Limiting indigenous languages:

Willem Schultink writes: Re. “NT classrooms limit indigenous languages to 1 hour a day” (Friday, item 1). Marion Scrymgour is an Aboriginal woman herself, and is likely to have the good of her people at heart. Perhaps she realises that in order to operate effectively in western society people need to be able to speak English properly. And it is western society that all Australians have to be able to operate in. I myself come from a Dutch migrant background and could only speak Dutch when I started school in Australia. At school I learned English. I can still speak Dutch — that’s what we spoke at home for years. But Dutch isn’t a lot of use to me in daily life. English is essential.

For instance, if I had to write this in Dutch, the vast majority of Crikey readers couldn’t understand me, and I would therefore be at a huge disadvantage trying to communicate. English is essential, and I was quite rightly taught English at school. I didn’t get an hour a day of Dutch, either. The biggest problem faced by the Aboriginal people of Australia is being effectively sidelined from the economic life of the nation. Not being able to speak English is a major contributor to this state of affairs. All Australians need to be able to operate effectively in western society, and the ability to communicate in English is essential to be able to do so.

Perhaps Marion Scrymgour is on to something that will improve the lot of Aboriginal people in Australia. Something which is vastly overdue.

Bev Kisby writes: When I lived up at Yirrkala, NT, the language spoken was mainly their own native tongue. I just said hello and smiled at them, and tried communicating in English. I had a friend who was a missionary translator and received an MBE, for their work. I guess there is no one way to attack this problem, some may find it difficult to learn English, where others may be able to communicate in both, and this could cause a division. I hope not it would be disappointing, because of the hard work missionaries did in the past, but we all have to go ahead with new ideas.

ABC Learning:

Monica Kane writes: Re. “ABC Learning run like a chain of laundromats” (Friday, item 6). Three years ago I looked for a childcare centre for my one year old boy. The options were limited but I managed to purposefully avoid ABC, instead deciding on a Kids Campus centre.

The staff at the childcare centre my children attend are kind, compassionate and adore the kids. Two years ago this centre was bought out by Eddy Groves. I initially thought about changing centres; however the established relationships between the staff and my family seemed more important. The centre is situated in a typical working class area in the outer suburbs of Perth.

Since the takeover, the centre has had a full scale refurbishment. I have observed toys being shipped into the centre (weekly). Given the ASIC investigation, I have been very curious as to the need for an ailing company to be spending this way.

Staffing has been constantly reduced or is operating at a bare minimum. On a couple of instances, after dropping my boys off, I was so uncomfortable with the staffing levels present in the mornings that I stayed at the centre for up to 30min waiting for staff to arrive. The staff earn approx $15/hour (causal under 21). A seemingly small amount. The centre has several children with behavioural issues yet there is no extra hours or training provided for the staff dealing with this.

Now ABC is no more. The government has been kind enough to keep centres open until December. Great. What then, and what should staff and parents be doing NOW? Should staff be finding another job? Should parents be changing centres? Good luck! Waiting lists in many areas are already unrealistic. This is an opportunity to review the structure, work with local governments and put that $22bn ABC bailout money to use.

The way the childcare industry has been operating epitomises the irrationality of rationalisation. It’s time to fix that.


Brian Mitchell, former editor of the Fremantle Herald group of newspapers, writes: Re. “Media briefs: Ethically debatable photo wins prize… 3 launches facebook phone” (Friday, item 22). Of course the West Australian should have published the photo of the grieving man. It is news. Journalism is about reporting facts; what happened, when, to whom and ideally why. It does this with words and pictures. News often reports tragedy; it is the nature of the beast. And with that comes the inevitable conflict between public and private interests.

Frankly, journalism’s role is to report in the public interest. No journalist should allow an individual sensitivity to get in the way of reporting the story. That’s why I was so disappointed to read the transcript of Media Watch host Jonathon Holmes regarding this photo’s publication Holmes says the paper could have reported the story without publishing the photo or reporting in graphic detail the man’s response to news of his wife’s death. Using that logic, we would never see a photo about any war zone, because someone’s grief would have been intruded upon (and is the intrusion the taking of the photo or its publication, or both?). We would never read of a murder, or s-xual assault, or death because someone’s son, daughter, mother or father was involved.

Extending Holmes’ logic, journalists really shouldn’t report the names of people — ever — because they may cause embarrassment. And no photo should be used without signed consent. News would simply become a regurgitation of press statements and officially released posed photographs. Many would argue it is on its way to this already. Part of the problem is that journalists over think their role. Too many confuse journalism with advocacy and seek to use journalism to achieve an end (whether political, social or other), rather than regarding journalism as an end in itself.

This has led to all sorts of rules and taboos about what should and shouldn’t be reported, and in what manner. These rules and taboos are not about furthering the interests of journalism, but about manipulating journalism to achieve some notion of a better society. Holmes falls into this trap. When journalists do their jobs properly — when they report what happens, to whom and why — the other things fall into place.

The simple fact of journalists reporting, without fear or favour, improves accountability and transparency. Guy Magowan took a harrowing photograph of a man grieving for his dead wife. He shouldn’t have to justify the photo by explaining to Jonathon Holmes how its publication helped achieve a better world; that should not be the test of whether a news item deserves airing was the photo news? Yes. That satisfies my test.

The Age‘s bad form (guide):

Keith Potter writes: Re. “Media briefs: Ethically debatable photo wins prize… 3 launches facebook phone” (Friday, item 22). The Age delivered to our home on Friday 14 November did not contain the customary Racing Form Guide (which normally also includes a comprehensive Saturday Guide). The only explanation was a brief item on page 2 under “News In Brief” advising that in future the Racing Guides issued on Friday and Saturday would have to be collected from the newsagent or down loaded from The Age website. Our newsagent knew nothing about it: the advertised web address returned only the Form Guide for Friday.

On phoning The Age I was informed that the Executive Sport Editor is “not in today”. I commented that there would probably be quite a few messages for him. The lass asked if I was referring to the form guide. Presumably, other punters complained. What a schmozz! We have subscribed for daily delivery of The Age since The Argus closed in 1957. No more for us, unless there is immediate correction of this bungle, and a public commitment to maintain the quality of journalism.

The Age journalists are with the best among the dailies, but not matched by the controlling hierarchy. The Age chiefs don’t give a sh-t for customer service, customer loyalty or community economics. The aggregate cost to punters to collect a form guide from their newsagents twice a week will almost certainly exceed savings to The Age. Retrieving electronic copy eats into download limits. Readers without access to the internet or without convenient access to their newsagent must go without or switch subscriptions to a competitor.

Crikey suggested on 16 June that plunging share prices might prompt major shareholder John B Fairfax to unload Ron Walker and David Kirk. Customer service for punter readers of The Age has plummeted below zero, and the TV program for 13 November was omitted from the “Green Guide” without comment or apology. What about it John B?

Fixing Sydney:

Niall Clugston writes: Christopher Ridings (Friday, comments) argues “Sydney is stuffed” and asks for alternatives. I have a modest proposal. It is well known that Australia’s greatest city comprises an arc of far-flung suburbs around a series of converging transport bottlenecks. What is less frequently observed are the fundamental geographic problems underlying this reality? One multi-pronged problem is the unnecessarily large Sydney Harbour.

If it was filled in with concrete, we would eliminate with a stroke such vexed issues as the Spit Bridge, the Sydney Harbour Bridge toll, and the Harbour Tunnel debacle. The cancellation of the Manly JetCat would be irrelevant, as multiple roads could be constructed to the Northern Beaches.

Another positive development would be the elimination of national parks. Of particular note are Marramarra, Berowra Valley, and Ku-ring-gai Chase. The destruction of these would allow the construction of yet more routes to the Northern Beaches, a northward alternative to the F3/Pacific Highway/Northern Railway, and a shortcut to north Sydney from the western suburbs, as well as many new suburbs on existing transport corridors.

The annihilation of even minor nuisances such as Lane Cove National Park would obviate the demand for the absurdity of the railway tunnel under the Lane Cove River. As most of my suggestions would benefit Liberal-held electorates, I have no doubt they will be swiftly adopted by Barry O’Farrell.

The case for Sukois:

Mark Freeman writes: Re. “The blue-sky marketing madness of the F-35” (Friday, item 14). Amidst years of commentary and articles about the F-35 the most relevant point that keeps popping up is that currently available for purchase real flying Sukois are better and cheaper. However no-one ever actually spells out the political, military and other reasons for Australia buying or not buying Sukois. Perhaps Crikey could ask Mr Palmer or someone suitably qualified to spell it out in a Crikey sized piece. It would be an important and welcome addition to public debate.

Pot, meet kettle:

Tony Krawczyk writes: Re. “The Oz is ducking G20 phone call story” (yesterday, item 18). I really had a laugh at your accusation about The Australian having an agenda; the ultimate case of the pot calling the kettle black.

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