Flat White

Backwards & Forwards: the week in politics gone, the week to come

18 March 2019

10:07 AM

18 March 2019

10:07 AM

Looking back

Last Thursday, with millennials convulsed by the unprecedented crash of Facebook and Instagram, New Zealand’s Canterbury Police tweeted a tongue-in-cheek request that made Odd Spot columns of newspapers around the world:

Just one day later, Canterbury Police posted its very next tweet:

The agony of Christchurch and New Zealand’s loss of innocence is summed up by those two successive Canterbury Police tweets: Thursday’s Kiwi humour followed by the first confirmation of Friday’s carnage. That they and other first responders rose to the crisis for a city that is still recovering from its devastating 2010 and 2011 earthquakes is a matter of great pride and honour for them and a source of wonder and respect for the rest of us.

Let’s just say about this side of the ditch: in their actions, reactions and attempts at leadership, no Australian political party leader truly struck the right note. Yet another reminder that the likes of John Howard, who first after Port Arthur in 1996 and again after the Bali bombings in 2002 discovered, probably to his own surprise, his own inner reserve of empathy to become Australia’s comforter-in-chief, are sadly lacking in our current generation of tin-eared political poseurs.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, on the other hand, seems to have more of Howard in her than her socialist self would care to admit. Her quiet yet steely determination to direct the response, reassure the nation and be there for those bereaved and grieving, is distinctly Howard-like. Whether, like Howard after Port Arthur, Christchurch proves the making of Ardern as a serious prime minister rather than uber-woke global celebrity, remains to be seen. She certainly has the same challenge: toughening the gun laws of a gun-loving culture so that the likes of last Friday will never be seen in ‘Godzone’ again. We should wish her well, whatever our politics.

After Friday, other events of last week seem insignificant. But the sentencing of George Pell can’t be ignored. One can’t help but feel Pell is not being treated like any other convicted prisoner. The live broadcasting of his sentencing hearing was intended to maximise his shame and humiliation and the Victorian County Court chief judge, Peter Kidd, seemed to take considerable pleasure in doing his judicial duty so publicly.

Yet it’s hard to avoid a sense of satisfaction over Pell’s downfall. Even if he gets off on appeal, the living hell he currently is enduring surely is penance for Pell’s sins of omission as well as commission, a fitting reward for his turning a blind eye to, or otherwise helping to cover up, the disgusting abuses of young people that were going on around him. On his watch, the Catholic Church has lost its claims to moral leadership and the trust and confidence of many of its faithful, not least the innocents who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of depraved members of the Catholic clergy, including Pell’s then housemate, Gerald Ridsdale. For his part in the Church’s failures and culpability, Pell deserves to be held to account whatever the appeals court decides.

And last week the coal dream died. When Scott Morrison declared the government’s non-interest in promoting new coal-fired power stations he tapped the mat to the anti-coal hysteria of Labor, the Greens and environmental activists. Gaia has won; common sense lost.

As for that other Green stunt, the Children’s Crusade – er, strike – against climate change, the less said the better. This week must not be remembered for its misguided and zealot-manipulated activism.

Looking forward

This is NSW election week, with Gladys Berejiklian and Mike Daley hurtling toward Saturday’s finish line.

If reports of internal party polling are true the Coalition’s in trouble, with up to a dozen Liberal and National seats under threat. And thanks to a preference deal with the Shooters and Fishers, Daley presumably will get a supply and confidence agreement with them if they share the balance of power in a hung parliament, let alone from any left-leaning independents and Greens.

But after Christchurch, that deal’s not looking so brilliant. Daley said on Sunday he’d resign if NSW gun laws are weakened – but isn’t that what the Shooters and Fishers, who are straying from their conservative roots to back Labor, want?

If Berejiklian finally can show some tactical nous, she can highlight Labor’s cynical opportunism in courting the Shooters and Fishers. It’s understood NSW Liberals have ads featuring John Howard warning against a Labor-Shooters alliance weakening gun control: Berejiklian shouldn’t hesitate to run them. It’s not a sign of panic, it’s the truth.

But this campaign also has been a tale of profligacy on both sides. Gladys’s slogan, ‘let’s get it done NSW’ validates her un-Liberal big-spending, big government promises yet highlights her difficulties in completing major projects like the troubled Sydney tram. Daley ‘putting people first’ is dry-running Shorten’s federal campaign: targeting dissatisfaction and grievance to build a populist electoral coalition of the self-entitled.

Come Saturday night it’s likely to be close. Expect a minority government, one way or the other.

Federally, questions will – must – be asked about Christchurch, and why alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant was not on any Australian terror watchlist given his known activities and ramblings being highly documented on social media. Home affairs minister Peter Dutton was conspicuous in his low profile over the weekend, but this week he’d better have some convincing answers to those questions.

Dutton pointing out on Monday morning that Tarrant has been in Australia for only 45 days in the last three years is not enough to absolve Dutton and his department from responsibility. We all wear the profound shame of Tarrant being described everywhere as an ‘Australian extremist terrorist’:

Starting with Morrison and Dutton, we must demand answers from those supposed to protect us and the rest of the world from dangerous Australians. And they must give those answers fully and without evasion.

Highlight of the week (before Christchurch)

Barnaby Joyce declaring himself the ‘elected deputy Prime Minister’ and complaining about the state of the ‘marriage’ between the Liberal and National parties was a hoot.

But current Deputy PM Michael McCormack’s comeback, that he knew how to make a marriage work, was a memorable takedown of his philandering predecessor. Suddenly we discovered that McCormack, a politician so boring that he could bore for Australia at the World Boring Olympics, has a sense of humour and not too bad a one at that.

At least that raised a smile in the god-awful week just gone.

Backwards & Forwards is a weekly political wrap.

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