Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rudd is from a less unhinged generation

I think that the article below makes some interesting points but I also think that it considerably overstates the importance of generational effects. Ordinary people got on with their lives much as before during the '60s, regardless of the bees in the bonnets of the intellectual lightweights who thought they were so wise. The State where I live was run in the early '60s by the very conservative "honest Frank" Nicklin and only ill health caused him to retire. He had no trouble winning elections.

In 1968 he was succeeded by another member of his conservative party -- that determined squasher of disorderly student protests, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen -- and Sir Joh got big approval ratings for his very conservative policies -- ending up running Queensland for nearly 20 years. In 1974, he gained a remarkable 59% (actually 58.97%)of the popular vote -- just a tiny touch above what Ronald Reagan got (58.8%) in 1984. In a Western democracy, those percentages spell "landslide" -- and the landslides concerned were for very conservative candidates.

One is left to argue that the educated elite were much more affected by the '60s and that their role in running things amplifies the effect of the '60s. That may be true to some degree but to get to rule anywhere they still had to be voted into office by ordinary people so it still comes back mainly to how the views of ordinary people vary from generation to generation

One of the interesting and important things about our new Prime Minister, culturally as opposed to politically, is that he is our first post-baby boomer leader. Technically he may have been born at the very end of the boomer cohort, but he is in no sense a child of the 1960s. During the pivotal year of 1968 -- the year of the Paris student riots, the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the Cultural Revolution in China, the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in the US, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia - Rudd was still in primary school.

Even if you regard the '60s as finishing in Australia at the end of 1975, Rudd escapes them. He was still at high school. At university he was not a radical activist but a Christian activist and a nerdy, hard studying student.

Perversely, it was the post-baby boomer generation that John Howard always thought he stood a good chance of winning, whereas the baby boomers were permanently sour on a conservative such as him. We have all been influenced by the '60s, of course, but the hard-core baby boomers got the most direct radiation damage.

Culturally, the '60s were very toxic. I have always felt about them much as W. H. Auden felt about the '30s:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade.

The '30s bore some resemblance to the '60s in that substantial numbers of intellectuals defected from the Western tradition and threw their lot in with the extremist and mad ideology of Marxism. In the '60s, many repeated exactly this error, but many also embraced a far wider series of cultural disorders than just Marxism.

But the contrast between the '30s and the '60s is more instructive than the similarity. The '30s, for all their treachery, produced some genuinely great art. Think of the writers you associate with the decade: Graham Greene, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell. These were genuinely great artists. Now name me a similar list from the '60s. You can't. Very little work of any artistic consequence emerged from the '60s. Instead it was a decade of destruction and nihilism, of self-regard so intemperate and unqualified that it tore art apart, as it tore apart most cultural values.

The very worst of the '60s occurred on Western campuses, which became scenes of violence, riots and intolerance. The key idea of the '60s was to abandon all restraint. Very few of the decade's gurus had the intellectual courage to think through what the abandonment of restraint really means. It means, in the end, the pure glorification of power.

For civilisation is all about restraint. So, too, is art. Sometimes a conservative period can be followed by a creative liberalising reaction. This is really what happened when the liberal Edwardians succeeded the conservative Victorians. That is partly why Edwardian literature and art, and the literature and art from just after that period, remain so attractive. They were created by people who were rebelling against a previously conservative period, but their rebellion was a restrained rebellion, both in method and intent. It did not imply the abandonment of restraints altogether, or of standards.

In Australia, certainly, the '60s do not stand in relation to the '50s as the Edwardian period stands in relation to the Victorian. For a start, the '50s were a period of incredible creative energy in Australia -- Patrick White, C. J. Koch, Hal Porter, Randolph Stow, Morris West, John O'Grady all began publishing in the '50s. Martin Boyd published three of the four novels in his magnificent Langton tetralogy then. Quadrant, the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated small magazine in Australian history, was born in the '50s.

When baby boomer activists of the '60s say how boring and provincial Australia was in the '50s, they are either saying that they did not know Australia very well in the '50s or simply that they themselves were boring and provincial.

The radical '60s, as they played out in Australia, were completely derivative of the US, a pale imitation of radical chic from New York and San Francisco. Even in the U.S., the '50s are being much re-evaluated, not least through David Halberstam's fascinating book on the subject a few years ago.

Of course, there were elements of the '50s that were objectionable, in Australia as in the US, especially the greater tolerance of racism. But the characteristic response of the '60s was not problem-solving. Instead it was a wholesale rejection of everything that Western culture had consisted of until that point. There was an authentically Orwellian inversion of language and meaning. Marriage was patriarchal oppression. Hallucinogenic drugs were a path to higher consciousness. Sexual exploitation was freedom. Liberal politicians were fascists. Communist totalitarians were liberators.

And for most of the leaders, and many of the practitioners, of '60s culture, the whole universe became entirely self-centred. The only thing that counted was "authentic" experience. There was no such thing as truth, the only question was whether it was true for you. Standards of any kind were regarded as oppressive, academic standards most of all. It is not overstating things to say there was a kind of madness abroad in the culture in those days, not a whimsical eccentricity but a wilful, self-indulgent, nihilistic and destructive madness.

Much that is wrong with our culture today --- especially the hatred of the Western tradition among many intellectuals and the self-obsessive, critical sterility of much academic theory -- comes directly from that time. One of the qualities most hated under the '60s ethos was sound and orderly process. Thus if you had a grievance at university, real or imagined, you didn't pursue it in the normal way, you smashed in the vice-chancellor's office.

An insistence on good process is an inherently conservative virtue. It is telling that Kevin Rudd has promoted himself so much as a politician of good process. His promise during the campaign of so many inquiries and reviews and panels and commissions can be lampooned or criticised as ineffective. But it can also be seen as the promise of sound, perhaps exhaustive, process to deliver sound policy.

This is merely one of the ways in which Rudd shows himself to be alien to the spirit of the '60s, which was above all a desperately impatient and intemperate spirit. That Rudd is so much the polar opposite of that spirit, even emphasising his conventional religion as opposed to the militant and intolerant secularism of the '60s ethos, is, literally, a blessing. The '60s are dead at last. Let's dance on their rotten grave.

The article above by GREG SHERIDAN appeared in the "The Australian" on January 19, 2008

Call for inquiry into public hospital death at hands of a Saudi


The NSW Opposition has called for the parliamentary inquiry into Royal North Shore Hospital to be reopened to hear evidence from a senior anaesthetist who raised concerns about the hospital's practices with a coroner. Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said she would push to reopen the inquiry after Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich, who is investigating the death of teenage patient Vanessa Anderson, said it was not his role to canvass broader issues at the hospital.

Vanessa, 16, suffered a seizure and died two days after her skull was fractured by a stray golf ball in November 2005. The inquest has heard she received no anti-convulsant drugs and was prescribed Panadeine Forte and the painkiller Endone, a combination three medical experts described as inappropriate.

Mr Milovanovich was set to deliver his findings last July, but adjourned the inquest after senior anaesthetist Dr Stephen Barratt wrote to him raising concerns about Sanaa Ismail, the anaesthetics registrar who increased Vanessa's dose of Endone. As the inquest resumed yesterday, Michael Williams SC, for the Anderson family, also sought to question Dr Barratt about his wider concerns at the hospital, but Mr Milovanovich limited the doctor's evidence to matters relevant to Vanessa's treatment.

Dr Barratt told Westmead Coroner's Court that Saudi-trained Dr Ismail "unfortunately has an issue of needing to save face" and invented stories. While he backed down from his initial assertion that this was a "cultural issue", he said: "She will not admit to mistakes." Recalled as a witness, Dr Ismail - now a senior registrar at the hospital - repeated her evidence that she misread Vanessa's medication chart, not realising she was on high-strength Panadeine Forte rather than ordinary Panadeine.

Dr Barratt told the court that two incidents earlier in 2005 had triggered his concerns about Dr Ismail's performance when unsupervised. However, when cross-examined by Dr Ismail's barrister Stephen Barnes, Dr Barratt conceded there was "little or nothing" in either incident to raise safety concerns. He agreed that an internal investigation cleared her of mistakes in treating the first patient, who went into cardiac arrest while in labour.

The court heard Dr Barratt had been "impaired" by extreme anxiety when he contacted the coroner and was prescribed medication less than three weeks later. Outside court, Vanessa's father Warren Anderson said the six-month adjournment had been difficult: "We just want the truth about what happened to our daughter." Ms Skinner will move to reopen the parliamentary inquiry so Dr Barratt could testify "about all of the matters he wanted to canvass". Mr Milovanovich will hand down his findings on Thursday.


Surprise! Welfare housing crime-plagued

When was it otherwise?

Prostitution, drugs and violence are crippling Brisbane Housing Company's affordable housing projects, according to residents. And the Kelvin Grove Urban Village would be a paradise lost unless the State Government and Brisbane Housing Company provided support for the jobless who had been lumped together there. Residents feared reprisals ranging from violence to burglary and being labelled a snob for speaking out against the developments which were built to house low-income people and those in "transition from crisis". "The concept sounds great but the reality doesn't seem to be working," Kelvin Grove resident Peter Jeremijenko said.

The movie stuntman lives on the edge of the urban village, where his family has lived for three generations. He recently adopted a friend's guard dog and advised his neighbours to do the same after a series of break-ins. He has been fighting BHC for about 10 years on development issues and has recently been trying to find out how many former prisoners are housed in the four blocks of units in the urban village. "This is the most beautiful place in the world to live, but right now we have some social issues that need to be fixed," he said. "There is a lot of good in their design (of the urban village) but there are fundamental flaws in filling it first with BHC (tenants). "The diversity is great and I can see this turning into a great area if they can get it right."

BHC chief executive David Cant yesterday admitted there were ex-prisoners and mentally ill living among the company's properties but said they were a small percentage. He said it would be paternalistic and judgmental to suggest that these people could not live alongside ordinary pensioners. About 40 per cent of BHC tenants describe themselves as disabled physically or mentally and about half rely on Centrelink. "These people have to go somewhere," Mr Cant said. "It's too prescriptive and judgmental to say they can't live beside a little old lady. People have to be given a chance. "That's part of our mission. We exist to house low-income people. "But we seek to create balanced communities."

He accepted there had been crime problems in some of the developments but many had been resolved. He said he was unaware of prostitution claims in the Bowen Hills development. He said BHC was strict about crime and would pass on any evidence to police.


Conservative path is the best bet for Australia's Liberal Party

Kevin Rudd was elected on John Howard's policies so it would be amazing to abandon those policies

IT was 2000 and up-and-coming NSW state MP John Brogden confidently declared that Liberals must match their progressive economic policies with progressive social policies. Citing social policy examples such as multiculturalism, gay marriage and decriminalisation of drugs, Brogden proposed a program of social liberalisation that would transform the Liberal Party into what he described as "consistently liberal, not a hybrid of economic liberalism and social conservatism". It was a vision that promised to radically reform the Liberal Party and make it relevant to what he perceived was a new generation of voters who had grown up in a "modern, tolerant, progressive Australia".

Yet in the short period that intervened, the Howard government proved, almost as if deliberately, that the opposite was true. Slashing personal income tax rates, erasing $96billion of government debt, opening up the workplace to competitive market pressures and the introduction of private health care incentives are just a few examples of Howard's voracious appetite for economic reform. But in virtually the same breath, the Howard government reaffirmed marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, pursued a "tough on drugs" strategy, rejected indigenous apologism and replaced multiculturalism with integration, among its many socially conservative projects.

John Howard summed up his approach in 2005 when he described himself as an "economic liberal and a social conservative", and rejected incompatibility between those two strands, suggesting that it was "some of the oddest pieces of political philosophy" to say that an economic liberal had to be a social libertarian. Until the 2007 election, this formula delivered Howard unprecedented electoral success, particularly among Australia's youth.

Clive Bean, a key contributor to the Australian Election Study of voting behaviour (which is conducted after each election), found that for the first time more young people voted Liberal than Labor in the 2004 federal election. Analysis of what influenced the youth vote is even more instructive. The former government's stance on social issues was at least as influential as economic considerations when young people cast their ballots. That analysis is consistent with studies demonstrating young Australians are reacting against the liberal-progressive values of their parents. According to a 2005 study carried out by marketing firm Clemenger BBDO, called Tomorrow's Parents Today, young people are significantly more conservative than their parents. They are more likely to volunteer, to give to charity and to go to church. They are also more likely to marry and plan to have children earlier.

Despite an emphatic victory for Labor at the 2007 federal election and a shift in the youth vote, the success of Howard's formula has surprisingly been left intact. And Kevin Rudd knows it. After all, the media and marketing reinvention of Labor as a Howard-like conservative force was a recognition of the success of Howard's formula of blending free-market economic policy and socially mainstream values. Which is why, for example, Rudd went as far as to slap down his party's foreign affairs spokesman on the issue of opposing the death sentence for the Bali bombers. He has also repeatedly referred to himself as an economic conservative, rejected gay marriage and made his Christian beliefs a matter of public record.

The constant and successful use of catchphrases such as "new leadership", "fresh ideas", "plan for the future" and the Kevin07 brand meant Labor was distinguishing itself not on the basis of a Left or progressive policy agenda but, rather, on personality and the impression of being more forward-looking than Howard. In many ways, Labor's 2007 campaign capitalised on the strong electoral synergy between free-market thinking and mainstream social values. But with proposals to make an apology to the stolen generations and a subsequent legal liability of possibly more than $1 billion, plus an Australian bill of rights and allowing civil unions between homosexuals in the ACT, Labor is slipping back to its natural place on the Left of the political divide.

This creates an opportunity for the conservative side of politics to take back ground and reassert its place as true representatives of the Australian mainstream. To take advantage of this opportunity, blending social conservatism and economic reform will be the key not only to electoral success of the Liberal Party, but to locking in Australia's long-term prosperity for future generations.

Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull have publicly recognised that securing Australia's future prosperity demands rising to the challenge of an ageing population and collapsing age-dependency ratios. With a diminishing productive base, workforce participation rates will decline and be unable to sustain increasing levels of welfare. That pressure will require governments to look towards more family-friendly policies which lead to more children and reduce welfare dependency: a clear example where combining economic and social policy can be good policy and good politics. As Howard often said, there is no institution that is a more efficient deliverer of social welfare than a united, affectionate, functioning family. According to Howard: "It's the best social welfare policy that mankind has ever devised."

It is the blending of our economically progressive and socially conservative traditions that will enable us to embrace policies that are family friendly but still firmly placed in the free-market framework. The fortunes of the Liberal Party and Australia will be best served if we seek to achieve the right mix.


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