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Sunday, December 8, 2019

‘Too bloody bad if anyone gets mangled’


A clear snapshot of the mindset of Observer publisher Maxwell Newton is given in the interview I conducted with him in 1975. I was aged 18.

The interview was published in Farrago, the University of Melbourne on June 4, 1975.

“Publisher of the “soar-away” Sunday Observer, Maxwell Newton now holds the position of director of the newly formed Workers Party.

“Quoting from the Party’s newsletter for June:

“Maxwell Newton was born in Perth and attended Perth Modern School where one of his ‘chums’ was Bob Hawke.

“After winning first class honours in economics at the University of Western Australia in 1951, Newton went to England to Cambridge University.

“At Cambridge, he got first class honours in economics in 1953. He was an honorary scholar at Clare College, Cambridge and a Wrembury Scholar at Cambridge in 1953.

“From 1953 to 1955, he worked with the Commonwealth Treasury and from 1956 to 1959 was political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Following this Newton became managing editor of the Financial Review before becoming foundation national managing editor of Rupert Murdoch’s national newspaper The Australian in 1964-65.

“From 1966 to 1971, Maxwell Newton earned his living as a political and economic writer in Canberra.

“Since 1971, he has been managing director of Maxwell Newton Publications.

“At present, he publishes the Sunday Observer, mid-week and week-end television and sportsman magazines, a range of marvel comics, plus a variety of commercial work at his Newton Street factory.

Your feelings on the Canberra Department of the Media?
A very sinister development, indeed.

Any positive works in it at all?
No, a thoroughly sinister and dangerous move, particularly when it is headed by an ambitious young pretender such as Spigelman. I regard it as one of the most serious and sinister moves that the socialists have so far put forward.

Would that include their prospective establishment of a national newspaper?
I don’t regard that as much of a threat or problem at all. I don’t think that the print media have got much to worry about at this stage from the Department of Media, although undoubtedly, there will be an attempt to impose a system of censorship on newspapers as time goes by. No, I think that the primary threat is to the electronic media — which are the areas of the most rapid growth in communications. The mass of information — public information and public entertainment — is going over these types of media. Anyone wanting to invest in these areas in Australia faces the prospect of having all his actions subject to licence with some bloody officials telling him what he can do.

Can you see that coming in for newspapers?
No, I think the anarchy, thank God, the anarchic nature of the print is sufficient to protect it for a long while. But I think we should recognise there are very few countries in the world nowadays that allow any sort of freedom to the print media, anyway through the operation of censorship.
For all practical purposes, Japan, Germany, England, the United States, Canada and Australia are probably the only countries in the world where relatively unrestricted freedom to the print exists. I feel particularly frightened about what politicians, particularly socialist politicians, and ambitious officials like this Spigelman will do. It’s because I’ve had the experience in the past where I’ve criticised governments, and they’ve tried to put me in the “boob”. They’ve tried to put me in the “boob”! And they’ve failed because they’ve been bloody well too inefficient.

You see it as a “free-for-all”?
Yes, of course there should be a “free-for-all”. And the devil take the hindmost, and too bloody bad if anyone gets mangled.
I mean this is what happens in the print media — why should the electronic media people have to operate in this area of government licensing, government controls, and government bloody, in effect, governments subsidisation through control of their profits. Of course, this is only the beginning of it.

The health of the Melbourne newspaper field at the moment. We’ll go into your own paper, it seems to have beaten the Sunday opposition so far.
Yes, we’ve had the biggest single assault ever launched against a small publisher put up against us, with the Melbourne Herald and John Fairfax combining — two of the biggest combines in the country! — combining against us. And they have failed.
The Sunday Press, which is the paper they put out against us, sells for 30 cents. Our paper sells for 45 cents. We sell 166,000 and they sell 92,000.

What is the reason for success?
I think because we have tried to make The Observer exciting for the ordinary person to read on the Sunday — and get some sort of relief from the tedium of his life.
So we’ve tried to titillate, excite, and to entertain — we certainly haven’t tried very hard to inform.
I said originally that the formula that we were working on was “tits, trots, track and TAB”. Well, we’ve modified it lately by putting in a bit more. I think we’d say it’s “tits, trots, TV and track”.”

What about violence?
I don’t know, is there much violence in The Observer?

Say violent pictures, a violent photo such as a person with a knife through him or something like that.
Oh yeh, they put a few of those in. Well, you know, I don’t have much to do with that, but the theory behind it is they like looking at horror movies, they like looking at horror pictures.

You were the foundation editor of The Australian. Do you see much difference, do you feel much difference in editing or publishing the Sunday Observer?
Well obviously. The Sunday Observer — I don’t edit it incidentally — the bloke who edits it is called John Sorell — the Sunday Observer is a vulgar paper of entertainment. The Australian was and is an attempt to be a serious paper of information and comment. They are worlds apart.

Is there a place for The Australian? Is there room for its existence?
Yes, well The Australian sells about 140,000-150,000 papers a day which isn’t a bad effort in a country of this size. After all, that is the only national newspaper in this country. In the United States, the only national newspaper is the Wall Street Journal. Their population is about 20 times ours, so pro rata The Australian should only be selling 50,000 when compared with the Wall Street Journal. They’ve got various magazines like Time and so on, which certainly sell a lot of copies, but in the newspaper field it’s the Wall Street Journal. The Australian direct comparison is with the Australian Financial Review which does about 45,000 a day which is about pro rata. In many ways if you compare the United States situation and compare it to Australia, it is a very considerable achievement. The problem, of course, is it’s a very costly thing to do in Australia and there is not the same wealth of advertising support, so The Australian is always scratching for ads and uphill to make a profit.

Turning back to the Melbourne scene, do you think there is room for another evening paper?
No, I think you can forget that. Well, the Melbourne Herald have got a monopoly, and they are really scratching. Their circulation is going down all the time. They’ve gone down from over 500,000 to about 470,000 in the last two or three years, and they’re still dropping. I think that in terms of publishing there is more money to be made out of all sorts of specialised publications — which is one reason why we’ve gone into comics.
We expect to earn in revenue almost $1 million from the comics in the next year.

Costs would be well down on them too, wouldn’t they?
Yes, costs are very low. A million dollars was what we earned out of The Observer in 1973-74. So you know, our business is now five times as big as it was 18 months ago. We were doing about $1 million a year out of it.

So The Observer is here to stay?
Oh yes! About 18 months ago the revenue from The Observer was about $20,000 a week. Well, it’s about $80,000 now. Revenue from our whole business has gone up from $1 million to when in 1975-76 our budget is 5.5 million at this stage.

Do you think there is room for even more specialised journals?
Yes I do. There is a very big requirement, and I’m sure the experience in the United States hears that out. There will be a strong and growing requirement from people for all sorts of specialised publications. These publications are very profitable, very strong, and you can charge a lot for subscriptions, and for advertising in them.

Can you see your group emerging as another Australian Consolidated Press or Herald & Weekly Times?
Oh, I don’t know, we’re very small beer. We’ve managed to survive so far and we’ve got ourselves to the position, I suppose, where we are the biggest publishing group outside the Melbourne Herald, The Age and Truth.
I suppose we’ll see what happens from now on, but we’re keen to have a go.

How would you classify yourself? A prospective politician …?
No.
… businessman, economist, journalist?
Journalist and economist.

How would you describe the Workers Party?
A minority movement attempting to stimulate the middle class business people of Australia into realising how their whole lifestyle and life possibilities are threatened by socialist government.
As very much a minority movement attempting to stimulate the middle class business people of Australia into realising how their whole lifestyle and life possibilities are threatened by socialist government.

Is it more as a lobbyist group, or do you intend to put candidates up for election?
They intend to put candidates up for election.
But, obviously, I would think that the function of the Workers Party would be more to stimulate thought by, primarily, middle class people people about the dangers of their lifestyle.
And in that sense, I suppose, it would be very much an attempt to counter the infiltration of middle class thinking by the radical left.
It is primarily to do with economic issues, although I would say that the Workers Party would be very sceptical of the value of the present, virtually, “black cheque” attitude to the extension, for example, of education.
It would be very sceptical of the value of expanding educational opportunities by expanding finances for education. I would certainly be very sceptical of that myself.

So you see the cure for the present economic situation as a cutback in government control and government spending?
That’s right, cutting back government economic activity on all fronts. In that, the Workers Party would find itself in sympathy with the underlying theme of thinking which was so influential in the Department of the Treasury in Canberra, during the 1960s.
Of course, the Workers Party would represent these policies in a more extreme form as is its responsibility in order to draw attention to them.
But essentially what we are talking about is a very strong resistance to any expansion of State power and obviously that means violent exception to the present expansion of government spending under the Whitlam government.
And that would also follow on to other thoughts such as a very strong opposition to the progressive tax structure, as it applies in an environment of inflation.
There would have to be — the way the progressive taxation structure works, of course, is that the central government acquires a vast cornucopia of money purely by virtue of inflation. There would have to be a replacement of this by some form of pretty drastically indexed tax structure, or even a flat proportional tax.

What about price and wage indexation — how the Workers Party view these?
Obviously the Workers Party view is that price and wage indexation is merely dealing with some of the effects of inflation.
Obviously, the Workers Party is interested in dealing with the causes of inflation. And the Workers Party would see the primary cause of inflation in our time as being the blank cheque that the government has in expanding its spending, and that the primary cause of inflation is the fact that there is no sanction or automatic control on government expenditure. In fact, in times of inflation there is an encouragement or a licence for governments to spend willy-nilly.

Could you name some examples of cutting back on government spending?
Well the Workers Party I would say would impose a rigid control on the growth of education expenditure.
You wouldn’t have … there would be a cessation in the growth of spending on education. There would be cessation in the growth of spending on welfare.

Does this include pensions?
Yeh. There might be an attempt to maintain the real value of existing welfare payments, but no improvement in welfare. Then you would also go into areas, for example, such as the Department of Urban & Regional Development. The government would be got out of all this area of urban and regional development.

So would this indicate a large cutback in the public service?
That’s right. There would be rigid control of the public service.
Both Federal and State governments are presently just agents of the Commonwealth in much of their expenditure and so the state governments would also have to have their expenditures very much under control.
And they’re strongly interested in areas such as education, health, welfare of all kinds. This would all have to be rigidly controlled.

What about foreign control and investment in Australia?
I don’t think the Workers Party is terribly interested in the nationalistic and xenophobic policies the socialists expound.
The Workers Party view would be likely to be as far as foreign investment I believe the Workers Party would take a very liberal attitude towards that.
They wouldn’t be terribly interested in the issue. The main reason for that is the Work ers Party is interested in promoting sound economic growth and freedom. And foreign investment has been a great engine for growth — it has been one of the primary engines for growth. So they would take a very liberal attitude.
They would also take the view — the Socialists use xenophobia as an instrument to extend their own State control.
In other words, they say “we’ve got to stop these foreigners from taking over our country, therefore the State will take over”. Which is exactly what Connor is trying to do. It is an instrument for socialisation.

What about defence?
The Workers Party would be much more sceptical about the peaceful intentions of our neighbours than the socialists are.
The Workers Party would not believe that we are to be encouraged and allowed to live free of any substantial external difficulties.

So you wouldn’t see any contradiction with the freedom of foreign investment in Australia and defence?
No, I would think the foreign investment in our country simply increases the value of our country as a place to defend. The more we carry out xenophobic economic policies as the Socialists are doing, the less desirable our country becomes as a place for our allies to defend.
When all is said and done, we are a client state of the United States. And we should recognise that fact and adjust our policies accordingly.

Would this also tie to social issues — the alignment with American defence policies?
Well, I think that the Workers Party would be inclined to take the view that the United States is the [] country in the world which still stands for individual freedom and a general scepticism about state power, and so the Workers Party find it in more doctrinal sympathy
with the prevailing mood of the whole of the US than it would with the prevailing mood of China.

How would the Workers Party treat unemployment?
There would have to be — if there was a Workers Party government brought into power next week — there would be immediately a very big increase in unemployment.
This is because such an increase to unemployment would be necessary to halt inflation.

You can’t see both a cure of unemployment and inflation at the same time?
No, it’s so much rubbish to think that there will be. The only country in the world … well, the country that has had the most success in bringing about a reduction in the rates of inflation, and generally controlling its inflation rate has been the US and there they have to bring about a level of unemployment of 10 per ecnt moderate unemployment substantially.

Do you see that as acceptable in Australia?
Well the US rate of unemployment of 10 per cent us equivalent in our statistical terms to about 7 per cent.
So, what we’ve got now is about 4.5 per cent so we’d probably have to have about 400,000 people or 450,000 people out of work in Australia for six months or a year in order to stop this fantastic process of the destruction of the middles classes and the erosion of individual economic freedom which is appearing under the socialists.

With the annual inflation rate of what?
I suppose, probably, hopefully, around about the 5-6 per cent mark again.

Which is what we had in the 1960s.
We are not talking about something that is fantastic — it might seem fantastic to talk about in the context of 1975 about the level of inflation of
5 per cent as being quite a reasonable objective.
But only since the socialists came to power that we’ve become used to these fantastic rates of inflation.
During the whole of the 60s, Billy McMahon and Harold Holt presided over a level inflation of about 4.5 per cent.

Aren’t you just calling for a duplication of conditions existent then under the Liberal Party?
No, because the Liberal Party during the 1960s also condoned quite an expansion of the state sector.
It was under the Liberals that many of the foundations of the welfare system were laid.
The Liberals were the ones that condoned the rapid expansion of education spending.
To my mind it being one of the most wasteful experiments in the history of public expenditure.

How do you see a revised education system?
Not only is it a waste of time, I think it is seriously counter-productive because of the disillusionment it involves for the people who go through the process.
Obviously there would be much less money available for students to proceed to tertiary and secondary education.
Mainly because that is seen to be a complete waste of time.
Particularly tertiary education.
Not only is it a waste of time, I think it is seriously counter-productive because of the disillusionment it involves for the people who go through the process.
So I would say it would be a matter of probably shutting universities.