Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corporation, and the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, have addressed a dinner in Sydney to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Australian newspaper.
Abbott said that “no paper more closely corresponds with the true spirit of Australia”.
He said three themes recur in The Australian’s writing: “Australia as a big country, not just physically but spiritually, wanting always to be bigger, bolder, smarter and more successful than we currently are; Australia as a globally engaged and regionally oriented power, seeking closer ties with our neighbours and with our allies; and Australia as a successful economy where everyone is equipped and encouraged to have a go.”
- Listen to Murdoch’s speech (16m)
- Listen to Abbott’s speech (12m)
Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s speech at the Gala Dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Australian newspaper.
The essential thing about The Australian is that it’s a paper for a nation.
Every other newspaper serves a city. The Australian alone is dedicated to our country.
It has a national perspective, not a parochial one.
This, alone, should make it uniquely influential in our nation’s life.
On any particular day, The Australian is not necessarily the most influential publication in our country.
Arguably, The Australian’s News Corp siblings, with their vast circulations and gift for story-telling both in pictures and in words, can more powerfully shape our popular culture.
And if it breaks a big enough story, any paper can shape the news.
But at least since Les Hollings’ time as editor, no newspaper has more profoundly or more consistently shaped the intellectual life of our country.
No think-tank, no institution, no university, has so consistently and so successfully captured and refined the way we think about ourselves.
As Paul Kelly put it on the weekend, through all the twists and turns of time, three themes recur in The Australian’s writing: Australia as a big country, not just physically but spiritually, wanting always to be bigger, bolder, smarter and more successful than we currently are; Australia as a globally engaged and regionally oriented power, seeking closer ties with our neighbours and with our allies; and Australia as a successful economy where everyone is equipped and encouraged to have a go.
In my judgment, no paper more closely corresponds with the true spirit of Australia.
The Australian’s tone may sometimes be light but its purpose is always serious: how can our country be better, today, tomorrow, next week, next month and always.
While the paper has long had a consistent perspective, it’s barracked for causes rather than party; it’s promoted issues rather than individuals; and the editorial “line” has never precluded well-argued dissent.
Anyone seeking arguments against – as well as for – a price on carbon; support for the monarchy as well as criticism of it; evidence against government spending as well as in favour of it; and the case for smaller rather than bigger government would have found these in The Australian and, often enough, only in The Australian.
Its main competitor, the Australian Financial Review, is a much improved paper – but mostly since it poached an editor from News Corp!
I pay tribute to all the editors of The Australian with whom I have worked and who have been substantial influences on my life:
Frank Devine, who recruited me, whose daily admonition to his editorial writing team: “What do we feel strongly about today and how will it make a difference to people’s lives?” has turned out to be an excellent template for politics;
Paul Kelly, a fine editor and Australia’s best contemporary historian of politics and government, who went way out of his way to impress upon a very green political staffer the importance of well-developed and thoroughly-articulated ideas in shaping our nation;
And David Armstrong, who first recruited me to mainstream journalism after I’d been (ever-so-politely) sacked from the Catholic Weekly because the Cardinal didn’t like being lectured to by a seminarian in his own newspaper!
Papers normally only shape events over time rather than dictate them on a day-by-day basis.
In my judgment, though, it was The Australian, late in 1995, that cleared the way for John Howard to return to the leadership of the Coalition and then become our most successful recent prime minister by putting on the front page his change of mind on Asian immigration.
To its credit, when The Australian is campaigning, it makes no bones about it and while its preferences are clear, its mind is almost never closed.
It campaigned for Gough Whitlam in 1972 and against him in 1975; it campaigned for Howard in 1996 and against him in 2007; it supported Labor when Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were economic reformers and would gladly do so again, I’m sure, if evidence of reform were ever found.
As prime minister, there’s nothing of substance written about Australia that I don’t want to read – which means that I often spend more-time-than-I-have-to-spare reading The Australian.
On our country’s media, I am not a detached observer; still, under editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, it seems that The Australian has become one of the world’s very best newspapers.
As a former leader writer, there’s one urban myth that I believe I can and should kill: the claim that News Corp papers are ciphers for Rupert Murdoch.
It’s out of character for The Australian to support a strike but support a strike we did: the pilots’ strike of the late 1980s even though it was directed against an airline that Rupert Murdoch part-owned.
Another cheap shot is that wealthy business-people are only interested in making money.
The Australian has been supported despite oceans of red ink; it’s been Rupert Murdoch’s investment, not in his future but in his country’s.
It’s been a poor financial return for him but a priceless return for us.
He may have become an American by necessity but he’s always been an Australian by conviction.
The Australian has borne his ideals but not his fingerprints; it has been his gift to our nation.
As he memo-ed staff back in 1965: “Please note that we are not a left-wing Labor paper nor are we tied to any particular party or philosophy. We are simply in the business of reporting, interpreting and sometimes commenting on the facts – in that order”.
The paper has had its critics, often in its own pages.
In its very first week it published a letter, from Balmain, declaring: “The Australian is a real flop and unless several radical changes are made…. (I see it) folding up altogether before very long.”
Fifty years later, The Australian continues to annoy and unsettle all who imagine that they have a monopoly on wisdom or virtue.
Back in 1992, when I was an ex-journalist and somewhat disgruntled political staffer, Paul Kelly told me that I would always have a job at The Australian.
When I tried to redeem that pledge, shortly after the 1993 election, the paper was having one of its periodic budget crises.
I never went back but like to think that, in spirit, I’d never left.
Smaller government, bigger people; lower taxes, greater freedom; pride in our country and its achievements; determination to build on our strengths; support for all that may help us, individually and collectively, to come closer to being our best selves: this is what The Australian stands for.
Long ago, The Australian found its authentic voice; that has helped governments and people to find theirs.