Australian media

Editor’s Note

June 2012 Editor's Note

When the federal Treasurer wrote an essay in the Monthly's March issue on the threat to Australia's egalitarian ethos posed by vested interests, the Australian interpreted it as the opening shot in a "class war". It marked an interesting deviation for Murdoch's not-for-profit broadsheet. For most of the previous three and a half years, from the moment Kevin Rudd severed his long but faltering friendship with editor Chris Mitchell for publishing an off-the-record aside about George W Bush's lack of worldliness, the Australian had been making merry with the wedge that the Labor Party no longer stood for anything. Then, when party elders belatedly rallied to state their case, the Australian's top brass sounded their bugles. For three months now, initiatives that threaten to advance a fairer Australia – from the Gonski reforms in education funding to a more equitable superannuation tax rate for the wealthy – have been met in the Australian with the echoing slogan of its one-time editorial writer, now PM-in-waiting, Tony Abbott: This is class war.

All of which served to sweetly set up the Australian's front-page headline of last weekend (May 26–27): 'Now Labor Bungles the Class War'.

You have to hand it to Mitchell, now in his 21st year as a Murdoch editor. It didn't matter that the class war doesn't exist. (What Labor had in fact fluffed was communicating its case to get major job-creating projects – in this instance, Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill iron ore mine – off the ground by sanctioning initial quotas of foreign construction workers.) What mattered was the subtext: Labor bungles everything. Never mind the GFC, or the trials and realities of minority government, or the steadily accruing accomplishments of a talented front bench (see Anne Summers' profile of Nicola Roxon, The Protector).

Gillard will go, just as Rudd went. No one will make more sure of that than Mitchell. His newspaper played an activist role in Rudd's demise – discerning readers recognised the paper's intent well before Rudd's slide began in the polls because Rudd, too, bungled everything – but now it's almost as if Mitchell regrets that Rudd went so soon, just as he was having fun, and he'd like him back, to do him more slowly.

Mitchell thinks nothing of playing the man, or the woman. Over the years he has expended stupendous amounts of space trying to demolish the reputations of Manning Clark, Simon Overland, Tim Flannery, Larissa Behrendt, Robert Manne, Bob Brown and Laura Tingle – essentially anyone who has dared question the ethics and/or reasonableness of the paper's obsessions. Most recently, as Manne's blog on the Monthly's website explains, the target was Margaret Simons, the journalist and academic.

You'd almost pay to read about it. Vindictive streaks in Murdoch publications are nothing new (see Murdoch & Company). But Rupert Murdoch is ever mindful of what sells papers. In contrast, the Australian is increasingly looking like the kind of newspaper you'd get if Gina Rinehart ran it. At least Fairfax, proprietor of the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, and 13% Rinehart-owned, is resisting going down that path.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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