Colin Chapman on the US Political Debate and Stephen Fitzgerald’s China Essay

ImageNOTES ON THE NEWS: Up in the Northern Territory – where I’ve come to test my theories on the need for bold projects and a big city in the Top End if Australia is to thrive in the Asian Century – you realise the importance of the ABC and FOXTEL. Without them you would not know what is going on in the world.

The ABC costs less than 25 cents per Australian to fund, and, despite some faults, is a bargain. That makes it eight times less costly than the daily newspaper, and about one tenth of a decent cup of coffee, or even a rather bad cup of coffee. I would pay that just to listen to Mark Colvin on PM, and Geraldine Doogue’s Saturday Extra.

Until this week, I, like many others, have regarded next month’s US presidential election as Obama’s to lose, but after watching all 90 minutes of the debate it became clear that Mitt Romney could win.

The reason I watched all 90 minutes was both professional and person. Professional, because I had to rush to a studio to provide a live commentary on the CNBC Asia television network immediately after the debate ended; Personal, because I wanted to see if the debate had more substance and was more issues-based than what passes for political discussion in the Australian parliament and on Australian television programs like Insiders. And, if that proved to be the case, would it be stilted and boring.

I was impressed on each count. The discussion was lively and animated, but subject-based. The two contenders were always cordial to each other, as is the way in American politics. They showed respect for each other’s opinions, while obviously not agreeing with them. There was none of the spite – or spiteful language – so prevalent in Canberra.

What’s more, it was real television, with cut and thrust debate, and direct responses to points made – so much so, in fact, that the anchor, the news veteran Jim Lehrer, seemed redundant, except in his role as timekeeper, which he did rather badly. The president persistently overran his two minutes limit, and his extra wordiness actually diminished his effectiveness.

Obama looked, and was, defensive, and when he did go on the attack, as he did in repeatedly claiming that Romney would cut taxes on the rich as a cost of $5 trillion, as well as “spending $2 trillion more on defence than the military had asked for”, Romney rebuffed him.

The president did not seem to get Romney’s main point – that though he would cut taxes on small businesses (rather than the rich) he would also cut allowances and other tax lurks, so that this move would not increase the deficit. “Nothing I do will increase the deficit”, he declared.

Obama became irritated for a moment, and exclaimed, “it’s mad, it’s arithmetic”, allowing Romney to come in with a smile and a jibe on Obama’s own mathematical skills over four years.

However one debate will not decide an election, and there are still four weeks to go. Join us at The Glover Cottages this Tuesday, 11 October to hear Professor Neville Meaney on the presidency, and again later in the month for a full scale debate.


The flight from Sydney to Alice Springs allowed me to catch up on my reading, and I was delighted to find in Friday’s Australian Financial Review a 6-page essay by our member Stephen Fitzgerald providing a very readable, and at times amusing, account of Gough Whitlam’s skillful negotiation in Beijing in 1971 with then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai.

Stephen, of course, was there, and when Whitlam was elected prime minister of Australia, was sent to China as our first ambassador. But his essay is a blow-by-blow account of discussions with officials, and, later, with Zhou. Mike Young, then ALP national president was there, using his famed Cockney rhyming slang, which must have confused the Chinese.

This is a ‘must read’ article. Congratulations to Michael Stutchbury, editor of the Fin, in having the courage to give it so much space.

Since Sutch took over at the Fin, the paper has greatly improved. He understands that when you have a ‘good read’ you run it in full. This is the way to save newspapers, I think.

“The China MasterStroke” was published in the Australian Financial Review on Friday. Dr Fitzgerland’s article is available in full here:

Colin Chapman is the President of the AIIA NSW.


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