Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Miranda Devine on being an opinion columnist

Miranda Devine delivering her talk right after formal dinner

When Sydney Daily Telegraph journalist Miranda Devine (@mirandadevine) visited Warrane this week she gave residents some rare insights into the life of a newspaper columnist and urged them to stand up for their values in public debates.

She said that while she sometimes goes into an issue with certain ideas, she can find herself changing tack, but overall she was mainly guided by her own moral compass.

“My moral framework is as a practising Catholic,” she said. “I try not to be dogmatic … but in this game you cannot sit on the fence.”

“Friends and people who meet me are often quite surprised because they say I don’t seem terribly opinionated, that I am not trying to force my opinions down people’s throats.”

“I certainly don’t have all the answers. But when you are writing a column it is not like being at a dinner party and being polite. You have to formulate a point of view and you have to express it vigorously.”

“Needless to say, I always think I am right at the end of the column, but many people would disagree…”

Ms Devine spoke extensively on the issue of policing illegal drugs in Australia – one of her “perennial topics”, and criticised the public policy of harm minimisation which is now on the ascendent.

She pointed out that this approach had been criticised by many recovered drug abusers, who said that turning a blind eye to drug trafficking and abuse failed to offer addicts any incentive to reform themselves. Ms Devine said that this was an example of the nature of social issues that tended to follow “fashion and not logic”.

“As an opinion columnist, these social issues are part of what is called to culture wars and I am right at the heart of it,” she said.

An example was the issue of “gay marriage”. She said that some people wanted to redefine marriage into meaninglessness – something that covers any kind of emotional commitment that one person makes to another.

“Somehow the gay marriage issue has taken on an import so great that opponents are supposedly guilty of causing a teen suicide epidemic,” she said.

“This is meant to shut us up. But I think that if there is any angst being caused, it is by those who are relentlessly pushing this issue and equating those who are trying to defend the institution of marriage as hate-filled homophobes.

“Defending marriage between a man and a woman as the ideal way to procreate and nurture children is for the benefit of society, not its detriment, as is being portrayed.”

Ms Devine said that some people may be losing heart and feeling like gay marriage is inevitable, and that in all the culture wars it may seem that “we are on the losing side”. But she argued that people could take heart in the way that attitudes can shift over time. An example was the way in which the attitude to abortion had changed in the 15 years that she had been writing newspaper columns.

“It’s started to come full circle,” she said. “Now there is an increasing acceptance that a child’s life is being taken and that it is not just some medical procedure like removing a wart.”

Ms Devine argued that Catholics like herself were fortunate that, in a time of moral relativism, they had a well developed moral framework to rely on. She warned her young listeners that they would all be under pressure to conform to social fashions…

“To make a difference, you will have to engage with the world and not remain a recluse. To do so you will need a suit of armour to protect you from the pressures to conform to the relativistic norms of the age we live in.

“That is a challenge that you all have ahead of you as young men and future leaders.”

Ms Devine lamented that society seemed to have lost sight of the value of what had been known to past generations as “cardinal virtues”. They included virtues like prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude and humility – the nurturing of which was essential to the health of any society.

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]