August 18th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: The economy: John Howard's Achilles' heel

COVER STORY: ENERGY CRISIS: The real threat of global warming

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Will Howard's career end in an election slaughter?

QUEENSLAND: Protests against forced council amalgamations

VICTORIA: Open season on the unborn

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Human rights bill abandons the unborn child

HOUSING: Stable families improve house affordability

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Has Howard missed the bus? / Victoria's new government / Mick-baiting / Smear, smut and smirk

EDUCATION: Why I'm home-educating my children

NATIONAL SECURITY: Russian and Chinese espionage in Australia

HUMAN RIGHTS: Mansour Osanloo - Iran's Lech Walesa

OPINION: The great delusion and its remedy

BOOKS: OUR CULTURE, WHAT'S LEFT OF IT, by Theodore Dalrymple

BOOKS: YOUNG STALIN, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

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Has Howard missed the bus? / Victoria's new government / Mick-baiting / Smear, smut and smirk

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, August 18, 2007
Has Howard missed the bus?

The federal election is taking on an increasingly chaotic character, with both main parties making - or appearing to make - policies on the run. In doing so, they are short-changing the voter.

John Howard is producing some very important and ambitious proposals, which require unpacking and assessing. But with three months to go, and part of that time eaten up by fully-blown electioneering, the voters are being given few chances to analyse, or prioritise, these projects.

It is most unlikely that much legislation will be introduced before the election, so these proposals have a flavour of deathbed promises, or attempts to convince a judge and jury that you'll go straight if given another chance.

Having said that, it is true that the Government had to wait for the moment of recognition that the states have been conducting their affairs in an incompetent and wasteful manner. They will not deal honestly and consistently with Canberra - nor, quite frequently, with one another.

They resemble a confederation of little fiefdoms from medieval Germany. We would never have achieved federation with demagogic patronage systems like these.

And yet the areas of public life into which the Commonwealth is now seeking to extend its influence, if not its power, are some of the most important parts of our society; and the states have control of them. Despite all their blame games and buck-passing - they have.

I am speaking now of the condition of our health services, especially hospitals and doctor/dental/nursing shortages; of the deplorable situation in education - the universities, the state school systems and the syllabus culture wars.

I am speaking of the chronic and increasingly dangerous shortage of aged-care accommodation places, and the soulless nature of so much of this accommodation, which is tantamount to incarceration for life or creeping psychological euthanasia; public housing and its chronic shortages and lengthening waiting-lists; the state public transport systems and the semi-gridlock character of peak-time vehicular traffic.

Then there are the sickening struggles between different groups of white Australians as to who is going to cream off the great sums of money intended for our most put-upon aborigines.

John Howard has now entered the lists on all these parts of our society, accusing the states of gross neglect and bloody-mindedness. Just consider the behaviour of some of them on water - about any aspect of it. John Howard is right, but I think he has missed the bus.

Kevin Rudd is playing a skilful, albeit somewhat cynical, hand. He is not announcing major breakthroughs in policies. He is quite happy to copy Liberal proposals, and he will agree with a new Howard proposition if he thinks disagreement would produce public ire.

This style antagonises his Left - and journalists who thrive on conflict. I suspect that Kevin sees these criticisms as bonuses. His tokenistic tangles with the odd union maverick are part of his strategy, which is representing all Australians, whereas the Libs are just in there for the boss class, he says.

Well … after the industrial relations changes, our conservatives have lost it, and their economic rationalists who hijacked their party had it coming. But they are still in denial.


Victoria's new government

The change in Victorian state leadership from Steve Bracks to John Brumby was effected with remarkable speed and no outward signs of conflict.

Some significant changes occurred. Peter Batchelor - a major power in the Victorian Labor Party ever since John Cain first took office in 1982, and a major power in parliament since being elected to it in 1990 - has lost much of his importance.

As for the man for so long in charge of public transport, no one could have been surprised. It is in fact difficult to recall any post that Batchelor has occupied with success in any of the Labor governments. But that doesn't seem to greatly influence someone's position in the Company.

Bronwyn Pike, responsible for health - and there is no need to go into that again - has been given education. There is no need to go into that again, either … except to ask: might we expect another doleful march through the institutions?

Although Brumby has said that his new government's main areas of reform are going to be health and education, this is hardly a promising beginning. And that education portfolio has been passed around from pollie to pollie.

But some important things don't change: the swelling education bureaucracy and the unreconstructed teachers and their unions.

No minister has stayed long enough to make any kind of lasting impression. I don't think Kevin Donnelly or Mark Lopez is going to run out of copy any time soon. Nevertheless, we can expect a much tighter ship and far less hyperbole under John Brumby. Reporters won't like it.

The Liberals are now irrelevant to all of this. They appear tired and anaemic and anomic, and almost overwhelmed by the Labor machine, its propaganda organisation and its far superior funding devices. Victoria's Liberals may be secretly waiting for another Kennett.

But their decision not to contest two city by-elections of safe Labor seats may not be running up the white flag, as has been said. It may be a strategy to have the Greens fighting Labor - even winning a lower house seat. That would complicate Green/ALP relations.



The other night I had friends for dinner in my little cottage. One, a neighbour, is a former missionary nun but is still involved in social work; the other is a distinguished priest who retired but is now back in harness, helping to deal with a greatly increased demand upon the church, exacerbated as it is by the shortage of young priests.

He lives in a house with five other priests, and they work in churches in the area as well as doing many other things besides.

He rang this night to say he'd be delayed. He was the only one in the house, and someone was hanging on the bell (it was already dark).

This chap, it seems, was one of the host of druggies seeking money - destabilised people who've abandoned their medications and have haunted the city and its environs ever since we had de-institutionalisation.

The priests have tried giving them food - sandwiches already prepared, not money - only to later discover the food thrown on the ground.

Churches suffer these attentions much more frequently on the weekends when other aid services are closed. There is no point in trying to enlist the help of the police - they're too busy.

So, these often old men (our friend is 75) have to cope on their own.

Which brings me to the disgraceful media pillorying of Monsignor Geoff Baron, former dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, who eventually blew his stack after the repeated invasions of the cathedral grounds - and, I have heard, of the cathedral itself - by a troupe of skate-boarding adolescent hoons.

Msgr Baron's niece Steph Baron has said - on the internet - that this group had been taunting him for years, even though they had been asked to leave. Her uncle had even "called the cops a few times". But the hoons would return.

The latest incident in this disgraceful saga - which was grabbed by the media who, as always, shifted the blame onto the victim instead of the delinquents - occurred more than a year ago, and had been put by the group onto web sites, boasting of their exploits.

How the media suddenly became interested and, it seemed, gained access to the videos would make a story of its own.

One of the skate-boarders was reported in Melbourne's Sunday Herald Sun (August 5, 2007) as confessing that he had "egged on" the priest. Of course.

What the media haven't reported is that worshippers I know - and not only those from St Pat's - say that the hooligans have been skating inside the cathedral, even up the aisles.

Just imagine that being attempted in a mosque or a synagogue. How would the people in charge, and how would their co-religionists, react? And what would the media be saying?

Why are the Catholics fair game? We know: we're really back to Mick-baiting.

As a sympathetic observer, I can only say that the local church is pursuing a very low profile here. What would Archbishop Mannix be saying, and doing, about this treatment of his cathedral and its faithful servants?


Smear, smut and smirk

As we watch our free-to-air television services rotting away in front of our eyes, and celebrities and executives coming and going with ever increasing frequency, the moral and social level of the product has become more like Ezra Norton's old Truth or Benny Hill on a bad day. Smear, smut and smirk.

There is virtually no news any more - just opinion pieces by hacks who repeat one another's rustic word salad.

Plus character assassinations and clumsily constructed pogroms against the police, defence personnel and churches still trying to perform their proper functions - that is to say, symbols of tradition or authority. Or against the presence of virtues, such as bravery, a readiness for self-sacrifice and a desire to serve society in a non-predatory or power-seeking way.

Such qualities are anathema to Frank Sinatra's hookers and to the detritus of the Vulgar Marxist tradition - a tradition which was once so fashionable.

So our radical media heroes are reduced to bombarding society with offerings like three-year-old amateur videos of skylarking soldiers.

There is in fact no feasible mode of communication remaining between the hollow men and women of the 1960s counter-culture and the majority of Australians.

This is not a question of which party you vote for - rather, it is the gulf between the children of light and the children of darkness, or between those who seek the light and those who cling to the darkness.

- Max Teichmann.

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