No one, not even Alan Jones, defends his shocking jibe at Prime Minister Gillard and her father. But surely the journalist who secretly taped him deserves more than a half-hearted hint of censure. Every journalistic code of ethics in the world condemns the use of concealed equipment to record a speaker unawares. Or are ethics beside the point when the quarry is a popular right-wing motormouth?
The most telling blow in the battle for the soul of NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) has just been struck by Chris Puplick, a former member of the NIDA board (and a former Liberal Senator) in his polemic Changing Times at NIDA. It is a spirited defence of the old order: the 30 to 40 years in which John Clark as artistic director and Elizabeth Butcher as general manager turned an old tin shed in Kensington into the great theatre school that has produced Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett, Judy Davis, Baz Luhrmann and so many other brilliant actors, directors, designers. But inevitably there came a time for change. Criticisms and tensions gradually accumulated over, for example, unemployment among graduates. Robin Nevin declared in 2001: ‘It’s time [Clark and Butcher] moved on.’ Others strongly disagreed. Henrietta Clark told the ABC: ‘I never mention the R word to John, ever. My personal hope is that he’s carried feet first out of a rehearsal.’ In the end John Clark resigned in 2004 and Butcher in 2007. The board eventually appointed Lynne Williams, an arts administrator of wide experience in Australia and the UK, as both artistic director and general manager.
Transitions are always difficult, often tearful. Some like Puplick saw the changeover as the triumph of market philistinism (jobs in soaps) over artistic integrity. Many agreed with him. About 55 out of 76 staff members resigned. Quite a few had no qualms, Puplick writes, about filling his willing ear with their resentment over the ‘Thatcherite’ new order. I served on the board of NIDA for about 15 years in the Seventies and Eighties. I saw my role as supporting Clark and Butcher as they built a great drama school. (I never considered myself, as Puplick did, a sort of school inspector entitled to drop in on classes to check on teachers.) So I am glad that Puplick has paid proper and eloquent tribute to their achievement.
He is less convincing in his blast against the new order. It does not help that he washes so much dirty linen in public. Do we really need to know that someone attached rat poison to the artistic director’s car? Is an exchange of lawyers’ letters a helpful way of settling disagreements in a small collegiate institution? Does it advance good governance when Puplick introduces techniques of political branch-stacking to NIDA board elections? (‘One does learn some things in politics,’ he says.) But the new order has not properly answered Puplick’s case. Board chairman Malcolm Long dismissed him as ‘disaffected’. Surely the Williams/Long administration can do better.
Malcolm Fraser outclassed even Wayne Swan’s extravagant anti-Americanism in his speech on American containment of China at Melbourne University last week. Swan had simply attacked the ‘cranks and crazies’ in the Republican party. Fraser attacked both Republicans and Democrats with equal zest — Mitt Romney (‘to think that such a man is within a hair’s breadth of becoming President’) and Barack Obama (a dangerous warmonger). The old America of Eisenhower and Kennedy, Fraser says, is dead. The neoconservatives and the Tea Party have supplanted them. This was apparent in President Obama’s ‘inappropriate’ speech to the Parliament last November. Obama regards Australia as an American strategic colony which will always support the containment of China. ‘What conceivable threat,’ Fraser asks, ‘can we see to the mainland of Australia in today’s world?’ Can he not even conceive an increasingly powerful China moving in the coming decades to control its vital trade routes north of the Australian mainland? How else can he explain why almost every Asian state supports American containment of China? It’s not enough to declare: ‘Oh how I envy New Zealand!’
It was always a bad idea to try to introduce a national curriculum in schools. John Howard spoke well in Perth on the proposed national history curriculum which somehow achieves the miracle of telling Australian history without acknowledging the role of Western civilisation, our British heritage or the Biblical good news. But it is not only the teaching of history that suffers from the imposition of a uniform national curriculum. The better way is to have each state or education authority maintain its independent curriculum in all subjects. The rest of us can then judge which is best. Diversity, not uniformity, is preferable. Politically wiser, too.
Launching Christopher Koch’s novel Lost Voices in Hobart the other day, the poet and critic Jamie Grant made a high claim for Koch’s work. He is, he said, not just an award-winning novelist or best-seller. He is Australia’s ‘finest living writer of fiction’ — a judgment that was true, he added, even when Patrick White was still alive. You recognise Koch’s superiority when you give ‘close attention to the words on the page’. Koch exists ‘on a different dimension’. He has an affinity with poets. He began his literary career as a poet, which may explain why the character Alan McLeod in Lost Voices bears a distinct resemblance to Les Murray. (‘Like a film director, he sometimes likes to give walk-on roles to his friends.’) Koch has won the Miles Franklin twice and the Victorian Premier’s Award. Mysteriously, he has never won the NSW Premier’s Award.