Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bacon's Pork

THE text below is the work of Wendy Bacon, who really is a professor of journalism. The commas (with which she has a real problem), the grammatical fixes and corrections of fact (the Silly headline is misquoted and there is no conjunction in ASIO's name) have been added at the Waterhole in the interests of building bridges, reaching out and perhaps helping the over-promoted to try at least as hard as a very nice, six-figure salary might suggest.

Some might say that Bacon should be ashamed of herself, even that the parents of her students might want to consider bringing suit. The real shame belongs to those in government who fund institutions where the incompetent and otherwise unemployable are rewarded by their mates with comfy sinecures.

The additions and fixes are in red, the tautologies and ambiguities struck through. There will be no apology if readers notice sins that have been missed. Bacon's column is so ugly, so inept, it would have been torture to read it more than once.

Last August, Lee Rhiannon, after 11 years in the NSW Legislative Council, was elected to the Senate. Even before her election, the attack on her character had begun.

Her sin: her family’s membership of the Socialist Party of Australia, which continued to support the Soviet Union after its 1968 invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia. All of that happened more than 40 years ago.

This attack smacks of McCarthyism, the 1950s period
philosophy named after the right-wing US Senator Joe McCarthy. During this period, people were demonised if they were suspected of having being been associated with communism.

The attacks on Rhiannon were partly fuelled by the publication of Mark Aarons’ book The Family File, a book about his own family, its role in the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and the voluminous intelligence files kept on its members by the Australian Security and

Aarons included an account of his friendship with Rhiannon, who, like him, was a child of communists. His point was that, when the CPA split in 1968, Rhiannon’s parents and the young Lee herself joined the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA), which continued to support the Soviet Union. Aarons’ father was a leader in the more progressive CPA. While Rhiannon eventually ended up in the Greens, Aarons went on to work for NSW Labor government ministers.

Holding someone accountable for the crimes of Stalin because they did not in their youth
publicly recant the ideology inherited from publiclytheir a family upbringing is like holding ex-Catholics responsible for child-abuse crimes inside the church.

There are many people who have contributed contributors to public life who have had past associations with socialism, from its far-left anarchist strains to the various strands of Marxism-Leninism. Socialists played a role in getting women the vote, early struggles for Aboriginal rights and equal pay, just to mention a few achievements. My own brother, Jim, who was a popular Labor premier of Tasmania, never made any secret of his early association with Maoism.

Like any other politician, Rhiannon should be held up to scrutiny scrutinsed. So what is her political record over the last 15 years, and what connection might it reveal to attitudes associated with Stalinism,  such as secrecy, cover-ups, authoritarianism and the persecution of political opponents?

Before being elected to parliament, she was one of two founders of Aidwatch, an organisation set up to scrutinise and make transparent Australia’s aid delivery. As the only Australian organisation dedicated to such purposes, it continues to have relevance be relevant.

After she was elected to the Legislative Council, she helped found Democracy for Sale, which charts the influence of financial donations on NSW politics. This work led directly to many reforms aimed at reducing the corrupting influence of campaign finance donations. It is to be hoped this push will be continued in the NSW and federal parliaments.

She took up the case of Roseanne Catt, who was campaigning against her 10 years' wrongful imprisonment in NSW prisons. As a reporter, I was aware that neither major party nor the NSW government would assist in re-opening the case.

She worked to improve our pathetic Freedom Of Information law. Public transport and public schooling were also on her agenda.

Thus far, her campaigns appear to have opposed cover-ups and supported transparency, rather than the opposite.

Recently, Rhiannon has attracted attention for her continuing support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the regime in Israel. Like them or not, boycotts are non-violent forms of protests more often associated with civil rights movements and Gandhi than authoritarian rule.

It has also been suggested that she is not a true environmentalist. Again the evidence shows she qualified as a botanist and was writing about global warming and the environment long before most of us had heard of climate change.

So what of her parents, Freda and Bill Brown? Should she more publicly reject her heritage? Her mother’s Sydney Morning Herald obituary ‘Rebel with many causes’  Rebel with plenty of causes, published after her 2009 death, placed her in a radical tradition of women described by Marxist historian Stuart Macintyre as “warm, human people”. Freda Brown received an award from the South African government for work opposing apartheid. She very actively campaigned very actively for the rights of women, including the rights of Afghani women to education be educated, and did so during a period when feminism was off the agenda. (ed: huh???)

Let’s go back to the 1930s, the Great Depression and her grandparents who lived in Newtown, a suburb then famous for its support of the unemployed. The Browns held campaign meetings for the unemployed in their house.

In her 1999 inaugural maiden speech in1999, Rhiannon acknowledged the contributions of her parents and also of other relatives who had worked as wharfies at Walsh Bay in Sydney’s Rocks. At the time, parts of West Circular Quay were being privatised for the exclusive developments where the rich now live. At the time she spoke of how the NSW government’s system of planning system rode roughshod over people. In identifying planning as a key electoral issue, Rhiannon showed prescient judgment in foreshadowinged a key issue in the 2011 election.

Rhiannon makes no secret of her family’s political history. She condemns the appalling crimes of Stalin while remaining proud of her political family's for their work for peace and the rights of their fellow citizens.

Could the real problem with Rhiannon be that she is an effective politician and, therefore, a threat?

The Greens need to must be able to stand up to tough public scrutiny, but criticism should deal with contemporary politics rather than the ideological failings of millions of people on both sides of politics during the Cold War. The recent attacks on Rhiannon are character assassination - yet another tool of Stalinism. Fortunately, and perhaps in part due to her roots, Rhiannon appears to be made of steely stuff and is unlikely to be deterred.

Rhiannon is soon to join the Senate. Whether or not you voted for her, if she continues to work for freedom of information, reform of political donations, access to public transport and policies to reduce global warming, our democracy will be better off.

Wendy Bacon is (improbably) a Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney.


  1. Greens are that most remarkable of animal, authoritarian anarchists.
    And Rhiannon is a prime example.
    Bacon, to be blunt, is and always was, simply a fool.

  2. Thanks Bunyip that was hilarious. Bacon may have a career yet as a comedy writer..for the ABC - obviously thick enough.

  3. Hey Bunyip, nice job but you missed an "i" in "scrutinsed" above. (8th para).

    I've heard this woman interviewed in the past. She does not come across as all that competent.

  4. Can I suggest another substitution:

    instead of the "regime" in Israel, it should be the DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT in Israel".

  5. lol the Borwns held meetings for the unemployed. They sound like Barack's people - community organisers!

    Is Macintyre lower or upper "i"?

  6. Bacon wouldn't pass first year journalism in the 1970s and 1980s. Our unis are so dumbed down.

  7. I went to uni, the people who 'taught' me were morons who gave the distinct impression of being fugitives from the competitive world of working adulthood. It was a time in which my entire industry was being revolutionized by computers. Needless to say, none of them could use one, so we learnt nothing about the actual technology that would dominate our working lives until we left and had to try and find jobs. Of my 'lecturers' one was a drunk, one was a vague but pleasant hippy, one was an imbecile, (I mean literally, as in very slightly mentally retarded but such a mean-spirited jerk he never wore a towel as a superman cape or offered to hug anyone, so you know, the bad kind of retarded) and the last was fixated on a subject other than the one he was supposed to be teaching.

    They were basically the final stop-off on my long and dreary childhood train ride through the half-assed world of Australian public education. I got off and never looked back. They can go f@ck themselves. All of them.

  8. It's not just her parents. Here's 'Rhiannon' supporting the Soviet Union and Mao's (Cultural Revolution) China herself in 1972:

    (Thanks to Gerard Henderson, )

  9. Well it's not so improbable when one recalls (as I am sure you do) that some 20 or so years ago there began a sustained push by the managerialists that ran (and continue to run) the universities to appoint women to senior academic jobs. Almost overnight, it seemed, the notion that appointment should be on merit was held to impede women. A prominent proponent of all this - the late Clare Burton - got around the problem nicely by asserting that a woman demonstrated 'merit' simply by being a woman!

  10. When Jim Bacon died, at least one of his old Marxist mates in Melbourne (I think they were in the ACP (Marxist-Leninist - ie, pro-Chinese faction) proclaimed that Jim had never abandoned his faith. I can almost hear Rhiannon cackling over the trick that has been played.

  11. Corrections ...97, nearly scored a Century professor...good innings

  12. One correction in para 5: "an account of his friendship with Rhiannon, who, like him ..."
    should be "... who, like he ...".

    There are probably more in there, but I couldn't read any further than para 7.

  13. It's good to note that the back among the digital living!

  14. For those keeping scores: "There will be no apology if readers notice sins that have been missed."


  15. Right up there with Bachelor of Multimedia Journalism lecturers who can't teach video-editing and call on the technicians to do it for them. I've worked out PHD means little more than pretty hot derrière nowadays.

  16. Dear Sir,

    What a delight to read your prose. Taut and terrific, whimsical and delightful.

    Bacon inadvertently lifts her post-modern skirt in a pique to reveal her weak foundation. It is misplaced privilege for her to occupy a learning institution.

    Ignorance compounds under this tutelage.

  17. Ms Bacon says "...ideological failings of millions of people on both sides of politics during the Cold War."

    A nasty example of relativism, subtly equating 'ideological failings' of communists causing millions of deaths with 'ideological failings' of the west causing...exactly what?

  18. pytlozvejk said...
    One correction in para 5: "an account of his friendship with Rhiannon, who, like him ..."
    should be "... who, like he ...".

    Sorry, Pytlozvejk.

    "like him" is correct, according to traditional English grammar.

    See page 335 of Fowler's Modern English Usage, second edition.