Sunday, July 08, 2007


Letter about Tim Palmer -- to Mark Scott, Managing Director, Australian Broadcasting Corporation -- from Michael Danby MHR:

We met recently to discuss the ABC leadership moves to make the national broadcaster more open and transparent, especially in dealing with complaints. I feel compelled to write this letter to you because I believe that MediaWatch, the centrepiece of what should be the ABC's weathervane of engagement with the media, including critics of the ABC is now spearheaded by an individual who has a record of aggressive belligerence to criticism.

In my view Tim Palmer, the newly appointed Executive Producer of Media Watch, has previously shown by his work that he is not open to criticism or discussion. Tim Palmer may be an award winning investigative journalist but an easy going, open minded welcomer of criticism he is not.

Most recently Media Watch, which is heavily moderated at its website, published a most inappropriate comment and only edited the offensive comment, quote "ABC is starting to show a disproportionate number of Jews in the places of power in the ABC" when they discovered that readers were onto them. The fact that the moderator didn't immediately realise how appalling the comment was does not indicate a high degree of sensitivity. Mr. Palmer, as Executive Producer of Media Watch is responsible for the content of the Media Watch web site.

Another ugly contribution by Palmer appeared on He criticized that blog: "It's more like watching someone die of prostate cancer. It's tedious, the viewer may die of something else in the meantime and in the long run you just don't want to know about it anyway"

Similarly, in a recent public letter to the Sydney Morning Herald columnist Miranda Devine, he gloated that he had forced Daily telegraph Deputy editor Tim Blair to publish a craven apology.

This sort of excessive belligerence could be expected from an inexperienced person, with little background in the national media landscape. In my view such ferocious argumentativeness is inappropriate and unacceptable from a person with Mr. Palmer's seniority in your organisation.

Unfortunately this incident appears to characterise Palmer's attitude to critics. Tim Palmer crossed my radar following the murder of Malki Roth, the daughter of a constituent of mine. Mr Palmer ultimately refused to interview the father of a murdered girl because Mr Roth, the girl's father, refused to be bracketed on a ABC program with the father of Malki's killer, who gloried in his murderous son's deed.

I think the ABC is making sincere efforts to engage it's critics and in my opinion programs like Lateline, Insiders and the 7:30 Report do make an effort to be fair over time. My fear is that Mr Palmer's appointment, his persona and the effect he will have on Media watch will go against this trend.


Keating savages 'gutless' Labor, again

THE Labor leadership is "gutless", obsessed with consensus politics and too timid to take on the unions, according to Paul Keating in his second assault on the party in just four weeks. The former prime minister also calls firebrand timber union leader Michael O'Connor a "Labor rat" who should be "excommunicated" from the party.

The latest intervention from the man who led Labor to defeat in 1996 follows last month's outburst in which he took issue with many who now lead the party. Among those to feel the wrath of Keating during an ABC Lateline interview were deputy leader Julia Gillard, national secretary Tim Gartrell and the man who has won preselection for Kim Beazley's seat of Brand, Gary Gray.

His attack on Mr O'Connor -- who was elected to the Labor national executive in April -- is in The Forest Wars, written by ANU academic Judith Ajani and published by Melbourne University Press. Describing him as a "Labor rat", Mr Keating argues that while he claimed to be a trade unionist representing workers, he never tried to help the Labor Party in office. Mr Keating, as prime minister, was in 1995 forced to deal with a damaging split in the Labor caucus over the forestry debate. This culminated in a blockade of parliament by loggers.

Mr O'Connor, head of the forestry division of the Left-controlled Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, also played a key role in attacking Mark Latham's 2004 election policy to lock-up Tasmania's old growth forests. He was in turn attacked by senior party figures after the election defeat. He refused to comment last night when confronted with Mr Keating's remarks.

Mr Keating, asked why the ALP had not drummed Mr O'Connor out of the party, responded: "Because people are too gutless, that's why. And nobody these days likes the fights." Instead, Mr Keating said, the Labor leadership "all want consensus results. Well you don't get big issues resolved like this, just by consensus."

Forestry remains a sensitive issue for the ALP, with the Coalition seeking to portray Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett as an old-time activist who would cost people their jobs by declaring old-growth forests out of bounds to loggers.

A spokesman for Kevin Rudd said he was unavailable for comment last night but Opposition transport spokesman Martin Ferguson, ACTU president at the time of the 1995 blockade, backed Mr O'Connor. "While I respect Paul Keating, I am pleased to say that Michael O'Connor is a mate of mine," he said. "Michael has never forgotten that he represents low-paid workers."


More raids on Muslim medicos

Australian police have launched fresh raids on two hospitals in Western Australia in connection with the failed terrorist plot in Britain, seizing computer files and questioning a number of doctors believed to be of Indian background.

The Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, said links to the UK were "becoming more concrete" as they begin to examine some 31,000 computer files seized in the raids on hospitals in the Western Australia state capital of Perth and the Outback mining town of Kalgoorlie. The files are believed to had come into contact with Muhammad Haneef, the Indian-born doctor arrested in Australia on Monday. Police will look through the files and compare information contained on them with material held in the UK, the commisssioner said. Those being interviewed included foreign doctors of a similar nationality and background to those being held in the UK, Mr Keelty said. There have been no arrests in addition to Dr Haneef.

The investigation in Australia has also widened to a third state, New South Wales, the commissioner said. "There are a number of people now being interviewed as part of this investigation, it doesn't mean that they're all suspects but it is quite a complex investigation and the links to the U.K. are becoming more concrete," the commissioner told reporters in Canberra, the national capital.

The questioning of a number of doctors today was "to gather evidence or gather information about the network, about who is linked to who, and who, if in fact if anybody, has committed any criminal offence," Mr Keelty said.


Compulsory history teaching could backfire

Since Australian history academics are heavily far-Leftist, it might just lead to another injection of propaganda

There is nothing new under the sun. In a lecture delivered in 1890, Charles Henry Pearson, the Victorian liberal politician and writer, wrote: "The indiscriminate popular cry for the introduction of a large measure of historical teaching into our public schools is, to my apprehension, [both] foolish and mischievous." Pearson, who had written quite an amount of history, was sceptical of the capacity of young minds to appreciate history, an art that generally requires the attainment of middle age to master. Moreover, he was convinced that while young people were not capable of understanding legal or political institutions, they seized "instinctively upon whatever is personal or anecdotal in a narrative".

You may disagree with Pearson's analysis, but it indicates a level of intelligence and sophistication that the present discussion about the teaching of history in Australian schools has not attained. We have not really had a debate about the desirability of teaching history, in particular Australian history, as a compulsory subject. It has just been assumed by both sides of politics that compulsory Australian history is a good thing.

But is it? Are the arguments in favour of the teaching of Australian history in schools strong enough to justify compulsion? Or would young minds be better served if, for example, they undertook the compulsory study of a foreign language? The basic argument used in favour of the study of history is that we need to understand our past. It is an argument based on sentiment that emphasises the bonds that tie the generations together. But what exactly is our past and why, in a country inhabited by the descendants of migrants from so many parts of the world, should it be limited to the Australian past?

There are many good arguments in favour of the study of history. Consider what Pearson says about the personal and the anecdotal. History provides an excellent opportunity for young minds to explore the way humans behave, why they choose certain courses of actions and how they end up in various circumstances. To study history is to be provided with a laboratory in which to explore character. Unfortunately, history at present is not much interested in character or the actions of individuals. Historians are far more interested in the action of impersonal forces, of institutions, ideologies and social forces. This raises significant problems for any attempt to teach history and historical analysis to young people.

We are often told history encourages what are termed critical skills. But there must be a question over the capacity of young minds to exercise these critical skills. After all, the greatest historians can exercise such capacities because they have had decades to reflect on human nature and its relationship to the course of events, to acquire a measure of wisdom.

Unfortunately, and this should not surprise anyone, when young people exercise their critical skills, too often they are merely parroting a fashionable ideology. It's like reciting tables. When you look at the history curriculum held up to us as the exemplar for the whole country, the NSW Year 10 course in Australian history, you can see ideology masquerading as critical thinking.

Here lies the central problem for the teaching of history in schools. In recent times there has been a move to consider history in political rather than professional terms. Many professional historians are more interested in serving political causes than historical ones. They are more interested in conducting history wars that have political objectives than in engaging in professional debates that have as their objective the establishment of historical truth. This is particularly true of those historians working in the area of Australian history.

Given the state of the history profession in Australia, it was always odd the Howard Government sought to make the teaching of Australian history compulsory in schools. From where did it hope to get the expertise that would enable it to put in place a curriculum that was not ideologically tainted? Surely the experience of the history summit, with its outcome of a series of questions full of ideology and bias, would have taught it the futility of the exercise. Why, indeed, was it so unwilling to release the final form of these questions for public scrutiny? But no, despite all the warning signs, the Government pushes on. Now it has established a working party to take its curriculum to the next level.

What I fear is the sort of compulsory history our children will be forced to study. I worry that, like the NSW curriculum, it will be full of ideology parading as criticism. Compulsory Australian history would crowd out the history of the rest of the human race, leaving the next generation culturally impoverished. Above all, I fear that, as in NSW, forcing ideology down students' throats will turn them away from a love of history. What we need is a real debate about the teaching of history in schools. Perhaps federal Education Minister Julie Bishop could begin by reading what Pearson, a one-time minister of education and an important liberal intellectual, had to say on the matter.


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