Women at war:

Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Re. “Rundle: women at war, the mother of political betrayals” (yesterday, item 3). Excluding his odd belief that Japan’s attack on Australia in World War II “had its origins in European imperialism” rather than Japanese racism, militarism and home-grown imperialism — or indeed his wider ideological stances on the war in Afghanistan and Australian strategic policy — Guy Rundle, exemplifies key flaws permeating most recent public and media commentary about females in combat.

First, women serving in combat positions today throughout the ADF — as you read this Crikey — are getting increasingly annoyed to say the least at so many silly and indeed insulting suggestions that they somehow do not or should not exist.

Second, they cannot understand why so many on either old-fashioned extreme of the debate, such as Greg Sheridan opposed to any women in combat or Eva Cox arguing for no limitations in any circumstances, get so much publicity when their public comments demonstrate little or no understanding of, or willingness to consider, the many complexities and nuances involved and neither is an expert on fighting wars anyway.

Third, they also cannot understand why virtually every new or old media article or program on this issue over the last weeks has been so riddled with sensationalist slants, factual errors, mistaken assumptions and omission of counter-argument inconvenient to its “theme”.

Finally, the vast majority of females in the ADF agree that operational capability, not conservative or feminist ideology, must be the prime determinant of defence force employment criteria, not least because they understand that battlefields are a unique workplace (if indeed they are a workplace at all in the civil sense).

If you don’t believe me, check out this.

Peter Lloyd writes: Guy Rundle has come closer than any other commentator I’ve read in getting to the heart of the issue of front-line female troops but alas he shies away at the last moment.

Despite the recently-popular politicans’ and ADF recruiters’ fantasy that they are for disaster relief, armies (and navies, and air forces) in fact exist for no reason other than to fight the nation’s wars. Among the things for which they do NOT exist, is to provide personal fulfilment for individual soldiers (sailors, air(wo)men). It is sad to see this debate bogged down in the ultimately irrelevant issue of whether women can perform as well as men the tasks we (often erroneously) equate with soldiering. Anyone who thinks a battle has been lost because one side has soldiers of very slight average physical inferiority should study the Gurkhas, the Japanese Army, and the Viet Cong.

Rundle implies the real issue in the Occamesque line: “The Rudd government’s policy of equality will be fulfilled when a young Australian mother is killed on the front line, and her small children can fold up a flag and put it on her coffin, while the guns fire uselessly into the air.”

Will an Australia whose policies are dictated by Today Tonight and the Herald Sun be able to sustain a war where pretty young blonde girls — a tabloid obsession — are being blown apart? Will the nation roll over if such girls-next-door are imprisoned by armies whose barbarism will be created by our propaganda, if even it does not exist? And what if such a war is one of the very rare ones where an important value of our society is at stake?

I don’t know what the answer is, but the debate must face this question more than any other.

Pru Sheaves writes: Come on Guy Rundle! Don’t put us women back up on a pedestal. Margaret Thatcher should be warning enough against linking women to some kind of just war theory. And if you want an example of someone who actually got her hands dirty, look no further than Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib fame.

In a rather different context the example of the massacre conducted by Phoolan Devi (The Bandit Queen) on 14 Feb 1981 should also prove against the women “don’t kill for kicks, [or] for pay”.

Frankly, if women haven’t committed large scale acts of violence its simply because we haven’t had the training and opportunities afforded to men. Linking just war, if there is such a thing, to gender is not only spurious, it’s stupid.

Michael Liley writes: I think your article about females serving in combat roles in the military entirely missed the point. It s not about some esoteric feminist construct, nor is it about the rambo American Christian Right getting the girls to do their bit. It is simply about a manpower shortage in the military. Why would we have 50% of the population off-limits for combat roles when they are involved in virtually all other parts of Australian society?

God help us, it may even civilise certain un-savoury aspects of military behaviour on the battlefield, and that can only be a good thing.

Question time:

Joe Boswell writes: Re. “Mr Speaker, on a point of order: Question Time has always been a farce” (yesterday, item 1). Well said, Mr Keane. The suggestion to “Switch the cameras off for Question Time” is excellent. One of the finest examples of unintended consequences arises from the broadcasting of Parliament.

It was illegal before the 1770s to report debates of the Westminster Parliament. That might have been a little extreme. It is probably desirable that Hansard is published, but we can now see that broadcasting (recorded or live) does not assist democracy or good governance. It has the opposite effect.

Worthwhile debate or discussion is undertaken elsewhere, if it ever happens, while proceedings in the debating chamber are made contemptible, at great cost in preparation of vacuous questions and empty answers.

Nobody in their right mind conducts serious business by shouting about it in a public place. It’s ridiculous to expect Parliament to do so.

The Victorian College of the Arts:

Christina Buckridge, Corporate Affairs Manager, University of Melbourne writes: Re. “Guilty feet got no rhythm: VCA demolishes tap-dancing studio” (yesterday, item 10). It’s a puzzle as to how even selective reporting of events at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of the VCA and Music can turn the provision of two refurbished dance studios (to replace one studio) and permanent homes for the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts & Cultural Development and the wardrobe department into a “public relations disaster”.

It was also wrongly reported that a 20-seat theatre known as “The Shed”, was “razed by bulldozers” — although elsewhere the article says its “fate” is unknown. A quick look would have shown it is still there.

Staff have been regularly consulted over the move from the temporary demountables to permanent refurbished accommodation in the former VCA Secondary School (for the studios and costume department) and to the Hub for the Wilin Centre, giving it a central location. All were located in their new homes before the demise of the demountables.

An email sent to staff on Friday was simply to alert them (and so alert their students) that demolition work would be taking place on campus this week. More detailed emails had been sent to all staff in June and August.

Crikey has also misrepresented a letter from Acting Vice-Chancellor Susan Elliott which did not accuse “Baillieu of impinging on academic freedom”. It was in fact a letter to all members of the Legislative Council offering additional information to help inform their debate of the proposed Notice of Motion, listed on 1 September. The letter to the MLCs (10 Sept) pre-dated Mr Baillieu’s open letter (12 Sept) which was not to “University management” but to students and staff of VCAM.

I am surprised to hear I “condemned the students’ protest”, but I certainly thought it sad that no one had thought to check their facts before making erroneous claims on the internet.

VCAM has been faced with an annual $5 million to $6 million Commonwealth funding shortfall which has been picked up by the University since 2005. The University has contributed around $41 million to VCAM over the past three years and with another $33.4 million committed in 2010 and 2011. Additional funding includes around $5 million in a digital upgrade for Film and Television, $6million to upgrade infrastructure at the Southbank Campus, and $5m allocated in 2010 to further upgrade the Elisabeth Murdoch building.

The “rent” referred to in the Crikey article is simply an element of the University’s budget model under which all income earned in respect of its faculties is allocated to the faculties according to the manner in which it is earned. The University then expects each faculty to contribute to the costs associated with occupancy of the facilities that the faculty uses. This gives transparency to the budget process.

Diplomatic appointments:

Cathy Bannister writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey wrote:

…appointments and overseas postings can also be used quite effectively to place critics at arm’s length, a sort of exile if you will. In this light we should not be surprised if Mark Latham is soon appointed as Australia’s new representative in Djibouti … Guinea-Bissau perhaps? Tonga?

Tonga’s a bit close, isn’t it?

Vicki Buchbach writes: Re. “Fair shares: Nelson gets the EU, Beazley gets US” (yesterday, item 11). It’s an easy typo to make but surely the only diplomatic “dessert of incumbency” would be Bombe Alaska.

Open borders:

Justin Templer writes: Peter Shaw’s comment (yesterday, comments) cuts to the heart of the irresolvable debate over whether a country’s borders should be open to all comers. Peter wrote: “Isn’t it obvious that all intelligent people SHOULD be hostile to the free movement of people?”

This idea will be offensive to many — most of them having proud self-regard of their own liberal conscience while in fact supporting a status quo which is entirely predicated against the free movement of people. Considering that there were 42 million “uprooted” people recognized by UNHCR in 2008 (which excludes the rooted starving), should our policy be to:

(a) Choose a country of concern and fly a continuous “Berlin Airlift” of Jumbos to that country to bring back refugees and displaced persons?
(b) Close the borders and allow no-one in?
(c) Admit a few through official channels and also a few others who risk their lives on leaky boats – then make an enormous fuss over whether this is too many or too few?

Obviously (c) is what we and most of the rest of the world have opted for — it roughly meets our commitments under UN conventions and assuages our national conscience. And it allows us to pretend that we are not hostile to the free movement of people when, in reality, we are entirely hostile to this idea.


Sam Kennedy writes: Re. Les Heimann (yesterday, comments) who wrote: “It makes me very angry that Crikey allows a stage to peddle their hatred.” I actually don’t see much hatred, more concern, and I’m curious on what acceptable platform does he think people can discuss/debate Israel and its actions.

I haven’t seen one yet where people aren’t attacked by “Israel lovers”. The one thing I like about the debate/articles in Crikey and on The Guardian website is that I have stopped feeling that all Jews are to blame for Israel’s actions which, if I think about it, is a very good thing.

The SMH, Crabb and crosswords:

Maria Conidaris writes: Further to Fran Kirby (Wednesday, comments), Column 8 seems to have re-surfaced at www.smh.com.au. Now, if only they’d resurrect the crosswords page…

Peter Wotton writes: Re. Dione McDonald (yesterday, comments), The Sydney Morning Herald may have lost both Alan Ramsay and now Annabel Crabb, but at least we now have Mike Carlton back again!

Crikey comment support group:

Jenny Morris writes: Ah, Brett Gaskin (yesterday, comments), published at last! A simple tip: to be published, you have to write in. Granted, not every comment, query or whatever else is published in my experience, but the averages are fairly good if you can spell and articulate your view clearly enough. Having discovered there’s no glass ceiling to break through (that I know of), can we look forward to more comments from you?

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