This was the postscript to Mike Carlton’s regular Saturday column in the Herald:
FRANKLY, I don’t give a hoot that Amanda Vanstone spent $54,000 of taxpayers’ money on Chinese language lessons when she was immigration minister. I think it was a very good thing. If she can now natter away in Mandarin half as well as, say, Kevin Rudd, it was public money well spent.
As I wrote here two weeks ago, the ignorance of Asian languages in this country is a national disgrace. So far as I am aware, not one member of the federal ministry can order so much as a bowl of rice or a girl for the night in Indonesian, Mandarin or Japanese, let alone conduct a polite conversation or a diplomatic negotiation with the northern neighbours. Rudd aside, the same goes for the Opposition.
But the scandal is worse in our schools and universities. Despairing academics write to tell me that Asian studies are withering on the vine. And one reason for this: when he was education minister, Brendan Nelson capriciously slashed federal funding for language teaching.
But now, as Defence Minister, somehow he can find $6 billion to buy Super Hornet fighters for the RAAF, an aircraft which has been bagged by retired senior air force officers as unsuitable for our defence needs.
This suggests we have our priorities badly skewed. We can bomb the Asians as needed, but we can’t talk to them.
To be frank, I could only agree more if he pointed out the ludicrousness of mandarin lessons costing $54,000.