First, an important update. In September I reported on the new system by which the memory of journalists would be honoured through the naming of dogs. The NSW police service initiated this honorarium by calling one of its crack mutts ‘Leslie’, a moving tribute to the late Fairfax police roundsman, Les Kennedy.
Now the Australian Turf Club has gone further, announcing in its members’ newsletter sponsorship of ‘the inaugural Kenny Awards for excellence in (racing) journalism, in memory of the late Sydney journalist and crime writer, Les Kennedy.’ There is, of course, a longstanding link between racing and crime. Fine Cotton, Big Philou, George Freeman and Murray Farquhar come to mind.
Mention of the Kenny Awards, however, had me bamboozled. They must have been thinking of the doyen of Australian racing journalists, Kenny Callander. Either that or the ATC was harking back to the glorious 1980s, when the highlight of Western Sydney nightlife was the Kenny Hiscoe. Maybe they meant Chris Kenny, with the award going to the Press Gallery journalist who predicted the greatest number of (unfulfilled) Kevin Rudd comebacks.
If Julian Assange had a dog named after him, it would be an Ecuadorian Splitz. Assange has spent his adult life dedicated to freedom of information, building the illusion that governments act in conspiratorial ways against the best interests of their people. Now, with his bizarre bid for political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy, he is denying the Swedish legal system vital information regarding the sexual assault allegations against him. Surely, in the interests of full public disclosure, Assange should travel to Sweden and face his accusers. Cowering in an embassy in London gives the impression he has something to hide.
Assange is a reminder of the iron rule of foreign affairs: beware the work of fanatics. For all its fanfare, WikiLeaks has had little lasting impact. Its big ‘revelation’ in Australia was that Kevin Rudd engaged in sabre-rattling against China. For those who knew Heavie Kevvie well, this was hardly news. Only dills like Channel Nine’s Peter Harvey thought that Rudd’s language skills and interest in China made him pro-Chinese.
In one of the great acts of political equilibrium, for every fruit-loop leftie in public life there is a right-wing equivalent. Assange’s mirror image is the Australian’s foreign affairs editor, Greg Sheridan, an American poodle. On Sky News’ Australian Agenda last November, Sheridan claimed that China today is in the same position as Japan in the 1920s. Thus Australia and the US need to prepare for war in the Pacific.
It is a measure of Sheridan’s extremism that his views are to the right of John Howard’s. Last month at Britain’s Oxford Union (the only union he has ever supported), the former PM said he did not ‘see the Chinese as a threat. I think the Chinese are too preoccupied with internal issues’. Howard is correct. Sheridan’s Cold War-style attacks on Australia’s leading economic ally are the work of (another) dangerous fanatic.
For those of us who assumed Australia’s cultural cringe had ended, the media’s coverage of the G20 Summit in Mexico was surprising. By any objective test, it was unexceptional for the Prime Minister of the world’s most successful economy to offer advice to Europe. After all, the sick man of the global economy needs all the help he can get. There are three crucial lessons the Europeans need to absorb from the Australian experience:
• Means-testing of the welfare system is essential to restraining government spending
• Ongoing microeconomic reform is the best way of lifting productivity and sustaining real wage increases
• Economic integration with Asia is vital to export growth and higher national incomes
While Australia has more to do, especially in labour market flexibility and budget cost-cutting, we have a compelling story to tell. The cringeing backlash at Julia Gillard’s presentation to the G20 was proof, yet again, that for large parts of the Australian media, the poor woman can do no right.
When the London Sun took on the President of the European Commission in 1990, it screeched ‘Up Yours Delors’. Yet when our Prime Minister was ‘slapped down’ by the current President, José Manuel Barroso, Murdoch’s Australian tabloids refused to say ‘Go To Hell Manuel’ or even the milder ‘No Way José’. Instead, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph tried to explain ‘Why Gillard Looks Like A European Bloc-Head’.
The real blockheads are those who refuse to acknowledge the strength of the Australian economy. Two Fridays ago, for instance, the Telegraph’s Simon Benson opined that ‘Sydney families now have a new phrase to add to their cost of living lexicon: To heat or to eat.’ He attributed this to a $300 average annual increase in electricity bills in NSW, lamenting how ‘not even the Cuban revolution could achieve such an extravagant gouging of its citizenry’.
Now for the facts: since 1984, real disposable income in Australia has increased by 20 per cent, leaving the average family $11,600 a year better off. Even with Fidel Gillard’s carbon tax and bigger power bills, they are still $11,300 ahead. Benson has been smoking too many Cuban cigars, of the exploding kind.