August 25th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Cloning: time for PM to take a stand

LAW: AFA joins High Court action over IVF

CANBERRA OBSERVED: 2001 Census: strange role of Bureau of Statistics

National Affairs: New business and agriculture lobby launched (FABA)

Agriculture: Apple import decision to be reviewed

Straws in the Wind

Trade: Minister's equanimity as US lamb exports get the chop

Government is committed to manufacturing: Senator Minchin

Historical Feature: Rural movement has message for today

Comment: Bendigo puts the 'bank' back into rural and regional Australia

Health: The bottom line and medical ethics clash

MEDIA: Vanishing trick; Abbott: the latest round

BOOKS: 'PC, MD' by Sally Satel - Political correctness in the medical profession

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Vanishing trick; Abbott: the latest round

by John Styles

News Weekly, August 25, 2001
Vanishing trick

It took the visit of leading US anti-euthanasia campaigner Wesley Smith to force local journalists to at least acknowledge the latest outrageous proposal from euthanasia advocate, Dr Philip Nitschke. But what they did with the story was, well, read on ...

In a June interview in the online edition of US National Review magazine, Dr Nitschke endorsed the idea of a so-called "peaceful" suicide pill that could be made available to anyone, including troubled teenagers, in supermarkets.

Those who tuned in to the early edition of AM on ABC Radio National on Friday August 10 would have heard Wesley Smith denounce the idea and accuse many in the media of treating Dr Nitschke as if he was "a compassionate healer for dying people", which, Smith said, was simply not true.

(Obligingly, on August 11 the Sydney Morning Herald demonstrated that Wesley Smith was quite right when he described the fawning attitude of journalists to Dr Philip Nitschke. In its 'Spectrum' section, the newspaper ran a very soft interview with Dr Nitschke under the headline "So many souls to save". I kid you not.)

AM also gave time to Dr Nitschke, and he defended his proposal. "I would give them [troubled teenagers] the right to that information [suicide pill recipe], of course, in the same way as I'd give it to every other lucid Australian or any other lucid person," Dr Nitschke said.

That was the early edition of AM on lowly rating Radio National. When, an hour later, the higher rating main edition went to air on local ABC radio stations, the topic was still there but the package had been radically re-edited.

Apparently, the last thing the gatekeepers at the ABC's flagship current affairs show wanted was an extremely articulate, high profile anti-euthanasia campaigner on the main show. So Wesley Smith was shut out completely. Dropped. Cut. Not there. The entire segment was given over to Dr Philip Nitschke who was permitted to justify and promote his latest death formula unchallenged.

Even by ABC standards, this was blatant advocacy journalism on a bold scale. Dr Nitschke, naturally, seemed to revel in it. At one point, he described to the interviewer, program presenter Linda Mottram, how the suicide pill would usher in his new world. "I think what is likely to happen is that once this development is made, it will start to spread. And so, I guess, everyone is likely, within the community, to have the means to a peaceful death. And that'll be a world we've never seen before ...".

Even Dr Nitschke's ludicrous suggestion that it would take kids "weeks of work" to put the suicide pill together went uncontested. Does he really believe teenagers are slower than adults when it comes to putting together a chemical formula?

Abbott: the latest round

The media baton for attacking Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott recently passed to Bulletin columnist Laurie Oakes.

At the height of the Tristar strike, Oakes accused the federal Workplace Relations Minister of making statements that inflamed the dispute. Laurie Oakes wrote that, according to Tony Abbott, "The workers involved were guilty of treachery for staging a strike that affected the entire car-making industry ... they were ‘economic traitors' ... ‘sabotaging' the interests of their workmates." These and other comments, Oakes claimed, were examples of "the rabid Abbott", were "feral" and "going over the top".

But were they?

The timing of the strike, as Mitsubishi's future in Australia was under consideration by the company's head office, was blatantly stupid and irresponsible.

When the dispute ended, The Australian reported that lost income and delays in export orders had sabotaged the industry to the tune of "at least $400 million to $500 million".

The precarious situation at Mitsubishi deflected attention from another sensitive area of the Australian automotive industry: the Ford Motor Company and the long-term future of the locally-produced Ford Falcon. Buried at the bottom of The Australian story was a comment by a Ford Australia spokeswoman. She was reported to have said that the biggest concern for the industry, (read Ford), was "the message it gives externally, whether we can be a stable industry here".

Workers full entitlements certainly deserve protection; and how that is achieved needs to be resolved.

Ironically, more industrial action of the kind we've just seen may only serve to hasten the day when claims are made on the kind of entitlement insurance policy that has just been negotiated.

If the international automotive manufacturers intend to completely "globalise" their Australian operations, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union is playing directly into their hands. On balance, Tony Abbott's comments therefore appear to have been purely matter-of-fact.

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