Politics and public ideas

The 2021 Charles Perkins Memorial Oration

The 2021 Dr Charles Perkins Memorial Oration is delivered from the Great Hall of the University of Sydney by Tony McAvoy SC, Australia’s most senior Aboriginal barrister.

McAvoy, like Charles Perkins’ father, is a Kalkadoon man. His oration takes us through the brutality of the European settlers in their dealings with the Kalkadoon people, most notably the massacre of 1884. The settlers had intended to wipe out the Kalkadoon people, but the remaining men and women re-grouped. In December 2011, the Kalkadoon people had their native title rights recognized by the Federal Court.

The oration is preceded by a short presentation by Marlikka Perdrisat, a Nyikina Warrwa and Wangkumara Barkindji woman and a postgraduate law student at the University of Sydney, who reminds us what “law” is all about. That is followed by Rachel Perkins awarding the Charles Perkins Memorial Prize to outstanding Aboriginal graduates. After the oration Paul Kelly gives a rousing presentation of A bastard like me.

Keating on national security

If you have an hour and a quarter to spare you could watch Paul Keating’s National Press Club conversation with Laura Tingle, formally titled Australia’s national security framework, or more generally, how Australia’s present approach to security is at odds with our geography and our history.

Almost at the beginning Keating summarises his main message: Australia in recent times has been seeking security from Asia rather than in Asia. This departure from our Asian engagement developed by the 1983-1996 Labor government is most starkly manifest by the AUKUS deal, about which he has quite a bit to say.

At the end, in response to a journalist’s question, he observes that “both main parties have lost their way in respect of foreign policy”.

Our present government has ensured that any discussion on security will bring up consideration of China’s policies and intentions. Keating’s points on China are: it’s in the ascendency and we’d all better get used to that; it wants to be and will be a major player in the world order; it does not have expansionist ambitions but it wants to develop closer economic relationships on the Eurasian continent; Xi and the Chinese regime are authoritarian; and whatever happens with Taiwan it is not a vital Australian interest. In relation to Taiwan he stresses the provisions of ANZUS which impose no obligation on Australia to join with America in the event of America initiating military action.

He sheets some of the blame for tension in Asia to the Japanese – “The Bourbons of the Pacific” – for not having reconciled with China for their behaviour in the 1937-45 war. As for Britain, the third party in AUKUS, he is dismissive of its relevance: it’s “like an old theme park sliding into the Atlantic”, and has had no interest in our region for the last 100 years. (He fails to mention that they had enough interest to drop atomic bombs on us.) He is enthusiastic about military cooperation with the French, however. Militarily it is the strongest and most up-to-date power in Europe and it has strong interests in our region: the Morrison government has been foolish in severing our developing defence cooperation with France.

Even those who might disagree with Keating’s assumptions about China must surely be impressed by his knowledge of world developments, his ability to explain military and security developments, his capacity to draw on evidence, and his skill in bringing it all together in a coherent and convincing view.

Shakespeare on politics

The second of John Bell’s Boyer Lectures – Shakespeare: soul of the age – is Order vs Chaos.

Shakespeare knew what constituted “good government” even if that term wasn’t in use in his time. Not that he was a political advocate: had he been an advocate his career and possibly his life would probably have been cut short. But he knew the Bolsonaros, Morrisons, Trumps, and Xis of his times, he knew their flaws, and he made sure his audiences, to the present time, could share his insights.

Bell starts his lecture by pointing out that our government is actively discouraging students from studying humanities. Shakespeare has no less relevance to Australia in our present age than he had in Elizabethan England, but we have entrusted the task of government to uncultured men and women who are unworthy to serve as custodians of our common wealth.

How woke are you?

We know how it goes. In universities young people are immersed in a “left” culture, intolerant of other political standpoints. They can be relied on to support the dominant “left” orthodoxy – not the Marxist or social-democrat ideology of times past, but an orthodoxy defined by “wokeness”, use of politically correct language, and an ability to see race and sex discrimination in every aspect of life.

But when The Atlantic commissioned a poll to see if there was any difference in these attitudes and beliefs between people with and without college degrees, they couldn’t find many, and those few they found contradicted the standard right-wing narrative. Staff writer Olga Kazan summarises the survey results: America’s real “wokeness” divide.

Graduates and non-graduates agree on statements such as “America is becoming too politically correct”. Similarly they share their disagreement on far-out statements such as “Instead of ‘women’ we should say ‘pregnant people’, ‘people with vaginas’ and ‘people who menstruate’”.

On the statement “Universities should allow speakers on campus who espouse views about race or gender that might be offensive to some students” graduates are actually more strongly in agreement than non-graduates.

Yet another Coalition assault on the ABC

Morrison has the Murdoch media on side (or is it that the Murdoch media have Morrison on side?). The former Fairfax media, now owned by Nine Publishing, doesn’t have a national presence apart from the Financial Review. But there is the ABC to contend with: it’s highly-trusted, independent, and has a national presence.

Morrison has been clever enough not to take on the ABC himself: he has left that to Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg, who is using the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (not his own communications committee) to inquire into the complaints handling arrangements of the ABC and the SBS, even though the ABC already has a wide-ranging external review into its complaints-handling mechanisms.

In a media statement ABC Chair Ita Buttrose has called Bragg’s inquiry “an act of political interference designed to intimidate the ABC and mute its role as this country’s most trusted source of public interest journalism”. If the government can shape the ABC’s complaint-handling processes, it can influence what it reports, she explains. In an interview on ABC BreakfastA partisan political exercise – Buttrose describes the irregular measures Bragg has taken to establish the inquiry. (9 minutes)

Fran Kelly’s interview demonstrates the ABC at its independent best: Kelly was challenging her boss with every possible defence of Bragg’s measures. But in case anyone still believes that the ABC was using its own media presence to defend itself, an article in The Guardian ABC Chair Ita Buttrose accuses Coalition of ‘political interference’ and ‘intimidation’ by Amanda Meade – makes an even stronger case than the ABC does itself, for it goes into other accounts of the Coalition’s attacks on the ABC.

We are all more ethical than the average person

The “Lake Wobegon Effect” refers to overconfidence in our abilities. We all know we are better cooks/lovers/drivers than the average person. (In Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon all the kids were smarter than the average kid.)

So it is with ethical behaviour in public and professional life. We are all sure that we are more ethical than the average person, and better able to manage conflicts of interest, according to Matt Beard of Monash University, interviewed on Saturday Extra last week: The ethics of conflict of interest. (12 minutes)

Gladys Berejiklian’s appearance before the New South Wales ICAC, and a blatant case of political corruption in the UK (described by Ian Dunt in a 9-minute segment on Late Night Live) have raised public awareness about conflicts of interest.

Beard describes two situations involving conflicts of interest. The first involves behaviour whereby people gain personal benefit through fraudulent or illegal behaviour. The second involves no personal benefit but breaches what people believe to be reasonable standards of behaviour in people’s roles in public office or in professional positions. Political action using public resources, aimed at helping one’s side gain re-election, or at supporting partisan mates, falls into the second category.

Beard believes that there has been some degree of “ethical fading” in recent years. That is, we have become more accepting of behaviour we used to condemn.

We really do want a federal ICAC

James Massola of the Centre for Public Integrity reports on a Resolve Strategic survey revealing that 70 percent of Australians want a national integrity commission. There is no discernible difference between Coalition and Labor supporters in their support for such a body: Two-thirds of voters back federal corruption watchdog with stronger powers.

Massola reports that people want a strong and independent commission. Only 14 percent of respondents support a model where what the commission investigates is decided by others. (Unlike Essential and some other pollsters, Resolve Strategic keeps its polling behind a paywall, which means we are generally dependent on others’ interpretations of their results.)

On the need for a federal ICAC, Transparency International has added its voice in its comments on the exposure draft of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill: Time to move forward on a national integrity commission. It calls for something much stronger than what the government is offering.