The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on May 28, 1999 · Page 15
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia · Page 15

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Issue Date:
Friday, May 28, 1999
Page 15
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OPINION 15 THE AGE FRIDAY 28 MAY 1999 Don't punish the ABC for getting it A report on the national broadcaster has ignored the facts. IT IS hard to escape the conclusion that the ABC is being punished for its success. There is no more decentralised media organisation in Australia, there is no more accountable media organisation in' Australia, and no other media organisation with greater public support or a better record of awards. There is no other media organisation that could, after being hit by a $66 million budget cut and almost 1000 redundancies, maintain its programs and services by restructuring, increasing efficiency and drawing on the commitment of staff, and continue to meet the wide-ranging needs of audiences. These facts are deeply troubling to the ABC's critics. The attempt by the Victorian Economic Development Committee to tarnish the reputation of the ABC has been the least rigorous, most obviously politically motivated of the many inquiries into the ABC in recent years. The Strong report has largely dismissed the hundreds of pages of Scrutiny of jails is crucial to society By NICOLE BRADY AS THE State Government considers opening the nation's first privately operated youth prison, it should heed the messages of recent inquiries into aspects of the adult prison system. Last week's decision to order the release of confidential prison contracts for the three private adult jails highlighted the difference between privatising custodial functions and privatising other state businesses. Justice Murray Kellam and John Galvin the president and deputy president of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal overrode the Government's claim that it was not in the public interest to release the contracts which, it argued, should remain secret to protect commercial confidentiality. The tribunal decision, which the Government is considering appealing against, said: "There is little that is more obviously in the public interest than the issue of the liberty of persons." The decision makes clear that managing prisoners is not the same as managing electricity units or railway services. It is in everyone's interest for the terms of their incarceration to be exposed to public scrutiny. We need to know how much the Government is paying prison contractors and what proportion of their fee is spent on education or drug and alcohol programs, for example, just as we need to know what sanctions are imposed on private providers ' when prisoners in their care commit suicide or harm themselves. It is not just a matter of making sure that as taxpayers we are getting value for money, it is also to assure us that people whose crimes have led to the most severe sanction permissible loss of liberty are being adequately cared for. The Kirby report that was belatedly tabled in Parliament earlier this month after the independent study, Review of Suicides and Self Harm in Victorian Prisons, also holds valuable lessons for the Government as it considers delegating the care of some young offenders to private companies. Again came the reminder that prisoners are people, and that rather than focusing on the removal of potential suicide implements, prevention would be better assisted by "providing essential human interaction with staff or other inmates". Most worrying were concerns raised about the privately operated Port Phillip prison, which "opened with a staff inexperienced in correctional work". The inquiry found that after the first hanging the inadequate staff training was very apparent, and management's response was "complacent". Clearly the Government needs to ensure a certain standard in the recruitment and training of staff for all prisons and to make sure Port Phillip's mistakes are never repeated. These issues of transparency and accountability are even more crucial when it comes to the imprisonment of young people. Victorian law recognises this group's special character by specifying that the option of sentencing offenders aged 17 to 20 to youth training centres rather than to adult jail Is only available when the magistrate or judge is convinced the youth is vulnerable or has a good prospect of rehabilitation. In the case of these youths, the Government cannot afford to repeat mistakes and must recognise that concealing the contracts it might enter Into with private contractors is counter to the public interest. Nicole Brady is The Age's social policy reporter. E-mail: BRIAN j evidence the ABC has presented, the hours of evidence by senior managers and the supporting statements by others in the industry. Instead it has preferred the views of disgruntled individuals and unidentified industry sources to the sworn evidence of senior ABC managers. For a state economic development committee it has taken a head-in-the-sand approach to the economic benefits to Victoria of the ABC's extensive presence in the state. Having had a major cultural involvement in Melbourne for more than a decade as publisher of Penguin Books, I understand the importance Victorians place on a fair distribution of national resources. Whatever the inequities of other organisations in this regard, the ABC treats Victoria fairly. The difference in staff numbers between Victoria and New South Wales can be explained solely by the fact that the ABC's head office is in Sydney. The Instead of blaming the churches, find the real reasons for homosexual suicide. By GEORGE PELL TOO many young men are in trouble in jail, unemployed, on drugs, committing suicide and committing crimes of violence. We should tackle these problems. This was one reason for my Pentecost Sunday statement on Fathers and Sons, which spoke of the qualities of good fathers and good sons; of the difficulties encountered, the wimp and macho stereotypes, the vital role of wives and mothers and the damage from divorce and absent fathers. The surprising hullabaloo over this Pentecost statement arose when a misleading headline on an excellent and accurate article brought down the wrath of some feminists. They pointed out quite rightly that violent and selfish men, wimps and machos, had existed long before the feminist movement. Certainly I had not suggested otherwise. The Fathers and Sons document did not speak of homosexuality. It was the continuing public protests at communion in the cathedral of a small number of homosexual men and women, not all of whom are' Catholic, to force the church to legitimise homosexual activity that required me to respond. We Christians understand that everyone needs human love and respect. We Jews, Christians and Muslims have always believed that nature designed men and women for one another; that sex is a sacred fire which can purify and ennoble or damage and destroy, and that sexual activity is designed to strengthen marriage and create family. The strict Christian commandments limiting sexual activity to heterosexual marriage and declaring all other genital activity off limits are designed to prepare people for lifelong marriages, providing security for spouses and offspring. Human beings are not automatons. Even young men have an intellect and will and are free to choose, to make themselves. It is misleading to tell our young that adolescent infatuations or isolated Denying Young people will not accept doctrine without argument. By PETER VARDY TO SAY that the outlines for the new religious education guidelines proposed for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne are disappointing would be an understatement. If you are a member of Opus Dei, the right-wing Catholic group, and if you see the function of education being to inculcate young people into your own views and to avoid getting them to think for themselves, then the guidelines might well be considered admirable. What is the function of religious education? In the old days the framework of religious groups was clear cut and unquestioned. Education simply Inculcated young people Into the framework of the school and the assumptions of the parents. The ABC has a substantial presence in Victoria through its radio, television and online activities and has major production and broadcast centres at Southbank and Ripponlea. Victoria houses the head office of one of the ABC's largest divisions, local and regional services, as well as Radio Australia and the natural history unit. Of the seven commissioning editors, the three responsible for drama, comedy and arts programs are based in Melbourne. More than half the ABC's drama, arts and comedy programs are produced in Melbourne. This draws on the skills of Victorian writers, producers, directors and actors, and is of direct benefit to the local production and cultural industries. The committee has paid scant attention to these facts and has tried to belittle the extent of ABC production around Australia. The committee claims that it is not politically motivated, but the tone of its report undermines this assertion. The question must be asked: is the committee motivated by a genuine desire to see the ABC doing more and better, or determined to create a political climate in which the national public broadcaster is the target for free kicks? Creating this climate is a hard task the committee received only 76 archbishop replies experimentation implies an inescapable homosexual orientation. No person in Australia, particularly a youngster, needs to commit suicide. Compassion is always available somewhere, even if a search is needed. It is grossly unfair and misleading for those who work to win recruits Catholic Today such an approach will not succeed although the archdiocese clearly thinks it will. The guidelines are doctrinaire and certainly do not encourage independent thought or real engagement With religious or moral issues. Yet such an approach denies a central part of the Catholic tradition. The Catholic tradition has a proud history of engagement with philosophy. It has sought truth and has numbered some of the finest minds in Western history among its members. St Augustine transformed the way the Roman Empire thought about war. His legacy, and the tradition of proportionalism in ethics on which it is based, is still with us in just war thinking, which even affects targeting policy in Kosovo and similar conflicts, St. Thomas Aquinas used the philosophy of Aristotle to give expression to what has become the natural law tradition in ethics. Under the archdiocese's approach the whole rich history of submissions, and its website has had only 26 hits since February hardly evidence of overwhelming public dissatisfaction. As Bob Mansfield found when he conducted his inquiry and concluded after months of detailed investigation and examination of 10,600 submissions overwhelmingly in support of the ABC: Australians treasure the national broadcaster. A recent Newspoll again underlined this support when it found that 90 per cent thought the ABC was doing a good job almost double the support for commercial broadcasters. It may be that this overwhelming majority of Australians who think that the ABC is doing a good job simply want the national broadcaster to do more. Any move to push the national broadcaster into simply filling the gaps left by the commercial media would undermine the ABC's legitimacy and the support of audiences. The committee's dark charges of inefficiency bear no relationship to reality. The ABC operates under the spotlight of constant scrutiny by the Federal Parliament and the auditor-general. The knock-down arguments are missing from the Strong report. Instead we have a series of unsub 1 . , fcc h V" ' K 1 Jr X Sa to homosexual practice to blame those who discourage such recruiting for the suicide of homosexuals. The churches try to help those who are depressed or suffering. A deep homosexual orientation often brings suffering, but acting this out generally brings greater suffering, particularly when accompanied by minds the quest for truth debate about questions of ethics, theology and philosophy of religion will not be explored. The Catholic tradition is dynamic and Ideas within it change previous ideas on usury, slavery, masturbation, the purpose of sex in marriage, the position of women, when souls were Implanted in foetuses by God, how doctrine developed, the authorship of books of the Hebrew Scriptures and many other issues have all been overturned and changed. Great minds in the tradition have sought and wrestled with truth and this process continues today with a wide variety of views being put forward by different Catholic scholars. The new guidelines have no interest in or commitment to developing this search and Victorian young people In many Catholic schools will therefore be denied the possibility of understanding the tradition and engaging with it, Young people in Australia are all too often radical relativists. A favorite phrase Is "that's your truth". The assumption is that what stantiated half-truths, misinterpretations of numbers, misunderstanding of facts and proposed solutions to imagined problems that are beyond the constitutional responsibility of any state government. Broadcasting is a federal responsibility, as is funding for the national public broadcasters. Instead the committee has presumed to advise a federal parliamentary committee that it should not approve a major property rationalisation in Sydney. The sale of Gore Hill and development of a new facility in Sydney is designed to achieve the efficiencies that the committee seeks it will not mean centralisation by stealth. As I have said many times over long years of severe budget restraint and pressure to make stringent economies there has been a process of concentration of resources in Sydney and Melbourne. But this management and board have moved against this and have done so in the face of the harshest budget pressure ever. The challenge is not to place more in Melbourne and Sydney but to achieve a better spread of ABC resources around Australia. The ABC has a decentralisation plan a multifaceted investment in resources, facilities, skills development and technology for the new Picture: CRAIG ABRAHAM ft S , 1,un H 1 V W2. 4 v i i WW adult seduction, mistaken 'convictions about fixed orientation and abhorrence at patterns of promiscuity. Instead of accusing the churches of homophobia, which we condemn roundly, we should be seeking the real reason for youth suicide. The gay agenda contains a num is true for one person may not be for another. Often the only underlying morality is "do what you like provided it does not hurt anyone". Few schools really help people to engage with issues at levels that go beyond the superficial yet young people1, like their parents, yearn for just this engagement. They wish to probe and understand different ways of exploring issues of values and religious beliefs. They want to understand the different ways language about God can be used and their consequences; they want to ask whether or not God exists and what it means for God to exist; they wish to think about whether there is life after death and what this means. Young people are only too well aware of the challenge of evil to religious belief they are puzzled, as thinkers have been for more than 2000 years, about how there can be an all good and all powerful God in the face of so much evil. In biblical studies, recent scholarship has thrown new light on old narratives and perhaps call people right digital media age around Australia, not just in Sydney as the Strong committee has asserted. It is in our interests to do so. The ABC strives to reflect the full richness of Australian life. This will continue to be the case in the new media environment of digital television, with multiple channels and online and datacasting services that will enable the national public broadcaster to even more fully represent the interests of all Australians. The ABC has 57 broadcast centres scattered across the country. It has 600 journalists around Australia and overseas. These journalists and broadcasters describe Australians to themselves everywhere, on radio, television and online. The ABC has recognised the need and strength it gains from a geographic i spread, connecting with Australians wherever they may live and whatever their interests. Regionalism is sacred. Victoria is central to that vision and role, as are South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland, NSW and the ACT. Brian Johns is managing director of the ABC. E-mail: ber of disparate aims: to induce Christian churches to reject the Old and New Testament teaching against homosexual activity; to brand all criticism as homophobia; to lay blame for the suicide of homosexuals anywhere except in the homosexual community; to give same-sex partnerships legal status equal to marriage with rights to adoption and government-subsidised IVF children; to silence public discussion of health risks; to lower the age of consent, and recruit new members to the subculture. My mentioning the health risks of homosexual activity was also rejected as "misinformed" and "regrettable"; a quaint throwback to almost Victorian reticence. It was quickly pointed out that deaths from AIDS declined from more than 700 in 1994 to 279 in 1997. But it remains equally true that one sexual encounter can cause AIDS, while one has to smoke for a long time for cancer to develop. Such facts of life are essential information for the young. Christ forgave sins and healed sinners. He prevented the stoning of the adulterous woman and refused to condemn her. But he did not tell her to keep up the good work; he told her to sin no more. The call to repentance can be difficult to answer. The first step is to recognise the truth about our conduct. Sexual orientation is morally indifferent; certainly no cause for repentance, much less condemnation. The church has no power to change essential Christian teachings on faith and morals. Changing the teaching to legitimise homosexual activity and boost the recruitment drive would make a sad situation far more sad. We Christians take seriously our duty to care for the sick. This includes HIV positive and AIDS victims. Certainly the Catholic Church in Melbourne practises what it preaches here and provides personnel, pastoral care and financial support for this work. True freedom is the product of restraint and linked to truth and human nature. Attempts to escape this are dead ends. On this important topic we should all think again. I am happy to do so, but would suggest The Age editorial team also has some distance to travel. George Pell is the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. E-mail: to a deeper understanding. None of these matters will be considered. New ways of understanding truth have been developed by philosophers ranging from the insights of postmodernism to anti-realism and various forms of realism and these have profoundly affected understanding of literature, history, art and religious belief. None of these will be explored. The way to engage with relativism is to engage with it the new guidelines fail to do this, St Anselm said "Fides quaerens Intellectum" faith seeks understanding, It is a pity that the archbishop does not see it to be part of the role of good religious and values education to provide the Intellectual foundations for young people to engage in the search for themselves. Dr Peter Vardy is an Anglican theologian, lecturer In philosophy of religion at Heythrop College, University of London, consultant to Geelong and Melbourne Grammar Schools and joint editor of Dialogue Australia. E-mail: Mediocre debates: Why we are lucky S.' A FRIEND returned from Macedonia the other day. As he wandered the halls of Parliament, he opined that he was having difficulty relating to Australia's current political debates. The Government's problems with the GST and Telstra and such-like weren't penetrating. They seemed so mediocre compared with the struggle for mere survival of a million homeless Kosovars, and a NATO bombing campaign that was blowing Yugoslavia and its citizens to hell. It is hardly a new sentiment among those exposed to the tough realities of the world beyond Australia's placid borders. Virtually every Australian who visits a Third World country or a troubled land comes back with the same feeling. I recall returning from Rwanda and Zaire to discover colleagues in a lather because Alexander Downer then Opposition Leader had forgotten some detail of his own party's Aboriginal land rights policy while visiting the outback. It was, everyone said, a crisis for his leadership. Yet, filled with memories of hacked bodies and the ravages of starvation, dysentery and cholera, I could not come to terms with the description of Downer's difficulties as a crisis or, for a while, give a damn. There is, however, a very good argument that this awed view of the world's troubles causing one to relegate Australia's squabbles to the who-cares basket is quite skew-whiff. Who would wish the conflict of, say, the Balkans on Australia? The very fact that our not-so-great debates relate to things like taxation and the sale of public utilities underlines the essential truth about our nation: that we are a privileged people who have the great luxury of arguing about the way we deal with our wealth. But even this sells us short. The GST imbroglio, for instance, is less a debate about taxation than a confrontation about what sort of society we believe we should be. It is about the nature of egali-tarianism and the care of the have-nots versus the value of providing reward for those who can get ahead via their work and their pay packets. It is about the changed nature of Australian production: why should goods be taxed and services not, when Australia is becoming less a manufacturer of goods, and more a services provider? It is also a debate about Australian democracy and how it work. The Government was elected on a single policy: tax reform. But now it is perilously close to being refused the right to pass that legislation. What, then, of its mandate and what sort of mandate is it? The Government was elected with less than half the vote, and in the upper house, the electoral system produced a majority of senators opposed to the GST. It is much more fascinating than the glib line that a single Senator (Brian Harradine) brought the Government undone. In fact the combined forces of Labor, Democrats and Green senators, plus Harradine, brought the Government undone. And those combined forces represented the majority of voters. It has focused the attention of Australians on their electoral system in a way that has not been seen since 1975. The sale of Telstra is also bound up in values that transcend the dollars the sale might reap, and the value of shares purchased by those with the means to buy them. It is about the most valuable commodity in the world information who should own the means of transmitting it and whether Australians who live in the bush will maintain the same rights of access to that intormation as those who live in the cities. But beyond these high-profile wrangles, much more significant debates are bubbling along. The national agenda will soon be engulfed by the question of whether Australia will, after 200 years, finally cut its formal ties with the British throne. One can expect, or at least hope for, a national mood of intro spection when it finally dawns on us that in November we vote on the future identity of our country. The vote asks of us: who are we, where are we from and where are we going? They demand fundamental answers to others regarding multiculturalism, and perhaps most importantly, how do we regard ourselves as one people until there Is reconciliation between white and black Australia? And whether we choose to become a republic, Aus tralia is about to make its decision without civil war or bloodshed, almost alone among the nations. It's an exciting time, and we should not downgrade our debates because they are not as dramatic as those that afflict societies that don't have a workable mechanism for negotiated argument E-mail: RAAAIS V

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