Sunday, March 16, 2008

Economic and demographic change, education, ethnicity and the maintenance of social cohesion in Australia 3 - the SMH campaign

Note to readers: this is one of a series of linked posts. You will find the introductory post here.

In the run-up to the last NSW State election, the SMH could not bring itself to really campaign against the Government. It seemed to feel, correctly in my view, that the opposition had not articulated a credible alternative view. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the paper temporised.

Following the election, there seems to have been a decision at editorial level that things were so bad that the paper had to do something. The outcome was the most sustained campaign on the need for change that I have seen.

The paper began with a series of attacks on different aspects of public policy - transport, health, corruption, child welfare to name just a few.

On 3 March the paper opened a new front with a series of stories about Sydney's decline.
My heart sank when I read these because it was all about Sydney. The SMH is after all a Sydney paper, with "NSW" popped in from time to time.

I have been writing about the problems and challenges that Sydney faces for more than a decade, trying to set this in a context of broader social, economic and demographic change within Sydney and across Australia My feeling was that we were simply going to end with more money spent in Sydney, and indeed the NSW aka Sydney Government announced almost immediately that construction would start on a new Sydney rail line.

On 10 March, the paper opened a new front, the "Flight of the White". The stories centred on demographic change within NSW, and especially the way in which European Australians have been leaving Sydney. Important sub-texts were the ethnic ghetto-isation of NSW public schools, along with issues associated with the growth in Aboriginal populations in certain NSW country towns, especially those in my beloved New England.

Again my heart sank, in this case because of the racial overtones. Again, these are matters that I have been writing about for a long time, trying to present issues and alternative views.

Since the 10 March onslaught began, the broader media has picked up elements with a special focus on issues and problems in New England's Aboriginal communities, including the role of long-distance truck-drivers in teen-age prostitution and drug taking. Suddenly, New England's Aboriginal peoples are in the same basket as those in the NT and Cape York.

Look, I am sorry, but I get very angry about this. I have been writing about problems within New England's Aboriginal peoples for some time. This actually helped trigger my broader writing on indigenous issues.

Central to my position is my belief that these issues have to be addressed on the ground. The problems that the paper is addressing are complex and inter-related. Broad generalisations do not help, nor does simple stereotyping such as "flight of the white."

In my next post in this series I will look at the international context that sets a frame for more local issues.

Introductory post. Previous post. Next post.


On the Sydney Morning Herald campaign about Sydney's decline, see here, here, here, here, here , here and here. See also Daily Telegraph here.

The SMH continued its campaign next day (Tuesday) with more stories plus an editorial. Then on the Wednesday there were still more stories. I did not record the URLs to these stories.

The SMH stories on white flight and follow up can be found here:

Neil Whitfield's analysis is worth reading - here, here, here.

For linked stories see:

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