A week of highs, lows and difficult conversations

A week of highs, lows and difficult conversations

April 21, 2023

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What. A. Week.

The Age newsroom has been buzzing with activity. We’ve had technological triumphs and hiccups. We’ve had fast-breaking news stories and we’ve had tributes, memories and reflections on a big-hearted Victorian we lost this week in Father Bob.

Father Bob Maguire, who died this week, aged 88.Credit: Wayne Taylor

We’ve had some excellent commentary, including this piece from Melbourne Grammar captain Daniel Cash, in response to the Presbyterian Church’s wish to deny leadership opportunities to gay or sexually active students. His articulate and compelling argument is absolutely worth taking the time to consider.

Basketball Australia made a decision to block transgender woman Lexi Rodgers from playing in the WNBL1 South basketball league, a deal was struck to help some victims of the Porter Davis collapse get their homes built and our senior reporter Clay Lucas broke the news that some universities had begun banning applications from parts of India amid concerns people are exploiting the student visa system to avoid applying directly to work in Australia.

In journalism we are disproportionately exposed to society’s extremes. Its highs and lows. We want to bring you people’s great achievements and triumphs and talk about the joys of life: art, food, sport and travel (more on that later). Tragedy, suffering and loss are a part of life too. And so we are often exposed to this opposite extreme. Beyond that, there are a lot of difficult and sometimes unpleasant conversations we need to have as a society. It can’t all be cake and ice-cream.

Which brings me to politics. There was no Easter lull for our elected representatives who are dealing with that busy time of the year when budgets are looming, reports are landing and decisions are being made.

In Canberra, the Reserve Bank has been overhauled in what was termed by our senior economics correspondent Shane Wright as “the biggest shake-up to Australia’s economic policy settings in a generation.” Opposition Leader Peter Dutton appointed the anti-Voice MP Jacinta Nampijinpa Price as the Coalition’s Indigenous Affairs spokeswoman, escalating the debate over the Albanese government’s bid to enshrine in the Constitution an Indigenous Voice to parliament.

State politics was also frenetic. The Andrews government hit the pause button on Melbourne’s long-awaited airport rail link, raising questions about related projects in the city’s west. Royce Millar and Josh Gordon broke the news of government plans to sideline councils in order to build a million extra homes in Melbourne’s middle suburbs in the next few decades.

While that plan will have a huge impact on the way we live, there was another hugely important story that is equally consequential to the way we are governed – Operation Daintree.

This report from the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission landed with a thud in parliament on Wednesday. Its findings were damning. Premier’s office and ministerial staff breached their ethical obligations, it found, by pressuring health department officials to award a $1.2 million contract to a Labor-affiliated union on the eve of the 2018 election.

While the report made no findings of corrupt conduct against individuals, it provides a troubling critique of the influence of politicians’ advisers, the diminished power of the public service to hold firm against the whims of the political class, the erosion of ministerial accountability and the centralisation of power in the hands of a small few.

The report runs for 132 pages, and yet Premier Daniel Andrews found nothing that warranted apology. He acknowledged, however, that the recommendations did go to a number of “serious” and “important” matters. His cabinet, he said, would respond to the 17 recommendations “in due course”.

As our state political editor Annika Smethurst wrote, this paragraph on page six of the report gets to the nub of the issue: “The combined effect of these failings and unethical conduct resulted in a contract that should not have been entered into with the union and an outcome which was not in the public interest.“

The Age, thanks to your support, has repeatedly highlighted the politicisation of the public service and similar issues through world-class reporting by journalists including Paul Sakkal, Chip Le Grand, Annika Smethurst, Sumeyya Ilanbey, Josh Gordon, Royce Millar and others who have repeatedly highlighted concerning patterns in the way politicians and the public service interact.

It’s a difficult thing to report on. Governments can be secretive and public servants fear losing their jobs if they speak out. But our reporters will keep pursuing this issue. It is something you deserve to know about.

As I mentioned in my first editor’s note to you all a few months ago, holding power to account will always form the core of The Age’s work. But allow me to change gears for a moment from that difficult conversation, back to the lighter side of life. As we’ve also talked about before, and as I mentioned earlier in this note, we think it’s important to bring you a change of pace and get you smiling. Our sport, culture and lifestyle stories are hugely important in this regard.

A few weeks ago I told you about our Good Food team officially becoming part of The Age homepage and overshared about the $11 soup that saved my sanity. Given Melbourne’s status as the foodie capital of the country, your voracious hunger for those stories in the time since has not surprised me.

This week, there was another exciting addition: we welcomed Traveller to our site. Led by our “head of life” (how about that job title?) Julia Naughton and Traveller’s content director Trudi Jenkins and digital editor Craig Platt, the integration occurred so seamlessly you may not have noticed. You would have noticed the excellent travel stories on our homepage, however. My personal favourite of the week has been “Europe’s best undiscovered city you probably can’t pronounce the name of.”

There are plenty of other excellent stories to help you plan – or dream – about your next vacation. These tips for travellers on a budget will prove useful. I also heartily welcome the arrival of bunk beds on long haul flights – not a moment too soon. So if you’re after a change of pace, remember The Age is now the home of Australia’s best travel writing, reviews, features and advice. We’ve also updated our Traveller newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

Talk to you next week.

Patrick Elligett sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.

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