Tim Blair


New Criterion



Monday, August 16, 2004
FOLLOWING THIS AFTERNOON'S PERFORMANCE I am coming to the conclusion that Michael Duffy's Counterpoint is the best left-wing chat show on Radio National. That's a great improvement on those sloppy, self-indulgent commentators like Phillip Adams, Max-weird McCutcheon and Pastor Lane who own about 95% of the franchise, but it's a sad reduction of what the country deserves for its millions of dollars of funding.

Duffy's email and telephone correspondents reflect a higher quality of leftism than the Stalinist boofheads attracted to his ordained colleagues, but that still leaves a large part of the spectrum of views unrepresented and uncatered for.

Today's discussion was Terra nullius, that idea whose leading part in national debate and legislation is the achievement of Professor Henry Reynolds, an achievement that has been mentioned once or twice before on ABCwatch.

The discussants were Reynolds himself, a welcome public appearance, a second historian Andrew Fitzmaurice, and critic of Reynolds, Christopher Pearson.

Reynolds worked his old sideways shuffle, disclaiming a role in the promotion of the notion of Terra nullius and rubbishing the notion that the High Court had been much influenced by it, a position broadly supported by Fitzmaurice, who thought Terra nullius and the older concept Res nullius close enough in meaning to be employed interchangeably, at least for political purposes.

Uncle has heard Reynolds's disclaimers before and is still not convinced by them. On one occasion he modestly refused the title of father of the historical discipline of frontier conflict studies, and was promptly contradicted by one of his followers, another historian who reported that Reynolds had inspired him to teach the subject, and that Reynolds's books were the sole texts for his students. No doubt there are hundreds of such teachers in our universities and high schools.

All of this modesty could lead us to fail to notice those everyday incantations of Terra nullius in support of the faith taught in our schools and universities, that the founders of this country were composed of equal parts of callousness and blind stupidity as far as the land's indigenous inhabitants were concerned. I'd be prepared to wager a small sum that Henry Reynolds's modesty, and Fitzmaurice's dismissals, have not reached one percent of the large population now infected by the crude version of Terra nullius.

Pearson played strongly from his layman's corner, and was out-numbered rather than out-gunned. What was absent from this discussion was anyone with substantial knowledge of the law and its history in this country.

Instead Duffy gave the last word to lawyer and Aboriginal activist, Larissa Berendt. Either Duffy is out of his depth or he was ill-advised in this choice.

Berendt works for the University of Technology, Sydney, one of those universities where you don't teach history, you teach histories. Berendt takes a similar approach to law, which serves her political agenda of promoting Aboriginal sovereignty, the form of which she will determine after the power is handed over.

Needless to say, Berendt's long summing up added nothing in the way of reliable knowledge to this complex subject, instead giving it all a heavy dose of the kind of spin intended by Reynolds in the first place.

On its current form, it is hard to see why the communards would bother to sink this program, even after the election.

There may be a transcipt later on.