August 4th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Solving the housing crisis

NATIONAL SECURITY: The lessons of the Dr Haneef case

CANBERRA AFFAIRS: Will Liberals dump Howard before election?

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Call for industry policy debate

PORNOGRAPHY: Canberra drags its feet over internet porn

FAMILY: Group marriage on the way

VICTORIA: No more abortions, please

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Bring back King Canute / The entertainers / Broadcaster's bias / Regime changes in Turkey and Pakistan?

SPECIAL FEATURE: Postmodern science - a contradiction in terms

VIETNAM: Economic tiger, political laggard

GLOBAL WARMING: Hosting a hog roast to promote vegetarianism

OBITUARY: A born leader and exemplary Christian - Peter Keogh (1931-2007)

Tough anti-terror laws needed (letter)

Collective bargaining hypocrisy (letter)

Rudd on grocery and housing prices (letter)

Young couples without homes (letter)

First home unaffordable (letter)

Young people deprived by technology (letter)

Film's Christian theme? (letter)


BOOKS: ELLA: Princess, Saint and Martyr, by Christopher Warwick

Books promotion page

Bring back King Canute / The entertainers / Broadcaster's bias / Regime changes in Turkey and Pakistan?

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, August 4, 2007
Bring back King Canute

Watching all the old discredited figures gathering, yet again, to try to drag down John Howard, now that they see him struggling, one can only marvel at man's almost infinite capacity for self-deception.

Paul Keating has never forgiven John Howard for beating him in 1996, nor will he ever. Captain Wacky, as some of his exasperated staff finished calling him, seems to be the only one who didn't know he was going to lose. And he has never been reconciled to these changes of circumstances, and so is exhibiting symptoms of attention-deprivation, exceeded only by those of Malcolm Fraser.

That man, out of office for over 20 years, has attached himself to one cause — often ephemeral — after another; joined, or helped form, one committee or cabal, after another. … To what end? The greater glory of himself, and a chance to denigrate, yet again, the party which helped him and made him and appeared to be his whole life. And, to denigrate the man who has been doing the job he once had, only better, and for much longer — and without the support of friendly former DLP voters, and with a greatly weakened National (formerly Country) Party.

A remarkable achievement by Howard which, like most human arrangements, is now coming to an end. But Fraser is irrelevant to this, and to many things.

After a brief moment of glory — like Labor's former leader Mark Latham — Liberal former leader Dr John Hewson has also refused to move on. In fact, had the conservatives in 1993 put up a half-decent candidate and a more moderate economic policy, the Liberals would then have beaten Keating.

Peter Costello doesn't seem able to wait for his own retirement — let alone Howard's — before starting to rubbish his leader.

A comparison has often been made between Australia's and Britain's two long-serving deputies — Costello and Gordon Brown — and their relations with stage-hogging PMs who wouldn't let go.

But Brown never criticised his leader Tony Blair in public, and never encouraged journalists to help him undermine his leader. So Brown has taken office with dignity and a complete absence of rancour. It is Blair who is already trying to find a new audience, somewhere. He should be careful.

I think that many of our pollies — for example, Wilson Tuckey — have been misled by the success of Bob Hawke's 1983 overthrow of a leader just before an election, which Bill Hayden would in fact have won.

But Hawke had preceded the coup by a long campaign of destabilisation. He had a coalition of Big Business and Big Labour in place, apparently unlimited financial resources, an adulatory press which he had cultivated over many years, and the tacit support, to put it mildly, of some of our most important international allies. Hawke's whole operation was executed, stage by stage, over a period of years. Bob was perhaps our first designer-candidate.

But Costello enjoys none of these advantages which made Hawke's coup possible. This latest disloyalty of Costello's would cruel his chances of leading our Tories, either now or in the future. And the future, taking a line from the behaviour of the various state Liberal parties, could be horrendous.

On the other hand, given the iffy state of the world economy, and the possible collapse of the Western political position in large parts of the world, it could be a good election for someone to lose.


The entertainers

The cast for the David Hicks Show — in reality the remnants of the company of the Children Overboard production — were reluctantly starting to remove their greasepaint when a telegraph-boy, with his nose turned up, raced into the dressing-room, with a paper on which the name "Dr Mohamed Haneef" was inscribed (and some small scribble at the bottom: "evidence flawed").

A cheer went up; the make-up jars were quickly re-opened. The slap of fresh make-up on old chops echoed through the empty theatre, while sachets of powdered compassion and bottled indignation (two each for QCs) were handed around. The band was told to start rehearsing:

There's no business
Like rights business
Like no business
I know.

You know, I keep falling asleep during our local melodramas. I still prefer the foreign ones.


Broadcaster's bias

Those of us who still held on to a vision of the British Broadcasting Corporation as an oasis of reason and fairness, of an institution still mindful of the rights of its listeners and viewers, and of the trust which they reposed in this venerable broadcaster, would have been shocked at new revelations of its behaviour.

To quote from Britain's Daily Mail, reported in Melbourne's Herald Sun (July 20, 2007), the BBC has had to make "a series of humiliating admissions that it has been routinely conning the public".

In a series of shows, including charity fundraising programs, viewers have been "ripped off" in phone-in competitions which have been rigged. Many of these are children's programs. Six shows have been found faking competition-winners, and a number of others are under investigation.

The top BBC management has ordered a trawling through of a million hours of broadcast output since July 2005, to find the extent of the professional skulduggery, though "there could have been scores more bogus competitions before that date".

A swathe of BBC executives "face the axe after keeping the antics under wraps". The way may be opening up for a police fraud investigation, and "unprecedented fines".

The BBC was quite recently fined $116,500 for deceiving viewers of the children's show Blue Peter with another bodgie phone-in competition.

The BBC director-general Mark Thompson has refused to say if he will resign.

This whole crack-down followed upon the doctoring of a trailer for a BBC documentary which wrongly suggested that the Queen had stormed out of a sitting with photographer Annie Leibowitz. The BBC later apologised.

Incidentally, if the doctoring was not accidental — and it seems unlikely that it was — it was a conspiracy against the monarchy.

If the BBC inquiry were then to move into BBC documentaries and its overseas news service, then the game would be up.

None of this would happen in Australia. I don't mean the skulduggery, the bias, the bad faith — no, we have that almost as a way of life.

But one cannot imagine an inquiry like that into the conduct of the BBC. No politician here has the guts.

This is why our recent global-warming discussion was so typical of the New Order of Things. The ABC was more or less forced by its board to show at least one film putting the views of those who are in various ways sceptical of the global-warming thesis, as against the day-in, day-out global-warming advocacy which we have to endure, extending even to children's programs.

But the people on the lower floors obviously didn't like the board's directive: it smelt too much of free speech and an exchange of ideas.

Tony Jones spent a week in London (half his luck!) chasing Martin Durkin, the producer of the critical English documentary in question, The Great Global-Warming Swindle, but finally had to settle for a distance interview via satellite.

There Jones simply became more excited, more bullying and more boring by the minute, while the documentary-maker looked more and more bemused at his performance. Like the Ancient Mariner, Jones seemed to have lost all sense of time and space.

In the Australian broadcast of the controversial documentary itself, the panel discussion which followed the Ancient Mariner and his albatross was tilted in the normal way, but the audience segment provided some light relief.

It had a flavour of late-night talkback radio, with subliminal elements of the conspiracy-theorist Lyndon LaRouche. Something for everyone, with a taste for autodidacts.

The fact is, I think the contemporary ABC cannot put on a mature, impartial and intellectually sophisticated documentary, debate or discussion, try as it may. So we should give up expecting one.


Regime changes in Turkey and Pakistan?

We should all be holding our breaths as we watch events develop in Turkey, Pakistan and, further down the line, Bangaldesh, for we could be witnessing some fateful regime-changes taking place.

The Turks have been to the polls again, and the triumph of the Islamicists in one form or another seems assured, despite the resistance of the secularists and the army.

Most Turks seem to want such a result, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots in this society has perhaps fatally undermined the unity of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's republic.

The former long-standing friendships between Turkey and the US, and between Turkey and Israel, now appear politically unsustainable, while that with the EU is confused, to say the least.

It almost looks as though ultra-nationalist elements in Turkey not only have their eyes on the northern part of Kurdistan, but on the oil-bearing parts therein, on the pretext of dealing with Kurdish rebels sheltering in northern Iraq. The Turks could quite conceivably finish up occupying the oil-bearing areas of Kirkuk and Mosul.

This would solve many of Turkey's energy problems, but would signify Turkey's arrival in the region as yet another expansionist power. She has the most powerful conventional army in the area, but would prefer to have allies. Would Mr Putin oblige?

This all seems barely possible, but I think we should consider it. The whole Near and Middle Eastern region and its environs are heaving and buckling.

One wonders how long Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf can keep his opponents at bay. The usual answer is: as long as he has the backing of the army and the secret service.

But armies have factions and contain rivals — and so do security empires. The old parliamentary performers — like Mrs Benazir Bhutto and so forth — think they can take over the trappings of power, yet again, with the old corrupt, unjust system in place.

They are almost certainly mistaken. Islamicist aspirations would certainly sweep aside such jejune, discredited figures.

If there is a major political change in Pakistan, Islamabad will cease to be a Western ally; and the whole Western position in Afghanistan would be in great danger.

We should be preparing for that, as we are preparing for the loss of Iraq.

— Max Teichmann

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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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