November 16th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Terrorism and our population policy

VICTORIA: Bracks launches shock bid for second term

AGRICULTURE: Sugar collapse will hit Queensland economy

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Defence chickens come home to roost

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Vanity, all is vanity / That was the town that was

QUEENSLAND: ALP browns off its rank-and-file

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Electricity: half-way to privatisation?

COMMENT: Another Pink Ribbon Day

LETTERS: Vietnam commitment (letter)

LETTERS: Democrats (letter)

Senate report on Embryo Research Bill analysed

COMMENT: Universities in 2002: what would Newman think?

ECONOMICS: Can capitalism be rescued?

COMMENT: Lack of respect for early human life must be addressed

COMMENT: Australians - better people than we know

Books promotion page

Vanity, all is vanity / That was the town that was

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, November 16, 2002
Vanity, all is vanity ...

By now, just about everyone must have caught up with the seemingly endless and totally undignified public brawling among the Coles Myer directors - viz two named Lew and Leibler against the other eight directors. The eight want Lew to step down. He was in fact previously obliged to step down from the Chair, as a result of an inquiry into the horror stretch which was Coles Myer. Not all of the findings are public knowledge, even now. But ... he is back again.

Now one wouldn't normally bother about these familiar corporate tournaments of greed, vanity and power-mania - it being called "Life in the Fast Lane" - unless one were an harassed stakeholder, but Lew and the Herald Sun won't leave us alone. The eight directors have been called the "Gang of Eight" for starters - what does that make Lew and Leibler?

Sol has taken out full page newspaper advertisements, television and radio ads, and mailouts to shareholders. The Australian Financial Review also reports a "Barmy Army" of British backpackers in a Sydney call centre "trawling through Coles Myer's share register and polling the 560,000 shareholders as to how they would vote at this month's company elections".

The overall operation is costed by the AFR as running at $10 million, and I can't remember such a crude and sustained attack on some board members by other board members and outside friends.

Nor can I remember the day-in, day-out touting for Lew by the Herald Sun with at least two articles per day by hitherto respected staff writers. Nor the refusal to cede any credit, any plausibility to the majority on the board. No, they are the "Gang of Eight". End of story.

Channel Nine is backing up the Lew camp as it did Lew and Fox in their Ansett Barbarossa.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Press Council aren't interested. Should they be?

Well ... Coles Myer disposes of over $100 million per annum in advertising, mainly newspapers and television. That in Victoria is placed with the Herald Sun and Channel Nine in particular. In passing, I remember as a boy hearing The Herald called the "Myer's Supplement".

In a media market experiencing a drastic loss in overall advertising revenue, Coles Myer, departed as it has from former glories, is still very powerful. And politicians and regulators know this.

These provincial manoeuvrings and rustic hacking and gouging belong to an earlier era. And so do such actors. This is not 1983, and the America's Cup false dawn; nor the feast of St Tammany. But as another Solomon said: "Vanity! All is vanity."

That was the town that was

Mischa Merz would have delighted many readers of Herald Sun with her recent piece, "An inner city search for a missing soul". She was writing about Melbourne, the first city of so many of us, asking what happened to it, and did what happened have to happen?

How did an "urban inferiority complex that has put retail trade and high rise development at the top of the list of cultural must-haves" appear, she asks.

The answer, surely, would be greed. The huckster always has to make people dissatisfied with whatever they have, whether it be their existing car, their fridge which will last for another 20 years, their house and garden, instead of a trendy inner city apartment the size of a matchbox, or ... a graceful low-rise city that Melbourne was. No - it should be more like New York or Chicago. Well - it isn't, is it? But as Mischa Merz says, it is no longer the Melbourne we knew - not very long ago, as a graceful, laid-back and peaceful place.

But the aim of developers and retail tycoons, encouraged, as she says, "by Government and the Council [seeing] profit in the promise of making Melbourne look like anywhere else in the world; anywhere and nowhere - that is" was fulfilled.

She has much more splendid stuff - home truths - like this, so read her for yourself.

But if it is asked, why so many of the new buildings, "features" and refurbishings of previously beautiful buildings are so off-putting, so ugly, well ... greed is an ugly emotion; greedy people are ugly people; and one would expect them to produce ugliness.

But it hasn't stopped with the despoliation of the CBD. In the great sprawling suburbs, which is where most Melburnians must live, one only hears whispers of the Spring Street hype which Kennett and now Bracks churn out about the CBD and making Melbourne beautiful. Any suburban big ticket items are directed to electorates of strategic political significance. Otherwise, the media, the Spring Street Parties, and the Builders/Trades Hall complex are not interested.

We surburbanites are left to the tender mercies of Councils which are battlegrounds for estate agents, supermarkets, the pokies and local service unions. Most suburbs have ceased to be communities.

This sprawling suburbia, especially the newer parts - farther ever farther from what was the centre of town - appears as a soulless desert of concrete, petrol stations, advertising signs and row upon row upon row of little boxes.

All of this was criticised by Robin Boyd (and Pete Seeger) in the 1960s and thereafter, the critique becoming an integral part of the New Left middle class humanism. It was said that Labor and the new intelligentsia - artists, architects, sociologists - would change all that and transform Australia - as they would its education, etc.

These counter-cultural boasts and promises still linger on, in places like The Age and a few little screwball journals ... like torn old Che posters in city laneways. But fewer and fewer want to talk the talk and insult the intelligence, because things in suburbia, as in the CBD, are worse, far worse, than when the New Class social and cultural engineers started their labours.

Living conditions for more and more Melburnians are more charmless, more dreary and a lot lonelier than the Melbourne of the 1950s and 1960s - a period, until recently, excoriated by the avante-garde pan-handling fraternity. Traffic jams and shopping frenzies are the most tangible outcomes, as Mischa Merz writes.

Mass migration totally failed to deliver a new, exciting lifestyle for Melbourne - it just destroyed masses of good agricultural land, threatened the bayside and now mountains, with a whole society revolving around the worship of the car and the struggle to pay off the mortgage: the very things the radicals of the 60s and 70s denounced, as the world of Sandy Stone, Norm and Edna Everage. Whereas their alternate, totally different Australia would be ... they never told us.

But we can see the results: while the process of despoiling what was Melbourne, to meet the needs of builders and developers, unions under federal (not state!) investigation, the car companies, and the gambling and alcohol industries, continues.

It is not surprising that people are starting to write articles and autobiographies about the Melbourne they knew, what it was like growing up here. Before we call it the usual nostalgia of the old, or "the right", we are in fact talking of a city, a state and a country which only began to lose the plot and sell its birthright within the last 30 years. But there are two competing nostalgias on stream - the left, and the others.

Thus we are watching media and ALP political necrophilia, and unashamed ideological and cultural nostalgia for the heady days of the 60s when they were young and stoned on the victory mentality; when people listened to them and critics quailed in the face of their mass shrieking, like a Nuremberg Rally hollering its omnipotence and baying for the blood of the intellectually, hence politically, incorrect.

Now, our revolutionaries only evoke widespread boredom or contempt but, like the Soviet nomenklatura and apparatchiki, can still be dangerous. But more and more their intellectual energies are virtually exhausted in tyrannising over jaded students in schools and universities, with their cooked syllabi and risible assessments, and cottage lectures from current pamphlets. There is equivalent nonsense in the public media. Emigres from a past time, a distant country.

The necrophilia is taking the form of exhuming past Labor leaders - two of whom, Whitlam and Keating, were masters for a whole three years each. But they were times of triumph, apparently. Funny, I must have been out of the room for a smoke.

The third icon, Bob Hawke, speaks for himself. I'm not sure that anyone would begrudge him the honour, but I know why no sustained attempts to deify Curtin and Chifley have occurred. They were totally different kinds of people and would have had the same views about New Labor and our closet Maoists as do we.

Strangely, conservatives and small "l" liberals don't usually deify their past or present leaders, no matter how successful they might be. Probably the leaders weren't overwhelmingly constructed of hype; the work of mythologists.

They were pretty much as they were; whereas, the warmed up adulation of Gough, Bob, Paul, etc - is adulation of recycled hype and political fictioneering. The attempts to recall the old victory feelings and triumphalism centre around a few election nights like endless re-enactments of the Battle of the Boyne and, a thousand barbecues.

In reality, the modern Australian Left is addicted to the leader cult - an addiction only shared by the Far Right. This, after all, is what the theory of the authoritarian personality spells out.

The more decrepit contemporary radical doctrines become, the greater the need for leaders and "authorities". Think of the unbroken procession of left and anti-Western politicians and tyrants from Stalin onwards who have been carried around as totems and magic charms, and still are. And the cultural icons - the greater their practical failure, the more fiercely they're held aloft.

Where does all this leave Melbourne, especially suburban Melburnians, you may ask.

I think the greedy waste and the demolition of so many of Melbourne's distinctive qualities, as Merz says, must stop. But a concentration upon making life in suburbia meaningful and enjoyable again, with money and thought going there to service or restore real community (for the CBD is not one), is mandatory. But it requires major psychological and aesthetic changes over a longish period. Barren ground for fly-by-night politicians and spin doctors after a quick electoral bonus. It would need a lot more work and realism invested than we ever got from the Beautiful People and their ideologist engineers.

I don't think Labor are interested. The Greens don't yet understand. Have the conservatives a clue or two? For it is they who used to talk about community.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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