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The Murdoch press and the end of critique

  • 03 April 2019


On 27 March, The Australian published a story entitled 'Gallipoli Anzacs "killers": lecturer' by Andrew Burrell. Burrell opens with the claim that students at Murdoch University (named after Walter Murdoch, not Rupert Murdoch who owns The Australian) are being taught 'Anzacs who fought in Gallipoli were "killers", that the British arrival in 1788 was an "invasion" and that asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru are "prisoners"'. 

Citing a carefully chosen snippet from a lecture by my colleague, Dr Dean Aszkielowicz (pictured), Burrell continues that when a student in Aszkielowicz' class suggested that ANZACs who fought in Gallipoli were killers, the lecturer suggested that this viewpoint might conceivably sit alongside 'this other version' — that is, the accepted view — of the significance of the ANZAC legacy.

Aszkielowicz thus offered his students the opportunity to consider two possible alternatives — orthodox and heterodox. In other words, he did his job: it is the academic's role to draw attention to the way preconceptions and power determine the way things are perceived.

The redacted version of the lecture The Australian has made available — just over three minutes of an hour-long session — makes plain that Aszkielowicz clearly indicated when he was expressing his own view, albeit the expert view of a historian who has published a book on the topic of Australia and war. This, again, is as it should be. Aszkielowicz is, after all, educating adults, and those of us who teach adults understand that we teach interactively, offering the fruits of our own long engagement with sources and literature, and allowing our students' questions to challenge and inform our own understanding in turn.

With regard to how asylum seekers and refugees are described, Burrell's story goes on to cite a statement ostensibly made by another of my colleagues, Associate Professor Anne Surma, claiming that award-winning author and Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani should be regarded as a 'prisoner.'

On the accuracy of referring to recognised refugees such as Boochani as prisoners, many might demur: prisoners have rights that those detained on Manus Island and Nauru lack. If, however, the point is to inform readers of inaccurate nomenclature, why draw attention to this, when in the past journalists so pointedly ignored former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and current Prime Minister Scott Morrison's characterisation of asylum seekers as 'illegals?'

The Australian's attack on Murdoch academics continued on 29 March 2019, with a piece entitled 'Degrees of vincible