If the Walkleys had a Most Humorous Headline category, ‘No bias at the ABC vows new chairman’, would surely take some beating. But the subeditor responsible for that gem in last Monday’s Oz can’t take all the credit for making latte come out of my nose; some must go to the man the headline refers to. Indeed, some of the journos who attended Justin Milne’s first press conference as head of our national broadcaster must have wondered if they’d inadvertently walked into a Sydney Comedy Festival stand-up routine. ‘It’s the job of the board to ensure the ABC continues to provide an unbiased view of politics, current affairs and the zeitgeist,’ announced a presumably poker-faced Mr Milne. ‘Roughly speaking,’ he went on, no doubt shouting to be heard above the laughter, ’50 per cent of the ABC’s audience think it is biased to the left and 50 per cent think it is biased to the right.’ Stop it, Justin – you’re killing me. Those who question the provenance of any statistic prefixed by the phrase ‘roughly speaking’, won’t take comfort from the assurance of Auntie’s new boss that while doing the job he ‘won’t be sitting there with a score sheet’, any more than those who have concerns about the ABC’s accountability to the taxpaying public will take comfort from his admission that Q&A, the program which more than any other has attracted accusations of left wing bias, is one that he watches ‘only occasionally’. This may well suggest that he has more in common with the people who pay his salary than any of his staff. But it probably wasn’t as instrumental in getting him the gig as was his close friendship with the man who also made him chairman of Ozemail.
These days the public statements of political leaders inspire even less confidence than those of their corporate counterparts. It has become the default response of politicians of every stripe to respond to terrorist attacks on Western soil by reprising Winston Churchill’s 1940 ‘we will never surrender’ speech. But whereas Churchill was preparing a nation for impending invasion and occupation by a large and in many ways superior army, Theresa May & Co. are talking about the occasional very localized threat posed by a handful of religious nutjobs. And while the bravery of first responders on Westminster Bridge last week was certainly worthy of commendation, the calm and quiet resolve she and other pollies have subsequently observed amongst ordinary Londoners is hardly consistent with the fear and panic we all saw in news footage on the day itself. It’s a bizarre kind of denial to claim that the country will carry on as normal – and not unreminiscent of the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who describes having both his arms chopped off as ‘only a flesh wound’. The fact is, one nutter with a driving license and a bread knife really can bring one of the world’s biggest cities to a standstill. Millions of pounds will be spent on beefing up security in the nation’s capital and it will take even longer to get through Heathrow. The effects of the London attack could be even further reaching in France, of course. While Front National leader Marine Le Pen was quick to join the solidarity chorus, she knows that in the run up to the general election an outbreak of Islamist violence anywhere in Europe could be enough to break the poll deadlock she currently shares with her centrist opponent.
Whatever Brexit defenders say about unelected representation and lost sovereignty, concern about immigration – and specifically fear attendant to Islamic immigration – is now a massive driver of public opinion throughout the west. And the question ‘where does populism end and nationalism start?’ is one that Peter Fitzsimons, as head of that busted flush the Australian Republican Movement, might do well to consider. A Trump style ‘put Australia first’ platform would be at least more compelling than the spot the ARM’s ad agency produced recently which featured several Australians getting the words to God Save the Queen wrong. As a rugby man what Fitzsimons should really have done was dig up footage of England supporters deliberately getting the words to the same song wrong before the 2003 rugby world cup final. ‘God save your gracious queen,’ roared the barmy army, pointing to the Australian fans, ‘long live your noble queen…’ And then the bastards won. Imagine if we’d had a referendum the day after that.