Leading article Australia

Are you being served?

14 September 2019

9:00 AM

14 September 2019

9:00 AM

As Labor politicians dragged their heels back to parliament this week, there are signs of progress through the five stages of grief. Denial and anger have given way to depression, accelerated perhaps by polling showing that Opposition leader Anthony Albanese is getting less popular by the day. Bereavement counsellors would have detected evidence of guilt, if not acceptance, in Mark Butler, who as climate and energy spokesman did more than almost anybody to keep Bill Shorten out of the Lodge. Labor’s campaign review should be ruthless, unsparing and deeply uncomfortable, he said. ‘The area I had responsibility for – climate change and energy – must be part of that thorough examination.’ Labor’s battle with the Greens on climate policy was never going to end well. Climate panic is a luxury affordable only to the lucky few in the leafiest electorates. Drawing Labor back to the centre of public life must start by abandoning this territory.

In this, Mr. Albanese’s challenge is like that of Jeremy Corbyn, whose constructive ambiguity has been a dismal failure. With energy, as with Brexit, voters need to know where their leaders stand. Even in these gender-fluid times, they cannot be Arthur and Martha. That Mr. Corbyn is sinking in the polls is hardly surprising. As Julie Burchill put it ‘I’d take a no-deal Brexit over Old Man Steptoe any day.’

Mark Latham’s book From The Suburbs, published shortly before he became Labor leader in 2003, urged the party to ‘rattle the cage’ on behalf of outsiders. Mr. Latham’s estrangement from the party he once led begs the question as to whether there is any space for such opinions in the Labor caucus these days. Latham’s contemporaries, who would have thought his opinions uncontroversial, have long since been replaced by an army of tertiary-educated sophisticates more focused on winning spats on Twitter than the next election. Distressingly, they have their fair share of counterparts on the goverment benches.

The British Conservative party and the Liberal party of Australia have been through parallel experiences in recent years. Both suffered grievously under recently departed leaders who seemed incapable of understanding the desires of ordinary people, let alone responding to them. Just as Theresa May failed to break with the Remainer orthodoxy, despite the referendum that required her to do so, so Malcolm Turnbull was lured by the siren song of climate change to destroy himself and to almost destroy his party on the Scylla and Charybdis of renewable energy and closing coal mines. The height of either prime minister’s ambition was to be less soft-headed than their opponent.

Both parties have since pulled themselves onto firmer ground under leaders unafraid to stand up to ‘the shouty ones,’ as Scott Morrison dubbed the hectoring voices of those who presume to have a better understanding of civic affairs than their fellow citizens. The pictures from the House of Commons that, together with the action from Old Trafford, have provided our staple viewing for the past week, leave no doubt as to who the shouty Britons are backing. Mr. Johnson does not appear to be the kind of leader who succumbs to self-doubt but should he need any reassurance that he is on the right side in this argument, he has only to observe the Australian parliament which, in contrast to Westminster at present, is an institution reconciled to its historic mission of serving its citizens rather than ignoring them.

Vale Hal Colebatch

Australia has lost one of its great intellectuals, of whom far too few have heard.  Hal Gibson Pateshall Colebatch, born 7 October 1945, passed away on 9 September 2019.  A gifted author, poet, lecturer, journalist, editor and lawyer, Hal was denied the audience he deserved by the Left-dominated literary establishment.  In spite of that he enjoyed an excellent reputation in the US, the UK and New Zealand.  His output was extraordinary and included eight volumes of poetry, a number of biographies, essays, novels, a series of science fiction stories, Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged our Troops in World War II, which won the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for history and Blair’s Britain, which was immediately listed by The Spectator’s Taki as a book of the year. He was a distinguished and very popular contributor to these pages, to our UK and US counterparts, to Quadrant, and to the Australian. He had ambitions to be a satirical writer but reality defeated him.  He dedicated his work to his beloved wife Alexandra, whom he immortalised writing of Canberra, ‘How I must love you if the first sight … of the lights of this city, appearing at last over the crest of a ridge, can lift my heart.’ Vale Hal.  You will be greatly missed.

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