The last time federal MP Craig Laundy made headlines was when he pre-empted Tony Abbott’s back down on the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Laundy declared that he would cross the floor to ensure the Orwellian laws remained intact.This grandstanding turned out not to be necessary, although no doubt he feels vindicated by the ongoing furore about Queensland University of Technology’s segregated computer lab and its ‘offended, embarrassed, humiliated and psychiatrically injured’ indigenous hall monitor. But you would think that supporting what is clearly Turnbull’s position on speech laws, and supporting him in the leadership spill, would render him immune from punishment.
Not so! As if being made an Assistant Minister (which is the new and almost mocking euphemism for Parliamentary Secretary) isn’t bad enough, Mr Laundy was last week inflicted with the multiculturalism portfolio. Was he chosen for his eminent scholarship of Islamic culture, history, and theology? No, because like almost all other politicians who pompously moralise about Islam – and specifically about what is ‘not Islam’ – he clearly knows very little about the subject.
But he knows Muslims vote, and the MP whose electorate contains Australia’s biggest Muslim population has fulfilled all political righteousness in his first interview as Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs. He has dived headlong into the already crowded pool of politicians who say imbecilic things about Islam, but this time with the imprimatur of executive government. Not that he encourages others to do the same. ‘People that dive into this debate and say controversial things, I would argue, the vast majority are speaking from a position that is not well informed,’ Laundy said.
So no diving in, folks, or being controversial. And if in doubt, the Assistant Minister is available to assess the position from which you’re speaking. But Laundy sees his own involvement a little differently. ‘My job’, he says, ‘is to enter the debate, knowing the background and the community, engaging and explaining to Australia the challenges that these communities actually face.’ For all our sakes, please don’t!
Presumably, this is the job description the PM has given him, but it should never be the job of a minister (or an assistant minister, for that matter) or the government generally, to rebuke and correct its citizens, unless a law has been broken. And yet it’s clear that that’s what Laundy will spend his Assistant Ministerial days doing. It’s as if the entire program of posturing and pontificating, once done by the Prime Minister with assistance from other earnestly nodding MPs as necessary, now falls to him. No longer will random politicians be whipped into making obtuse and patently false statements like ‘Islam is a religion of peace’, or ‘this [act of terrorism] has nothing to do with Islam’, or ‘true Muslims would be appalled’, when their electors know there is at least another side to the story. All Mr Turnbull will need to do now is dispatch his Islamophile Assistant Minister to the various hotspots of Islamic tension, and have him read the solemn formula. Hashtags will ensue.
You don’t have to be an Islamophile like Laundy to dislike Donald Trump. His promise to ban Muslims from the United States is not only racist, but ridiculous and unworkable. But the man is winning GOP primaries! No doubt the likes of Turnbull and his Assistant Minister will privately snigger at the stupidity and moral inferiority of Americans, but they should consider what the popularity of Trump’s policy means.
America doesn’t have the official fetish of multiculturalism that exists here. There’s no burgeoning federal department replete with cabinet-level secretaries (although Laundy would be an undersecretary) to manage people’s thinking on Islam. But even so, Obama never misses on opportunity to berate his countrymen, assuring them of the sublime joys and benefits of the Religion of Peace. Politicians of all stripes who believe the public needs their enlightened wisdom to understand Islam would do well to wonder where such hubris leads.
2015 Thawley Essay Prize
We are delighted to publish this week the winner of the 2015 Thawley Essay Prize, on p viii. The author, Tony Letford, left school at 15 hoping to be a journalist, before joining Fairfax as a copy boy. Now retired after a career as a bureaucrat, he is returning to his first love, writing. We trust you find his essay, Warri and Yatungka, as challenging, intriguing and thought-provoking as did the judges John Howard, Rowan Dean and Michael Thawley.
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