March 13th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Has Canberra gone bananas? Has Biosecurity Australia dropped its quarantine standards?

EDITORIAL: The law and the status of marriage

QUEENSLAND: Westons biscuits now in Australian hands

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Band-aids won't solve Australia's ageing problem

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Drawing the line / The smile on the face of the tiger / Pecking order

FAMILY: Social engineering in education system

DRUGS: ACT pulls back from legalised heroin injecting room

Taiwan's necessary referendum (letter)

Islamic societies (letter)

Privatisation and WA's power shortages (letter)

The Latham paradox (letter)

Prevention is better than cure (letter)

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: The culture of life and the United Nations

FAILED SCHOOLS: Is there a way out of the crisis in education?

CHINA: Did Beijing assist nuclear proliferation?

Books promotion page

Drawing the line / The smile on the face of the tiger / Pecking order

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, March 13, 2004
Drawing the line

The riot in Redfern, a suburb plagued by race-inspired violence, occurring possibly more intensely and over a longer period than in any other part of Australia, looked as if it could be a wake-up call for us all. But the old craven policies of covering up by ordering a plethora of enquiries and temporarily dropping the story (along with all its implications) from the news, were adopted.

The media did this anyway - for their investment in demonising white people as the cause of all indigenous problems - is too large to turn around now. But governments and politicians generally do not, or need not, be trapped in such a blind alley. The events in Redfern were partly caused by earlier coverings up. So, they will not go away but will recur in different, possibly worse, forms later.

The NSW Police were put in an impossible position - not for the first time - and they appeared unwilling to repeat such experiences. Saying that they lacked the necessary public support or co-operation (read government, media, judiciary) to bring law and order to this horror stretch, they have outlined two alternative strategies: either demolish and rebuild the Block and resettle the inhabitants elsewhere - while ensuring that they are not to create just another ghetto which becomes lawless; or else, the police declare the area a no-go zone, one which they will not police but leave to its own devices. People live there or go there at their own risk.

Many countries have solved such problems in this way: USA, France, UK and Spain have no-go zones, de facto or de jure, indicating that there are groups so involved in waging war on their societies that it is better to quarantine them. After which, the inhabitants often fight and prey upon one another. And quite often, the only bond seemed to be conflict with the "hated other".

When the "other" withdraws, the malcontents will soon start fighting each other. This appears to be the reasoning of the Israelis and their wall. I have speculated from time to time that it won't just be the Arabs who fight among themselves should such a wall be erected, except the Israelis are less likely to use violence against one another.

Incidentally, most ghettoes are not no-go zones, many being areas where people with a common interest - religion, race or even a strong political ideology - chose to live in the same area rather than spread themselves through the main population. They are no more likely to be sources of group violence than any other parts of a society. Many just wish to be left alone to be together with their compatriots. Only constant provocation by sensationalist journalists from elsewhere or demagogues looking for a following are likely to generate violence or widespread hostility.

Redfern is much more than a ghetto but certainly is plagued by radical journalists and political operators seeking trouble.

One worry is whether other aggrieved or lawless groups, seeing how much they could really get away with, and the endless harassment of the police by civil rights lawyers, journalists, professional demonstrators looking to join any law-breaking activity ... and noting the weakness and short-sighted opportunism displayed by governments and the unpredictability of the judiciary, might not start up similar orchestrated violence.

I leave it to readers to nominate which ever groups you regard as likely future candidates. So ... a failure to stand firm against the rioters of Redfern is a sure way of preparing big trouble for the future. This has certainly been the European and American experience.

The smile on the face of the tiger

The Age is at it again. Having been in some very nasty conflicts with its printers a few years ago - you know, the usual progressive, humane managerial philosophy: cut, retrench, cut, retrench. Voila! Profits rise, shares lift. Now 86 printers at Spencer Street, survivors of earlier cuts, have just been told that it's all over in six weeks. They can take their super (whatever it is). Trouble is, the printers who remained at Spencer Street after the paper's big move out to Tullamarine were promised work until this time next year. That was the deal, and they all have contracts to show. They stand to lose a year's pay. The Fairfax excuse - those printers are doing the local suburban papers which are organised into a "separate" company. Fairfax has now produced an outsourcer who can do the job more cheaply. So ... ta-ta, comrade. You go in six weeks, and make sure you take the right hat.

These printers could do nothing on their own - so the Tulla printers (all fellow members of the AMWU) came out to help them.

A contract is a contract even when it is with that great social benefactor Fairfax, which includes The Age thundering away each day about economic rationalism, job shredding, the splendour of trade unionism. A recent Saturday Age took a beating - blockaded as it was during the last strike. The journos were sympathetic, but kept turning out their tripe, which was then driven around going nowhere. The trucks couldn't get out. The police were most sympathetic - very hands off. I understand Fairfax is demanding better service next time from the boys in blue. Well ... they can dream.

The retrenchees have been offered a going away present of $5,000 for a lost year worth $60,000. As I write, it's now in negotiation and I've heard of a $15,000 offer. But, a contract is a contract. Or is it?

And that is what the Tullamarine workers are asking about their contracts. Are they, as Sam Goldwyn said of verbal promises, "Not worth the paper they're written on". Next time if Fairfax lock out striking workers as they did on the last occasion, the journos are going to down biros. We'll see. If so, we should also expect the early arrival of the messiah.

But I find this long saga incredible - for Fairfax rags run, and sell, on feel-good sentiments concerning just about everything and a moist, protective approach to workers' lives and evil big companies. But none of this river of benevolence costs the executives in Tulla and Spencer Street a sou - but when it does, you see the smile on the face of the tiger.

Fairfax announced a big half-year profit rise from $30 million to over $100 million - the fruits of past rationalisation. Now paying these 86 superfluous printers a year's wages might cost around $5 million. There must be other fish to fry further down the river - so this stoush may be an attempt to establish a new industrial relations principle. A contract is a contract, unless the Boss decides otherwise.

In any case, the Boss is studying the possible profits from selling off The Age office itself as real estate. No need for printers. Watch this column.

Could Premier Bracks be produced to say it is all John Howard's fault, or Tony Abbott's? I'm sure he'd rise to the occasion.

Getting back into the pecking order

Recently, in a piece called "Paper Children" (News Weekly, January 31), I discussed the enquiries of a Senate Committee investigating why so many Australians decide to live overseas permanently or semi-permanently. Various other newspapers have since taken up this matter, albeit in a pretty non-invasive manner.

But a brief article by Barry Schwarz (Sunday Age) advanced matters a little further. There were interviews with people who have returned to resettle and re-establish bonds with their country and with the rest of us. Those repats reported a rather frosty reception: little encouragement, much discouragement.

Their qualifications and experience are often not recognised, or else, are ignored. And, incidentally, they find familiar sites, landmarks, local communities - gone or in disarray. Familiar locals have been - so to speak - spirited away, for the developers, the bureaucrats have been moving around hand-in-hand, spoiling what our expats called home. And all within a space of just a few years.

But, the wall of indifference and the denial of our expats' various excellences - often acquired overseas and in stimulating and demanding circumstances - is in fact an old story, even a key to Australia's history.

As a child, and then as an adolescent, I ran into many European migrants who were obviously better educated, better informed and quite often more ... civilised, than we locals. Naturally, many other migrants were from peasant societies or sub-cultures or just had very limited education. Rather like we had been earlier on.

But as I grew up, I mixed with former immigrants and learnt of the struggles they had had to secure recognition or, simply, treatment as equals, as one of us. At least in areas vital to every one viz, work, the opportunity to rise and compete to the best of one's ability and, possibly as a bonus, some understanding that you had an interesting story to tell of your previous life: and pieces of knowledge and elements of cultures interestingly different from that possessed by the locals.

The average Australian just didn't want to know. Non-English migrants thought they were being singled out for these displays of indifference and cultural rejection - but people from the British Isles were being given the same treatment, only more subtly.

This wasn't racism. It was something else. But I think some of the early movers and ideologists in our multicultural movement thought it was - having personally experienced that arm's length, "I don't want to hear about your country, its different ways, or your fancy qualifications." In fact, these Old Australians were experiencing a fear of new ideas, different lifestyles and, most unbearably, signs of superior skills or, worst of all, of intellect. Many of us felt secretly inferior.

Our returning expats are simply running into a protection system of quotas and tariffs and pretexts for keeping out the new product because it is feared it might be better. Only this protection system is psychological, ideational.

After all, some of our expats left, in the first place, because they couldn't stand the closed shop, anti-originality, dumbing-down philosophy. They had ventured out looking for people and places where they would be appreciated. Now they return, hoping this might have changed, and people here are now different. Not so.

Multiculturalism didn't help with this Green Eye of the Little Yellow God who came over with the First Fleet.

A true story from a psychology manual:

"A farmer kept a flock of turkeys. He also had a little girl who, liking all God's creatures, made a pet of one of them. One day, she tied a pink ribbon round its neck, then went inside. Hearing a commotion in the farm yard, her father came out to investigate. The other turkeys were crowded around, pecking the one with the pink ribbon to death."

If you want a black-armband theory of history, perhaps start with that one.

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