There must be few cases in Australia or any other country where an incoming government and its ministers have been hit with such a series of issues, not of its own making, as those that have popped up in front of the Abbott government. Foreign affairs and the minefield laid out in front of Julie Bishop are the prime example, where problems with Indonesia and China have suddenly appeared that are clearly substantial. So it is reassuring to see the sang-froid, professionalism, avoidance of point-scoring and steady handling of the issues by Ms Bishop under extreme and needling pressure from certain quarters. She clearly needs no advice that it is the long-term result that counts, that nothing is gained by over-reaction, even in the face of such provocation and that Australia will be judged by the way Ms Bishop politely but firmly handles these difficult issues. She has not put a foot wrong. And she has been able to keep smiling most of the time. As the lights burn late in the chancelleries of Asia, the nabobs in charge must be thinking that this lady is no pushover.
Talking of international issues, I cannot understand why the Greenpeace lot who are now facing criminal charges for boarding a Russian offshore oil rig should be the toast of the town for the leftie set, although the Left does seem to choose some curious objects for its affection. I profoundly disagree with progressives who see these people as latter-day Francis Drakes, sailing the Golden Hind on voyages of derring-do in the pursuit of justice. They have committed an illegal act; what else can you call trying to seize other people’s property? The Russians should make sure they are given a prompt and fair trial, but without, hopefully, turning them into saints or martyrs.
Nor can I understand how, while the rest of us are answerable to the law, Julian Assange is allowed month after month to hide away in his funk hole in Knightsbridge and avoid justice. Nor can I understand how Edward Snowden is allowed to flit around the globe having clearly done enormous damage to the security of the western world by stealing masses of state secrets. Nor can I understand why we should be paying the ABC to fence Snowden’s stolen goods and promote the circulation of the Guardian. Nor can I understand why the Age, having taken to referring to the Victorian minister for education as ‘Mr Dixon, a Catholic’, now refers to the premier as ‘Mr Napthine, a Catholic’ unless it is to denigrate them both. I thought that sort of thing was supposed to be illegal. So you see there is a lot that I do not understand.
Like most Australians I have always been aware of the horrors of war and the sacrifice of American servicemen during the second world war, as well, of course, as those of the sons and daughters of other participants, including Australia. But last Friday night it hit me hard and for several hours I relived the horror, the heroism and the sad tragedy of young lives cut short in a way that I never imagined could be conjured up from the past by the medium of film or television and that I never imagined could affect me as much as it did. Channel 7 has been showing a series of hitherto unseen colour films taken from cockpits, gun cameras and wartime aerodromes in England, films that show the brotherhood, camaraderie, bravery and heartbreak of young airmen. What affected me was the air of reality that came from the home movie jerkiness and natural colour of the films, the unbelievably fresh-faced youth of the aircrew, the probability that the young men you saw taking off on a bombing run were dead within a couple of hours, the horror of being trapped in a crippled aircraft as many were, the hopelessness of rescue, the hideous wounds and always the prospect of a fiery death as your aircraft exploded in the air or began that slow spiral as it crashed to earth or into an icy sea. The most distressing occurrence in the series was a bomber so damaged that it could not lower its wheels, but trapped in the lower turret was a young gunner who had to be pulverised as the plane crash- landed on its belly. It does us good to be reminded of the duty, sacrifice, modesty and courage that characterised that era, how so many young men missed out on youth and how we hold on trust the freedom they forged for us in the sky.
That poor overused word ‘funding’ was given another outing this week. This time it is the car industry that wants funding. Next week, it will probably be Qantas. As you know, the word really means handouts, blackmail, fraud, or a corrupt payment; that sort of thing. It is used when you do not want it known that you are really engaging in blackmail, fraud etc and to give to the money you are extracting from the taxpayer without any justification a cuddly and reassuring air that makes the taxpayer think he is contributing to writing the great Australian novel, producing the great Australian film or, today, saving the car industry. But despite the continued expansion in its use, it is depressing in the extreme to find the great motor car industry so lacking in enterprise, initiative and confidence in itself that it asks for ‘funding’, as if it were the natural role of failed industry to scrape its working capital together with handouts from the government. Merry Christmas!
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