Gerard Henderson in today's SMH has made me think of Tom Lehrer's comic piece The Folk Song Army in which there is a refrain;
Remember the war against Franco?
That's the kind where each of us belongs,
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs.
Henderson's thesis is that the outrage over recent ABC Board appointments was misplaced because rather than changing the ABC all it does is has the effect of taking a critic out of the debate.
I happen to agree with him on the outrage being misplaced, but not for the same reasons. More people need to recognise that the Boards or Commissions appointed by Governments first and foremost have to address their establishing legislation, and much of their actions and activity are reflective of it. As a consequence, merely changing the Board doesn't change the "governance" of the ABC.
In addition there is a simple piece of behavioural theory to understand. People repeatedly do things that get "reinforced". An ABC Board member battling the management gets no reinforcement from anyone as it is a private battle, a Board member supporting management gets reinforced and thanked in every contact with the organisation.
However, there is another part of the Henderson thesis, "The fact is that there are few articulate conservatives in Australia and certainly fewer, per capita, than in the United States or Britain. The phenomenon goes back to the Robert Menzies era, when the Coalition won elections while the left dominated the cultural debate."
On this I cannot agree. In fact there seem to be far more printed pages by the "conservatives" - at least the economic "neo-cons" - than by any left/progressive or other like cause. Policy and Quadrant, the column inches devoted to the IPA and CIS staff, the voluminous issues from the BCA and Mr Henderson himself.
More importantly this ongoing perception that "the left" has control of the "cultural institutions" or "the opinionators" or "the elites" is strange - because if these people were as influential as they are claimed to be this should be a country which is a rabid hotbed of collectivism and social experiment. Instead we remain a highly conservative society that has four times elected the most conservative leader in the history of Australia. If that is the consequence of a "left intelligensia" then surely the conservatives want more of it.
What is the benefit to the left if it has the good songs (the articulate left?) if it is losing the battles?