Monthly Archives: January 2013

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.

Loungeroom scientists

Another day, another bunch of “sceptic” letters published in The Australian to the exclusion of any mainstream scientific opinion. It is hard to decide which is more fatuous: the loungeroom scientists who reckon it’s the moon or the mud that is making the seas rise, or the stolid types who “do not understand what all the fuss is about” because they can’t see any difference at their local beach.

How does this fit with The Australian’s purported aim of “creating a climate for people to reach informed conclusions”?

Universal suffrage and plastic bags

Nick Cater (The Australian, “Victory of the bagmen: a new temperance crusade”, 16/1) is correct: the banning of plastic bags is not up there with “the emancipation of women, the abolition of child labour or the end of the White Australia policy” as a great progressive victory. Neither was the banning of DTD, CFCs, lead petrol, or a myriad other tiny improvements.

The problem is not that some reforms were small, nor even that not all were equally effective. The problem is certainly not the irrelevant “moral vanity” of which Cater accuses the reformers. The real problem is that conservatives and vested interests have fought all these reforms, big and small, effective and ineffective, from universal suffrage to plastic bags, every step of the way.

One thing is certain: the conservative approach, articulated by Cater as waiting for problems to “eventually ban themselves”, has never worked.


If it is true that “at The Australian, we believe the public are entitled to all the available information and a range of expert views — creating a climate for people to reach informed conclusions”, (Editorial, 17/1) why are most of their published opinion pieces sceptical of AGW, when informed opinion is overwhelmingly of the opposite view?