Jun 7, 2018

How the Oz’s Ramsay Centre Holy War will play out

This story has all the makings of a classic Australian culture war campaign. But what are those exactly?

Emily Watkins — Media reporter

Emily Watkins

Media reporter

There’s no outlet in the country that’s dedicated quite as much energy to the latest culture war battle than The Australian. Last week, Australian National University announced it was dropping a controversial degree in Western civilisation, funded by the Ramsay Centre. The Oz has been closely following developments, especially since Ramsay Centre director and former PM Tony Abbott wrote about the centre being “not merely about Western civilisation but in favour of it” in Quadrant in April.

The story has all the makings of a classic Australian culture war campaign. Some of the coverage already shows signs of being a full Holy War. If it does, here’s what we can expect over the coming weeks:

News ‘exclusives

There has already been a small flurry of “exclusive” news stories from national education correspondent Rebecca Urban over the past few days, with headlines including “Uni blasted for double standards”, “ANU reaps mid-east millions”, and “Fury as uni dumps study of the West“.

If past campaigns are anything to go by, you can expect more stories up the front of the paper about the decision to close the centre, the people involved, and reactions from the their usual rent-a-quote sources. The IPA’s Bella d’Abrera has been quoted today, and Liberal MP Craig Kelly’s comments to Sky News have also made the cut. Abbott was quoted yesterday. In fact, Liberal politicians are always a good source for quotes — they’ve provided content for one of the news stories in today’s paper.

Urban has taken the lead on the “news” coverage (as she did with the Holy War on Roz Ward and Safe Schools), but other reporters will also be on the case. Today, Andrew Clennell, Samantha Hutchinson and Rachel Baxendale all have bylines on stories.

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A key feature of any Australian Holy War is quantity. Today, for example, there are five full pieces in the print edition, including two comment articles. Expect this to continue, with roughly daily news stories, entries in Cut and Paste, commentary pieces from staff and external writers, editorials, and letters to the editor. As the “story” develops, expect increasingly trivial updates — the goal is to keep the story alive.


In order to keep the content coming, any social media posts, speeches and public appearances of anyone remotely relevant will be monitored, and their histories examined. Those under the radar will include Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt, who announced the decision to drop the course. No target is ever too qualified or too well-respected to be above attack, so don’t expect his Nobel Prize or academic pedigree to be off limits. ANU’s history department head Frank Bongiorno, quoted in yesterday’s story by Rebecca Urban, could also be under suveillance, as could officials from the National Tertiary Education Union, especially branch president Matt King. His letter to ANU about the course after Abbott’s article was published was quoted in Urban’s piece about the uni withdrawing from the deal, and was cited by Ramsay Centre chairman John Howard as a reason for the deal falling through.

Call in the opinion attack dogs

Since June 2, when the paper printed news of the degree being dumped, there’s already been one editorial, two “Last Post” letters columns, and op-eds from foreign editor Greg Sheridan, Swinburne University of Technology’s John Fitzgerald, and higher education editor Tim Dodd. And before that, they had Janet Albrechtsen, Jennifer Oriel, former deputy PM John Anderson, and education minister Simon Birmingham writing about the degree. Sheridan is back today, and political editor Dennis Shanahan also had a piece on it.

Keep an eye out for more on this topic from Chris Kenny, Gerard Henderson, Henry Ergas and Terry McCrann.

How many words do you think The Australian will dedicate to this Holy War? Email [email protected] to let us know.


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49 thoughts on “How the Oz’s Ramsay Centre Holy War will play out

  1. Dog's Breakfast

    The right persists with these intelligence-free culture wars.

    They are obsessed with them, fighting for a culture that hasn’t existed in Australia ever, or if it did, not in the last 50 years. They are zombies, constantly rising from the dead.

    What a waste of a life!

  2. Richard Thompson

    It’s wonderful to speculate about the number of words that may be written in spite by a bunch of troglodytes about their rapidly diminishing influence but the fact remains that the views of the Australian are very much over represented in other media. Why should a newspaper with such a tiny and subsidised circulation mean anything, it is merely a vehicle for promoting the extreme views of a tiny minority.
    It would be better in most cases to just ignore them.

    1. DF

      I once worked for several years in the media relations section of a major Federal Dept, compiling the most relevant (to the department’s responsibilities) media articles for a Coalition minister’s daily media roundup. Believe me, the Oz used to have a powerful influence on the minister’s media staff, as well as the Opposition, which you could usually assess by watching Question Time and monitoring the doorstops. And woe betide those of us preparing the media roundup if we missed or judged not sufficiently relevant an article in the Oz, and Rupert’s tabloids as well. There had to be a good reason for omitting anything by Bolt, for example.
      Of course this was also a political tactic by the minister’s office as the media roundup was widely circulated in APH, so by having their pet journos included in it, the staff were also setting the agenda in the offices of all recipients, including the Leader of the Opposition.

      1. AR

        ..had to be a good reason for omitting anything by Bolt..“, sigh.
        One might have hoped that simply coming from the poison pen of the Blot on the escutcheon of journalism would have have been a sufficient reason.
        Or would that be silencing the noisiest provider of noxious nostrums?

  3. Mr Denmore

    Have you considered the possibility that by writing about The Australian’s weird obsessions you are merely amplifying them? Hardly anyone reads the rag anyway. I only heard about this latest dreary manufactured skirmish in the ‘culture wars’ through Crikey. It is the same people talking among themselves. No-one is listening.

    1. 1984AUS

      I take it you’re unaware of the fact that the Murdoch gutter press sets the news cycle for the day and the losses it makes is welcome, a two fold injection to Murdoch’s bottom line, a tax claim and evil incarnate still gets to dictate to the drones. Murdoch has ditched some of his assets lately but says his print media is the most important of them all. Any idea why when it’s such a losing bit of rubbish?

    2. 1984AUS

      Well you must not be a broad reader as the story features in 11 publications in just two pages of Google including Crikey!

  4. Saugoof

    I don’t think this one will have much bite to it. The Australian will persist for a while, but it’ll likely be in vain. The vast majority of Australians likely won’t care and it’ll fizzle out.

    Just imagine if The Australian would actually use those resources to do something good instead of making the world just a little bit worse…

    1. Marcus Hicks

      They used to, about 10-15 years ago…..albeit rarely. Their expose on the AWB affair & the ludicrous treatment of Haneef was kind of their last gasp at attempting to seem balanced. Once Labor got into government, though, they abandoned all semblance of balance.

      That said, Albrechtson almost caused me to fall out of my chair when she refused to join the rest of the Far Right mob in defense of that Right Wing thug-Tommy Robinson. I guess even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

      1. Jimbo

        Q” that Right Wing thug-Tommy Robinson” It is quite clear that you have formed your opinion of Tommy Robinson from the mainstream media. Why don’t you look at some of his videos on youtube and form your own opinion? His work on exposing the Muslim rape gangs that have been covered up by Government, police, judiciary and the media for 30 years should earn him a knighthood. He will not get one of course.

        1. [email protected]

          Jimbo – rather than jumping on any passing right-wing wagon I suggest you stop swallowing all the Youtube feeds you can find and instead doing a bit of reading – try the Guardian for a stray to learn the true story..

          1. Jimbo

            When the police arrested Robinson for breach of the peace, and the judge jailed Robinson for another charge they slapped a D Notice on the media hoping to keep it quiet. That didn’t work. 20,000 people protested in London, and there were protests around the world. The media ignored that news except one who reported a rally of 200 people. Only on social media was the truth available. No wonder people have lost trust in the media. BBC and ABC included.

        2. Marcus Hicks

          “His work on exposing the Muslim rape gangs that have been covered up by Government, police, judiciary and the media for 30 years”
          Outside of the propaganda spouted by your Fascist Mates, do you have even a shred of evidence for these ridiculously inflammatory remarks?

        3. Marcus Hicks

          BTW, Jimbo, the biggest rape gangs I’ve seen have been discovered within the various denominations of the Christian Church-most particularly the Catholic Church. Oh boy, did the Far Right go to great lengths to cover that paedophile ring up.
          Of course, “Tommy’s” motives are merely to distract his brainless, racist followers from noticing that he is a fully-fledged criminal. Not difficult considering how stupid the average Far Right supporter is.

        4. Marcus Hicks

          20,000 people protested, did they? Got any evidence to back that up, or are you trusting your criminal Right Wing Fascist Mates for a head-count again?
          Your beloved Tommy is a fraudster, who has realised that he can scam racists more easily than he can regular, intelligent people. Keep on drinking the kool aid.

        1. Marcus Hicks

          LOL. Paul Weston, a guy who hops from one Far Right Extremist group to another-at a whim-is your “source” for information. Talk about drinking the Fascist Brand Kool Aid.

          1. Jimbo

            Don’t listen to what he says. Just shoot the messenger.

          2. Marcus Hicks

            I’ve listened to what he says, & it’s the usual bullcrap spouted by racist, narcissistic blowhards for time immemorial. Swap out Muslim for Jew, & you’d effectively have the bullcrap spouted by Hitler. Not surprising given that all these groups fashion themselves on Nazi “philosophy”. It only really appeals to racist morons, with single digit IQ’s, with massive chips on their shoulder-looking for someone else to blame for their pathetically crap lives.

  5. 1984AUS

    “In order to keep the content coming, any social media posts, speeches and public appearances of anyone remotely relevant will be monitored, and their histories examined. ”

    Already happens in the comments section too especially of The Guardian Australia, of which I am now a refugee.

  6. 1984AUS

    “No target is ever too qualified or too well-respected to be above attack, so don’t expect his Nobel Prize or academic pedigree to be off limits. ”

    In fact the more credible and reliable a source the harder Murdoch goes in the smear and lies with his yapping rabid lickspittle dogs scrawling in a frenzy of hate.

  7. Hunt Ian

    Yes, it is all too predictable and dreary and, yes, it will soon be forgotten, though, not before the usual suspects write over 100,000 words of drivel.

    That it could not proceed was obvious from Abbott’s claim that the centre would be “pro western civilisation”. That just cannot be demanded in a genuine University like the ANU

  8. klewso

    Then these same partisan political clowns – having sold their integrity for a pocketful of Rupert beans – will ponder the state of the public’s disregard for media and politics?

  9. Djbekka

    The story here is NOT what the Oz says, but what the Ramsay Foundation wanted for its donation. A letter from a union president is not enough to significantly influence a Vice Chancellor anywhere in Australia. Long ago I attended small liberal arts college with a curriculum based on the great books and achievements of the western european intellectual tradition. It included two languages, mathematics, lab science as well as twice weekly seminars in which students read and discussed a long list of books, plays, poetry, etc beginning with the Illiad and ending in the early 20th century (the list was reviews by a committee of academics annually). Graduates work in many sectors of workforce, their political views range from conservative through US defined liberal and on to left radicalism. They also are spread across the atheist – devout spectrum of a variety of belief systems. They share the great gift of critical thought, a willingness to read or listen to understand and engage with arguments respectfully.
    It strikes me that ANU would also welcome such graduates. What is it about the demands of the board of the Ramsay Centre that would prevent that valuable outcome? Can Crikey find out, please?

    1. heavylambs

      ” But at the end of the day, the university operates on the same principles with all donors, whatever their area of interest. Whether it is funding to support the study of Persian language or the study of classics, the same principles apply. The university retains full control of all curriculum and staffing decisions. This is the crux of the issue here for us. In this case, the donor sought a level of influence over our curriculum and staffing that went beyond any existing arrangements we have.”
      Brian Schmidt in the Canberra Times today.

  10. MJM

    If the ANU had proceeded with this degree course then the usual suspects, especially those listed in the last two paras, would have all been attending classes to ensure that they were all ““not merely about Western civilisation but in favour of it” “. The ANU was wise to quit now.

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