February 12th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Kim Beazley - Labor's only hope?

EDITORIAL: Barking up the wrong tree ...

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Top free-market think-tank warns of 'banana republic'

SPECIAL FEATURE: Who speaks and acts for the communist dead?

BUSHFIRES: COAG inquiry skirts the real issues

VICTORIA: Judge links pornography and sexual assault

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Iraq election and the problem of Iran / Bushrangers hanging around the hospitals / Climbing the ladder to nowhere

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: US trade deals marginalise WTO

EAST ASIA: US's new strategy in the Far East

CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS: First direct flights from Taiwan to mainland

OPINION: Good riddance to compulsory student unionism

The slaughtered generation (letter)

The Governor-General and the Constitution (letter)

CINEMA: Quality French film wins following - Les Choristes


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Iraq election and the problem of Iran / Bushrangers hanging around the hospitals / Climbing the ladder to nowhere

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, February 12, 2005
Iraq election and the problem of Iran

Polling has just finished in Iraq as I write this piece, and a massive voter turnout appears to have occurred. Despite all the murder, all the intimidation, all the foreign raiders and cut-throats, Iraqi men and women in large numbers have shown a rare courage to claim their right to vote.

We have never had to take such risks, for the English earlier on had fought their battles among themselves to gain the franchise and to establish the democracy and the rule of law which we inherited, viz, had delivered to us, and which we now enjoy without a trace of gratitude or respect for those English who gave the West such a unique system - if they wanted it.

It seems pretty clear that Iraqis do want these things: the right to choose their governors, influence the laws and end the tyranny and the dog-eat-dog existence which they - and so many others in the Middle East - had accepted, almost as a law of nature. Until now.

I don't have to detail the chagrin and the spite of the Europeans, their UN buddies and the Western Left at this outcome, for it is still unfolding.

Some doughty souls here still hope for a civil war; others, by conning or blackmailing the Coalition to withdraw prematurely, hope to rekindle the "rebellion". They should forget it.

There is a body of opinion which appears to believe that the US is contemplating some form of attack on Iran because of US perceptions of Tehran's nuclear developments, and the temptation Iran might have to use some of this future clout against Israel, or indeed anyone else in the area.

I see a US invasion, or major intrusion into Iran, as tactically and strategically preposterous. Ditto a pre-emptive, selective strike against Iranian installations.

Rather, I see this as a decoy operation - a warning to Iran not to intervene in Iraq if there is a period of Sunni/Shi'ite conflict, nor to try to foment such a conflict. So people in the Fairfax mortuary, preparing leading articles, and others' placards for "Hands off Iran!" demos, should perhaps stifle their wishful thinking, and wait and see.

I must say that Kim Beazley's contributions to this Middle East imbroglio have so far been surprisingly maladroit. It is clear that he hopes for a peaceful, democratic Iraq and was genuinely chuffed at the apparent success of the elections, but ... felt compelled to appease his Left faction by demanding an immediate withdrawal - at least of Australians.

This was like Latham's "Bring home the troops by Christmas" - a disaster from which Latham never recovered.

As with the Tampa, Kim, by trying to have two bob each way, is going to lose four bob. He appears to be badly advised, and seems to be more like a character from Mr Pickwick's club - a jolly bore from Dickensian England.

But to return to Iraq and Iran: one of the reasons Iran - and, for that matter, Syria - is so tempted to intervene in Iraqi affairs is because of the mortal threat a secular, Western-oriented democracy, such as a successful Iraq, would pose to their dictatorships. George Bush has always pointed this out.

Both these countries have serious legitimacy problems, with masses of discontented and unfulfilled people - especially young, well-educated folk who would like a change. A big change.

So the dangers come from Tehran and Damascus as much as they do from Washington. That, at least, is how I see things at present.

As I finish this piece on the morning of February 1, ABC radio news has come on and there is not a single mention of the Iraqi election.

The Australian killed in the British plane crash was featured. And the usual Guantanamo Bay exercises. But the Iraqi elections and their implications are no longer significant news for the ABC.

If the ALP were so foolish as to follow this public media policy of total denial, they will almost certainly lose the forthcoming Werriwa by-election.

Bushrangers hanging around the hospitals

The cameo of the indefensible condition of Victoria's country health services, which we provided in the last News Weekly (January 29, 2005), can be supplemented by many others; but a quote from the Productivity Commission Report on Government Services in Victoria (Sunday Herald Sun, January 30, 2005) might do for the moment:

"There is less than one hospital bed for every 2,000 people in remote parts of Victoria - whereas, for example, in metropolitan Melbourne, there are 2.5 beds for every 1,000 people."

Considering the shortage of beds in Melbourne and the length of lists for elective surgery there, what sort of deal are people in rural Victoria getting? And is this the situation where you should be closing hospitals and ending surgery at more and more of the remaining hospitals? Of course not.

The Bracks State Labor Government insists that it replaces these beds by providing various services delivered to the patients' homes ... But then, they would say that, wouldn't they?

Probably the most vivid example of the Bracks Government's handling of public moneys in the bush would be the fast trains to Ballarat and Bendigo.

Costed at $80 million, they may end by eating up $1 billion. Travel times will be cut by four-and-a-half minutes - to be obtained by not stopping at four stations en route.

Of course, this is rubbery stuff - likely to be changed by the next PR presentation; but Special Projects such as these are - now mercifully transferred from Minister Bachelor - add up to the kind of inspired, if not venal, buffoonery that we associate with the last Emily's-List Labor régime.

If the State Liberals could only get their act together, the core population of our bush - I don't include city-originated superannuated retirees - would breathe much easier, for Victorians would soon have a new government.

But ... the damage done to our Liberals by Kennett, with the driving out of so many talented elements in our Victorian Conservative bodies, still hangs over the state like a curse. Enough to make you depressed.

Climbing the ladder to nowhere

As many as one in four Victorian children are entering high school with reading and maths skills of a grade-two or a grade-three student, wrote Susie O'Brien (Sunday Herald Sun, January 30, 2005).

She was reporting on a recent study of 12,500 15-year-olds. The remarks she quoted were by Principal Andrew Blair, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, who co-authored the report, with Stephen Lamb from Melbourne University. Apparently, "within minutes of being contacted to comment on this story, Tim Mitchell, the media adviser to the Minister for Education, rang Mr Blair to protest about his comments."

Quite so. Education, which Mr Blair was talking about, concerns reality; the political spin-doctors are concerned with appearance. The priorities - the whole emphasis of the Government - are about appearance, as we well know.

Mr Blair's comments and these statistics have been common knowledge in the industry for years - so have the taboos on discussing the implications. Taboos such as those on assessing our education system and its effects upon our children, also apply to health, planning, special projects, the police ... etc.

"Give them muck" is the New Class motto. At least, Nellie Melba could remember the words.

So, students are promoted from one level to the next, and so on, without the wherewithal to legitimately pass? Yes, of course. And are these defective students allowed to move up the secondary-school accreditation-ladder with these basic, crippling flaws uncorrected? Yes, of course. Will they get a piece of paper at the end, with more or less no questions asked? In most cases ... yes.

Can such visibly, and by now generally unmotivated, students "be then moved into a contemporary tertiary institution"? Yes - if there are places and if they are patently unemployable. Entrance assessment requirements are not what they used to be, my friend Watson.

If there are no places, a campaign is launched, via agents of influence in the press, with headlines "10,000 young Victorians robbed of right to learn!" "What is Howard doing?" "Bracks?" "We need more money, more bricks and mortar, more 'lecturers'!" Matching expenditure cuts can be made elsewhere. Don't you worry about that!

Health? The bush? The old? ...

Naturally, anyone who can place their children in private education is doing so. But ... when these children move into the tertiary world of contemporary Australia, they will strike the same impediments to learning, to free thought, and to a rigorous and humane educational experience - impediments encountered and half-escaped from in private schools.

But that is another doleful story.

  • Max Teichmann

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