August 11th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: The building industry's Royal Commission

Canberra Observed: Telstra creates headache for Beazley pledge

Straws in the Wind: Peter's Friends

Western Australia: WA Liberals' preference deal could be decisive

Red light districts don't work

The Media

Singapore funds (letter)

Tony Abbott criticised (letter)

Birth dearth (letter)

Parenting payments (letter)

Tree cover (letter)

Drug Deaths (letter)

Middle Ages climate (letter)

LAW: International Criminal Court: the dangers

The companies driving US-Australia free trade agreement

Books promotion page

Straws in the Wind: Peter's Friends

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, August 11, 2001

The long march to the election becomes more painful, and carbuncular, with the passage of each day. The Government, for the greater part, goes about trying to do the work that governments do: the Opposition has left everything to Beazley, with occasional guest appearances by Crean, croaking his gloom and political dyspepsia - "It's the GST, it's the GST, pieces of eight".

Most of the racket, and concentrated vulgarity, is coming from the Press, and the Public Broadcaster - who formed a Yahoo Alliance in preference to just supplying the news, and allowing the parties to put their points of view, and governments the reasons why they are doing what they are doing. If you like, the political system has been hijacked - the pipes are blocked, and full rationing is in place. We should be grateful for the rusty trickles.

Instead, we are getting daily beat-ups, launched in the morning for Kim, sans policies, sans savoir-faire, to indignantly trumpet about, in the evenings. I can't help thinking of feeding time at the Zoo: the Leader, looking as though he hasn't moved or eaten since the previous day, snatches at the media bun which he has deftly caught, scoffs it for the viewers, then delivers a cacophonous, sometimes incomprehensible tirade about Liberal turpitude, ending in a strangled cry for us to elect him. A bit like the oo-ah bird. If he'd given us any good reasons, we might have considered it.

Leaving campaign strategies to the barefoot horse-doctors of Spin, and policies to the pressure-groups you can hear shuffling and belching just off-camera - was not a good idea: especially for those of us who've read J. S. Mill on Representative Government, or the Freedom of the Press.

The latest Age concoction - as I write - their reporter Shaun Carney's book on Costello, came out the same day as a Herald-Sun four-page spread, beginning on page 1, of an enormous money-laundering operation, which had been using the Melbourne Casino. Conducted by an Asian gang, deeply involved in the drug trade, and apparently into people-smuggling. A common double. A first-class piece of investigative journalism, and its contrast to the Fairfax effluvia ... tells it all. Naturally, the ABC instantly recycled the effluvia, as BIG NEWS, and was still paddling around in it days later.

What was this unauthorised story? Well ... Carney, who was given 50 hours of interview time by Costello, knows someone who is (was?) a friend of Costello, who heard Costello criticising John Howard when Costello and friend were talking one evening. That is the story! Beats the Casino bust, doesn't it?

Kim was duly produced, and obediently fulminated about how the Libs are divided and on the skids. I can't remember if he called for a Royal Commission, a Committee of Inquiry, or just for Howard and Costello to resign. We are now in Snake-Oil County, and I am expecting a reworked version of the Zinoviev Letter any time. But Beazley reminds me of someone's complaint about an Indian friend who was able to hold two contradictory opinions simultaneously, while acting on neither.

Fairfax and The Age are in a dolorous situation - with their shares falling ever lower, especially since Kerry Packer departed. And, The Age has just had another burst of industrial trouble. Its printers, with whom it has been warring for years, walked out for 24 hours, killing the Saturday edition, which is the cash-cow on which the whole thing depends. (Perhaps the management should rename its paper The Hindenburg, just for luck?)

When the new printing plant at Tullamarine starts up, in six months' time or less, there are expected to be cuts in printers' numbers. The union still didn't know how many workers are to go, what kind of termination payments would be offering, or what the nature of the survivors' duties might be. Naturally, relations are hostile - mutually hostile - so we can expect more troubles, more production interruptions. Watch this space, for you may not find out the truth from the Friends of Fairfax, i.e. the rest of the media, including the ABC.

The Fairfax people specialise in denunciations of economic rationalism; panegyrics of S11 and M1; and much anger at police controls of them. And they expatiate on the evils of downsizing and job-shedding, and the bloody-mindedness of bosses (and, of course, the Liberals) towards unions and workers. Yeah!

On previous experience, the Melbourne printers may not be expecting much help from their journos, or sundry white-collars, nor more than minimum media coverage. It would be nice, if M1 and the Beautiful People who so hate boss power offered to blockade the place. But is it likely? Where would they get their future publicity? And their backers wouldn't like it.

Which reminds me of a contact I had with The Age, and Carney, when Noam Chomsky came and delivered a set of public lectures in the Melbourne Town Hall. Jeannie McLean and I, old buddies from the 1960s, went to one of the lectures. Like The Age, Chomsky didn't tell us anything that he hadn't told us before, but here at least was a good mind. Running in third gear. I'd gone mainly out of curiosity, and quickly forgot the happening. After all, we were expecting the Monkees (or was it the Fruit-Bats?), then Tom Jones, in the weeks to follow.

But The Age wasn't into forgetting. It ran four, or five, articles, all, as I remember, anti-Chomsky. Not one in support - and the letter columns seemed strangely sanitised. After all, the bulk of people at those meetings would have been Age readers, ABC Friends, and Chomsky fans - a crowd who excrete opinions, and spew out letters to editors like overheated Gatling guns. Some Big Enforcer, inside or outside, must have taken a decision.

I rang Jeannie, and asked "How do you get an article in The Age?" She'd noticed the utter one-sidedness too. "Try Shaun Carney," she said. "He's a good friend of ours, worked as Age trade-union and labour affairs reporter. He'll be a good place to start."

He was; being Acting Editor - the real one being elsewhere. I asked, would they accept an article supporting Chomsky.

No - the series was finished. He suggested, quite politely, that I try the Letters Editor.

Remembering many friends' experiences with their letters - sooner put it in a bottle - I thanked, and dropped the whole idea of putting in one good word, for the balance.

But ... a few days later, another article turned up, castigating Chomsky. It might have been by Rob Manne, who'd always made clear his disagreement with Noam - and fair enough.

But not for The Age.

Maybe there was another article in the pipeline; maybe some big peanut called for another article. Almost certainly Jeannie has forgotten this, and so has Carney. But I haven't.

Even though I know there are lots of pictures, I won't be spraining my ankle en passage to the bookshop to read up on Peter's night-thoughts, or about Peter's friend.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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