The ABC and the ABC-in-exile

As the concept of a national broadcaster for Australia was being developed, conflicting ideas on how it should be constituted arose. Two competing models were put forward: a national ABC, and a national-ist ABC. It was the former model, one of an organisation that acts as a public utility, fulfilling its duties of cultural and political enrichment, of the dissemination of fact-based journalism, that triumphed and persists to this day. This is also known as the BBC model, as both the ABC and BBC have in common their statutorily guaranteed independence; there is no official means by which the government of the day can interfere in the reporting and duties of the broadcaster without amending its founding Act, which requires approval from the parliament.

The explicit exclusion of interference from the executive branch of government is fairly unusual on the part of the parliament in a Westminster system: there development of regulations and “filling in the gaps” is usually left to the cabinet and public service as it can more readily deal with unforeseen problems as they arise. However, the exclusion of interference was seen as fundamental to the development of a national ABC, one which represents the nation and its people. This is the “bottom-up” broadcaster which attaches to and takes its ‘orders’ from the cultural Zeitgeist. It forms a symbiotic relationship with its nation’s people, where it seeks to reflect the people’s values and to provide diversity in exchange, to offer enrichment to its zeitgeist with the introduction of new ideas and objective critique of both the domestic and foreign.

I have told a lie. 

The national ABC did not triumph, as triumph implies victory and an end to the contest that was being fought. The national-ist ABC, the ABC-in-exile fled to and flourished in the private sector. This private sector ABC, however, is only propagandistic for the government when it suits, and when it suits is when its favoured son, the Liberal Party, is the one governing. When the Liberal Party is in opposition, the nationalist ABC is the most stringent critic of the consequent Labor government, it becomes the unofficial party newspaper. It will likely have already dawned on the reader that this ‘nationalist ABC’ is something which has taken various forms, but which is today represented by the juggernauts of News Limited: the Australian, Sky News, and their tabloid cousins.

That the ABC and News Limited would be in a state of constant conflict comes as no surprise given their alternate views on journalism and reporting, rather than what most attribute the conflict to: ideological differences. In truth, ideology is a consequence of the journalistic philosophies of the two groups and not the cause. Support for the Liberal party is consequent from News Limited’s instincts for survival, which depends on an unregulated media and an alliance against a common enemy. News Limited would happily roll over for Labor and accept public funding if it were to be nominated as the alternate national broadcaster and funding for the ABC were to be abandoned. Most importantly of all, the News Limited outlets would desire amendments to the ABC Act which allow for editorialisation and the prioritisation of ‘national interest’ ahead of ‘public interest.’ Consider this the manifestation of the notion articulated in brazen terms by One Nation as the “Patriotic Broadcasting Corporation,” where patriotic is read to mean only the understanding of said word from the right wing perspective where no left wing views can be held to be even remotely patriotic. 

The fact remains, however, that the nationalist ABC has been exiled and is unlikely to overcome the actual ABC any time soon. Thus there is no triumph, but rather a stalemate. Whether a triumph is best to be sought is debatable. Rather, the only desire ought to be the fulfilment of the statutory requirements and protections of the ABC, and of the protection of independent journalism for which it was primary established. It is without which that we end up with the most recent situation of the exclusion of the ABC from the Pacific Forum by the client state of Nauru, presumably on the vicarious orders of News Limited via one Malcolm Turnbull. 

When a prime minister feeds conflict with the national broadcaster you know that he is acting well outside of the national interest. To presume to attend a meeting for which an agent of the Commonwealth has been banned is an endorsement and legitimisation of said ban. It is therefore evident that the Liberal party is once again accepting and encouraging the existence of a state within a state; an alternate reality. The IPA, the Australian, and the various right wing media idiots all form a ring of imbecility in which the elites of inner Sydney can all find their views and minds all safely held without critique. It is for that reason that when any Sydney elite gains power they are likely to encourage the war with the state, and the growth and propagation of the state within the state. 

In the most recent budget, the Liberals granted public subsidy to Foxtel, the hosting cable network for News Limited’s Sky News, whilst also cutting funding to the ABC. This is the explicit re-allocation of public funds from the ABC to the ABC-in-exile. This is an act of provocation by the Liberal party against the nation that they presume to represent. In truth, the Liberals are outsiders, aliens, truly un-Australian by nature.

In any case, News Limited consistently rates worse in every platform in which it is a competitor with the ABC. The preference is always for ABC News 24 over Sky News; for ABC Online over the Australian. Perhaps Australia can see through the thick veil of bullshit, or perhaps it sick of having a view imposed from the top-down by an elite, rather than having its views reflected by a public organisation that seeks only to enrich the world around it, rather than enrich itself and its Sydney-based millionaire shareholders. It has got to be said, also, that Australians can sniff un-Australian sentiment from miles away, and there is nothing more un-Australian than moving to America, abandoning your Australian heritage, and starting up a business with the intent of manipulating and controlling the public consciousness throughout the world, and in particular in Australia.

Clive and His Misnomer Party

In his second run at office, we find ourselves in the midst of a man of great ego, or of great ignorance, because it is only one or both of those two attributes which could compel a man to make another attempt at the exact game from which he had been so severely routed from previously, and it is only a man of tremendous means who could so easily gain a rarefied second chance at politics.

Having, insofar as can be seen, not adjusted his tactics at all, one wonders how Clive Palmer plans to re-enter the parliament and become a relevant pollical force once again. That this is a desire is undoubted by way of two facts: he has recruited, by way of defection, a senator, to his ‘United Australia’ party, and secondly because of the rampant advertising which likewise accompanied his 2013 run presently enamouring itself with our city centres.

One must consider, firstly, the ability to acquire a base with which to gain election, and secondly the party organisational structure to maintain forward momentum. That is, if one assumes that Palmer’s motives are beyond the mere short term and indeed extend to gaining parliamentary representation. Whether Machiavellian or Trump-esque, these antithetical descriptors possess one commonality: the ability to see beyond the curve. Perhaps I am mistaken, and Palmer is not making a real attempt at office, and this a part of some business ploy. But as a Queensland miner, why advertise at an inner-city train station in Melbourne, if not with the desire to persuade?

Admittedly, the man is confused if he believes his Lazarus moment will be brought about by inner Melbourne voters. As one who professes an ideology of reactionary populism, of the somewhat though not exclusively right-wing variety, one would assume his base to be geographically located elsewhere: the outer suburbs of the capitals, and perhaps the regions too. He should hit the sore points of these areas and hit them hard. Talk about freeway and railway congestion, emergency room waiting times, job security, and work casualisation. 

Build on outrage and frustration, a la Trump. Indeed, he tried this before, albeit with a more limited vision (“axe the tax!”). However, the situation today is not the same as in 2013 when he was first elected; there is no blue wave against a deeply unpopular government. Though the current government may be unpopular, it has not manifested an equivalent red wave, perhaps in part due to the lack of a leftist counterpart to News Corp. Also, the ability to articulate a reactionary vision based on the word “no” (no carbon tax, no mining tax, etc.) is limited when a conservative government is already in power and lacking the capital to pursue polarising policy changes.

Whether in his two-year absence he has developed his political muscle will be the determiner of the potency of his party given that the ability to take House seats is near-impossible but for extraordinary support on the ground and from donors, and Senate seats present considerable competition not only with the majors, but other parties attempting to represent the niche of right-wing discontent in the Australian polity. In attempting to farcically replicate Trump, Palmer has failed to adapt his strategy to the Westminster system and the peculiarities of Australian politics. Further, what addendums he has made to the Trump strategy will prove only more likely to be his downfall. He seeks to form a new party from the ground up as a complete greenhorn; Trump took over a party already militantly organised and which fell in line in short order.

His best bet, in my view, would be to back an existing player in the game, like the Australian Conservatives, in exchange for influence on policy and legislation, or to resume his background role in the Coalition and await his chance for preselection when the parties are at their weakest. Alas, he is a man of such great ego, as one can see in his billboards, that his ability to see ahead and plan accordingly may well be blinded by megalo- and ego-mania and will doom his selfish political ambitions. Do not be mistaken: though the majors are built today on careerists, Palmer represents a purer distillation of this elitist cynicism, running counter to his professed desire to shake up the Australian political scene. It would be the same vehicle, just with a bright yellow bumper sticker on the back, and a set of wheels lacking tread.

Awaiting the Train to Monash

Week two of the university year made clear to me two things: how much I detest early-morning classes, and what a significant transport canyon lies between Huntingdale Station and Monash University. It is of no fault of the institution, which has prided itself on encouraging various means of transport to alleviate its already-congested surrounds. Rather it is that Melbourne's myopic transport planners have convinced themselves that all trains must lead to Flinders Street, and all suburban dilemmas may be resolved by enough roads and busses. 

Around four busloads of passengers (the line had doubled back, and stretches out of frame) await the  601 Monash Express Shuttle .

Around four busloads of passengers (the line had doubled back, and stretches out of frame) await the 601 Monash Express Shuttle.

Though it is true, certainly, that busses constitute the foundation of the suburban (and to an extent) urban transport system, they cannot be simply used as a bandaid for where a railway is obviously needed. 

It is true that level-crossing works and other maintenance issues quite often result in the closing of railways and their replacement with busses, indicating the clear feasibility of a high frequency bus service in place of a railway, albeit on only a temporary basis. Those who find it unsuitable for their needs, and there are many, will seek means other than busses to get by in the interim. The roads will be a little bit fuller, the air filled with a little more smog. Some take leave if they can, whilst the public service works to ensure that maintenance happens at times when it affects the fewest. 

But what of a situation in which there is no railway to commence with? One wherein the absolute limit of what is attainable by road has been reached by the rapid transit four-minutely bus service?

The Route 601 is at its breaking point. It can take on no further services without comically impacting upon Wellington and North Roads, and testing the limits of the throughput of the bus loops on either end. We could expand the bus loops—as has already been done recently—we could widen the Wellington/North corridor between Monash and Huntingdale, and we could just have one contiguous articulated bus moving in a constant orbit at 20km/h. But at some point a line has to be drawn.

There is a median strip in the middle of Wellington and North Roads that could be easily converted into a cut-and-cover railway, minimising costs, whilst using the savings to expend on tunnels where absolutely necessary. Given the shortness of the route between Huntingdale and Monash, there is nowhere near the public expense required as for other projects, such as the equivalent Melbourne Metro, or antithetical Transurban Brain Fart.

Here is what I propose for a local pre-metro, admittedly more ambitious than a shuttle line:

Please excuse the roughness of the drawing.

Please excuse the roughness of the drawing.

It solves the Monash Problem, and it also provides a feeder service from neighbouring suburbs into the city commuter mainline. I know it breaks with the myopic Flinders Street in-and-out convention of Melbourne, but it's either this or we keep slamming the brakes and bumping our heads in an overcrowded under-built city.

As an aside: one of the oft-quoted reasons used to avoid a Monash line is the lack of quadruplication ("extra tracks") on the mainline. This circumvents that, as the Four Tracks to Dandenong looks evermore to be a pipe-dream, lost in the yawning chasm of tabloid anti-Skyrail nonsense.