as the 1950s, intensifying over the last decade as its value in many fields of human endeavour comes to be recognised.

Fringe view a distant second

N. Ford (The Australian, Talking Point, 22/1) counts three sources of information on climate change: mainstream science (which Ford provocatively calls “green”), the dissenting minority (mislabelled “sceptic”, as if all scientists were not), and “green propaganda”. But oddly, Ford omits the obvious fourth source, which is the politically-motivated anti-AGW publicity which floods the blogosphere, talkback radio and the opinion pages of The Australian. Only the two scientific sources are relevant to the debate; of those, the fringe view comes a distant second.

A balance that follows the weight of evidence

Don Aitkin (“Someone please tell the ABC it’s not all doom and gloom out here”, 19/1) is eminent in a number of fields, but nonetheless has a peculiar view of what constitutes media bias.

Aitkin points out that the values held by ABC journalists as a whole differ from the mainstream. But in this they are no different from the rest of the media or many other specialised fields. This does not imply bias. Nor, to use Aitkin’s example, does the use of the neutral description “asylum seeker” instead of the loaded epithet “boat people”, however popular that term may be on the street. That’s just good journalism.

The ABC’s charter does not require it to take some kind of survey of the beliefs of the average Australian and use that in place of editorial judgement. If the public already knew everything, they wouldn’t need the media at all.

As for AGW, the ABC is in fact following its charter to the letter by giving due emphasis to both the mainstream scientific view and the fringe “sceptic” opinion favoured by Aitkin, but as its own policies dictate: in proportion to “a balance that follows the weight of evidence”.

Ignoring the mainstream

I could not agree more with Chris Kenny (“Alarmism and carbon tax carping provide no climate for debate”, The Australian, 19/1) that the standard of public debate on climate change needs to be improved. A good start would be the inclusion of the views of mainstream climate scientists in the opinion pages of The Australian.

Instead, we find an unending stream of opinion pieces by non-scientist “sceptics”, armchair climatologist letter-writers who don’t reckon it’s any hotter round their place, and a handful of actual scientists cherry-picked for their fringe view that AGW does not pose a threat.

Worse, we recently saw a paper in the Journal of Climate misrepresented by The Australian as suggesting no link between sea levels and AGW, forcing a retraction to be published.

If Kenny really believes that “it seems healthier to have an informed discussion” and that “voters must be credited with the intelligence to deal with the facts”, then instead of criticising the ABC as “compliant” for giving due emphasis to the mainstream view, he should be asking why his own newspaper is virtually ignoring it.

Tudge’s goad

No doubt there is some truth in Alan Tudge’s claim (The Australian, 18/1) that for some, unemployment is a matter of “outlook and personal choice”. But his focus on this marginal phenomenon panders to the prejudice that this entirely explains unemployment and the attendant poverty.

The simple fact is there are more jobseekers than jobs. Even if every “dole bludger” could be drafted into vacant jobs, many would still be unemployed. Further, the obligations that must already be met to receive benefits are similar to what Tudge proposes, with the fortunate exception that they do not yet include forceful relocation away from family and community.

The current full dole plus rent assistance is substantially less than the average metropolitan rent, inevitably leading to debt and despair. It is pointless cruelty to maintain this situation as an “incentive” – actually a goad – to which no response is possible.