“He’s a man who has adapted to the times,” a sick-making profile of Education Minister Brendan Nelson in today’s SMH begins.

Journalist Deborah Snow, who normally does better than this, might like
to note that in the real people who live outside the world of spin
refer to this as “shameless opportunism”. Perhaps she wanted to get off
to do her Christmas shopping and just regurgitated Dr Brendan’s line.

We hear how “The Labor-run state school systems and the older, public
universities tend to see him as populist, punitive, meddling and
ideologically driven.” We’re not told how other Liberal educationalists
would agree with the meddling bit – and believe that rather than
implementing the reforms attempted by earlier Howard Government
education minister David Kemp, Dr Brendan has simply settled for a
cumbersome departmental compromise that pleases nobody.

Snow deserves some marks for getting a quote from Sydney
University Vice-chancellor, Professor Gavin Brown, in which he describes Dr
Brendan as “an example of ambition overriding principle.”

Brown talks about the unprecedented burden of interference and
regulation from Canberra. That sounds like Dr Brendan has swallowed the
departmental medicine like a good little boy.

These pars are entertaining, too:

“Much of what he has raised as minister are furphies,” says
Chris Bonnor, the president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council.
“He is criticising practices we don’t see evidence of, and coming up
with policy solutions we are already carrying out.”

The secretary of the Independent Education Union, Dick Shearman,
decided he was a “man of great promise with some genuinely held views,
especially on Aboriginal education” but says he’s been “compromised by
the general attitudes of the Government and doesn’t want to be seen as
soft”.

When talking about “the general attitudes of the Government” the article goes on to credit Nelson with steering through the
voluntary student unionism legislation. A number of backbenchers would
say that required giving Nelson a spine transplant of a sort unseen
since Edward II got a red-hot poker up the jacksy.

We talked just last week of “the insouciance with which Education
Minister Brendan Nelson discards earrings, principles, wives – whatever
– in pursuit of personal political power.” Disappointingly, the SMH only touches on the role played by the
very wealthy Australian Medical Association eminence grise Bruce
Shepherd in Nelson’s climb up the greasy pole. Overall, we wouldn’t
recommend reading this article either side of your Christmas dinner.

However, one good thing can be said about Dr Brendan. Have a look at
the picture. At least he’s having his mid-life crisis on the back of a
British motorcycle. Harleys are so common.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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