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Imposing their own prejudices

By Chris Lewis - posted Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Why I never accept biased political analysis from academia

Why do I feel an occasional urge to attack prominent Australian academics who continue to offer biased analysis through a tendency to bag the Coalition, praise Labor, and downplay the complexity of policy issues in their attempt to please like-minded readers?

After all, biased commentary has created ample opportunities for me to get published in Quadrant (2006-08), On Line Opinion and major Australian academic journals by opposing the many simplistic attacks on the Howard government.

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Well I argue that such bias, including the opportunities it has created for me, is hardly in the national interest because it dumbs down political debate.

While I have been fortunate to get work at the Australian National University and Australian Catholic University after leaving my work as a labourer in 2008, and have worked with a number of competent professors, I cannot forget some of the obstacles I have faced from so-called social democrats.

In Melbourne, during the 1990s, albeit after a bit of niggling from myself given I never accepted stupid terms like social democracy, I was once asked by an overrated academic (now a professor) why I wanted to do a PhD, and was it a wog thing (obviously referring to my southern European background). At another Melbourne university, at a job interview, I was virtually forced to indicate Left-wing political leaning.

Given my experience, and the knowledge I obtained from studying a variety of perspectives (including by scholars frowned upon by my university lecturers), I remain amused at biased academic political commentary.

Take Professor Robert Manne, of Latrobe University, who continues to favour Labor and allows his obvious bias to get in the way of reasoned argument. On January 24, 2012, Manne statesthat only Rudd's leadership of Labor could forestall "the arrival of a regime of unthinking and unscrupulous populist conservatism under the prime ministership of Tony Abbott".

During September 2011, Manne, again describing Labor as "the progressive side of politics", calledfor a number of reforms that would reignite Labor's legacy in line with past Labor efforts which established universal health care (Medibank and Medicare), addressed the dispossession of the Indigenous people, and promoted multiculturalism.

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Amongst his ideas, Manne suggested that Labor "increase the price of carbon substantially during the coming decades"; "foster investments in renewable energy"; fully implement "the national broadband network"; introduce a disability insurance along the lines suggested by the Productivity Commission and a dental treatment for those on low incomes; review the federal intervention into Indigenous affairs in the Northern Territory; increase the asylum seeker intake to 20,000 and end mandatory detention; defend the ideals of multiculturalism against hostility to Muslim citizens; reduce "upper-middle-class" welfare, like subsidies on the medical insurance for the wealthy and state expenditure on the elite private schools'; and break-up of the Murdoch stranglehold on newspapers.

Now I have much sympathy with many of Manne's policy positions. Like many Australian academics, I am also interested in a better world, particularly to help those most in need. I have always supported all Australians having access to decent public education and health services.

But does such biased commentary, as demonstrated by Manne, really adequately represent the Australian experience in real terms? Is it any better than a biased newspaper industry?

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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