March 22nd 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The future ... after Iraq

CANBERRA OBSERVED: After Iraq: the challenge facing John Howard

MEDICINE: Leading specialists reject destructive embryo research

BIOETHICS: Embryo research and state laws

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Bazaar politics/Sponsors/Beautiful People socialism

COMMENT: The real culprits in the internet porn scandal

FAMILY: Youth legal guide alarms families

MEDIA: Accord strikes a chord / 'Australian' shake-up a matter of opinion

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Deregulation and water could be a tragedy for National Party

LETTERS: Foreign debt (letter)

LETTERS: The vision thing (letter)

How Australian support is rebuilding East Timor

WATER: Towards healthier river systems: a flawed process

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: The future of non-proliferation treaties

BOOKS: Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity, by Leon Kass

BOOKS: Australia And Israel: An Ambiguous Relationship, by Chanan Reich

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Accord strikes a chord / 'Australian' shake-up a matter of opinion

by John Styles

News Weekly, March 22, 2003
The 20th anniversary of the election of the Hawke Government predictably produced a stream of dewy-eyed journalism.

The Hawke Government's Accord with the ACTU was dusted off during the media's special commemorative celebrations. Background Briefing on ABC Radio, 2 March, contemplating the future of trade unions in general, also looked back to the time when, as presenter Tom Morton put it, "the union movement made a historic pact to give it a voice at the highest levels of government." According to Morton, " [The Accord] meant the government could keep a lid on inflation, which had skyrocketed under the Fraser Government." Morton, perhaps, was spouting the economic mythology that pervades the ABC. But did inflation really skyrocket under Fraser?

According to a 1999-2000 Research Note prepared by the Parliamentary Library, inflation increased by 14.5 per cent annually during the Whitlam years, by 10.3 per cent during Fraser's term, by 5.2 per cent in the Hawke-Keating years and by 0.8 per cent under Howard (to 1999/2000).

The same paper also put the effect of the Accord on real wages into perspective. The annual increase in real wages for males under Fraser was 0.7 per cent; Under Hawke/Keating: 0.3 per cent; and under Howard: 2.9 per cent. No figures were available for the annual increase in real wages for females during the Fraser years. However, under Hawke-Keating the increase was 0.6 per cent, compared with 3.1 per cent during the first four years of the Howard Government.

Australian shake-up a matter of opinion

Changes at The Australian continue under new editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell.

Former Kim Beazley chief-of-staff Michael Costello has been given a weekly opinion page column. The left wing Peter Bostman gets a regular opinion spot. Christopher Pearson has a weekend column. The witty Imre Salusinszky has become an Australian regular. Tim Blair has moved to The Bulletin (adding a much needed-conservative voice to that magazine). Phillip Adams, initially consigned to the Weekend Australian Magazine, retains that column and gains an extra one - on The Australian opinion page each Wednesday. Angela Shanahan appears to have been dropped.

The departure of Angela Shanahan, one of the paper's two regular female conservative columnists, is disappointing. The newspaper seems to be saying that with two strong and effective female conservative voices on board, it had one too many. Janet Albrechtsen has been retained.

A recent feature article in The Australian's media section labelled Albrechtsen as "hard right". When applied by a journalist, you can take that to mean hard on the left and right on the money in terms of strength of argument.

Lacking in The Australian's line-up of weekly opinion writers seems to be someone who would provide a counterpoint to Michael Costello. For example, a person with the political acumen and Liberal Party insight of, say, Grahame Morris or former federal director, Lynton Crosby.

Controversial appointment

The appointment of Michael Costello's wife, Christine Wallace, to The Australian's Canberra bureau will be seen as controversial in many quarters.

A promotional blurb in The Weekend Australian noted that Wallace has come to the paper from a stint at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

It did not mention her role with the short-lived magazine The Eye, or her former Labor Party membership.

Three years ago, announcing Wallace's appointment, The Eye's editor, Pilita Clark, declared that Wallace had resigned her membership of the Labor Party. How reassuring for Coalition supporters!

As if to demonstrate the cleansing effect of that simple act of resignation, Wallace immediately launched into a scathing attack on the alleged "thuggery" of a number of Howard Government ministers - oh so temperately labelling them a "gaggle of goons".

Impassioned by her newly found independence and free of political taint, Wallace also launched into a number of press gallery journalists she felt were giving the Coalition far too easy a time of it. Interestingly, she elected to identify these scribes not by name but by supposed sexual preference.

And, no longer burdened by the awesome weight of that ALP membership badge, Ms Wallace felt free to pursue Liberals Peter Costello and Joe Hockey, raising questions about possible conflict of interest in relation to alleged undeclared financial interests of the ministers' wives. In raising the pecuniary interests of the wives, Wallace scored an own goal - as Australian columnist Glen Milne quickly pointed out at the time.

Milne wrote that by attempting to tie the financial interest of Tanya Costello to her husband, Wallace was suggesting that she did not believe the treasurer's wife had a mind of her own. Moreover, Milne asserted, if that principle was applied to Wallace herself, it was understandable that the Coalition would expect the journalist to declare her relationship with Michael Costello "every time she writes and talks about politics".

The ABC was so impressed by Wallace's ALP disaffiliation they immediately invited her on to one of their programs as an independent commentator. Liberal Party federal director, Lynton Crosby, was incensed and shot off a letter of complaint. The ABC investigated and, as with most ABC self-assessment, concluded that it had not erred

Lynton Crosby has vacated the Liberal Party federal director's chair. Brian Loughnane has taken his place. It will be interesting to see if the new federal director pursues the ABC with the same enthusiasm as his predecessor. Let's hope he does.

  • John Styles

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