WEEKEND READ: Yesterday's man

When Rupert Murdoch flew in to deliver his first Boyer Lecture, the Sun King invoked old-style motherhood statements to address the nation's problems. As our most influential expat, he'd be better off pushing for concrete reforms.

I have always looked up to Rupert Murdoch as a great Australian pioneer of international business and was eagerly awaiting his first 2008 Boyer Lecture: 'Aussie rules: bring back the pioneer'.

Murdoch spoke of the "need to revive the sense of Australia as a frontier country and to cultivate Australia as a great centre of excellence.” He went on to argue the need to "reduce dependency on government, to reform our education system, to reconcile with Australia’s Aboriginal population and to maintain a liberal immigration system.”

These are all motherhood statements with which many would largely agree, however, in the first of this six part series he often failed to back up the idealism with detailed logic or facts. For a man who is at the forefront of international business, media and politics he often seemed enmeshed in the past.

He started by eulogising the Australian artist Russell Drysdale whose main body of work was in the fifties and sixties which was about the "desolation and glory of the outback.” Drysdale was somewhat prophetic in his images of heat, drought and climate change but his paintings do not represent the Australia of today.

Australia is one of the most urban countries in the world with only 15 per cent of the population living in rural areas and many of these in small towns or settlements.

John Howard was also locked in the past with his white picket fence vision of Australia and Kevin Rudd is always highlighting the Australian family. In reality 25 per cent of Australians live in one person households and only 33 per cent of households consist of couples with families.

Baz Luhrmann is about to launch the epic movie Australia, which is financed by the Murdoch-owned 20th Century Fox, and set in the outback at the end of World War II. The romantic adventure hopes to capture the mythology of the outback but it will not be symbolic of the lives of most Australians.

Murdoch spoke of full reconciliation and ensuring that the next generation of Aboriginal children have access to top quality schools and teachers. Has Murdoch provided any leadership in this area? News Corp has newspapers all over Australia but do any of them offer cadetships, literacy education or blogs to indigenous Australians? Has News made any attempt to introduce Nick Negroponte's one laptop per child program for poor rural children? As one of the richest men in the world, does Murdoch provide scholarships for underprivileged children to attend schools or universities?

Murdoch advocated Australia joining the European NATO along with the US, even though Australia has failed to become an ASEAN member representing our nearest northern neighbours. Australia could do with Murdoch's assistance to secure a seat on the UN Security Council.

Finally, Murdoch wants Australia to be a "great centre of excellence” but does Murdoch or News provide leadership in Australia by sponsoring think tanks like the Lowy Institute or university chairs or departments? If philanthropy is not led by wealthy individuals or corporations to achieve excellence as in the US, then the country will depend increasingly on the government, an approach despised by Murdoch.

I sincerely hope Murdoch will add more ‘pioneer’ and less ‘vision’ to his remaining Boyer Lectures. Otherwise he, and us, will miss a golden chance for real reform.

Peter Cox has been a leading independent media economist, analyst and consultant for thirty years and is the principal of Cox Media.

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