In polite company, it is now well known that the Australian’s claim to be the best newspaper in Australia is not to be uttered unless accompanied by a knowing roll of the eyes. Since Chris Mitchell rudely burst back on to the editorial scene at Holt Street in 2002, no publication has drawn the wrath of the media sophisticates as much as Rupert Murdoch’s national flagship, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. Yet no other publication in this country has broken so many important news stories, taken ideas and public policy so seriously, published so many arts and literary reviews and led so many political and cultural debates.
When Margaret Simons in the Monthly berates the Oz for its ‘belligerent’, ‘narcissistic’ and ‘increasingly partisan’ tendencies, what she really means is that people like her can’t stand an alternative to what everyone else understands is the dominant Left-liberal print-digital media. We can’t recall Ms Simons’s solemn and hair-tearing meditations when the Australian barracked for the Republic and an Apology in the 1990s. Nor do we hear her criticise the Age and Sydney Morning Herald for publishing unbelievable stories on their front pages — as they did recently when we were told Clive Palmer and Al Gore had saved the carbon tax and that Tony Abbott’s climate-change views would damage US–Australian relations.
Neither the Age nor the Guardian Australia publishes a weekly conservative columnist. Don’t expect Ms Simons — who runs an outfit called the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne — to condemn the old Spencer Street Soviet and its pale online imitator for silencing dissent. Yet when the Australian stands up and tries to defend our nation’s interests or highlight the folly of wild and woolly world views, it is treated with shock, distaste and outrage by the likes of Ms Simons. The Australian’s editorials tilt Right, but its opinion pages showcase many Labor-leaning writers such as Peter Beattie, Craig Emerson, Troy Bramston, Gary Johns, Ross Fitzgerald and Barry Cohen, not to mention the darling of the Left intelligentsia Phillip Adams. Under the much-maligned Mr Mitchell, the Australian endorsed Kevin Rudd for prime minister in 2007 (even though his Liberal opponent John Howard championed the Oz’s pet issues, such as industrial relations reform, the Iraq war and opposition to the Kyoto protocol). Add to this all the many exclusive reports that have hardly helped Coalition governments — children overboard, Haneef and AWB among other scandals — and it is difficult to see how the Australian lives in a ‘black-and-white world’.
Perhaps Ms Simons and her ilk would prefer everyone to be part of the ABC-Fairfax-Crikey-Monthly-Saturday-Guardian Australia-Dissent-New Matilda mindmeld. But we suspect many Australians read the Australian because they can still read serious news stories and genuine scoops and they don’t believe what they read or hear in other so-called quality media outlets. Count us among those celebrating this month’s milestone. Happy 50th comrades!
In defence of Australia
With the arrival of new national legislators who bring to mind the famous bar scene from Star Wars, there will be no shortage of politicians to take regular digs at. Yet even if Senate hearings start to sound like a faltering attempt at interplanetary communication, let’s not think our political class is the pits.
One writer with a bee in his bonnet is Nick Bryant, a BBC correspondent
and author of The Rise and Fall of Australia: How a Great Nation Lost Its Way. Our political story, he argues, is so brutal, pathetic, narrow and facile that we are becoming an ugly joke around the world. Nothing better proves this mindset than our bigoted, reactionary and stupid approach towards border protection.
But who is it exactly who regards us as a global laughing stock? And who is it who is appalled by our political conduct? Is it perhaps Japan, which is hostile to accepting immigrants? Is it Singapore, which refuses to take any boat people? Is it China with its bad record on human rights? Is it an Africa soaked in its own blood? Is it a Middle East that is on the verge of a Sunni-Shia war? Is it a Latin America that has still not kicked the habits of dictatorship? Or is it the US with its rampant gun violence? Or Britain with its perpetual sex and expenses scandals and a Europe that is electing genuine xenophobes?
Imperfect as Australia certainly is, and as flawed as our politcians no doubt are, we are by almost any criterion one of the best nations in the world. Canberra must be doing something right.
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