Letter of complaint

I was recently appointed to the Board of Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle Eastern and North African Studies. This was due to a number of board members, and staff at Macquarie, expressing support for my work. I was told they wanted to attract journalists, rather than just academics, to the board.

A fellow board member is Federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott (who, I’ve been informed, has never actually attended a meeting.)

The following letter of complaint was sent to Abbott by a Liberal party blogger hack. It should be noted that Abbott has no influence or say over the make-up of the board and is not, as stated, a patron:

“To the Honourable Tony Abbott, Member for Warringah.

“I have noted with great concern the recent appointment of journalist Antony Loewenstein as a member of Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies, and I am writing to you partly in protest.

“While I respect the right of the Centre to conduct its affairs without censorship or arbitrary Government interference in its academic conduct, I do believe that as a Patron of the board, a prominent figure in the Liberal Party, a member for the people of Warringah, and as an Australian – you have a responsibility to censure the boards’ appointment of Mr. Loewenstein.

“Mr. Loewenstein regularly makes highly offensive or simply inflammatory comments, although I recognise that this in itself is little reason to decry his association with the Centre. One particular statement, however, has stuck with me for some time, which will offer you an insight into the ideological nature of this particular journalist:

“The defeat of America and its allies in Iraq is vital to ensure similiar [sic] acts are not carried out again.”

“While Loewenstein denies calling for the murder of Australian, and American, soldiers, a defeat of the Howard Government’s aims in Iraq will mean not only a defeat for democracy and human rights, but the strengthening of the terrorist movement in Iraq – at the expense of Western forces serving in the country – something he wants to happen in order to change the direction of Australian foreign policy.

“I would like to point out, again, that I agree with the right of Mr. Loewenstein to make any statements in our free and open society – but it is nonetheless upsetting that this journalist has been given such prominence by the Centre, noting his attitudes as well as his lack of formal qualifications – indeed, while he himself states he worked as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, it has been suggested he merely reviewed books at the paper.

“Furthermore, I would like to remind the Liberal Party that while maintaining power at a Federal level since 1996 and introducing widespread reforms, it has had little achievement in gaining the appointment of either moral conservatives or free-market liberals to prominent positions in Australian academia, or – for that matter- at the ABC and SBS television networks, funded largely by the same tax-payers who have, in droves, supported the Liberal Party and the Howard Government in its elections since (before) 1996. To put it simply, I for one would like to see further returns for my vote, with the Federal Government using its funding power to influence appointments in the academic community, and certainly at the ABC and SBS. For you, Mr. Abbott, to rightly censure Mr. Loewenstein’s appointment, would be an excellent start (or you could try instead to justify it).

“I await your reply, but would be upset to hear the common excuse that ”˜diversity’ is required within the ABC, SBS and academic community, and the Liberal Party worries about smothering opposing views, as I believe the current situation goes far beyond a diversity of views, and is no doubt strangling to any individual who would dare support the Howard Government, or share the Liberal Party’s values.”

Isn’t it healthy to see a Liberal party voter supporting the idea of stacking academic and media boards with cronies? It’s just not cricket, this man writes, that such “inflammatory” views are expressed in polite society. Furthermore, calling for the defeat of “Coalition” forces in Iraq has become redundant; circumstances have already seen to it.

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