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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Straws in the Wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, August 25, 2001
A day in the life of Jurassic Park

A succession of major political and social problems, some domestic and some international, have honed in upon us, providing both us and the media with opportunities to inspect the vital parts of our socio-political system, and some crucial areas of global politics - in flagrante delicto - so to speak.

Unfortunately, many of these issues are not specifically party political matters so cannot be pressed, without total parody, into the familiar mould of anti-government stereotyping and propaganda. So … the media has struck heavy weather. It is, in fact, worse than useless as an aid in our attempts at understanding or analysis.

I shall just enumerate some of the testing issues confronting us. Take one day in the life of the metropolitan media, viz. Friday August 10; see how they handled these issues, whether they mentioned some matters at all, and what their order of priorities was. Then I shall select one of these issues - aged care - and make some comments.

The Lord of the Flies

The outstanding feature of Victorian politics is the virtual seizure of control of the political agenda by a group of powerful unions, mainly service unions, plus our old friends, the building unions; and the strengthening of control over the social and legal agenda by the New Class and its pressure groups: pro-drugs, gay liberation, penology a la the 1960s, multiculturalism, kindness to snakeheads, and blocking all attempts to repair education. Then there is the race vilification establishment, and the pro-abortionists and the euthanasiacs.

Bracks is faced with strikes and threats of strikes by nurses, policemen, building workers, manufacturing unions, power workers, with the teacher unions and the Doctors Reform Society - oops, the AMA - waiting impatiently for their turn to throw the switch on their section of social life. The industrial tribunals are ignored and Bracks’ commands don’t go any further than his office door. Like Kennett before him, and Hawke and Keating before them, he prefers to hobnob with big businessmen and ethnic bosses. Some of his ministers are under continuous harassment, others are hiding and shutting up. Parliament sits at the Trades Hall.

The Opposition is almost totally silent and inactive - suspiciously so - and that would make a story of its own.

The fight against the drugs epidemic is continuing and slowly succeeding in spite of, not because of, the Government and its prosecutors; while a complete surrender to the gambling and alcohol lobbies - or is it a merger? - seems to be the only credible explanation of the Bracks Government’s behaviour. The police force is now under more or less open attack from Labor politicians - as a payback, it might appear - for outstanding success in controlling the S11 and M1 people (compare its felicity and sheer professionalism with all the other police forces of the West who have had to face this type of challenge!).

And perhaps being paid back for working with our Federal Police to start smashing the drug rings. The National Crime Authority has just labelled this a failure! Where are they coming from? I hope our police don’t take any of this lying down.

But these are some of our most pressing State issues.

Federally - the real struggle - is to keep our economy and public accounts in reasonable shape in the face of increasingly ominous international economic and financial developments. Neither the Federal Opposition nor the media appear in the least interested in suggesting strategies to deal with drastic negative change. The only game in their part of town is padding the public payroll - more unionists, voluntary or otherwise, equals more votes. They think. At least the present Government is aware of the economic dangers ahead, though it is saying little - possibly for fear of making things worse.

The other sinister development - pushed out of sight - is a string of major corporate collapses under circumstances that remind one of WA Inc. or the last days of Kirner, and we still don‘t really know about Yannon and Coles Myer - so what price the new scandals?

Internationally there is much to worry about, and write about, but all we are getting is media melodrama and relentless interference by pressure groups in policy making bearing upon our very national interests. But that can wait.

Now what did our media say about these matters on Friday 10?

The Age, to its credit, concentrated on the nurses union’s threat to our state hospitals and their patients, the union’s contempt for the tribunal and the Bracks regime. The Age is certainly trying to look after the ALP. The Australian led with the horrendous bombing in Jerusalem. The Herald Sun?

Homage to Joe McCarthy

Well ... The Herald Sun seemed to have had yet another hit job against Aged Care Minister Bronwyn Bishop in the computer, it only requiring one home to be closed or judged deserving of closure for the "story" to be run. One was found, so, damn all the other happenings - including Jerusalem. An enormous headline "AGONY OF THE FRAIL" - the aged not the editorial staff - top, smaller heading "Another nursing home’s problems leave elderly suffering" and, in a window, a photograph of an earlier, quite harmful beat-up "Bathed in Kerosene". The Herald Sun quoting its own headline of February of last year. And the obligatory pre-loved editorial on the inside calling for Bishop’s resignation.

The story was a lot thinner than the headlines, the guts being the reports from the inspectors working for the Department and the sanctions by the Department of the home.

The usual media waylaying of patients’ relations and staff produced, as in the previous nursing home beat-up, praise of the nursing staff and the home and objections to the home being closed. But on the spot evidence of a positive kind is no help for this kind of structured media mugging. Unless ... a second story can be distilled running "PATIENTS TO BE THROWN OUT ON STREET" - Agony of the Frail Part 2! - "Organisation of aggrieved relatives to be formed" by ... our staff photographer - sorry - "Meeting to demand Minister’s resignation!"

I suppose I should declare an interest. A great many people I know live in retirement villages, and some go on to nursing homes. So I know them, and listen in.

The general feeling is that this Government has made remarkable progress in living conditions, though the exacting demands of the Department make life hard for under-capitalised owners and profit margins generally. But patients as a group have greatly benefited.

Just as important, the range of concessions for the aged and ex-servicemen coming on stream - have been quite striking and of considerable benefit.

Of course pensioners would like more - but so would everyone, of everything.

These reforms are being called "government pork-barrelling", "chasing the aged vote", "trying to get back the diggers" (they never lost them); this by New Class arrivistes from journalism courses and failed Labor pollies who had 13 years to clean up nursing homes and help ex-servicemen and their dependents.

This leaden piffle is, in fact, deeply insulting to pensioners as well as the reformers, and requires near total-amnesia of the pre-1996 slough of despond.

None of the media wanted to talk about the total failure - for better or for worse - of the manufacturing union attack on the employers nor the likely losses to the car industry or the employees stood-down, nor the substantial, quiet victory of Abbott in this confrontation. The Herald Sun, as I said, completely neglected the Jerusalem bombing and its fall-out, though its sister paper, The Australian, ran it. A remarkable lapse.

None wanted, nor want, to talk about the major crisis looming with the police. And none want to talk about the emergence of a nurses’ union as the successor to the teachers’ union - poised by its staffing and wages demands, to undermine the financial viability of pubic hospitals, private medicine and aged care.

The whole cost of medical care seems fated to leap to levels established in America, while medical services and standards are pointing in the British NHS direction.

The media don’t want to discuss it. Nor the levels of medical mishap and medical misadventures whereby, it is being said, "If you want to get sick or risk a life-threatening surgical contretemps - you go to a public hospital". That is, when you do get in. Imagine if this situation were the norm in our nursing homes? What sort of headlines would we be getting?

Stormy weather?

Persistent rumours have it that Kerry Packer would like to unload Channel Nine, while Rupert Murdoch is expressing less and less enthusiasm for further Oz media expansion. After all, News Corp shares have dropped a third from their earlier high.

The fact is, the credibility gap between our media and an increasingly cynical and unenthusiastic public is remorselessly widening.

This must be very disturbing for our journos who live under a regime of considerable job insecurity as it is. So perhaps we should understand their single-minded desire for the return of the Labor patronage machines. And feel sorry for them. But couldn’t they perform with a little more style?

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