Leading article Australia

Getting shirty

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

Several recent events highlight the fragile faultlines between jingoism, patriotism and national security; a fissure that the Left are desperate to crack open into a major chasm in the seemingly endless Compassion Wars.

First came Julia Gillard with a factual error in her novel ‘My Story’, in which she alters chronology in order to accuse John Howard of being ‘hairy-chested’ during the Tampa crisis. His uncompromising stance, she asserts, was designed to capitalize on fears engendered by 9/11 – even though that tragedy had yet to occur. The subtext of Ms Gillard’s fantasy narrative is clear: the Coalition manipulated emotions of fear in order to demonise boat people for political gain. Yet as Mr Howard pointed out during a frank and insightful conversation with Janet Albrechtsen at the Liberal Party’s 70th Anniversary dinner hosted by the Menzies Research Centre, most of your time as a prime minister is not spent agonizing over emotional responses – you’re too busy making tough on-the-spot decisions.

You can’t look hairy-chested if you’ve still got your shirt on; but that’s what Tony Abbott is now being accused of courtesy of his idiosyncratic threat to the Russian President Vladimir Putin: ‘Look, I’m going to shirt-front Mr Putin. You bet you are… ah, you bet I am.’ (Who was the second person pronoun directed at? Himself in the mirror?) Much debate has ensued over the precise rules of engagement surrounding this machismo accoutrement activity; and as usual the basic principle has been lost. Mr Abbott is 100% correct that a confrontation of some description – ‘robust’ is the current fave – is required. Many innocent Australians unnecessarily died at the hands of Russian military belligerence and risk-taking. This is unacceptable to not only national, but international security. It is refreshing to have a political leader unintimidated by thuggery on a superpower scale, and Mr Abbott’s forthright wording has laudable Thatcherite and Reaganesque overtones. If nothing else, the Russian leader must be left in no doubt that he and his government have been seriously diminished in our country’s eyes.

Speaking of unacceptable intimidation, the hoo-hah over a cheap tee-shirt on sale at a Cairns Woolies would be almost sinister if it weren’t so ludicrous. Highlighting the dangerous vacuity of the ‘I am offended crowd’ (see Brendan O’Neill in this issue for another example), Woolworths were forced to remove from their shelves a tee-shirt (‘If you don’t love it, leave’ next to an Aussie flag) on the grounds that it is racist. What the…? Patriotic – yes. Jingoistic – maybe. Racist – no.

At a time when western values are under military and intellectual attack (see Joseph Power on the IS brands, and Alan Gold for his intriguing take on the Emma Alberici interview) the flaunting of a sentiment that is, at most, a passive request for those of a non-patriotic bent to find more accommodating climes elsewhere aint worth getting hot under the collar about.

Worse than 18C?

‘35P – almost twice as bad as 18C’ should be the new catch-phrase of the freedom-of-speech brigade. Coming hard on the heels of the disappointing decision by Tony Abbott and George Brandis to renege on their firm election commitment to ‘amend 18C in its current form’, the passing into law of section 35P of the National Security Amendment Act (No. 1) is a slap in the face to all those who vote Liberal in the belief that theirs is the party that most values our hard-won freedoms. Writing in the Australian, Senator Brandis mounted a lengthy but unconvincing defence of the legislation. His argument appears to centre on the fact that the law is not ‘intended’ to be used against journalists (if that’s the case, then why not spell it out?) and that the law is similar to provisions brought in in 2010 (and what a great year that was for sensible government decision-making!) in regards to the Australian Federal Police. Yet his defence of that particular law (Section 15HK of the Crimes Act) rests on the premise that ‘there have been no prosecutions to date’ under it. Whew, that’s OK then.

In this issue, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm tells of the battles behind the legislation and queries the ‘paragons of virtue’ at ASIO.

It was left to Tony Jones and his Q&A panel to unearth the real problem with 35P, when the affable Kate Ellis cheerily belled the cat: ‘this is actually something that has been in the works for several years and commenced when Nicola Roxon was the Attorney-General’.

We rest our case, m’lud.

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