Sunday, November 15, 2020

Jobs for the girls

Bettina Arndt on the feminist scene

Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan is working on legislation to force our recalcitrant universities to properly tackle free speech on campuses. But it’s one thing to find ways of stopping students throwing tomatoes at a Prime Minister’s car and quite another to take on the current feminist culture which encourages blatant discrimination against men in academic appointments, and censors publications or scholarship which challenge their preferred narrative.

The Henrekson study

Across the Western World, universities kowtow to these orthodoxies. I have recently been corresponding with Swedish economist Magnus Henrekson, a professor and president of the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm.

Professor Henrekson told me about an exciting study he completed recently. It was based on an extremely large and exhaustive data set covering the entire Swedish population, used state-of the art econometric techniques and their hypothesis was confirmed, with strong empirical support.

Henrekson and his colleague Carl Magnus Bjuggren sent it to various top economic journals – only to receive endless rejections. “We have gotten pushbacks everywhere. It is obvious that the issue is not the quality of the paper per se. The problem is that the research question and the results are controversial (i.e., politically incorrect). We just get desk rejects where editors say that this is not an interesting question, or we get twisted reviews where reviewers go out of their way to conjure up outlandish alternative explanations to our findings.”

Findings about what? Well, the first version of their paper was entitled “Avoiding the housewife stigma: Self-employment as a female career choice”. So, the crux of the Swedish research is that women who marry men with extremely high incomes often start their own businesses which then underperform.

Isn’t that a hoot? In this elevated social set, it goes down better at cocktail parties for these women to mention they are importing matsutake mushrooms or designing diamond nose studs than simply raising rug rats.

It’s clearly not singing from the feminist songbook to suggest that the presence of a well-heeled husband could result in women choosing to dabble in unprofitable businesses rather than pursuing careers. Hence no one is allowed to publish research showing this is the case and even the most eminent journal reviewers meekly toe the party line.

I’ve been hearing such stories for decades. Research challenging the current cultural dogma simply doesn’t get published and students writing theses on the wrong topics can’t find supervisors or end up not qualifying for their degrees.

Unfair treatment of Colin Brown

Students like Colin Brown who has been fighting a mighty battle for a proper hearing after his PhD thesis on workplace male age discrimination was failed by a Melbourne university. Although it was initially passed by the two required examiners, the Dean of Graduate Research - a self-proclaimed feminist - then managed to disqualify one of these passes.

Eventually the Dean had his thesis failed after a number of strange "accidents” which included stalling on submitting his thesis for examination for 4½ months and then sending out a mangled version which the university had distorted in printing, leading to a negative response from two new examiners. The whole ghastly saga has been published here.

Bias in astronomy

One of the most striking essays included in Janice Fiamengo’s book, Sons of Feminism, was written by an Australian astronomer who ultimately decided to leave the country due to the invasion of his discipline by feminist and social justice politics.

Janice has given permission for me to share his thoughtful analysis with you – see here – as he explains exactly how the playing field is being systematically tilted to favour women.

Here, in his own words, is what life is like for an academic dealing with this climate:

“Before telescope-time or grant application meetings, we are now commonly subjected to patronizing speeches by diversity figureheads, who remind us how important it is to be fair to female applicants, how we should think twice before rejecting their applications, and how we should be mindful of gender balance and role models in our selection. It is a low-level form of brainwashing. We know that if we select too many male applicants (even if we do it on merit) our choice and motives will be scrutinized, monitored, criticized. Instead, if we select a few more female applicants (even if not all on merit), we will be praised and left in peace. Most astronomers unsurprisingly choose the path of least resistance.”

And this is the result:

“Some astronomers still spend most of their time researching and monitoring the sky; others instead spend most of their time researching and monitoring gender balance within astronomy departments, setting up equity-and-diversity committees, writing 200-page reports on discrimination, conferring awards to themselves for their social-justice work, making up new types of privileges, and running blogs full of political propaganda. Unfortunately, funding is shrinking for the former class of astronomers like me and is ever-expanding for the latter.”

Before this academic left Australia, the writing was already on the wall: “To obtain a good job, a male astronomer needs to be in the top 10% of male applicants, while a female astronomer only needs to be average.”

The astronomer also comments on the feminist claim that astronomy departments are rife with sexual assaults and harassment. He points out there have been examples of inappropriate behaviour – famous male professors duly shamed for having relationship with young post-docs or students. But, as he says, no one ever calls out the female students who flirt with senior male professors whose careers have benefited from such interactions. And female professors have relations with younger male post-docs and nobody complains.

A steady stream of men have been shamed as creepy aggressors on the Women in Astronomy blog which the writer suggests has become similar to the Red Guards' Dazebaos during the Cultural Revolution.

“As a male, I could be anonymously accused of sexual harassment on that blog without a shred of evidence, and my career would be over in a frenzy of online lynching before I had a chance to defend myself. No wonder we all choose to toe the line in public.”

Change in Australian politics?

Reading his words, I naturally thought of the ABC television’s latest public lynching – the 4 Corners programme this week on sexual misconduct by government ministers. What was quite extraordinary was staffer Rachelle Miller accusing her former boss and lover, now immigration minister Alan Tudge, of hypocrisy for having an affair with her whilst espousing family values. The programme allowed Miller to play the victim, complain bitterly about feeling used by Tudge and not one word about her responsibility in conducting the affair, risking the breakup of two families.

But that point aside, it will be interesting to see whether this constant narrative inflating the risks for women of working with potentially predatory powerful men will eventually misfire on the sisterhood.

Earlier this week I was in Parliament House, meeting with various parliamentarians and advisers, talking mainly about the campus kangaroo courts. It was encouraging to learn our efforts to alert the public to what’s going on here are much appreciated by key people in government.

At one point I was directed through the labyrinth of offices by a gorgeous young woman, tottering along on towering stilettos showing off her shapely bottom. You wonder how long prominent men will dare offer jobs to such beautiful creatures, or any young women. In this current climate we are already hearing women complain of being excluded from out-of-office socialising.

Was it just a coincidence that there seemed to be more young male staffers in some of the offices? Perhaps this is one area where feminist overkill might actually benefit men - if male employees become the safer bet for men in power.

Bettina Arndt newsletter:

Queensland Teachers’ Union member quits over ‘progressive’ agenda

A longtime member and delegate has quit the Queensland Teachers’ Union, saying it has become a puppet of the Labor Party and more interested in progressive agendas.

Brisbane manual arts teacher David Frarricciardi, 42, said he was offended at some of the behaviour he witnessed as delegate on the QTU state council for six years, and a school union rep for 12 years.

Frarricciardi said QTU claims of political impartiality were laughable.

“During my six years at the centre of the union I saw war-room-style call centres established in the lead-up to state and federal elections, where volunteers would sit and cold-call QTU members in marginal electorates and pressure them to vote for the Labor candidates,” he said.

Frarricciardi said the union-funded demographic studies to support the election “war rooms”.

“A straw that broke the camel’s back for me came when I was when as a rep I rang my organiser for assistance and was told that she was too busy with the election campaign to call me back,” he said. “True story.”

The QTU is one of the state’s most powerful unions with 46,724 members. It is influential in shaping government policy, and in recent years has supported progressive social agendas in schools. This had upset many members, Frarricciardi said.

QTU president Kevin Bates would not comment on Frarricciardi’s specific claims, but rejected suggestions the union was in bed with the ALP. “We are not affiliated with any political party and never have been,” he said.

Bates said the QTU did an impartial assessment of education policies before the election. It did not recommend a Labor vote.

“We then left it to our members to decide,” he said.

However Frarricciardi said he had seen pro-Labor bias first hand.

He said he became especially concerned at a state council meeting when he learned the QTU executive was ready to support candidates who “share our views”. “In other words, they wanted to support Labor candidates,” Frarricciardi said.

At one meeting while debating possible funding options Frarricciardi said he openly advocated supporting candidates who were pro-education and not necessarily pro-Labor, and tried to amend a motion accordingly.

“However I was shouted down by a prominent member of the executive (also a Labor Party figure), who said, ‘You will never find a Queensland teacher who would be stupid enough to vote Tory.’ ”

Frarricciardi was disturbed by another “unpleasant episode” showing the QTU in a bad light. It happened when then education minister John-Paul Langbroek addressed an annual conference.

Unionists were determined not to let Langbroek’s voice be heard. “All the lights in the room at the convention centre were ordered to be changed to green, and delegates were told to hold up signs saying, ‘We want Gonski,’ while hissing at each of the minister’s statements.”

Frarricciardi said he was not aligned to any political party. He simply wanted the union to focus on teachers, without championing political and social causes.

“I joined (the QTU) entirely out of fear, yes fear,” he said. “We were told that we needed the might and strength of the QTU to protect us. “There were bad people out to get us and without the QTU in our corner we would not stand a chance.”

“But what else has crept in? “If you want your boy to wear a skirt to school, or your daughter to use the boys’ toilet, then the QTU is the organisation to call.

“I asked a number of times what some of these progressive agendas had to do with my rights at work. “I also asked why my union dues paid to send two of the QTU executive members to Paris to speak on how Queensland schools are embracing LGBTQ.’’

Frarricciardi said the QTU was happiest when pushing “rather odd” left-wing agendas. He said many QTU members agreed with him.

Frarricciardi had intended to start his own union, but when he saw the breakaway Teachers’ Professional Association of Queensland was recently set up, he joined that instead.

Here I declare that the TPAQ is a sister union to the Nurses’ Professional Association of Queensland, to which I sometimes give advice as a media consultant.

Frarricciardi said he would urge the TPAQ to concentrate only on industrial matters such as workloads, class sizes, reporting requirements, playground duties and after-school meetings.

Vested interests cornered by shoddy ABC hatchet job

Monday night’s Four Corners story was not a public interest expose about the secret sex lives of Liberal ministers Christian Porter and Alan Tudge. The poorly executed political hatchet job by Four Corners has backfired dreadfully on women and kicked an own goal for the #MeToo movement.

A base level of intellect could have predicted this. By airing a string of nebulous claims by women against Porter and Tudge that lacked detail, let alone slam-dunk evidence of wrongdoing, Four Corners host Louise Milligan and executive producer Sally Neighbour invited curious viewers to wonder about the possible motivations of those who appeared in the program, including Malcolm Turnbull.

The Four Corners program started with Jo Dyer, described as a member of the 1987 national schools champion debating team. Her claims against Porter date back decades: He was “very charming” and “very confident”. He had an “assuredness that’s perhaps born of privilege”. He was “brash, blond and breezy”. He was “quite slick” with an “air of entitlement”.

That’s it. Without evidence, we are entitled to wonder why Dyer offered gratuitous personal criticisms of Porter?

Four Corners did not mention that Dyer was a failed Labor candidate for preselection. Nor that she has said “my political views are not exactly secret”. Nor that, as incoming director of Adelaide Writers’ Week, Dyer attacked the state Liberal government for having “no f..king idea” and predicted “they will flog off everything … to their corporate mates”.

That background could help explain why she filled out a bingo card of progressive words and phrases when speaking against Porter.

Melbourne barrister Kathleen Foley, who also made claims about Porter, says she knew him from the age of 16. She accused him of being “deeply sexist” and “actually misogynist” in how he treated women and spoke about them.

And the evidence? Foley offered this: “Everyone knew what kind of guy he was.” And this: He drank a lot and expressed a preference for women who are thin and have big breasts.

If this is public interest journalism, ABC schedulers must immediately set aside entire days every week to shame high-profile Australian men who drank a lot at university and prefer skinny women with big breasts. In the name of gender equity, an equal number of days must be set aside to shame Australian women who overindulged and fancy toned men with other particular physical attributes. [Height]

Foley, an accomplished lawyer, should know that making accusations with no clear evidence of wrongdoing is dangerous. Viewers might wonder if she has different political beliefs to Porter too? This week Foley lost her bid for re-election to the Victorian Bar’s governing council. Her platform included gender equity.

Four Corners did nothing to boost that cause, or Foley’s credibility, by airing hearsay and hazy claims overlaid with spooky music and blurred recreations of nothing in particular.

Lame journalism loses control of its story.

Four Corners claims that Porter snogged a Liberal staffer at a pub in Canberra in late 2017. The woman at the centre of the claim did not feature on the program. When contacted by Four Corners, she reportedly denied the claims.

Milligan did not tell viewers this. She told ABC radio this week she did not want to talk about off-the-record conversations with people who did not want to go on camera. That’s curious. Milligan breezily mentioned “dozens” of other people she spoke to — all unnamed — who made claims off camera against Porter.

Four Corners interviewed Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who offered the ABC more hearsay evidence against Porter. Hanson-Young claims she spoke to the young woman who “found herself in somewhat of a relationship” with Porter. The Greens senator says the woman was “very upset about what had been going on in the office she worked in and how she was being treated as a result of people finding out”. “It’s a man’s world,” said Hanson-Young, ominously.

This is not quality journalism.

There will be cases of legitimate public interest for the public to learn about the private lives of politicians. For example, where a foreign minister or defence minister becomes close to a suspected foreign agent. But presenting hearsay claims “volunteered” by Hanson-Young is not even close to serving the public interest.

Four Corners has done a serious disservice to women in particular. Look at how the program presented claims by Rachelle Miller, and still failed to move beyond a poorly executed political hatchet job.

Miller was a media adviser who had an affair with her boss, minister Tudge. Both were married, with children. Speaking to Four Corners, Miller appeared troubled. It is clear her relationship with Tudge did not work out. Yet, the precise claims she airs about him on camera are hard to pin down. A few days later, in what seemed like an orchestrated leak, we learned that Miller has lodged formal claims of bullying against Tudge and others. Those will be dissected by this column next week.

Sticking to the ABC’s shoddy effort, Miller told Four Corners she lost self-confidence, was exhausted, and “the behaviour wasn’t OK”.

What behaviour? They entered a consensual relationship. Miller was not a junior staffer. She did not appear to take responsibility for her role.

Where was an ounce of nuance from the ABC to reflect the reality that when a man behaves badly, often a woman is behaving badly too?

Miller complained that Tudge wanted her to walk next to him as they entered parliament’s Midwinter Ball. Would she have been more or less offended if he told her to walk two metres behind him?

Office affairs can be a bloody mess for everyone, not just the lovers. But no one should imagine that they all fail; many women marry men they work for. And the power relationship is not all a one-way power trip for the boss.

When a female staffer sleeps with her boss, she will often secure closer access to him at work too, invited into extra meetings and on travel. It changes how an office works. Office romances should be disclosed. And if there is to be a ministerial code of conduct, there should also be a staffers code of conduct because these relationships involve consenting adults with responsibilities to their office.

None of that was canvassed by the 56-minute political hatchet job by Four Corners. It was no surprise to see Labor’s Kristina Keneally saying little more than some blokes “were on the make” at the Midwinter Ball in 2017. God forbid, maybe some women were on the make too.

Melbourne lawyer Josh Borstein loves a camera, too. He pointed out that the A-G occupies a unique place in our political system. Given he offered no evidence of wrongdoing by Porter, his presence concentrated the political bias of the program. Borstein is a Labor luvvie, trade union lawyer and partner at a law firm that rakes in fees from class action lawsuits — an industry that Porter, and the Morrison government, want to regulate to better protect plaintiffs.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells added a conservative flavour with more vague comments, again lacking evidence of wrongdoing. Why was she there? Maybe the methodical researchers at Four Corners had not heard that the Liberal senator fancied being A-G before the role was handed to Porter by then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

It is bad enough that a bloated Four Corners team spent many months to produce a handful of discontents that might have an axe to grind. When the national broadcaster used taxpayer money to turn Four Corners into a full-throttle vengeance vehicle for Turnbull, it reinforced that politics, not public interest principles, drove its content.

Turnbull was invited to pontificate about the behaviour of two Liberal ministers who turned against him at the fag end of his leadership. As someone tweeted on Monday night, revenge is best served cold — and on TV. And then repeated.

Turnbull offered no evidence of wrongdoing that made this a public interest story either. Tudge’s affair with Miller, and the allegations against Porter, predate Turnbull’s “bonk ban” that prohibited sex between ministers and staffers.

Oh, the sweet irony that Turnbull wants a royal commission into the Murdoch media. During his dripping-wet interviews on the ABC this week, on Insiders, Four Corners and Q&A, obvious questions about his motivations went unasked.

They will be asked in Murdoch publications.

The upshot is that Turnbull, a group of apparently disgruntled women and other political junkies, have exposed a far more serious cultural problem than anything within the Liberal Party. They showcased how the revenge culture formalised by the #MeToo movement continues to backfire against women. Evidence of wrongdoing stands alone. Claims not backed by evidence invite us to check the motivations of accusatory women.

Australian Labor Party split on climate policy

'The biggest fear in the mining industry isn't market forces, it's the politicians'

Louise Nicholls has been living in the Hunter Valley long enough to remember when the local member was not Joel Fitzgibbon, but his father Eric, a friendly sort of bloke, she recalls, whose electorate office then ran things so efficiently that he always had time for a schooner of Old with the ladies from the Country Women's Association.

Joel inherited the seat, which has been in Labor hands since 1910, from Eric on his retirement in 1996, and kept it without too much trouble – or effort, says Nicholls –until the last election when a young coal miner and farmer named Stuart Bonds snagged 20 per cent of the vote for One Nation.

Fitzgibbon's margin collapsed from a cushy 14 per cent to an anxious 2 per cent.

Nicholls, who edits The Singleton Argus and runs a little farm outside town, says the difference in Fitzgibbon's public presence was dramatic and immediate.

"Bloody Joel," she says with a laugh as I raise the topic.

Days before the election the opposition agriculture and resources spokesman had been before cameras in vineyards discussing the newest methods of decarbonising agriculture and saving water.

"The day after the election it was all coal, coal, coal," says Nicholls.

"Don't bother talking to us about transition," a Fitzgibbon staffer told her days after the election, referring to the term often used to describe the organised withdrawal from the fossil fuel economy, she says. "That's all over."

After Labor's loss of the 2019 election Fitzgibbon took his newfound lack of ambition on climate change back to Canberra with the zeal of a convert.

It wasn't that he did not believe in anthropogenic climate change, it wasn't even that he did not believe that the use of thermal coal – coal burnt for energy – was not in decline.

It was just that he did not think Labor should be wedded to ambitious carbon reduction targets in opposition.

Why should Labor lose votes in seats – well, in seats like his – when it could simply embrace the government's position on climate and emissions reductions and let it take the heat?

Besides, if coal was already in decline, why should the Hunter Valley's workers not enjoy a few more years of its benefits?

Last October, Fitzgibbon told the think tank the Australia Institute that Labor should match the government's own emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent by 2030.

"The focus would then be all about actual outcomes, and the government would finally be held to account and forced to act," he said.

Since then sniping among Labor ranks has continued on the issue, even as the world began to take more meaningful action on climate change as the coronavirus hit.

Organisations seen as wedded to fossil fuels such as the International Energy Agency began calling for all nations to adopt green stimulus packages as oil and coal prices collapsed. Britain and the European Union stepped up already ambitious reduction targets echoed by China, Japan and South Korea.

On climate, at least, the wind might have been in Labor's sails this week had it not been for Fitzgibbon.

After a widely reported shouting match in an opposition cabinet meeting on Monday night he resigned from Labor's frontbench, telling reporters that the party was too focused on climate change.

"We have to speak to, and be a voice for, all those who we seek to represent, whether they be in Surry Hills or Rockhampton. And that's a difficult balance," he said.

In the Hunter, views of Fitzgibbon's departure were mixed, and they underscored what a terrible political problem climate change is for the valley, for Labor and for the world.

CFMEU district president Peter Jordan is sure that Fitzgibbon has made the right move by distancing himself from politicians who've become too close to the concerns of inner-city electorates in Sydney and Melbourne.

"They don't know how people here feel. The Labor Party has been too strong on wanting to listen to the other side, the other side that's got the green element about it,'' Jordan says.

"Joel has done the right thing ever since the election, he has accepted the argument that was raised by his electorate and in the last 12 to 18 months he has set about trying to correct that and steer Labor back to its traditional roots, and that is what blue collar workers want."

Sitting in his office, Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent recalls working on booths for Fitzgibbon the day of the last election, and how shocked he was at the angry reception he got from young blokes in hi-vis vests when he offered them how-to-vote Labor forms.

He too believes that Fitzgibbon is steering the right political course, though he concedes the politics are difficult. It might have been blue collar workers who abandoned Fitzgibbon at the last election, but they do not have the same problems as blue collar workers in other parts of the country, he says.

Pat Conroy holds the Labor seat of Shortland, adjacent to Fitzgibbon's, and he does not share his colleague's outlook. He says there are three coal transitions facing Australia, and the first two are under way.

The first is domestic thermal coal use. The Hunter Valley's four coal power stations are slated for closure over the next 15 years, starting with Liddell next year, or the year after.

Domestic thermal coal is in decline.

Conroy believes the shift away from seaborne thermal coal has also already begun, though because of the Australian industry's efficiency and the high energy content of its product, Australian coal mines will be among the last viable operations in the world.

Either way, he says, the end is in sight.

The third is steel-making coal, which Conroy says the world will abandon when new technology - now in development - comes into play.

"I think it is my first responsibility to my constituents to be honest about that," he says.

For his part, Fitzgibbon resists putting a timeline on the end of the industry.

"Predictions are a dime a dozen, and predicting what the global market might do soon is not a reason to regulate our industry out of existence now," Fitzgibbon says.

In that he agrees with the man who spooked him at the last election, One Nation's Bonds, who plans to run again.

"Why should Labor bring that forward? The biggest fear that people have in the industry is not the market forces, it's the politicians," he says.

He reckons that no matter how far Fitzgibbon distances himself from other Labor voices on coal and emissions he will still be known as a member of the same team.




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