We owe John Howard and his Government a great deal - read on:
SOMEONE asked me recently, in a voice that suggested a certain smug confidence that it represented truth and justice, whether The Australian would continue to publish conservative columnists and contributors in the new political environment.Here is the money quote, though:
Just as Janet Albrechtsen and Keith Windschuttle occupied precious opinion-page real estate during the Howard years, he suggested, did we not need more commentators on the Left to reflect the Rudd era? "Given that everything has changed," he asked, "can't you, as oped editor, finally get rid of these right-wing ranters who've corrupted the national conversation in recent years?"
Well, leaving aside the unattractive tone of these remarks, the argument is fallacious for two reasons.
For one thing, it amounts to a request for the curtailment of free speech and public debate. When governments change, decent opinion pages should still accommodate contrary views. Otherwise, the cultural landscape would become as flat and unvaried as the proverbial Australian sheep station.
During the past 12 years, the press rightly saw its job as one of keeping John Howard accountable. The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, for instance, still published Alan Ramsey, Adele Horin, Kenneth Davidson and Tim Colebatch. Indeed, Robert Manne, a leading intellectual critic of the Howard government, penned a regular column in both the Age and Herald for many years. [Ed: And all of which would have been more palatable, if only they’d been more truthful.]
Fair enough, but why should the rules change now? Calls to silence or limit conservatives in the Rudd era, in effect, would amount to a one party-state in the media and, dare one say it, the silencing of dissent.
Australia became a more conservative place in the Howard era, but The Australian still regularly published Phillip Adams, not to mention my colleagues Mike Steketee and Michael Costello, both of whom have political views quite different from those of Alan Wood or Greg Sheridan, to name but two of the alleged "right-wing ranters" we publish on this page every week.
Labor, remember, won last month precisely because its leader sold himself as a conservative on virtually everything from his support for big income tax cuts and anti-terror laws to his opposition to gay marriage and illegal immigration.What a win for the left. But I digress. Switzer has us rightly recall:
To scan the broadsheet newspapers in the 1990s is to understand how Australia has indeed changed. Back then there was almost universal consensus in the media about the virtues of Aboriginal welfarism, separatism, a politicians' republic, zealous multiculturalism, activist judges rewriting our Constitution. And it appeared that the black-armband view of history was the politically approved order of the day.Quite right - and I distinctly remember those feelings of isolation, when to question the ‘popular’ narrative of the time was to brand yourself a racist, a Nazi, a racist, a fascist, or a – well – racist (they weren’t too imaginative back then). The current leftist calls for the cessation of the ‘culture wars’ so-called (I rather like to refer to this dialogue as ‘debate’, but there you go) now, however, amount to little more than a demand to have us return to times most of us remember all too vividly, when the only voices out there were leftist ones.
Sorry guys; that horse has well and truly bolted.
Switzer goes on:
Today, however, things are very different. On the battlefields of history, economics, citizenship, national sovereignty and values generally, conservative ideas always compete and often prevail. Who, for instance, still believes that welfare should be an unconditional right? Or that cultural diversity is enough to sustain a nation? Or that traditional culture alone can rejuvenate indigenous Australians in remote communities?Amen, and so sanity prevailed over the echo chamber that the media once was and, in certain places, still is. And now? Well – ten years changes a lot.
Robert Manne has argued that Albrechtsen, Bolt and Akerman represent an interesting new phenomenon. "Even 20 years ago," he laments, "Australia did not have journalists like this in the mainstream press." He is hardly alone in fretting that the Left's near monopoly over the institutions of opinion and information is crumbling. . .The point here is that we live in conservative times and, if Kevin Rudd governs as he campaigned, he is unlikely to change that much.Thank you, Mr Howard. Far from silencing dissent, you, Sir, gave it voice, and we’ll never forget it.