The Low-Down on the Lowy Institute

May 10, 2007 at 4:13 am (Uncategorized)

Llew has recently discovered the Lowy Institute’s Wednesday lunch seminar series, and I accompanied him to yesterday’s talk. The Lowy Institute for International Policy is basically a think-tank, with a broad research remit around developing policy for Australia’s political and economic place in the world. It is also housed in a beautiful National Trust property at 31 Bligh St.

The building dates to 1886, and it was one of the first buildings to be saved from demolition by the regrettably late-coming 1976 Heritage Act. When I think of the number of buildings of historic and aesthetic value the Act came too late to save, I don’t know whether to scream or cry. But thanks perhaps to the paucity of surviving examples, the Lowy Institute now boasts the finest Italian Palazzo façade surviving from the Victorian period in Australia. The building alone is worth the trip.

Then there are the great sandwiches. I love a good sandwich. There are several meals I think of as perfect food, and a lunchtime sandwich or panini or wrap or however you like your bread and filling is right up there for me. How good, for instance, is ham off-the-bone with hot English mustard slapped between two thick slices of fresh bread? Perfect food. And yesterday I had great dark rye bread, melt-in-the-mouth rare roast beef and rocket sambos. Again, perfect food. At a free lunchtime seminar. There were other equally tempting fillings, but I couldn’t stop eating the beef. Good coffee, lovely cold juice – you could do a lot worse than this lunch at a lot of cafes around town. I was well-fortified for the talk by the time it started.

It was on the Australia Japan Agreement that was signed by the two prime ministers back in March. The seminar was riveting and illuminating – I took detailed notes. 12 pages of them. I’m still mulling it all over in my mind. There were so many things that were interesting. What does such an ‘agreement,’ not a treaty, mean for Australia? Where does it place the two countries regionally and globally in terms of engaging and I suppose in some sense managing the absolutely stratospheric rise of China? What does it mean for India, itself a rapidly re-emerging world power? What about South Korea? To what extent does diplomacy between democratic nations actively foster both peace and prosperity? As Rory Medcalf, from the Institute’s International Security Program, asked: can you ignore democracy as a value in Foreign Policy? Good question. On the face of it, it would appear not, since democratic countries don’t usually wage war against each other. Don’t you think that’s interesting? I do.

Everything is available from the Lowy Institute website. Articles their different research fellows have published in newspapers and journals, previous talks, forthcoming guests, the works. I might add it to my blog roll, just because I was so impressed with the whole experience. I’d like to spread the Lowy word. I think it’s terrific to get those reassuring indications that the cultural and intellectual fabric of this country is alive and well. Phew, that’s a relief. You have to register to attend one of the lunches, but I recommend you do. It was my first, but it definitely won’t be my last. Click HERE for their website.

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6 Comments

  1. Warwick said,

    you’re probably not going to thank me for this one, di, but it’s too important to let go unremarked.

    i’ve never been to lunch at the lowy institute; i probably never will, although the sandwiches do sound tempting. no doubt the lowy does some good work, but i would urge you to cast a sceptical eye over their key staff, many of whom have or had close ties to federal government, mostly on the liberal side of politics. their professorial fellow warwick mckibbin, for example, is currently a member of the government’s nuclear energy review taskforce.

    (you can find more background information on the lowy’s staff at source watch, a us site that takes an interest in thinktanks worldwide: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Lowy_Institute )

    my problem with thinktanks like the lowy is their claim to independence. i just don’t see how they could be, given the way they are staffed. funding, too, is obviously, an issue: in this case a $30 million dollar grant from frank lowey, executive chairman of westfield and one time board member of the reserve bank. it’s also worth noting he continues to serve on the institute’s board.

    it’s for these reasons i regard thinktanks as the opposite of independent research, and quite insidious, especially given the palorous state of our universities. the recent debacle surrounding the centre for united state’s studies in australia, located at usyd, shows just how much the line between PR and proper research has become blurred in this country. robert manne has (as always) an excellent piece on this on crikey.com

    http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20070502-Threats-to-University-Independence-The-Case-of-the-Humanities.html

    if manne is right, the cultural and intellectual fabric of this country is far from alive and well; indeed, it would appear it is increasingly used to wipe the arses of the rich and powerful. cynical though it may sound, i can’t help but suspect the policy wonks over on bligh street are more than willing to lend their masters a helping hand. let’s just hope they pay someone else to prepare the sandwiches.

    W.

  2. doctordi said,

    Thank you, Warwick.

    A few things in response. Neither speaker I heard last Wednesday sounded slavishly pro-Howard/pro-federal government. Believe me, I’d notice. So would Llew. Neither of us are Howard fans, quite the opposite, nor are we easily misguided fools. The speakers were Dr Malcolm Cook, who didn’t strike me as anybody’s puppet, and Mr Rory Medcalf (the more conservative of the two, at least from my seat). What I personally enjoyed about the presentation was the extent to which both avoided the temptation to hand down political doctrine from on high. Instead, it seemed actively geared toward demystifying the Agreement, and looking at both negative and positive implications, as well as a range of possible outcomes.

    No doubt there are some conservatives at the Lowy Institute. It seems they’re pretty much everywhere these days, and I can’t imagine a political research think-tank existing without some kind of conservative presence, just as I can’t imagine one without a liberal humanist or lefty element. For it to be a thinking person’s think-tank, you probably need to represent a broad range of political views. Which brings me to my second point. I think it’s disturbing and counter-productive to presume that there is no place at the table for people with political views opposite to my/your/our own. If I thought there were no free thinkers at the Lowy Institute, I would be alarmed. But I’m equally alarmed by what I think you’re at least partly suggesting, which is that if people are politically conservative, then they only ever rent the cultural and intellectual fabric of this country asunder, and that therefore their presence at the Lowy is immediately suspect and politically biased. I simply don’t believe that’s true. In fact, I think it is a common inverted conservatism from those of us over in the left (“He’s from the right; let’s get him”). Regardless, I don’t believe Lowy staffers are all just giving their so-called masters hand-jobs on command. I think it’s an insult to Dr Cook’s obvious intelligence and professionalism to assume he’s really just a Howard Geisha servicing the suits.

    I also think Manne’s article – probably Manne himself – is another sign that the cultural and intellectual fabric of this country is, well, if not alive and well then not sitting in Glebe morgue awaiting post-mortem. We need more like it and him. I think it’s important to ask questions about institutes and centres like the Lowy that receive controlled funding and share a cosy relationship with the government, big business, media and increasingly, according to Manne, universities of the day. Personally I think these relationships definitely require further scrutiny. There’s no question they can be compromising and worse. But you shouldn’t assume that it’s a case of PR over policy at Bligh St, especially if you’re not prepared to try the sandwiches and see for yourself.

  3. Warwick Shapcott said,

    Hi Di,

    Sorry I’ve not replied sooner. I’ve been on my final prac this past month, and it’s been utterly exhausting. I finished on Friday, and I can honestly say it’s about the first time I’ve felt anything even vaguely approaching sanity in the entire four weeks. That aside, I also wanted time to mull over your reply and the issues involved.

    You’re right, of course. I over-reacted, and in doing so over-stated my case. My original post suggested the researches at Lowy were mere drones, waiting on their masters beck and call, producing research on demand. As you rightly pointed out, the reality is far more complicated.

    I over-reacted partly because I’m really very worried about the ‘intellectual fabric’ of our country at present, and to be honest I was a little surprised that someone would offer the Lowy as proof that things on the up. The US studies centre at USYD is just one example of what seems to me a much wider malaise. The funding crisis at Australian universities is so long-standing, so seemingly irrevocable, that we no longer see it as a problem, but it is, and it won’t be for another twenty or thirty years until we feel the full impact of this. It really is a disaster. It is now acceptable for highly-qualified, highly-experienced academics to be employed as course conveners on an endless series of one-year, level B contracts, while working 60+ hours a week – I know such one such person personally, and I think it’s outrageous that her work is so little valued by our society – and she teaches medicine! It’s not like it’s Viking studies, admittedly a little harder to justify in economic terms.

    I don’t know if you’ve heard that, mid-May, the Vice Chancellor of Queensland University of Technology announced plans to scrap Arts degrees altogether. It would appear he believes the future of tertiary education lies not in the study of the humanities, but in what is called – somewhat euphemistically it seems to me – creative industries (see http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2007/s1924240.htm ). Anybody who values the liberal arts and its traditional role in universities should be deeply worried about this. How long before the Group of Eight conclude that rationalising Arts Faculties is a waste time when they could simply get rid of them altogether? This may sound improbable, but I’m not convinced it is.

    The current Vice Chancellor of UNSW, Fred Hilmer (one of the new generation of uber-managers who parachute into institutions to slash and burn) allegedly commented in a meeting that he can’t see the point of the humanities at university. This is no more than a rumour, but based on Hilmer track record at Fairfax, it strikes me as exactly the sort of thing he would say. The study of the Humanities teaches students all sorts of different things, but the most important thing it teaches, the thing it teaches to every student who takes it seriously, regardless of their chosen discipline, is the ability to think for themselves. This is something that everybody who wants a dynamic, more-or-less free, more-or-less democratic society should value, regardless of their position on the political spectrum. Even neo-liberals/economic rationalists such as Hilmer should see the value of the Humanities. As every good business-person knows, success in business depends upon the ability to think clearly and deeply, to think critically, about the issue at hand. It’s doubtful a Commerce degree will teach you how to do this, but a degree in Viking studies might, if you take it seriously enough.

    On a more personal note, Di, I was also a little surprised that an experienced, highly-qualified researcher such as yourself doesn’t have at least some reservations about an organisation like Lowy. You know what proper research entails; you know how hard it is, and you know too how difficult it is for individuals to resist the personal, ideological and institutional pressures that beset them on an almost daily basis. More importantly, you understand the procedures the academic community has developed in an attempt to foster truly independent research. I obviously don’t need to spell these procedures out for you personally, but I imagine most people reading your blog don’t know what involved here, so I think it’s worth explaining in some detail.

    In order to become employed as an academic at a university, a researcher needs to conduct 3 to 5 years of original research; i.e., research that contributes something new to the disciplines understanding of a significant problem or issue. Upon completion, the quality of this research is assessed by three anonymous experts in the field, themselves experienced and qualified researchers who are currently active in the field. If the research is good, the candidate is awarded a PhD, the highest qualification the university offers, and the bare minimum requirement for a job at a university.

    If a researcher seeks a job at a university, they are employed on the basis of their qualifications and their current research, and these jobs are allocated at a school level, so their merit as a scholar is judged by other scholars in their discipline. Funding for these positions, however, is allocated at a Faculty level. This means there is a ‘separation of powers’, so to speak, between the people who allocate jobs and the people who allocate funds, and this too goes some way to protecting the researcher’s independence from institutional and/or ideological pressures.

    In my experience, admittedly fairly limited, most Schools, both in Arts and Science faculties, have a fairly good level of ideological diversity. At the School with which I am most familiar, the School of English at UNSW, the were roughly seven or so radically divergent approaches to the study of literature, including post-colonialism, feminism, cultural materialism, new historicism, new criticism, liberal humanism and post-structuralism/post-modernism. Indeed, if anything, there was too much diversity because many of these people couldn’t stand each other or their way of making sense of literature. From what I could tell, a similar situation in most other Schools in the faculty. This diversity is another important way the academy encourages independent research. By forcing scholars to engage with other ways of thinking about the issues that are central to their discipline, researchers are less inclined to be blinded by their own interests, vested or otherwise.

    Once employed as an academic, a researcher needs to get published, and this is not an easy matter. An academic will spend 6-12 months working on article, which is then submitted to the editor of a journal. The more prestigious the journal, the harder is to get the editor to even look at your submission, and most good journals will only accept work from academics with a solid research profile. If the editor thinks the article is worthy, they will forward it to at least two, usually three, anonymous reviewers. These reviewers themselves are expert who are active in the discipline, and that they are anonymous is crucial. The scholar never knows the people who review their work; likewise, the reviewers never find out who wrote the article under review. This is one of the principal ways the academy maintains the high quality of scholarly publications. Being a big name in the field is not enough to get you published; being a friend of the editor is not enough either. My flatmate, Ian, recently edited a collection on popular music, and had to reject the work of a well-established, highly-respected academic, who he also happens to know personally, because the research was panned by both the reviewers – not because they disagreed with the academics conclusions, but because the academic hadn’t engaged with the ideas and research that were central to the discipline in question: the very definition of poor scholarship.

    Occasionally, if an article is very good, it will be accepted without corrections; more often than not, the researcher receives lengthy comments from the anonymous reviewers pointing out problems that must be addressed before the work can be published. Review takes about 6 months, rewrites between 3-6, and publication another 6 on top of that, so from the start of the research to its publication is about 2 years. Once published, the research is read by a community of scholars, and the whole process repeats itself, ad infinitum. A similar procedure is employed with edited collections and books, although it is true the latter is much more commercially orientated.

    This ‘separation of powers’ at each step along the road from qualification to employment to publication is the academic community’s way of supporting the independence of researchers and their research. It’s far from perfect, and it’s doesn’t stop dodgy research from getting published, but it does keep it to an acceptable minimum. Compare this to the situation at the Lowy. Most of the researches do not have PhDs; thus, most would be unable to find employment at an Australian university. Furthermore, the people who pay the bills are the same people who hire the researchers, who are also the people who set the research agenda, and most of this research (as far as I can tell) is published ‘in-house’, by the Lowy Institute itself, making impossible the double- or triple-blind procedures outlined above. Looking over the list of publications, most of the staff seem to avoid independent scholarly journals, although they do publish a great deal in the popular press.

    Nor do I see the kind of diversity of approaches one finds in most humanities faculties at university. As far as I can tell, they are all neo-liberal political economists. Moreover, many of these many of whom seem to be graduates of ANU – an excellent university by the way; although, it’s worth noting their politics program has, naturally enough, very close ties to federal government. What I don’t see on the staff register is a graduate from somewhere like La Trobe, with a PhD on the history of the Australian Labor movement from a Marxist perspective. This is not necessarily a problem, but a lack of diversity makes it that much easier for researches to avoid engaging with alternate perspectives, and thus harder for them to maintain their independence.

    Admittedly, there are some serious scholars associated with the Lowy, and they publish in serious scholarly journals, but note that these are people who actually have real jobs at real universities; e.g., Professor Alan Dupont at USYD and Professor McKibbin at ANU. I suspect that most of the research produced by the Lowy is done by relatively low-level researchers, and the big guns listed on the site are only their to supervise and lend a bit of scholarly gravitas the institute’s activities. As you rightly pointed out, Di, this doesn’t mean all their research is rubbish, but it does mean we non-specialists (such as the people who attend the lunchtime seminars) need to approach their findings with a reasonable degree of caution, because many of the checks and balances employed by the academic community to foster independent research appear to be compromised or absent

    It’s true Lowy’s staff bring an impressive amount of relevant experience to their work on economic, political and strategic policy, and thus we should listen to what they have to say. My point, however, is this: these people are worth listening not because they are independent researchers – they’re not, at least not in the sense I outlined above. These people are worth listening to because they are highly-experienced *insiders* with close ties to government, business and media. I’d be more inclined to attend their lunchtime seminars if they were upfront about this, rather than touting the independence of their research. This ostentatious claim to independence strikes me as not only misleading but also slightly insulting to those individuals who do submit themselves to the rigours of the scholarly endeavour. I know some of these people personally, and none of them feel the need to tout their independence because it is something they simply take for granted.

    W.

  4. doctordi said,

    I guess in some ways, Warwick, I am actually less cynical now than I used to be. It may even be a stubborn, almost stupid kind of naivete that stopped me going into that situation without any expectations, only to find myself pleasantly surprised. I didn’t approach the Lowy reserved because I simply wasn’t forearmed with a sense of any need to be. I was just going along to a talk that sounded interesting, in the way I might wander into a movie off the street. I knew of the Lowy Institute, of course, but I’d never looked further than the media in terms of getting acquainted with their work, and I really didn’t know what the presentation was going to be like. Llew saw Kevin Rudd exiting the Lowy with a group of people a number of weeks ago – that’s how his own curiosity was piqued, and mine along with it.

    In any case, I’m not sure what you say about the Lowy Institute using mainly low-level researchers is correct. Mr Medcalf, whilst not holding a PhD, has certainly got an impressive resume of, as you say, insider experience. And he’d definitely done his homework for the talk I saw. Dr Cook, on the other hand, knows from personal experience all about the rigors of proper research. He must do, because otherwise he would not have been awarded his doctoral degree. As you say, they really don’t give these things away (despite many offers to the contrary in the average Hotmail account). The Lowy also invites a genuinely impressive line-up of international guests in to speak – people whom the average seminar-goer might otherwise never get to see, and whose insights into a particular international situation they might otherwise never consider. These international guests might have their own agenda, and they might be trying to raise awareness about a particular situation in their own country, but one thing they’re probably not going to do is proselytise on behalf of the Howard Government, which, after all, might not be in power (please, please, please, please) at year’s end.

    Now, to the question of funding. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought.

    First, Frank Lowy is a self-made man. The fact that he has put his name and directed part of his fortune into establishing an international policy institute rather than, say, an art gallery, shouldn’t – doesn’t – mean he hasn’t attempted to establish something worthwhile for the betterment of his adopted country.

    Second, most PhD candidates I’ve met at Australian universities pursue their ‘proper research’ thanks to a Federal Government scholarship known as an APA, or Australian Postgraduate Award. I can’t talk about how damaging an APA is to the integrity of the research to have John Howard’s government pay for it, because I couldn’t get one, but I can say with absolute certainty no one seemed unduly tainted by their tax-free allowance from Canberra at the time. Certainly their university research appeared to progress thanks to the cash, not in spite of it. Perhaps the people at the Lowy – hardworking, dedicated researchers among them – deserve just a little benefit of the doubt, because, as you well know, it costs a lot of money to research anything properly. Also, the Lowy is privately funded, so they’re not using tax-payer money. APA recipients receive funding from the government for 3.5 years, and they don’t have to pay it back even if they don’t complete. Frank Lowy, it seems to me, is just as capable of supporting independent research with his own money as the Howard Government is of supporting independent research with ours.

    As for the proposed scrapping of the humanities from the Australian university syllabus (which is a different conversation to the one about the Lowy), I believe continuing to run our universities like businesses is a diabolical mistake. The idea of chancellors doing away with the arts faculties at their universities strikes me as more than absurd and darkly Orwellian – it’s just inconceivable that it’s come or is coming to this. Why aren’t the humanities valued in this country?? When a frankly ridiculous, stunningly stupid book – The Secret – is topping all our bestseller lists, the one thing that IS abundantly clear is that Australia is in really dire need of more Australians who have been taught how to think for themselves. On this issue, we are not in disagreement at all.

  5. Warwick said,

    I obviously have no idea how funding is handled at the Lowy, so this is obviously the soft spot in my argument. It may well be that Frank Lowy has set it up in such a way that he has little or no influence over the institute’s money or its staff. I do know, however, that he is on the board, and that he regularly attends the institute’s keynote events (as was reported in the press); this suggests a degree of involvement that exceeds that of the Commonwealth Government when funding postgraduate research. I also notice that you didn’t address the question of ideological diversity and triple-blind refereeing of publications. I think you could argue ideological diversity is not absolutely essential to maintaining independence, and I would be inclined to agree, but the use of in-house publishing of research must raise questions about the quality of their research…

    My point is not that Frank Lowy is a bad man, or that everything produced by the Lowy is corrupt. The point is that the interests of all those involved are aligned to a considerable degree. Had Lowy set up an art gallery, there would far less reason to question the organisation’s independence because: a) far less is at stake, and b) Frank Lowy isn’t an art dealer. As it happens, however, he is one of the richest men in Australia and a major player in one of the Lowy’s Institutes key areas of research. This should give us pause, I think.

    This alignment of interests can also be seen in the way the institute’s research is broadcast in the public sphere. We don’t know how funding is handled at the Lowy, but we can seen how their research is used in the mass media, so perhaps this is a better way of thinking through the ways in which certain interests become not only aligned but also invisible.

    Paul Kelly, one of Australia’s most influential print journalists, is currently Editor at Large for The Australian and a Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute. Since it was opened in April 2003, Kelly has published 11 articles that make reference to the Lowy’s activities. During this time, Kelly has quoted Lowy institute’s researches seven times, often at length, and always approvingly. He has made reference to a Lowy Institute poll once and mentioned events held at the Lowy four times.

    One of these articles, ‘Not as radical as many think’ (The Australian, 20/12/06), is an edited extract from Kelly’s Lowy Institute paper titled ‘Howard’s Decade’, a fact duly acknowledged at the end of the piece. Interestingly, this is as close as Kelly has ever come to acknowledging, at least in the pages of The Australian, that he is a paid employee of the Lowy Institute, despite the fact that he fairly regularly quotes their researchers and/or research.

    Another recent article by Kelly, ‘A new diplomacy over Papua’ (The Australian, 07/10/06), is a 2000-word summary of a Lowy Institute Policy Paper, from which he quotes directly and at length. In his introduction, Kelly describes this paper as ‘comprehensive’, ‘muscular’ and ‘timely’. Kelly does not critique or qualify any of the assertions made by the paper’s author, Rodd McGibbon. Interestingly, this is also one few time Kelly’s articles in The Australian mention research from somewhere other than a privately-funded think-tank; this occurs when he is quoting McGibbon’s criticism of Sydney University academic, Peter King. Again, no mention is made of Kelly’s association with the Lowy.

    A strikingly similar pattern can be seen in the articles and editorials published by Peter Hartcher, the political editor and at the SMH and, like Kelly, a Visiting Fellow at the Lowy. Hartcher has made sixteen references to the Lowy Institute since it opened: five references to events held at the Lowy, five references to polls conducted by the Lowy and six quotations from the institute’s leading researches. Like Kelly, all of the references to research are approving; not once does he quote a Lowy researcher to criticise, or even qualify, their views. Also, like Kelly, the articles in which Hartcher makes use of the Lowy’s research makes no mention of the fact that he is a paid employee of the institute – except on one occasion, in an editorial published 18 March 2005 and titled ‘Jumping at Shadows No Longer’, which ran with a by-line acknowledging Hartcher is a visiting fellow.

    Again, I’m not suggesting that Kelly or Hartcher are bad men out to willfully deceive the public. Hartcher, in particular, has a reputation as one of Australia’s finest investigative journalists. But it does concern me that both these individuals present the findings of the Lowy as if they were plucked out of thin air. This research is always quoted approvingly; it is never analysed, it is never qualified, and it is never criticised. Not once do they quote research from other sources or offer alternative points of view. And while both men have, each on a single occasion, acknowledged an association with Lowy, it would take a fairly alert and well-informed reader to pick up on what seems to me a fairly significant convergence (if not conflict) of interests.

    My concern is that, to the average newspaper reader, it looks as if a journalist in the employ of a major metropolitan newspaper is simply making use of scholarly research to support their analysis of an issue; i.e., it looks as if the journalist has selected this research from a vast ocean of competing and conflicting views, and this lends their analysis a scholarly weight that it doesn’t really deserve. Moreover, the journalists’ failure to acknowledge their close relationship with the Lowy institute gives both the journalists themselves, as well as the institute, an air of independence, of separateness, that is quite misleading. It is at this point where we see the line between proper research and PR begin to blur.

    W.

  6. doctordi said,

    Warwick, I can’t argue with any of that (and sorry, the absence of comment on ideological diversity etc. was simply an oversight due to lack of time and an inability – ever the uncoordinated duckling – to keep all the balls in the air. I wasn’t deliberately refusing to weigh in. It’s fair to say I believe strongly in triple-bound refereeing, and I would prefer to see as much diversity in a think-tank’s thinking as possible. If the Lowy is running counter to both those preferences, then it’s immediately of less interest to me by virtue of what I perceive to be limitations in its due diligence and systems management).

    I have railed in the past about the way our media filters information and then presents it as objective reporting. Paul Kelly has long been a Howard-botherer, ever ready to knock on your door too early of a weekend to try and convert you (although, interestingly, there was a pro-Rudd piece a couple of weeks ago in which he suggested in no uncertain terms that Howard had missed an opportunity to commission a report on the economic cost of ignoring climate change a la the recent UK findings. As an aside, a lot of SMH-led opinion pieces in the past couple of weeks have been dumping on Howard from a great height – I had honestly started to believe I would never see the day. There was an excellent piece about Federal, private school funding, and State, public school funding the other day – it was called ‘More Privilege for the Privileged,’ I think). I often wonder – wondered aloud just the other day, in fact – how much influence Rupert himself exerts on the almost post-coital glow of so much of the Howard/News Ltd press of the last decade. You have to wonder – some of it is so “wilfully blind.”

    Anyway, I’m definitely not saying people should blithely accept everything they’re told. What I’m saying is that we should all attempt to remain open to new experiences and new outlets of information – particularly when the only way many Australians currently receive it is through the media, much of it embarrassingly dire and really shamefully skewed. If the Lowy Institute is a Howard Government, arch-conservative cog, then I maintain it’s a good idea to get inside the machine, as it were, and have a bit of a sniff around. But I’m genuinely grateful for all the extra layers you’ve been peeling back so methodically, Warwick. If there had been any danger of my being too blinded by the quality of the sandwiches and the rhetorical flourishes of the speakers to pick up on their pro-Howard biases, then I think thanks to all these added dimensions to my thinking that danger has been averted. I don’t think we really disagree at all (although if Lowy had opened an art gallery instead, you can bet his $30 million that he’d still be sitting on the board – just one of those things that goes with the territory, I think, rather than necessarily an indication of undue influence on their research findings).

    I think the safest position to assume these days is that there’s always something that’s not being said, the age-old other side of the story, and that’s what I’ll take into the Lowy next time I’m there, and what I already keep in mind every time I pick up a newspaper these days. There’s always a whole other story happening somewhere off the page, from something as minor as a sub-editor cutting a crucial counter-argument or key attribution, to something as major as cash for comment. Be alert, and be alarmed.

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