If anybody were to walk into a pet shop in Australia the resident galah would be talking about microeconomic policy, so Paul Keating declared when Treasurer.
Microeconomic reform has been a core concern of both Labor and Liberal governments since the 1980s. As the government budget papers stipulate, microeconomic reform is concerned with introducing greater competitiveness into the private sector and greater commercialisation in the public sector.
The Government’s media reforms are touted as bringing microeconomic reform upon the media industry: but it is well acknowledged that the upshot of these reforms is to further cement the very high levels of capital concentration, at the behest of Australia’s media moguls.
That’s hardly microeconomic reform. If it were really microeconomic reform then the government would be more interested in breaking up the domination of the media sector by a few big players and encouraging the development of smaller and more innovative start ups. Greater diversity in media ownership in turn would lead to greater diversity of opinion in Australia’s marketplace of ideas.
Those who question the soundness of the government’s policy correctly point out that greater concentration will lead to a stifling of public debate in Australia.
But this position obscures one very important point, namely we don’t have much diversity of opinion as it is. Australia, curiously unlike other advanced industrial states, does not have a vibrant series of journals of opinion and public policy such as say The New Republic or The Spectator, The Nation and so on that span the political spectrum.
On Line Opinion provides a good example of what Australia needs. There is true diversity of opinion and many contributions are of genuine intellectual interest yet tailored for the broader public.
Given the dearth of such publications, however, most intellectual commentary takes place on the opinion papers of Australia’s major broadsheets and The Australian Financial Review, hence is necessarily limited. Much of the agenda driving public debate is centred on these pages. If you read them carefully you’ll rarely find true diversity of opinion. The debate proceeds along very narrow grounds within a set band of respectable opinion.
Consider Iraq, perhaps the best contemporary example. The debate is seemingly a vigorous one between both proponents and critics of the government’s policy. But if you examine the debate closely you will find, generally speaking, both sides share a common foundational assumption: namely, policy in Iraq is concerned with instituting a stable democracy.
Critics point out that because of poor planning, the “depravity” of the Iraqi’s, and wrong headed assumptions, things have gone awry in Iraq and a change of direction is in order.
For instance the founder and leading light of "critical" International Relations, former Monash academic Andrew Linklater, writes that on Iraq "one crucial question is whether the United States and the United Kingdom have displayed a similar lack of vision which threatens to deepen the divisions of international society by combining the defence of liberal-democratic values with a 'war against terror'".
David Wright-Neville, Australia’s leading analyst on global terrorism and vocal critic of government policy on Iraq, wrote in The Age that “the original criteria that Downing Street set down for assessing victory in Iraq - the establishment of a viable democratic multi-ethnic state - cannot be achieved.”
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