Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Racist Greenies

A coconut is brown on the outside but white on the inside. It is a classic slur on blacks who co-operate with whites. For similar reasons Chinese sometimes get called "bananas"

KIMBERLEY Aborigines who support Woodside's $30 billion gas hub are being racially abused as "money-hungry coconuts" in an intensifying campaign involving hateful newsletters and graffiti attacks.

And the Aboriginal leader who helped to secure a 30-year package of indigenous benefits in exchange for a gas hub on Western Australia's far north coast says green groups have betrayed the region's Aborigines.

There is angst and tension in the resort town of Broome, where some of Western Australia's poorest Aborigines live alongside residents who want the hub to go ahead at a different site, preferably 800km south in the industrialised Pilbara.

A newsletter widely distributed in Broome labels Kimberley Land Council chief executive Nolan Hunter as Woodside's "chief coconut" for his role in securing a $1.5bn deal that will bring education, employment and social benefits to the region's indigenous population in return for their support for the gas hub project.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian yesterday, Mr Hunter told how the hate mail came so thick and fast he now instructed staff at the KLC office not to open letters with their bare hands.

Mr Hunter said green groups promised in 2007 to support a single site for a gas hub in the region, but now were campaigning hard against the project. "For them, the environment can stay pristine and the people in it can live in poverty and destitution," he said. "People who oppose the gas have housing, they have income and their kids have good educational opportunities. They want somewhere pristine to come and spend their money on holidays."

The proposed project has been dogged by controversy since April 2009 when Kimberley traditional owners signed a heads of agreement with the state government and Woodside for a gas precinct at James Price Point. In May, the Goolarabooloo Jabbir Jabbir native title claim group voted to support the project. The KLC considers the deal "a landmark exercise in democratic decision making" that will lead directly to hundreds of jobs and guarantee a social justice package of health, education, housing and training.

Protesters have been near the site of survey work since July. "The threatening, offensive and intimidating behaviour that some of our staff, contractors and traditional owners have been subjected to over recent months is unacceptable," a Woodside spokesman said last night.

The region's indigenous Labor MP, Carol Martin, is named along with nine others in the most recent newsletter as "black on the outside, white on the inside and full of the milk of white man's money". She said opponents of the development showed disrespect for Aborigines' rights to make decisions about their land. "I'm shocked at the level of vitriol that's come out . . . this is the worst I've seen it," she said.


Greenie hypocrisy exposed

The unions have hit the nail on the head with this one. What is the point of destroying Australian jobs only to transfer the "polluting" to China?

UNIONS have gone on the warpath after learning that the new headquarters for the federal Climate Change Department will use cheap Chinese aluminium, which they say is dirtier to produce than the Australian product.

The national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, raised the matter with Julia Gillard yesterday during a meeting of the unions, industry, the Prime Minister and senior ministers to discuss ways of helping the struggling manufacturing sector.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union was not ruling out a green ban on the site if Australian aluminium was not used. The secretary, Dave Noonan, said it was hard to see how the environment was being served by aluminium being produced in a high-carbon environment".

The use of the imported product was a classic example of dumping goods to corner the market and force Australian suppliers out. The union was considering what action to take to draw the issue to public attention.

The department has signed a lease for the Nishi development being constructed in Canberra's central business district.

But a spokesman said neither the department nor the government could be blamed for using the cheap aluminium because it was only a tenant. "The department does not have any input into the awarding of contracts for the base building, which would be a matter for the developer," he said.

Mr Howes said the contract was for 80 tonnes of aluminium extrusions, valued at about $5 million. "Emissions for aluminium made in China are around 50 per cent higher than Australian aluminium," he said. "The irony of the Climate Change Department importing aluminium made from China would be laughable if it wasn't such a slap in the face to Australian manufacturing."

Mr Howes said $5 million might seem like "small fry" to the government "but it's a lot of money to local manufacturers struggling to survive". The manufacturing sector is suffering the pressures of the mining boom, high dollar and cheap imports.

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, the Industry Minister, Kim Carr, and the Australian Industry Group also attended Ms Gillard's meeting yesterday. Such meetings have become frequent since BlueScope Steel laid off 1000 workers a month ago.

Ms Gillard has put tax breaks for manufacturers on the agenda for the tax forum next month to help keep industries viable as they adapt to structural changes in the economy.


The friction of freedom comes with open debate

Janet Albrechtsen opposes press censorship from the Right

FOR most of his time in the White House, Ronald Reagan faced the sort of media hostility that our Prime Minister could only imagine in her worst nightmares. Yet the former Republican president had the right attitude when it came to sections of the media that irritated him. During his address to the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in April 1987, the Gipper said: "I'm sure we get exasperated with one another but that's just the friction of freedom."

As Tim Graham wrote in the National Review a few days after Reagan's death in June 2004, Reagan managed to transform America despite an antagonistic media. And critically, Graham noted: "He did it all before Fox News. He did it all before the Rush Limbaugh phenomenon. He did it all before the instant battle cry of his defenders could hit the internet." No doubt, certain politicians, academics and Fairfax journalists will probably avert their eyes at the very mention of Reagan. Yet they are surely in need of a refresher course on Freedom 101, given the new paternalism creeping into Canberra. The latest target of this paternalism is the print media. In fact, the target is narrower than that. The Gillard government and the Greens appear to have News Limited in their sights. Australians should not forget the history to this inquiry. It is a mix of political opportunism, revenge and ideology.

Opportunistic because the idea of an inquiry grew out of the News of the World phone-hacking scandals in Britain despite the absence of any phone hacking in Australia. Recall the Prime Minister announcing the day after the parliamentary testimonies of Rupert Murdoch and his son James in London that News Limited, the Australian arm of Murdoch's media empire, had "hard questions" to answer. By failing to provide details of those hard questions, Gillard's attack was simply an exercise in political expediency.

Vengeful because the Gillard government and the Greens have launched a curious public campaign against News Limited newspapers for daring to report, analyse and criticise its policies. Recall Greens leader Bob Brown, who labelled The Australian the "hate media", and Labor senator Doug Cameron concluding that "the biggest problem for democracy is the behaviour of The Australian and the Murdoch press". And last week Communications Minister Stephen Conroy described The Daily Telegraph as the "worst example" of a campaigning media, best read only for its sports pages. Ideological because there is something in the DNA of left-wing parties and politicians that reveals an illiberal attitude to press freedom in particular and free debate more generally.

At the micro level, the Gillard government's focus on the print media is a prime example of its paternalism. Conroy has not ruled out licensing the print media. By succumbing to the Greens, Gillard has effectively agreed with Brown that readers are too dim to read newspapers without an inquiry to guide them. That they are too stupid to discern bias, too influenced by the media and require government-instigated protection from newspapers -- especially those that disagree with the government and the Greens.

At the macro level, the very public protests against News Limited point to an all-too-familiar disregard for open debate. As former foreign minister Alexander Downer told The Australian last week, the Labor government is echoing the ideology of most leftist movements, which "expect a certain level of obedience from the media and when they don't get it they get terribly angry". That anger, so evident in comments from Gillard, her ministers, backbenchers, the Greens and their supporters in the media and academe, has the whiff of totalitarianism. Expecting the media to echo your political agendas, and getting angry when they don't, is rather fascist.

Like Reagan, John Howard faced a torrent of media hostility throughout his 12 years as prime minister. Even The Australian went hard against the Howard government on issues such as the bribery scandals at the Australian Wheat Board, the arrest and detention of Mohamed Haneef, the events surrounding the children overboard affair and so on. While Howard ministers corrected inaccuracies, there was no public outcry from the government over bias. Like Reagan, Howard saw it as the friction of freedom.

Alas, freedom doesn't count for much in certain left-wing salons. And that's why The Australian's weekend analysis of Robert Manne's Quarterly Essay is so important. Some have asked why this newspaper devoted so much space and so many words to challenge one Melbourne intellectual mostly unknown outside inner-city circles. In fact, contesting Manne's claims of bias against The Australian is an efficient way of contesting a broader leftist mindset long opposed to free debate. On that front, here's a little more history.

The arrival of commentators who challenged left-wing orthodoxy has upset many on the Left. Not just Manne, who has written fondly of the period between the rise of Gough Whitlam and the fall of Paul Keating, when the Australian commentariat was "overwhelmingly of a mildly left-liberal disposition". (Ergo, he bemoans the entry into the national conversation in the mid-1990s of what he calls "the dominant voices", "the attack dogs of the Right".)

Indeed, many on the Left have never quite understood or accepted the notion of diversity and free speech. Barely two weeks after the election of the Rudd government in 2007, people such as Crikey's Guy Rundle and the ABC's Jon Faine suggested we needed to purge conservative columnists at The Australian. It was time to "clean house", said Rundle, because conservatives "have no dialogue with the times". This mob does not really fancy free speech. Unless you agree with their sentiments.

That's why contesting Manne's criticism matters. And Manne and his illiberal comrades are not short on hypocrisy. Those calling for a purge of conservatives were not long ago complaining that Howard had stifled dissent within the media. Howard stifling dissent? No, what the stifling dissent crowd object to is the friction of freedom. Whereas previously people such as Manne had largely dominated the intellectual conversation in this country, the emergence of new voices means they have to share the stage with irritating opinions and analysis that challenge their views.

There are some long faces lamenting Conroy's inquiry will not go far enough. Take Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review: "The government has neutered any chance of a decent policy review." In fact, anyone genuinely concerned with open debate ought to be lamenting the Gillard government's eagerness to regulate newspapers. After all, if you don't like a newspaper, you don't have to buy it. And if you want to start up your own, feel free to do so. You can tweet, blog, start up your own online newspaper with little cost. Unless the Gillard government decides that regulation is needed to protect readers from activities at the heart of a modern liberal society. And how terribly illiberal that would be.


Let no one license truth and understanding

Jonathan Holmes opposes press censorship from the Left

WE must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and license it like our broadcloth and our woolpacks.

THUS John Milton in Areopagitica, his tirade against the licensing by British parliament of books and pamphlets in 1644. Milton failed to beat back the tide of censorship. Yet by the 1690s the attempt to license and regulate the printing presses had failed in England. An Australian government now seems to be contemplating a new attempt to "mark and license" knowledge in the land.

The federal government's convergence review that has been quietly proceeding for most of this year is looking at those parts of the media that have always been regulated by the state, radio and television. How should the rules that used to apply to them be recast to be relevant in an era when all media are converging into the digital stream?

The new media inquiry announced by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, will ask the same question about the print media, on paper and online. How should they be regulated? How do we strengthen the Australian Press Council?

The Press Council has its own ideas about that. A "draft discussion note" has been posted on its website.

In principle, it says, "a unified system should apply to the setting of standards and handling of complaints" for all news and opinion, no matter what the medium: TV, radio, newspapers, in print, on air or online.

The core of the system would be an independent council, modelled on the Australian Press Council (a voluntary, self-regulated body) as opposed to a statutory regulator such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

But the discussion note is full of terms that make the system sound a lot less voluntary and a lot more statutory than the present Press Council. The new council would have the "power to require" this and "to call for" that. There would be "statutory inducements" to persuade media players to sign up. And the council could refer complaints about especially egregious media sins to "a specially established panel" that "should have statutory powers to require provision of information and to impose fines or other punitive sanctions".

In one sense this isn't surprising. The minister made it plain at his press conference that he considers the Press Council, at present, to be a "toothless tiger". And he said he would be open to a statutory regulator such as the ACMA being given authority over all news and opinion, in print and online.

The Press Council clearly feels that to head off the threat of fully fledged state regulation some concessions are needed in the direction of a tougher regimen, backed at some point by statutory powers.

Well, in my opinion that's conceding too much. It would be to turn at least 150 years of history on its head.

There is, or should be, a clear difference between regulation of the broadcast media and self-regulation of the press.

Broadcasters are subject to regulation because they are licensed semi-monopolists.

Free-to-air commercial TV and radio stations are granted a license to use the frequency spectrum, a common good, to make money for private investors. In return, they pay dues to the government, and they agree to submit to various rules that govern their broadcasts: how much advertising they will carry in an hour; how much Australian content in a week; how much children's content; and so on.

They also agree to abide by codes of practice drawn up by themselves but overseen by the statutory regulator, the ACMA. Those codes, in theory at least, commit them to report the news accurately and current affairs fairly.

But newspapers never needed spectrum or any other public good. Anybody can set up a printing press and churn out a rag. Other than the law of the land, there is not now, and has not been for generations, any state regulation of printed news.

It's true that for decades the freedom to set up a newspaper has been a merely theoretical liberty. It simply has been too expensive for just anyone to do. In recognition of that, governments have laid down rules about who can own how much media.

In the late 1980s, under Labor's watch, new rules designed to prevent one owner from dominating all the media in a particular market led instead to Rupert Murdoch's News Limited dominating the newspaper market through much of Australia.

That's done, and cannot be undone, at least by politicians. Technology, however, may be doing what they cannot.

Of course, News Limited still dominates the news agenda in most cities in Australia. Radio talkback hosts across the country still scan The Daily Telegraph, or the Herald Sun, or The Advertiser or The Courier-Mail, for the talking point of the day. ABC breakfast shows still take their cues from the front page of The Australian.

On the other hand, any citizen who wants to engage with world, national, state or local affairs has a hundred choices they didn't have 10 years ago, from chat rooms to blogs to community websites.

Yet just as, for the first time in decades, genuine media diversity is being made possible by the new technologies, we are suddenly talking about licenses and regulations, and codes of practice, and statutory enforcement, and state regulators, for the printed word?

At his press conference, Conroy solemnly read out the first three clauses of News Limited's Professional Conduct Policy and declared that in his view The Daily Telegraph was regularly in breach of all of them.

At Media Watch, we agree. We made the same point two months ago, and again on Monday night. But any attempt to fine or legislate that paper, or any other, into fairness would probably fail and would certainly cost too much in terms of our traditional liberties.

So, by all means, let's try to find a way to beef up and properly fund the Australian Press Council. Let's grapple with the vexed issue of how the blogosphere, from Crikey to Kangaroo Court, can be persuaded to submit to its adjudications.

But it should surely remain, in essence, a voluntary system. The state, and statutory regulators, should have nothing to do with it. We do not need an ACMA to levy fines on wayward bloggers.

The printing presses of the 1640s, through which the Levellers and the Diggers were able to spread their revolutionary creeds, have given way to the stream of 1s and 0s that enable any ratbag or rebel -- as well as, of course, the paid columnists of global moguls such as Murdoch -- to rant and rave.

And Milton's arguments are as valid now as they were then: "Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolised and traded in by tickets and statutes and standards."


Lord's Prayer rejected by Primary School

A WEST Australian government school has banned students from reciting the Lord's Prayer before assembly in response to complaints from parents.

Edgewater Primary School, in Perth's north, ended the 25-year practice after some parents said it contravened the WA Education Act, which stipulates schools cannot favour one religion over another.

Edgewater principal Julie Tombs sent a letter to parents yesterday saying the prayer would no longer be recited before each fortnightly assembly.

She said although most students' parents favoured the tradition, only 36 per cent responded to a survey asking for their views. "We acknowledge that of the parents who did respond to the survey, many wanted to retain the Lord's Prayer and it is right that we continue to recite it at culturally appropriate times such as Christmas and Easter, as part of our educational program," Ms Tombs said in a statement.

"However, at this school we have students from a range of backgrounds and it is important to consider all views and not promote one set of religious beliefs and practices over another."

Ms Tombs said students would continue to recite the school creed, which includes a reference to God.

WA Premier Colin Barnett said although it was "desirable" for students to recite the prayer at assembly, it was ultimately the school's decision. "My own view is that WA is basically a Christian-based community and I think its desirable to have the Lord's Prayer said," Mr Barnett said today.

"(But) that decision rests at the school level. Certainly schools can, and I would encourage them to, have the Lord's Prayer. "I don't think it offends anyone; it just simply reflects the values and backbone of our society."

Mr Barnett said it was part of Australia's "culture, our history and it's reflected in our institutions and laws".

Anglican Dean of Perth John Shepherd said although religious demographics had changed in recent years, there was still a place for the Lord's Prayer to be recited at government schools. "I think there is a place, just as there is a place for exposing children to the full knowledge of other faiths," Dr Shepherd said.

"I do acknowledge that it's not simple, (but) it does embody values to which we all ascribe. "I think it is a valuable addition to the educative process."


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