28 June 2007

Harping, madness and decline

Miranda Devine has long been a hack columnist but in this article we come up against the limits of political classifications. Is she a rightwinger just because she is sticking up for a Liberal government, or is she a leftie because she's cheering on the lavishing of state funds and resources on a cause that makes her heart bleed?

First of all: everyone and anyone who criticises the Howard government is mad. Sticking up for child molestors and Malcolm Fraser. Mad, mad, mad. Now I'm going to criticise Miranda Devine, and despite the fact that I hate child molesters more than Miranda does, her only defence is that I'm in league with them as well. That makes me mad.
the Federal Government's rescue plan for abused and neglected children in the Northern Territory.

What plan? There was an announcement. The announcement proposed to medically examine children, which in the absence of parental consent is criminal assault. There is, as I pointed out earlier, no "rescue" nor any other longterm solution proposed or funded by the government.

This whole policy is an example of a government wishing to get credit for doing something without actually doing it. Someone with the "objectivity" Miranda derides others for not having would have picked that. Miranda Devine is paid to be a member of the "chattering classes" (or the "harping classes", as she puts it), every bit as much as David Marr, Piers Akerman, Kenneth Davidson, Gerard Joseph Henderson, Adele Horan or Tim Blair. I'm an amateur, I'm doing this for free and drawing my income from other things, yet in her methodology and her attitude Devine is every bit as amateurish as me. Nobody thinks she has objectivity, nor that she would know it if she saw it; therefore it is silly for her to write, and for the SMH to publish, that the lack of objectivity in others is somehow deplorable.
The former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who has made an art form of attacking John Howard

This is rich! Howard defined himself by bagging Fraser and his government at ervery possible opportunity and would not be where he is today without having done this. Yet, when Fraser dishes it back it's an "attack". To his credit, Howard doesn't lash out at Fraser publicly and those who profess to admire Howard should do the same.
But rather than criticising Howard for doing nothing about Aboriginal dysfunction for 10 years, he should apologise for his part in creating the problem. As Helen Hughes points out in her new book Lands of Shame, the Whitlam and Fraser governments entrenched apartheid in remote communities - in the utopian belief that Aborigines would live an idyllic hunter-gatherer life unsullied by mainstream Australia.

Why does Howard deserve no criticism whatsoever for doing nothing for ten years, only to come in heavy-handed all of a sudden?

Apartheid was a system of government which allocated black people to reserves and prevented them from leaving without official permission. The Land Rights Act and other legislation establishes Aboriginal control over traditional lands not privately owned. When Miranda talks about "apartheid", I don't know what she's talking about and neither does she. I doubt that Dr Hughes made the case for "apartheid".

Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister from 1975 to 1983, and it's no surprise that his thinking on Aboriginal issues reflects the thinking of the late 1970s/early 1980s. John Howard was a minister throughout the full term of the Fraser government and has been Prime Minister since 1996, yet there is no evidence whatsoever that his thinking has been informed by any developments in policy concerning Aborigines since the 1950s. It's the one area of policy where it is absolutely fair to accuse Howard of being a throwback. Fraser didn't deny responsibility for his actions then and he's made it abundantly clear over some time that he's moved on. Howard can fairly be accused of neglect of this issue. Devine has tried to put it back on Fraser, but it has boomeranged.
It's a sign of how the debate has moved on that Fraser's comments, after an initial flurry of attention on Monday morning, sank without a trace. Not a word on ABC TV's 7pm news, or The 7.30 Report, or Lateline

As though one network - the ABC no less! - defines "the debate". As though there can be no debate outside the media. As though the words of a former Prime Minister have no weight.

Fraser has built a substantial presence among people interested in Aboriginal policy. This presence mystefies those whose only knowledge of politics - and Liberal politics - is within the Howard government. Howard has been PM for longer than Fraser, and the Liberal Party - indeed, the country - bears the imprint of Howard more visibly than that of Fraser. If Fraser was so irrelevant, why is he so reviled?
How can you combat intelligent people who have deliberately chosen to misconstrue the Government's intentions and have fallen into hysterical arguments about a "land grab" and "invasive" medical checks?

Why have the restrictions on access and use of land been removed then? I'm not a doctor but neither is Miranda, and neither of us know how one can conduct a medical examination for sexual abuse that isn't invasive.
Do the critics, who profess to care about Aborigines, realise the damage they cause by willing the project to disaster?

The alternative to this announcement is not disaster, the alternative is a better thought-out, comprehensive policy based on consultation and understanding and, yes, backed by a whole lot of funding where necessary. Failure to plan is planning to fail, whether it's in this area of policy or anything else. It's the whole now-or-never tone that creates the impression that this really is a political stunt after all, and no denial will shift that.
The troublemakers spreading unsubstantiated rumours about women and children "fleeing into the sandhills" for fear of another stolen generation are risking wrecking the entire project

I had expected stolen generation to be in quotation marks. Nonetheless, it's not clear what sort of substantiation would satisfy Miranda, or how the mere reporting of a social phenomenon makes you a "troublemaker". Maybe she should work for a newspaper which hires reporters who get accused of being "troublemakers" just for doing their jobs.

Still less is it clear how standard Devine targets like the federal leader of the ALP or a visiting professor from New York suddenly become statesmen when they agree with her.

You can rise above your status as a hack by thinking: if [insert name of last leader from the other party] did this, how would I feel about it? Miranda can't do this, and she thinks the only "debate" that matters is the one rattling around the MSM. When you understand how lame the presence of stale thinkers is, and how easily a Columnist can be brought down by a bit of careful reading, you can understand why the MSM is in decline. She's a lazy thinker, and so long as the SMH are lazy to publish her they need not complain about non-lazy readers being too busy to buy their paper.

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