The Guardian October 25, 2000

A question of ideology

A number of daily newspaper headlines last week show to what extent the 
fabric of various government institutions is being torn to pieces by the 
Howard Government.

"Weather Bureau staff fear for public safety if outsourcing proceeds"; 
"Lone parents forced to share in funds squeeze"; "37,000 to choose private 
schools"; "Politics played down as ABC's radio programs hunt listeners".

In each case the story behind these headlines is of privatisation and 
cutbacks, even the destruction of existing community organisations.

In the case of the Weather Bureau the Federal Government intends to 
"outsource" the computer systems used by the Bureau to receive and 
coordinate incoming weather information and distribute its weather 
forecasts. Thirty-one of the Bureau's information technology staff have 
written to the Minister of Finance (Fahey) warning of the dangers 
outsourcing pose to Australia's air services, emergency services, the 
Defence Department, the maintenance of climate records, in forecasting 
bushfires, etc.

Their letter says that the Bureau has more than 900 points of connection 
between the network and the various types of instruments, radars and 
automatic weather stations. The computer facilities are an integral part of 
the whole operation of the Bureau and to tear out a part is like tearing 
out the heart of a human being and expecting it to live.

It is hard to imagine such stupidity coming from any government but the 
Howard Government is driven by the intention to privatise everything, 
irrespective of the consequences. It is the same stupidity as shown by the 
Victoria's Kennett Government when it outsourced the communications system 
and the prioritising of emergency calls for Melbourne's ambulance service.

There is no better way of choking those community organisations that do not 
toe the government's line than by cutting financial support. Around 15 such 
groups including ACOSS, Relationships Australia, Blind Citizens of 
Australia, Centacare, Australian Early Childhood Association, National 
Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, and the Barry William's Lone Fathers' 
Association, face cuts or complete loss of government funding.

Each of these community organisations has come into existence to cater for 
specific needs  those who are blind, single parents, parents who need 
morning and afternoon child care, etc. They provide assistance and lobby 
governments on behalf of the community they represent.

The Federal Government has helped finance them in the past but is now 
proposing that some of them should be rolled together or completely lose 
their funding. It is all about cutting costs and eliminating those which 
"irritate" the Government.

Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Newman, claimed that 
the reorganisation would ensure that "peak bodies truly represent the views 
and interests of their constituents". What the Minister really means is 
that these community organisations must fall in line with the government's 
views or have their funding cut.

When it comes to the ABC the Howard Government appointed ABC General 
Manager Jonathon Shier, is already on the path of emasculating the high 
quality ABC entertainment, cultural and news services. The two top 
Executives in charge of radio and television have already been sacked. 
Shier's target is to chop the ABC new services in favour of more business 

According to one Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) news item, under 
Shier's proposal the PM program will be cut to a mere 20 minutes 
followed by a half hour devoted to a specialist business show. It is not 
really about "hunting listeners" as the SMH headline suggests but 
about filling the heads of listeners with dreary and soul-destroying 
information about stocks and shares, the prices of metal around the world, 
currency exchange rates and, we presume, the stories of "successful" 
businessmen  Packer, Murdoch, Rivkin, Gates and their ilk  and the 
latest fortunes of the "new" economy.

It's an ideological question. The Prime Minister has said that his ambition 
is to turn Australia into a nation of shareholders. It's all about ramming 
capitalism down the throats of listeners and propagating corporate culture. 
But it's the culture of greed,  immorality, individualism, selfishness, 
rapacity, blood-sucking, extortion, blackmail, corruption and many other 
aspects of the capitalist system. It will make ABC listeners sick.
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