Opinion- 13 March 2006
Harry Robinson: The
Encumbering of Unencumbered Australia
Harry Robinson: The Encumbering of Unencumbered Australia
From Len Steckler's Gods Forgotten series
Unencumbered by education! If only all success could come so easily!
Unencumbered by education!
Could that be the way our government wants us? And the opposition doesn't notice?
Unencumbered by education.
Consider the fallout from some recent political eruptions.
The AWB bribery affair about which the government knew nothing -- a sin of omission if nothing else. But polls showed most people did not care. Or maybe the truth was that they found it all too hard to follow -- unencumbered by education.
Then there was Prime Minister John Howard's 10th anniversary in office. Almost to a man or a person, political journalists tugged their forelocks and agreed that Mr Howard was an extraordinarily successful politician. A few lonely voices protested that he had the protection of a decaying Labor opposition. One young woman asked the prime minister where he intended to take the nation now? She drew a blank. He had no forward plan which meant he wanted more of the same. He was, in short, unencumbered by vision.
While this dismal sequence was in play, Peter Costello was noting that Oz had big, big budgetary surpluses. Asked what he planned to do with all that lovely money, he hedged and teased. Well, some might go to paying down the national debt. (It is miniscule.) Yes, well, maybe some good citizens might get tax cuts. And again, maybe this or that. Mr Costello was unencumbered by candour. Few bothered to remark that he did not mention money for higher education much less for scientific research. We could go on unencumbered by all that stuff.
Perhaps the most disquieting phase was when members of the Labor Party went public with internal strife. Self-destruction was the name of the game while the voting public saw clearly that they were a bunch of apparatchiks fighting for the spoils of office. Never mind the nation or its future. They might have added that there's no need to spend more on education -- the people are better unencumbered.
Amid the turmoil, the spite, the shallow posturing we could read a clear message: neither our government nor our opposition has one idea for what kind of Australia they want. "Just like now only more so" seems as far as they can see.
The drought was broken to some extent by the autumn issue of The Griffith Review, devoted to an outline of trends and offerings in higher education. Professor Glyn Davis, Melbourne University's vice-chancellor, made much of online degrees and university entrepreneurial measures and he got a wider audience when he joined the ABC's Princess Royal, Geraldine Doogue, on her Saturday Extra. Taken at face value, Professor Davis held out possibilities for over-encumbering our young people with education.
Harry Robinson -- for 25 years worked in television journalism in Oz and the US and was for several years air media critic for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun-Herald.