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How the unAustralian lost the plot

By Graham Ring - posted Thursday, 27 March 2008

In mid-February the national broadsheet called for a “new civility” in public discourse. Three days later, the paper used its editorial to launch a savage personal attack against HREOC Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma.

In matters of Indigenous Affairs, The Australian long ago nailed its colours to the mast. Not content with being a mere journal of record, The Oz adopted a policy agenda which it would pursue aggressively through selective reporting, sanctimonious editorialising and shrill columns.

The paper's pin-up boys, Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine, would receive extensive coverage of their every utterance, and even be described as “visionaries” by a publication with a barrow to push.


But readers could search in vain for thoughtful discussion of the policies advocated by those on the left. The Oz had made up its mind after all, and the addition of further factual material could only serve to complicate matters.

So the gloves were off and the punches being thrown were very much of the bare-knuckle variety. There was a culture war to be won after all.

However, the country's voters muddied the waters considerably in late-November by terminating the political existence of John Winston Howard and Malcolm Thomas Brough.

Then, on February 16, The Oz editorial team came out with this cracker: "As we prepare for the 2020 summit, let's return civility to the national conversation. We should be able to respect our opponents even when we disagree with their ideas, counter them with argument, not argumentativeness."

Pardon me while I smirk.

Consider the “civility quotient” of the paper's editorial entitled “Social justice about more than rights” - which appeared all of 72 hours after the broadsheet's all-too-brief dalliance with decency.


The “new civility” was quickly overshadowed by the “old belligerence” as the paper launched a vicious attack on HREOC Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma. In a flood of vituperation from the “heart of the nation” (the new catchphrase that appears in The Oz's masthead), we learn that Calma was "enjoying an upper-middle-class lifestyle on a salary package four times that of average Australians and 10 times that of the average Indigenous Australian".

It is puzzling that a newspaper which notionally champions Indigenous participation in the mainstream economy should be so virulently critical of an Aboriginal man winning a senior public sector job.

What exactly is the problem here?

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First published in the National Indigenous Times, Issue 148, on March 6, 2008.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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