There is a benefit to being overseas for work for a fortnight. For one thing, you end up reading a lot less about what is going on in Australia. Imagine a supposedly conservative government whose main selling point is that, in exchange for an immediate retrospective tax attack on our superannuation system, it will give us moderately trifling business tax cuts a decade from now. That’s it. That’s the right-of-centre ‘vision’ for this country at the moment. Oh, and some basically meaningless verbiage about ‘innovation’, a one-word feel-good slogan that either implies ‘government will pick winners’ or is committing to yet more spending that will achieve nothing. Other than that, today’s Coalition has a worldview that is as Labor as Labor’s.
This was driven home to me, this near wholesale selling out of the conservative voter in this country not least by the Coalition, when I returned to Australia yesterday to read about how the Australia Council has declared war on this publication, Quadrant. Not a penny this year will that dispenser of taxpayer funds give to the journal whose website you are now reading, not even the comparatively small figure of $48,000 that it received last year. Of course left-of-centre publications continued to score big from the Australia Council. But not a penny to anything on the right. It’s hard to resist the conclusion that the left plays to win, and the politicians on our side simply have no capacity to do anything other than to wave a white flag.
You certainly see the same sort of thing at work in the universities in this country. Go and take a look at the Australian Research Council and what it doles out to all projects sympathetic to such causes as taking more boat people, or to same-sex marriage, or to ever-expanding, rights-related international law. Then see if you can find any money given to projects unsympathetic to these points of view. Nada, zippo, zero, nothing.
What Labor governments do is pack these grant-giving bodies with like-minded people, and then all of the work is later done in the name of ‘an independent process’. When the Coalition gets into office it is at a loss what to do, because the first step in any remedial action is some straight-talking that declares these bodies biased and unbalanced. Our main right-of-centre political party lacks the intestinal fortitude to do that. You even see it with the ABC, where the is obvious and patent. But the Coalition has thrown in the towel as far as any attempt to rein it in. Rather, the Coalition aims for no more than a détente of sorts with a billion-dollar behemoth that declines even to adopt the pretense of balance by employing not even a single, solitary, right-of-centre presenter or producer on any of its flagship TV current affairs shows. Instead it just mouths over and over again that its people (whatever their uniformly lefty personal beliefs) are able to rise above their personal views. And then it goes back to being the propaganda arm of The Greens. Or it does what it can to help drive the Coalition to defenestrate Mr. Abbott.
Which brings me back to the Australia Council’s blatantly political decision to de-fund the publication you are reading right now. At the end of the day whom do you blame for this? I blame the Coalition. Everyone knows it will do nothing in response. Think back to Mr. Abbott and the ABC or the Australian Research Council. (Or go back to Mr. Howard’s government for that matter.) These were supposed to be real conservative governments. And yet they did nothing about the ABC, save subjecting it to a trifling 5% cut under Mr. Abbott. No statutory demand that, say, there be two presenters on each show representing each side. Just imagine, to picture but one example, how much more lively Media Watch would be if the show came with a conservative counterweight to compere Paul Barry’s left-brained edicts and assumptions.
Nothing like that was done, or even a mooted. There was passing talk of privatisation or making the ABC take advertisements (which has slightly balanced the CBC in Canada, as the need for ad revenue carries with it the need for more viewers than the Left’s inner-city fiefdoms can provide). Meanwhile, there was no attempt either to take on the main grant-distributing body to the university sector, though I personally have long wanted a change that would see grants go only to the hard sciences and medicine and an end to all these massive grants to the social sciences and the arts. Of course to do that you have to say why, and the Coalition won’t do that – not at the commonwealth nor at the state level.
So the Australian Council, which is made up of real-life people with personal views and is not some ‘independent’, ‘totally impartial’ disembodied entity, knows full well that it will face no repercussions for this attack on Quadrant. Seriously, hands up if you believe that any government led by Malcolm Turnbull will lift a finger in response. No? Me neither. The thing is, you have to believe there is a problem with what these various funding bodies are doing before you can try to fix them. And half the Coalition MPs don’t see a problem. Virtually all of them lack the cojones to fight for values they claim every election season to embody. After the votes are counted, it’s back to their supine stock in trade.
So let me put this to alleged conservatives whose DNA has produced no evidence of a spine: If you give taxpayer money only to left-leaning “independent” bodies, do you actually believe the cause of smaller government, strong borders, national sovereignty and democratic input views can get traction and win? Or will it be lavishly funded left-leaning views that dominate the public stage and shout down any and all opposing perspectives?
I keep hearing how this election on July 2 will be one in which all of us on the conservative side of politics need to remember that we should not make ‘the perfect the enemy of the good’. But there is little that is good about Team Turnbull in my view. I have never yet to hear anyone suggest we ought to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the awful.
If you’re reading this, do what you can for this fine publication. Quadrant needs your help. It won’t get any from the Liberal Party as it exists today.
James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is the author of Democracy in Decline
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