You will not be surprised to learn that Rupert Murdoch's initial ABC Boyer Lecture received a good run in The Australian and its sister paper, The Daily Telegraph, and in all the other capital city daily newspapers in the Murdoch empire.
The Oz had a short writeoff on Page One, a longer piece, Challenges Ahead for Australia, on P2, and the full text in the Media section. Photos showed Australia's business and cultural elites mingling at the Opera House where they turned out to hear the speech. The Terror ran him on most of P2 and the full text further in.
Nor will you be surprised that the Oz's lead editorial, headed “Frontier spirit in an age of freedom,” carried a sub-heading, “Boyer lecture was rich in insights born of experience.”
But what may surprise you is that your grumpy, left-leaning old blogger, a former long-time hack in the Evil Empire, found himself nodding agreement much of the time as Murdoch explained the themes he will develop in the six lectures.
Murdoch agreed that many Australians would question his right, as a man who became a US citizen in 1985, to judge the country, but said: “The main reason I agreed to come to Australia to deliver these lectures is that the country I see before me simply is not prepared for the challenges ahead.”
Many people remain suspicious of Murdoch. They cannot forgive his chumming up to Margaret Thatcher and the brutal move of his London newspapers to Wapping, his support for right-wing politicians and causes in the US, his failure to speak up for human rights in China. They see bias in his newspapers, and in his giving too much space to hard-right conservative commentators like Janet, Piers and Andrew.
There is some truth in all that, but not as much as most lefties contend. And I believe Murdoch has moved to what I shall call, for the want of a better term, the conservative left.
He remains a supporter of those values which conservatives hold dear – a stable society, free markets, the rule of law, property rights, individual responsibility, and offering public welfare money only to those in need.
But he departs from the conservative right – what I call the group-think of the Quadrant mob – in ways we lefties should applaud. He praises Australia's open, democratic and multi-racial society, supports reconciliation with our indigenous people, and advocates liberal immigration policies.
He pleads for reform of a “19th century education system” that leaves too many children behind, a system which “effectively writes off whole segments of Australians”, quoting both the social injustice it perpetuates and also the damage it does to Australia's ability to meet the challenges of the future.
Although he doesn't accept the wilder claims of many greenies – who could? – he does accept the probability of man-made climate change, and supports action now. He has instructed his own business empire to improve its environmental impacts.
As Murdoch clarifies his thoughts and expands on these themes for the Boyer lectures, he seems likely to distance himself further from Australia's hidebound conservatives. However, we can hope that because of who he is, as well as the persuasiveness of his arguments, he manages to take some of them at least some of the way with him.
Is it too much to hope that at least some of our lefties will put aside their prejudices, give him a hearing, and make up their own minds?