The year that was…

They say hindsight is 20/20. Honi asked a number of Australia’s news makers for their take on the events of the past twelve months.

Julie Hare

Free speech is unpunished speech, and it took a thousand cuts in 2012 – from Slipper to Assange to Alan Jones. Bob Ellis reflects on a looming wowser century

Bob Ellis

This year saw the end of Rudd, the return of Carr, the revival of Gillard, and the slow crumbling of the Liberal adventure across Australia. Newman sacking nurses, O’Farrell and Baillieu eroding TAFEs and sacking teachers, Redmond offering her job, in vain, to Alexander Downer, and, in Canberra, Pyne and Abbott running from the chamber when a duly elected member voted on their side, showed how cack-headed that side of politics had become, and the getting of Slipper for a Les Patterson-style simile uttered in private showed how fascist we all were getting, with every stand-up comedian and cartoonist now theoretically in danger, and the phrase I grew up with, ‘not in front of the ladies’, once more the rule in Australia.

Overseas, the slaughter in Syria continued, taking out the Che, the Orwell, Attlee, Camus, Mandela, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, FDR, Lincoln and Jefferson of that country among tens of thousands of lesser lights and innocent bystanders because no-one offered sanctuary to Assad and his court as others did Amin and the Shah, and the UN insisted he accede to his own beheading. This killing by the better armed side will go on for years, and it’s a pity.

Greece and Spain are being asked to sack more and more people and starve more and more pensioners to pay unmeetable debts in a currency, the Euro, that cannot long survive, when the solution, a second, shrinkable banknote – the drachma, the peso – was all that was needed; plus, perhaps, a two-year moratorium on rents and mortgage payments so money could begin to move around once again. But it was not to be.

Arctic ice grew very thin, and it was thought the seas would engulf Marrickville and Woy Woy til it was then discovered Antarctic ice was thickening because the ozone hole above it let the heat out. Which means the answer may be there after all: less ozone, less heat, more aerosol, more sunscreen, the ice comes back that feeds the Ganges, and all will be well.

Chavez kicked cancer and won an election that showed how to do things in this age: let the money made from oil uplift the poor and fund good government jobs that spread prosperity. Castro, his idol, watched approvingly, and capitalism elsewhere bit off its own arm in its final, fatal thrashings and blamings, and twenty thousand children died, mostly of bad water, every day in countries it had foreclosed on, and ‘privatised’ into needless misery in its weird pursuit of billions for the few, the very few. Gina Rinehart made two hundred thousand dollars while you read this article and will make in the next hour three times Obama’s annual wage, and it’s hard to see why, and in what measure she deserves it.

Last week, Obama retrieved his advantage in a debate performance – the best, perhaps, in world history – that may save the West from Tea Party fascist barbarity for a few more years perhaps, perhaps. What he will do with his victory is as yet unknowable, but it is better, surely, than the plans of a man who for forty years of his life believed that no Negro could enter heaven and that drinking coffee attracts hellfire.

In Australia, Abbott’s view that fifty cents per year per taxpayer was too big a price to buy us onto the world’s High Court will do him a bit more harm than the hundreds weekly inundating his Final Solution, Nauru, and will make impossible his other major policy, piracy, and he will fall by year’s end and Turnbull, resurgent, cause Labor to reconsider its leadership, probably.

A terrible wowser century looms if we are not careful. We are permitted to borrow Mein Kamf from North Sydney Library but not say ‘mussel’ to our gay lover to describe female genitalia, on pain of a half million dollar fine and social ruin. It should be noted that free speech is unpunished speech, and Assange and Alan Jones, and Murdoch, and Slipper, and Austin Tayshus equally deserve that freedom. It is a right.

And so it goes.

Bob Ellis is an author, filmmaker, and former editor of Honi Soit.


The higher ed reality doesn’t live up to the rhetoric, writes Julie Hare

Julie Hare

2012 was crunch year for higher education – the year the full gamut of recommendations and changes from 2008’s Review of Higher Education by Denise Bradley came into play. For the first time ever, universities could enrol as many domestic students as they wished. And most did.

ATARs headed south and a war of words ensued between those who said quality would be compromised by too many academically under-prepared students being admitted (those with ATARs under 70) and those who said poor people aren’t dumb and the quality argument is patronising (disadvantaged students tend to get lower ATARs because they don’t go to private schools).

Things got really heated over the number of students with ATARs under 50 being admitted into teaching degrees (thousands). That’s bad, people said, b

ecause they are the teachers of tomorrow. And then it turned out there aren’t any jobs for graduating teachers anyway, so do we really care?

As domestic student numbers skyrocketed, international students stayed away in their hordes, which didn’t help universities balance the books.

Universities continued their endless battle with government about funding or lack of it. The government didn’t shift, but then higher education came out of the May budget relatively unscathed too.

The feminisation of higher education continued apace with 60 per cent of undergraduates and 55 per cent of academics now female. But that success is not being translated into the workplace. Women earning significantly less than men just five years after graduation (can’t blame babies for that one) and only 28 per cent of associate professors and above being women.

2012 was the year of the MOOC (massive open online course – Google it) and while no one knows how it’s going to play out in the long run, pretty well every one accepts it will be a game changer.

And 2013: early signs show student demand is flatlining and government predictions for ongoing growth will not eventuate. But there is a flight to brand with the so-called sandstone universities fairing well, and those on the bottom of the status ladder getting pummelled. The question is: will some universities have to fold or merge?

2013 is also the year of the election. The Libs haven’t said what their policy platform involves, but it’s likely to continue the focus access to university for equity and disadvantaged students.

Andrew Robb reckons universities have to think big and change their “business models” and “products”. That includes educating 10 million Asians a year, mostly online (refer to MOOC).

Vice-chancellors will keep muttering under their breaths about funding levels, everyone will keep up their justified rant over red tape, students will continue to study in disciplines in which they will never, ever find a job.

But believe the rhetoric and it’s all about the post-minerals boom and creation of a knowledge economy.

Fingers crossed.

Julie Hare is the higher education editor of The Australian.


John Laws reflects on the shortcomings of 2012, and reveals what was in that drink

John Laws

On Sexism

I think it’s ridiculous to say that you can’t criticize women that are in power. If you’re before the public then you’re going to be questioned, and if you put yourself in that kind position then you have to expect it. I, however, don’t like denigration when it becomes sexist. It doesn’t make any difference to me that Julia Gillard is a woman, she’s the Prime Minister of this country and consequently is entitled to respect – even if you don’t like her, even if you didn’t vote for her, she’s still the Prime Minister. That’s a pretty important job in a pretty important country, and she, I believe, is entitled to respect. A lot of people don’t agree with me, but that is my belief.

On Alan Jones

I don’t know what was achieved by axing Jones’ advertisers, apparently it was the station’s decisions not the advertisers. The people crying out for Jones to be sacked were probably angry by them coming back. I do think you’ve got to confront the fact that people don’t like what you’re doing. But people are strange – they like to have a bit of bile.

But on the question of social media’s influence – I don’t know anything about Facebook, and social media – it sounds more like anti-social media to me. Who would care if I put up on Facebook ‘I’m just going to the lavatory. I washed my hands while I was there.’ You know, all that is garbage.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority just ruled he Jones would have to employ a fact checker for his comments, too. I’ve never heard of someone having to employ a fact checker – it’s the first time I’ve heard of that in my career. I would have thought that automatically one would at least want to make sure that the facts were correct anyway. I would have thought it was his job – I definitely see it as my job. It’s pretty simple to do. But again let me say, if you dare to question Alan at 2GB, you’d probably be out the door in a flash. That’s what people think, anyway.

On Politics

I don’t think anyone’s been doing a particularly good job anywhere, this year, politically.

I think Julia Gillard was absolutely opportunistic, with Peter Slipper – and Craig Thomson. They’re both misfits, and it’s very unfortunate that we have either of them having anything to do with the running of this great country. But, politics is like hypocrisy – you can’t really be in one without having a bit of the other. She needed them, so she let them get away with it.

In NSW, Mr O’Farrell, like all good politicians, didn’t quite adhere to his pre-election promises…but none of them do. Education and health have to be the two most important things – by a long way. And we should be spending more on both.
There’s got to be budget cuts available… maybe if they started cutting around themselves, they could probably save a lot of money in the public sector.

I question whether Tony Abbott is the best Opposition Leader. But I do think he’ll lead Opposition to the election. And I think Gillard will lead the other lot. I think it would be too late to change now. Unless Malcolm Turnbull speaks up and says he wants to go back, but I don’t know that he would. I, like a lot of people, think Turnbull may have some more fire in the belly, but a lot of people in power don’t agree. As far as Tony Abbott is concerned, I don’t think he’s tough enough.

People seem to think that Malcolm Turnbull is on the nose because he’s too successful and rich – I don’t really subscribe to that. I would think the average Australian would like to have a smart leader. So I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull is thought of as too smart by the Australian public.

If you’re a tall poppy for long enough, people get used to the fact, and it seems to bother them less.

I don’t – touch wood – have any problems with the general public when I get recognised or anything. Workmen on the side of the road wave, and say G’day. I don’t get any of it now. I did when I was younger. But I probably asked for it back in the day: I was a bit full of myself.

And finally, on his 7.30 appearance and what he was drinking

Wild Turkey and coke, of course – but I mean, it was my first of the day, if there was any suggestion I was elephant’s trunk. I just love the taste.

John Laws has been on top of the talk radio industry for more than a generation. He currently broadcasts on 2SM.