Thursday, October 05, 2006


Two reports below:

Howard rallies Right in culture war assault

John Howard marshalled his allies on the intellectual Right last night for another surge against those of "the soft Left" whom he warned still held sway in educational and cultural life and treated the teaching of Australian history as an afterthought. Half-declaring victory after decades in the culture wars, the Prime Minister warned there was still a large group, whose intellectual roots went back to the communist sympathisers of the Cold War, whose grip on universities, for example, remained "by virtue of its long march through the institutions".

An unapologetic and defiant Mr Howard praised his Government's successes over the "posses of the politically correct". But he warned of struggles ahead over education, history, Australian values and Islamic extremism's threat to democracy. "Few debates are as vital as those over education - whether it be in upholding basic standards on literacy and numeracy, promoting diversity and choice or challenging the incomprehensible sludge that can find its way into some curriculum material," he said last night.

Addressing the 50th anniversary dinner for Quadrant magazine, for which he has written, Mr Howard said it "has upheld the best traditions of free thought and vigorous debate, often as a lonely counterpoint to stultifying orthodoxies and dangerous utopias that at times have gripped the Western intelligentsia". He said Quadrant, a magazine of small circulation and a conservative bent, had been "Australia's home to all that is worth preserving in the Western cultural tradition".

For his part, Mr Howard cited many of the battles Quadrant has waged and numerous individuals who have been attacked, defiantly raising topics that have had him branded a racist, old-fashioned and frozen in the 1950s. "With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism, it became all too easy to pretend that the outcome of the Cold War was an inevitable result of large-scale, impersonal forces that ultimately left totalitarianism exhausted and democratic capitalism triumphant," he told the audience at the Four Seasons hotel in Sydney last night. "Nothing could be further from the truth. This was a struggle fought by individuals on behalf of the individual spirit."

Mr Howard defended Geoffrey Blainey, who was vilified for his argument that multiculturalism should be reconsidered, he praised the intellectual questioning of the "black armband view of history" and pointed to Quadrant's defence of Keith Windschuttle's questioning of Aboriginal history. On the world stage he named the emergence of three remarkable individuals "whose moral clarity punctured such nonsense - Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II". While the hard Left and communist influence in Australia declined, Mr Howard said, the New Left argued the Cold War was a struggle defined by "moral equivalence" - where the Soviet bloc and the American-led West were equally to blame. "It became the height of intellectual sophistication to believe that people in the West were no less oppressed than people under the yoke of communist dictatorship," he said.

Quadrant "served as a beacon of free and sceptical thought against fashionable leftist views" in the 1960s and 1970s, he said. "Of the causes that Quadrant has taken up that are close to my heart, none is more important to me than the role it has played as counterforce to the black armband view of Australian history," Mr Howard said.


Little magazine leaves big mark

How Quadrant has fought the good fights in the nation's culture wars during the past 50 years and helped redefine the Australian political landscape

The tide is turning in Australia's culture wars. For decades, media sophisticates were able to control the political debate by all kicking in the same direction, like the Rockettes. In recent years, however, it is increasingly clear that the cultural landscape is no longer as flat and unvaried as the proverbial Australian sheep station. Whereas once conservative ideas were swept aside as being outside the boundaries of serious (and morally respectable) consideration, today they represent the political mainstream. On the great battlefields of history, economics, citizenship, national sovereignty and values generally, conservative ideas and those of classical liberalism increasingly prevail. True, the Left still controls the arts, universities and the public broadcaster. But far from losing the hearts and minds of the Australian people, conservatives are redefining the nation's cultural terrain.

Someone should thank Quadrant for its contribution to this change. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Prime Minister's favourite magazine and he will be among other distinguished guests in Sydney tonight to celebrate this important milestone. There is indeed much to celebrate. For Quadrant is the most successful and influential magazine of ideas in Australia's history.

Little magazines, whatever their political colouration, are - dreaded word! - elitist in character. Who reads them is infinitely more important than how many people do. To ask about their circulation is to ask the wrong question, unless one's object is to embarrass the editor. Their function is to try to set the agenda of public debate and policy. And they do this through what economists call the multiplier effect, by influencing the opinions of a small group who, in turn, influence and mould the opinions of the larger community. Judged in these terms, it seems to us that Quadrant has done outstandingly well during the past half-century. It was created to defend cultural freedom. Fifty years ago it planted its banner at what Lionel Trilling called the bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet, and there it remains.

Its first issue was published as Soviet tanks were crushing the 1956 uprising in Budapest and, during the Cold War, Quadrant opposed the perverse but comfortable notion that principled liberalism required an anti-anti-communist posture, one that really amounted to neutrality in the conflict between liberal democracy and totalitarianism.

In more recent times it has fought the good fights in the nation's culture wars, combating the political correctness that has poisoned the intellectual class and, until recent years, the political establishment. Above all else, Quadrant has been a rallying point for Australian intellectuals and journalists who rejected the prevailing leftism of the times.

It's hard to convey today what it was like 50 years ago for anti-leftist thinkers. It took guts to stand where you stood. There were no conservative radio talkback programs, no conservative websites or blogs, and no opinion pages such as the one you are reading. Newspapers were mostly dull and parochial.

There was a Labor Party lurching Left, ready to consult Molotov on the truth of the Petrov affair. Although Robert Menzies' conservatives were in power, a shallow, reflexive, progressive orthodoxy prevailed. This was a time when the leading historian, Manning Clark, went to the Soviet Union and wrote a glowing book called Meeting Soviet Man. He singled out for special praise - a "very great man", one of "earth images and folk wisdom" - none other than Alex Surkov, the thuggish secretary of the Soviet Writers Union. The Fellowship of Australian Writers was so impressed that, shortly after the Hungarian Revolution, it invited that tormenter of Russian writers to Australia as its guest. And so it went.

To be sure, Australian academics and intellectuals were only mimicking admired overseas models. In the US, liberalism reigned virtually unchallenged intellectually. Indeed, William F. Buckley Jr's newborn National Review magazine was just about the only conservative organ in North America. But there was a difference down under.

In a much smaller and more isolated cultural community - one characterised simultaneously by an aggressive commitment to an egalitarian ethos and by a desperate concern to distinguish itself from the surrounding philistinism - there was much less diversity and pluralism, less in the way of countervailing challenges to this orthodoxy, than in the US or Europe. This was the environment into which Quadrant was born.

Things started to change when a group of like-minded people decided to take a stand against the prevailing culture and went on to play a significant role in the country's cultural and political life. They included some distinguished and interesting men: former High Court chief justice John Latham; future and much-maligned governor-general John Kerr; leading poet James McAuley; and barrister Hal Wootten. Later they were to be joined by others, including trade unionist Lloyd Ross, writers and editors Donald Horne and Peter Coleman, and professors Heinz Arndt and David Armstrong.

And there was another who was of outstanding, indeed seminal, importance: Richard Krygier. A Pole by origin, Krygier, along with his wife, Roma, had found his way to Australia via Lithuania, Siberia, Tokyo and Shanghai. Arriving broke in 1941, with little English and knowing little about the country and no one in it, he started by taking a job as a waiter in one of Sydney's nightclubs. Krygier, a man of great charm and warmth, was passionately, knowledgeably, uncompromisingly and effectively anti-communist. When the Congress for Cultural Freedom was set up in Paris, Krygier was determined that Australia should participate in it. Despite initial indifference at its headquarters, he succeeded: in 1954, a small Australian committee was formed.

How was that committee to be the most effective in an environment made up in more or less equal parts of indifference and hostility? The answer was given to Krygier by Irving Kristol, later to be the founding father of American neo-conservatism. And it was, in retrospect at least, a predictable answer, as well as being right on the mark.

Coleman, whose own contribution to Quadrant through the years has been invaluable, has described the episode: "Krygier's great achievement was the founding of Quadrant. Its conception was in 1955 in the Russian Tea Room on West 57th Street, Manhattan, where he met Irving Kristol, the editor of Encounter (a leading European-based anti-communist magazine), to discuss the Australian situation. You should start a magazine! Like Encounter! Krygier wrote to the Paris office of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and asked for a subsidy. Malcolm Muggeridge, who had returned from his first visit to Australia, supported Krygier and told the congress executive that this was an idea whose time had come."

Fifty years after that conversation, Soviet communism is in the dustbin of history, the appeal of Marxism-Leninism is lost on all but a few alienated academics in the humanities departments, and Encounter and the other Cultural Freedom magazines have ceased to exist. Yet Quadrant remains a lively and substantial monthly.

In the intervening years, the magazine has had its ups and downs. There have been the clashes of personalities and ideas that inevitably characterise any enterprise entered into by a group of intellectuals with strong opinions. And there was the famous revelation of indirect and well-disguised CIA financial support. The general inclination of the Quadrant group to that event was to congratulate the CIA for having been smart enough to provide the wherewithal for what was an essential task in the context of the Cold War and then not to interfere or impose conditions on its recipients. The secrecy was regrettable, but a necessary condition for the thing being done at all.

Throughout its history, Quadrant has been capable of starting vigorous controversy and it is frequently quoted in the nation's media, especially these pages. Examples abound: Peter Ryan's revelations about Clark's biases and dodgy research; Geoffrey Blainey's and Ron Brunton's convincing attacks of the black-armband view of history; Robert Manne's exposure of Wilfred Burchett as a Soviet agent; Keith Windschuttle's forensic dissection of the historical fabrications of Aboriginal massacres; Gerard Henderson's (and a 29-year-old Peter Costello's) attacks on the old industrial relations club, which helped lay the intellectual groundwork for the recent labour market reforms; the work of Lauchlan Chipman, Leonie Kramer and others on education; Dyson Heydon's critique of judicial activism that many say helped secure him a position in today's High Court: these and others have had a substantial national impact. And, thanks to the work of McAuley, Vivian Smith and Les Murray, the magazine has made a huge contribution to the promotion of Australian poetry.

(More recently, Quadrant has published critical pieces of the decision to invade Iraq, not on the reflexive the-West-is-always-wrong grounds that motivate many critics but on an appeal to the classic conservative virtues of prudence, scepticism concerning sweeping ambition and the dangers of hubris.)

A decade ago, Manne had a famous falling out with his colleagues and eventually resigned as editor. But he has nonetheless conceded that Quadrant, under his successor Paddy McGuinness, has "marshalled the troops and galvanised the disparate voices of opposition into what amounted to a serious and effective political campaign" against Ronald Wilson's Bringing Them Home report on the so-called stolen generations. Today, few seriously mouth platitudes about apologies, treaties and separatism. Instead John Howard's (and Quadrant's) language of integration and practical reconciliation prevails.

Howard himself has been a contributor to his favourite magazine. During his dark days in Opposition, he once wrote a sympathetic review of the first volume of Allan Martin's biography of Menzies. And in 1994, two years before he became Prime Minister, Howard wrote a prescient piece on the culture wars, calling on the Liberal Party to fight "the battle of history with the Labor Party". Conservatives, he argued, "should not underestimate the significance of Australian nationalism as a potent political issue". Whatever you may think of this view, it is hard to deny that Howard, as Prime Minister, has put into practice today what he preached in Quadrant's pages.

No wonder Quadrant has acquired a great and distinguished respect overseas. The aforementioned Buckley, patron saint of American conservatives and a connoisseur of literary-political journalism, once described an issue (a special on China, put together by Simon Leys, aka Pierre Ryckmans) as "the single most liberating issue of any magazine I can remember". And according to the renowned scholar-poet Robert Conquest: "Quadrant has flourished in a jungle full of pygmies with personal arrows" and Australia is fortunate to have it and "so are we in the world at large". High praise for a little magazine.

Source. Two of my articles in "Quadrant" are here and here

University to put qualifications before Leftist bigotry

Adelaide University has been embarrassed into changing how it selects medical students and will focus more on brains rather than its institutional dislike of private education

The university will try to enrol more locals and reduce the emphasis on interviews, after being stung by the disclosure that interviewers had blackballed students from private schools and the children of doctors. Executive dean of health sciences Justin Beilby told The Australian the university would equally balance the Tertiary Entrance Ranking with interview results, placing a lesser importance on the university's medical admissions test results. "Previously the key determinant of getting into medicine was the interview and what we've done now is balance the Tertiary Entrance Ranking with the interview," Professor Beilby said. "The principal changes are not because of political pressure but on the review of the analysis. But you can't ignore the criticism."

Highly regarded Adelaide obstetrician Christopher Verco - whose daughter Lucy scored a TER of 99.3, but was rejected after her interview - said it was "gratifying" the university had listened to repeated concerns. "They have taken note of the concerns expressed by a large number of the public and the profession and one hopes that there will be processes in place toassess the equity and the utility of theassessment process," Dr Verco said.

The school will also reintroduce biology in the first year and add extra science subjects in the second and third years from 2008 as a result of the review. The university has received an extra 40 federally-funded places for the 2007 intake and the Rann Government last week announced it would fund five annual scholarships for local students. Country students will also be awarded bonus entry points.

Professor Beilby said the university would financially support the department to decrease its international student intake and enrol more local students. Australian Medical Association state president Christopher Cain supported extra weighting being placed on tertiary scores. "We still have some concerns on the UMAT as being a determinant in whether you get an interview," Dr Cain said. "If you don't perform well you don't get an interview."


Government must tread carefully when restricting jihadi texts

Officials from the University of Melbourne and the Howard Government are on collision course over freedom of speech - or more specifically freedom of research. Two books written by a man described as the "Godfather of Jihad" have been removed from the university's library, with a third facing the same fate, and on Monday evening's Lateline Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said that those who display, hire or sell the books - which have been refused classification - could face criminal charges. Even downloading the works from the internet could be illegal, Mr Ruddock warned, potentially placing the jihadi tracts in question on the same plane as child pornography. This present dispute is only the latest in a series of controversies concerning academic research into the field of terrorism. The Australian Research Council was criticised last month for spending $24 million on what critics said was a simplistic, blame-the-West view of terrorism.

While it is perfectly legitimate to question whether taxpayers should be funding inadequate and biased research, preventing access to primary sources is another matter. And as The Australian reports today, the works in question are freely available on the internet - allowing would-be terrorists to read them, but not academics seeking to understand and prevent their behaviour. It is already illegal to incite violence, and a far-reaching legal apparatus exists to tackle racial and ethnic vilification. While the books singled out by the Government may be inflammatory, many similarly offensive titles will continue to be sold. Barring access to publications should be used only as a last resort.


Warning over "fuzzy" syllabus

The [Queensland] State Government was warned two years ago by the chairman of its own Queensland Studies Authority that the state's senior syllabuses were vague, inconsistent, inequitable and inefficient. Professor John Mattick, the founder of the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, wrote to former education minister and now Deputy Premier Anna Bligh telling her the syllabuses needed radical overhauling. This was essential, he argued, to overcome problems such as different things being taught in different schools.

Ms Bligh said last night that she had acted immediately on Professor Mattick's letter instituting QCAR, the Queensland Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Framework that set benchmarks and linked curriculum issues to school assessment. She also set in train subject reviews that are still continuing and discussed the matter with parents groups. "I liked John's suggestion of a less crowded curriculum," Ms Bligh said.

Education Minister Rod Welford, who has not seen the letter, yesterday endorsed Professor Mattick's push for 80 per cent core curriculums in every subject with only 20 per cent of material left to the discretion of schools. "I think what has happened over the years is that schools have developed their curriculums and the syllabuses have allowed a real smorgasbord of content," Mr Welford said. "What wasn't recognised is that there was no guarantee that anyone covers anything in particular." He said trials were already starting on new programs of "essential content" that would provide core curriculums in different subjects.

The letter by Professor Mattick and another he wrote to a then-QSA board member, were leaked to The Courier-Mail after news that leading Australian research organisation, the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, is putting on remedial writing classes for its PhD researchers. The acting head of the IMB at UQ yesterday praised the QIMR initiative. Professor Brandon Wainwright said the IMB had a career development program for its PhD students.

QSA executive director Kim Bannikoff said there was no need for a core curriculum. He said the QSA and extensive moderation panels ensured that schools met set standards and covered work required by the syllabus, adding that preschool to Year 10 English had just been reviewed and a review of Year 11 and 12 English was about to begin.


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