Features Australia

Sleight of hand of the ‘moderates’

8 December 2018

9:00 AM

8 December 2018

9:00 AM

Ever heard of the wonderful American magician team of Penn & Teller? My son and I saw them in Vegas a few years back and it was one of the only times in my life I can remember thinking I’d happily sit through the exact same show, right away. It was that good.  One of their trademark gimmicks is that for two or three of their ‘tricks’, after they’ve baffled you, they will do it again and show you how they did it. Wunderbar, is all I can say.

Penn & Teller also have had a couple of TV shows in the US and UK. One is called ‘Fool Us’ that invites the world’s best magicians to perform in front of them and then these two guys have 30 seconds to say how the would-be fooler did it – if they can’t then that guest gets a cameo performance in Vegas with Penn & Teller (not to mention a massive boost to the career).

The other TV show they’ve had was called Bullshit. It basically was premised on pointing out idiocies in the world, the sort of fake things magicians can spot better than most, things like homeopathy (where the supposed active ingredient is one atom per universe and the water ‘remembers’, or whatever) and all the other variants of alternative and complementary medicine (which would, if they could pass double blind drug trials, just be called ‘medicine’). It is a take no prisoners show that is excellent.

And that brings me to ex-Liberal MP Julia Banks and Newscorp journalist Peter van Onselen. To both of them, and in the most Penn & Teller way that I can muster, I say ‘bullshit’. And this comes with a very Penn & Teller-like public challenge, which will become clear in a moment.

You see both Banks and PVO have been throwing around with gay abandon plenty of talk about ‘the reactionary right’ of the Liberal party.

Banks thinks this amorphous grouping is taking over her former party, which is no doubt news to Jim Molan who’s been cast aside from any winnable Senate slot by the faction bosses in favour of a complete lefty nobody woman. If that’s a cohort of reactionaries at work then they’re pretty useless (a not wholly implausible claim, I admit).

Meanwhile Peter van Oscillate, as I choose to call him, who is along with Nikki Savva the most pro-Turnbull and anti-Abbott commentator in the Australian, finds it hard to write anything about the Liberals these days without mention of the ‘reactionaries’ and the ‘Reactionary Right’ and the ‘far right’ (you get the idea).


Well, this is straight out bullshit. Let me issue the Penn & Teller challenge to Ms Banks and Mr PVO.

Tell us precisely what policies it is that the Abbotts and Duttons and Taylors of the Liberal party are recommending that lump them in with guys who wear brown shirts and have little brown moustaches. What, precisely, counts as a ‘reactionary’ policy? Was it Abbott’s going to the wall for a souped-up paid parental leave? Was it his raising taxes on the highest paid? Or maybe it was his caving in on any attempt to repeal our egregious hate speech law s.18C?  Was that pusillanimous cave-in ‘reactionary’?

Or was it stopping the boats, which well over half of Australians supported and which is a sine qua non of the nation state, and in turn of democratic decision-making? Of course maybe the very idea of not genuflecting before a supranational elite is equivalent to being a ‘reactionary’?

Then there is Peter Dutton and the 40-odd Liberal MPs who were clearly against the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, in my view the most left-wing (you’ll observe I don’t say ‘communist’ or ‘hard left’ or ‘neo-left’) Liberal leader ever – the man who lost more consecutive Newspolls than Abbott and indeed who started the whole split in the Liberal ranks by white-anting and scheming against a first-term Liberal PM. So what policies did Dutton and co ever advocate – and I want these two critics to name them explicitly – that qualify as ‘reactionary’ policies?

There is nothing in view anywhere save for their anti-renewables energy policy. The Duttonites wanted to focus on prices and large-scale coal-powered electricity generation and to admit that the renewables/green focus has been a disaster. Now I think that Dutton line is wholly correct. Some of my friends disagree. But on no possible planet can that difference of opinion be cashed out in ways where one side is enlightenment personified while the other is ‘reactionary’.

China is building a coal-fired power plant almost every week. India is all in too. Germany is back to building them. Ontario, in Canada, has forsaken all renewable subsidies and is flat out opposed to any carbon tax.

And the 330 million people who live in the US have pulled out of the Paris Agreement. Are they all ‘reactionaries’? I want an answer, Julia. You too, Peter. Because you see we now have virtually the highest power prices in the democratic world (and they were the cheapest when I arrived here in 2005).

And all this climate change virtue-signalling is literally useless. Australia makes no difference at all to the world’s temperature. China, India and the US (and now Brazil too) couldn’t care less if we drive every business offshore in an attempt to let a few inner-city types bask in the warm glow of their own moral self-regard.

But claims of ‘reactionary’ and ‘far right’ for those who are sick of this bumper sticker moralising are ridiculous.

So I wait for an answer.

Here’s the thing that PVO in all his incoherence about what it means to be a conservative has never seemed to grasp. No political description works in a vacuum. You need to know both a person’s underlying end goals, the sort of world they want to move towards, and where they live now before you can then apply labels.

A conservative in Australia today would not be one in North Korea and might not be one in 40 years. And so sometimes, when things are going in what you think is the wrong direction, you need to execute an about-turn and walk back the right way. If that counts in some pedantic way as being a ‘reactionary’, well then in that situation the so-called reactionary person is the ‘progressive’ one too.

Ms Banks and PVO, over to the two of you. The stage is all yours.

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