October 05, 2004


David Marr recently interviewed (via e-mail) Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Gerard Henderson, and me for a piece in Overland magazine. Last week he mentioned those interviews in something called the Overland lecture.

Three points. In his speech, Marr claimed:

Slagging off the Left and its motives has particular - and puzzling - potency. How can this be in a country which again and again shows its indifference to great contests of principle; a country where you have to struggle to remember the last time the Left had decisive influence on national politics?

Marr likely crafted that line before John Howard leapt Leftwards during the election campaign. Figure this out: Marr thinks Australia doesn’t care for contests of principle, yet confronting the Left -- a contest of principle -- has a "puzzling potency". Maybe that’s because Australia does care for contests of principle; only that they’re not the contests Marr believes should be paramount.

Point two. Marr writes that all four of his interviewees agreed on "only one point" as a Leftoid identifier:

The Left they demonise is anti-American. Forget Marx and Engels, the core complaint against the Australian Left today is disloyalty to the United States.

"Disloyalty" is substantially different to, and carries a vastly greater weight than, the simple opposition to the US described by his interviewees. Point three:

I went back to all four combatants and asked: is it really about money? The Left is never going to seize the assets of the rich, but the Left has plans and they’re expensive. They cost a lot of other people’s money. Is this where the fear comes in? The idea drew a blank with all four of these anti-Left warriors.

This is wrong. Marr didn’t draw a blank. I still have a copy of my reply:

I'm not sure that the divide is over money so much as it is over process. Well, maybe that isn't the view from both sides -- I think from the Right the divide might be over money (and, implicitly, individual liberty) but from the Left (judging by my massively prejudiced take on things) the view seems that public/regulatory/government-funded is simply the Correct Course to Take. Money is rarely mentioned by defenders of the ABC, for example.

And I know Marr received that reply, because he replied to it himself, with this message:

True, the Left is often squeamish about facing the public cost of Taking the Right Course but I don't think that means money is not an issue. The ABC is a good example. Defenders (like me) believe it's worth spending a great deal of money to have a public broadcaster - could be better, could be different but it will always be expensive. Critics on the Right, heavily emphasise the public cost of the institution - as when Media Watch is accused of misusing 'taxpayers' money'. Putting aside the rights and wrongs of that particular complaint (and you'll know where I stand) it does seem a neat example of what I'm getting at.  

Of course everything the State does is expensive - whether it's funding the Navy, subsidising Olympic sport or buying pharmaceuticals. And both Left and Right will always try to undercut the priorities of their opponents by pointing out that such and such a policy is unjustifiably expensive. But I sense the Left and Right have a different starting point on this: that the Right starts with a presumption against and the Left with a presumption in favour of public expenditure - and the taxation to support it.  

Maybe I'm just throwing more words at this idea than it deserves - but one of the most effective arguments against Labor has always been that it's the spenders' party, that it's shopping list is too long, too undisciplined. The Right seems to say that once you identify Left tendencies in a person or party - then you've picked a spender. Hence the need for such vigilance.

Whatever. Apologies for the most boring post ever. I just wanted to get this on the record.

Posted by Tim Blair at October 5, 2004 03:14 AM

Well, that was quite a Shiel-ish exchange...on both sides.

Posted by: Nabakov at October 5, 2004 at 03:29 AM

I know. Told you it was boring.

Posted by: tim at October 5, 2004 at 03:33 AM


Sorry, Tim, you were saying?

Posted by: Roger Bournival at October 5, 2004 at 05:38 AM

So funding the Navy and funding the ABC are placed on equivalent levels in Marr's eyes? Figured as much.

Posted by: CB at October 5, 2004 at 07:38 AM

Content aside, the second point illustrates for the umpteenth time that Marr, in his Media Watch role, will manipulate facts, distort, avoid and lie in order to promote his extreme left agenda. I find it amusing that all protestations of innocence, in respect to left-wing bias, by the ABC can be refuted merely by pointing to Media Watch and its resident guru.

Posted by: Boss Hog at October 5, 2004 at 07:51 AM

I am amazed, agog even, that you or your peers even consented to an interview with Marr. His propensity to view the world through a Leftoid Distort-a-scope is well documented - what made you think you would get a fair shake?

Posted by: fidens at October 5, 2004 at 09:21 AM

after the election, suggestion Mr Howard, use the funding from media watch and give it to the Navy it will be much better spent

Posted by: Rose at October 5, 2004 at 10:22 AM

Marr is a joke.Has he stopped using media watch for attacking Alan Jones yet?
I do think it's good to have dialogue with people like him Tim,even if they distort.Wasn't it not that long ago that all right wingers were racicst etc etc.At least now they acknowledge we exist and are worth talking to.

Posted by: gubbaboy at October 5, 2004 at 10:45 AM


This isn't boring at all. In fact, it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. What people seem to forget about public spending is this very point of who pays?

To bring this point out, let me quote from Ayn Rand "Man's Rights". The following is an extract from the US Democratic Party platform of 1960:

1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
5. The right of every family to a decent home.
8. The right to a good education.

In the Australian context, they might add "The right to have my cultural preferences subsidised via the ABC"!!

Now all the above might seem very reasonable. However, Rand makes the issue stunningly clear:

"A single question added to each of the above eight clauses would make the issue clear. At whose expense?
Jobs, food, clothing, recreation(!), homes, medical care, education, etc, do not grow in nature. These are man-made values - goods and services produced by men. Who is to provide them?
If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labour"

Australians may not be very demonstrative but deep down I think they understand reality and the real issues at stake. That's why the core electorate will still vote for Howard, notwithstanding their distaste for him personally and a lot of what he does (Margo K, please note).

Keep up the good work Tim! Smite the collectivist filth wherever they appear!

Posted by: Kevin Francis at October 5, 2004 at 11:01 AM

Thanks for sharing... blogs are a good forum for nit-picking, because a reader can always click "next" if they aren't interested.

Marr's lecture left me with the impression that the right is now slagging off at the left with the same kind of attitude that the left slagged off at the right during the Hawke-Keating years. It's completely understandable, and I don't think the left can really complain too loudly about it.

However, I don't see how you can characterise slagging off as a contest of principle.

Howard's reign has given the left some small amount of humility. Lefties are explaining their point, debating with one another, and actually changing their minds - a marked contrast from the I'm-right-and-you're-an-idiot chest thumping that used to be pervasive. This new attitude is by no means universal, but I hope it persists and spreads for at least the next couple of decades.

Posted by: Alan Green at October 5, 2004 at 11:24 AM

Tim -

I was actually there... my first ever visit to Lygon Street's Trades Hall - an amusing place for David Marr to question the notion that "the Left" is still a relevent descriptive term to use. You should know that your gag about the Left's objection to "an increasingly pleasant, warmer globe" got a decent laugh from the audience in spite of themselves. Marr's lecture (including the references to yourself) is also printed in full in number 176 of the literary/political journal Overland, produced with funding assistance from the Australia Council, Arts Victoria, "Victoria - the place to be", and Victoria "University".

this was an interesting part of Marr's speech -

"But you would imagine those dishing out this abusive rhetoric would remember where they’ve heard such demands before, demands that the intelligentsia submit to the will of the people. Doesn’t it remind them of Eastern Europe before the Wall came down? The same savage tabloid hacks who - quite rightly - make heroes of Soviet dissenters, vilify Howard’s critics for failing to see him through the eyes of the people. And they’re unembarrassed - perhaps unaware - of the grim echoes of their own abuse."

Posted by: Ben P (Australian Tory) at October 5, 2004 at 12:32 PM

Ben P, that's a great quote from Marr's speech. Thanks for posting it.

Can anyone point to an article written by Tim Blair, Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman or Gerard Henderson that even suggests they "demand that the intelligentsia submit to the will of the people"

Is Marr harbouring fantasies of being an East European dissident? Is Australia like East Germany before the Wall came down?

I think we'd all be satisfied if Marr just submitted to the will of logic.

Posted by: Hanyu at October 5, 2004 at 01:43 PM

I often have a problem distinguishing the grammar used by Australian, and indeed all English speaking, journalists. For example, when is a smirk a smirk and not a smile? Both George W Bush's and Peter Costello's facial contractions (when they're being sardonic or humourous) are invariably described by the Left-Wing commentariat (a redundancy) as being a 'smirk', and for those of us who are partially educated, a 'smirk' (in literature) is derogatory. Most of the villians in pre-contemptory literature 'smirk', eg. Dicken's 'Uriah Heep' smirks, whereas the the hero in numerous 'feel-good' novels gives a 'friendly good-natured grin'. Is there any difference? Does it depend on the persuasion of the viewer? I'm not sure!
What I am sure about is that I can identify a sneer. When I steel myself to watch the odious David Marr, I identify his sneers without difficulty. I mean it's all so evident; the curled lip; the arched eye-brow; the pregnant pause, and so on! Viewers are left in little doubt about the scepticism of the reporter. I suppose that really sums up the great difficulty in identifying and quantifying the Left-Wing bias as exhibited by the ABC. It's all very worrying.

Posted by: Boss Hog at October 5, 2004 at 02:45 PM

"But you would imagine those dishing out this abusive rhetoric would remember where they’ve heard such demands before, demands that the intelligentsia submit to the will of the people. Doesn’t it remind them of Eastern Europe before the Wall came down?"

Wow, what an astounding example of lefty doublethink, equating "the will of the people" in the Communist Bloc (i.e. whatever the local Politburo said) with "the will of the people" in the Australian democracy (i.e. ordinary people rejecting leftist positions for the nonsense that they are).

Posted by: PW at October 5, 2004 at 03:26 PM

I didn't have time to comment on my Marr quotation before, but my guess is that the majority of the "intelligentsia" of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union - those teaching in universities or active in intellectual life, the arts or the media, were not dissenters/dissidents at all, but supporters of both some version of the Party Line and the rhetoric of class warfare. It took some courage and committment to truth to be a dissident, qualities that are quite often not characteristic of members of the intelligentsia.

Posted by: Ben P at October 5, 2004 at 03:31 PM

Dear Tim

Love the site. I agree with you that satire can be compellingly persuasive.

To get all this right wing loon stuff up (and so much of it) is an achievement, you could even swear you were 'stateside'..

But really Tim, these days doesn't this kind of irony just go straight over the heads of most fun loving Aussies.

You should try writing for Private Eye.

Posted by: Biff at October 5, 2004 at 08:27 PM