On misunderstanding the message

David Salter writes: Re. “C’mon, Chris Mitchell, leave Marshall McLuhan out of it” (Monday)

Crikey‘s in-house Kultur Kommisar, Guy Rundle, expends some of his considerable erudition demolishing Chris Mitchell’s misappropriation of McLuhan, but misses the far more important unintended revelation in the former editor-in-chief of The Australian‘s opinion piece yesterday. True, if Mitchell has ever read further than the back-cover blurb of McLuhan’s Understanding Media then he certainly didn’t understand it. And true, too, that Mitchell would have trouble writing a note for the milkman let alone a coherent newspaper column. But what Rundle overlooked was the profound import of a single word in the Mitchell piece that exposes the thundering hypocrisy and double standards of The Australian during his time running the paper. Here’s the key passage:

“A modern culture war erupted last Monday night between the stalwart magazine of the right, Quadrant, and the progressive Fairfax    and ABC journalistic establishment. It was all over a silly — but tame by the standards of left Twitterati — comment by Quadrant digital editor Roger Franklin…”

Silly? Nor more than “silly” to write, in a public forum, that you wished someone would blow up the ABC and kill the participants on Q&A? Imagine if the reverse had been the case – if someone on Q&A had expressed a wish that the Quadrant office be bombed. The Australian, after more than a decade of Mitchell’s leadership, would have sooled every attack-dog reporter they had onto the job of smearing the ABC and whoever had made that suggestion. The opinion writers would then all form a slavering queue to each express their outrage. Free speech and democracy are in peril! Sack the lot of them! That one word – “silly” – said it all.

On our relationship with the US

Nic Maclellan writes: Re. “If we can’t rely on the US (and Trump), what then?” (Monday)

In response to the vagaries of the Trump administration, Bernard Keane argues that “a more self-reliant foreign policy that accepts Australia can’t rely on the United States requires substantially greater defence spending.”

But there are lots of ways to improve security without lining the pockets of defence contractors. I’d suggest that we might first substantially increase diplomacy spending, or spending on overseas aid (in the latest budget, another $303 million was slashed from ODA over forward estimates). If we’re worried about nuclear proliferation in Asia, we might join the talks on the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which begin at UN headquarters on 17 June (the Turnbull government boycotted the first round of negotiations in March, too scared to mount a public defence of extended nuclear deterrence).

Why should we give even more money to the arms industry, when the RAN can’t even keep our brand new Canberra-class LHD ships afloat? As former Treasurer Peter Costello said when he left office: “I spent a lot of time wrestling with the Defence Department. Not because I cut their budget — we were increasing their budget — but because I wanted to make them accountable. The thing about Defence was that they could never tell you how many machines they would need at any one time. If you thought Defence could ever come to a meeting with a specific ask, you are giving them more credit than they deserve.”

On Malcolm Roberts at Senate Estimates

Joe Boswell writes: Re. “Roberts confused by the facts on ACL ‘bombing’” (Monday)

Crikey quoted Senator Roberts in February’s estimates hearings: “We can see a number of inconsistencies with what we see as the facts,” he told AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin. “Make sure the answers you provide are consistent with the facts as we see them.”

This is fascinating. Roberts is transforming these hearings. The quaint old democratic way involved senators on a committee asking witnesses to advise and inform them about matters of interest to the committee. Roberts has no use for that because he obviously already knows everything. Instead, like the old Holy Inquisition, he is using the hearings to root out heresy. What consequences might Roberts have in mind for his witnesses when he warns them to conform with his orthodoxy?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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