Australia Diary Australia


24 March 2012

My Australian tour for the IPA seems a lot longer ago than a couple of weeks. Returned to the tender mercies of America’s hideous Transport Security Administration, I pine for the (literally) lighter touch of Aussie airports — no coat removal, no shoe removal, no digital imaging of one’s genitalia. From Brisbane to Perth, the screening areas are spacious and organised; in the US, it looks as if 9/11 happened last week, and they’re improvising with some trestle tables from the discount warehouse. And don’t forget the ‘enhanced patdown’: last time, the TSA guy ordered me to raise my arms above my head, ran his hands down my back, spread my legs, slid his palm along my inner thigh, swung me around and patted my bottom. When we reprised it on Dancing With The Stars, we made the semi-finals. A lavishly funded bureaucracy that has never intercepted a single jihadist, the TSA is touchy in every sense: it’s now criminalising yawns, eye-rolling and other expressions of disrespect toward officialdom. In Australia and elsewhere, life goes on; in America, the terrorists have won.


It took me a couple of days to get used to the Qantas style. I was flying Business Class and had expected to enjoy the frisson of superiority that comes with ‘priority boarding’. Instead, they just called the flight, everyone got on, and then it took off, in nothing flat. Just like that. I brooded over the absence of large orange ‘Priority’ labels affixed to my luggage. Yet, upon landing at Melbourne, my bags and everybody else’s were waiting for me by the time I’d walked from the jetway to the carousel! In America, amid the general decrepitude of air transportation, we frequent flyers prize our measly perks, like the strip of worn red carpet United and Delta offer for their Priority-Super-Mega-Elite-Platinum customers. Alas, no matter how frequently I fly, I find that when it counts — when you need the last seat on the last flight out — I’m never quite up to snuff. Yeah, sure, you’re Priority-Super-Mega-Elite-Platinum-Premium, but there’s a guy ahead of you who’s Priority-Super-Mega-Elite-Platinum-Premium-Prestige. In their abandonment of general service, US airlines fuss over ever more finely calibrated orders of precedence Buckingham Palace would balk at: the widow of a second son of a baronet can priority-board only if she is the daughter of a duke or marquess. But Qantas seems to operate a genuinely classless society: everyone’s priority. So who needs Super-Mega-Elite-Platinum?



Something of the same spirit pervades the Australian political sphere. I introduced my American manager, a former staffer for a US senator, to Julie Bishop. She asked the Deputy Opposition Leader, Shadow Foreign Minister and Shadow Trade Minister, how many staff she had. ‘Three,’ said Julie.

I could see my manager thinking, ‘Loo-zurr.’ Julie asked how many staff her senator had had. ‘About 50,’ said my manager. I could see Julie thinking, ‘Loo-zurr.’ America is the Brokest Nation in History. Getting citizen-legislators to cut back on their Gulf emir-sized entourages would be a good place to start turning things around: you can’t have small government with big retinues.


Aside from the dearth of courtiers, I appreciate the somewhat more freewheeling nature of small talk among the Australian political class. Over the sauv. blanc after the ABC’s Q&A, former senator Amanda Vanstone mentioned that a friend of hers had just emailed to say I was ‘eminently shaggable’, but that she’d hate herself in the morning. On a previous visit, I sat next to a very, very, very prominent cabinet minister at a critical time in world affairs, so critical that Tony Blair had interrupted his holiday to make a statement from his beach resort. The cabinet grandee turned to me and asked sombrely, ‘Did you see Blair’s press conference?’ I replied no. He said, ‘His moobs are out of control.’

On the off-chance Amanda’s chum is reading this: if it helps, my moobs are way smaller than Tone’s.


On a free night in Adelaide, I went to the old gaol to see Instructions For An Imaginary Man, an evening of poems by prisoners of conscience sung by a soprano and baritone. I had vaguely assumed that ‘The Old Adelaide Gaol’ was just the name of the joint: it had presumably been long converted, in the way that London media types have weekend homes called ‘The Olde Smithy’ but there’s no danger of being woken early by the sounds of the squire’s stallion being re-shoed. However, upon approach, I deduced from the royal cypher above the door — ‘E II R’ — that this had been a gaol within recent memory. 1988, as it happens. And it hadn’t been converted. To make the production’s evocation of the prison experience more intense, all seating for the play had been requisitioned from the cells — there were a few hard stools, plus a couple of cots with discoloured mattresses. The stools seemed least likely to lead to infection. In the general melee, I elbowed elderly Adelaide matrons out of the way and snagged one. When the cots ran out, theatregoers were given a piece of sacking to place on the floor. If you’d told me the big bucks were in presenting opera singers in a gaolhouse and charging full price to sit on cold stone to listen to them, I would have been sceptical. Yet the place was packed, SRO: sackcloth room only. The gaol would not be unsuited to the IPA’s admirable free speech campaign. But I worry that the average posterior requires something a little more upholstered to get through a Steyn gig.


On the Q&A panel, my old friend Natasha Stott-Despoja was filling in for a sick Geoffrey Rush. I returned home to find that Dick Cheney had pulled out of a speech in Toronto because he’d decided Canada was ‘not safe’ (the Somalia of the north and all that) and that I’d been asked to step in, as the Mini-Me to his Dr Evil. The radio host Hugh Hewitt now calls me ‘Dick Cheney’s body double’. Given the state of the Vice-President’s body (he’s got more stents than the supply cupboard at Royal Perth Hospital), I’m not sure this is a compliment. Body-double-wise, Geoffrey got the better deal. 

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  • ronan fitzgerald

    Wow, you’re inviting this imbecile back to the magazine? Thank god I cancelled my sub

  • Geoffrey Smith

    I wonder if Mark has given any consideration to a travelogue or writing a book on his travels abroad–a 21st Century “Innocents Abroad”. I’d stand in line to buy it..

  • Roger Beaumont

    Imbecile? You idiot. Steyn is a brilliant writer. The Speccie should never have let him go in the first place.

  • sandi

    Hear! Hear! Mark should definitely write a 21st Century “Innocents Abroad”. A best-seller for sure!

  • Old Slaughter

    @ronan fitzgerald
    “Wow, you’re inviting this imbecile back to the magazine? Thank god I cancelled my sub”

    And yet you still come on the website granting them ad revenue and post comments presumably after reading.


  • Curtis James

    Ahhh! One more place to find the writings of Mr.Steyn. I will gladly make up for the “canceled” subscription of ronan, an do so with a smile. Anyone looking for more of the finest polemist in the English language try steynonlinedotcom. You can never have too much steynamite!

  • ronan fitzgerald

    @ Old Slaughter
    I actually still really like the magazine to be honest. Cancelled my sub as I was broke, but admire its libertarian, high end Brit gentility.
    Steyn on the other hand is a clown

  • Frank P

    I see someone noted the anomaly, as I pointed out twice this month, of Steyn writing for the Spectator in Australia, but not here, despite constant ‘customer’ demand. Well, better late than never, just get the boy back regularly. If he’ll agree.

    ronan fitzgerald

    Wow! ??

    Hmmm. Does Daddy know you’re using his computer, sonny.

  • ronan fitzgerald

    @frank p

    He does

  • Frank P

    ronan fitzgerald

    Please let us have an example of your homework, so that we can use it as a yardstick by which to judge Mr Steyn. Three hundred words on why Mark Steyn is an ‘imbecile’, please. And use capitals where appropriate, as in proper names. Are you Irish by an chance? Or are you just trying to discredit that proud nation by using a silly sobriquet and then producing gobshite after it.

  • ronan fitzgerald

    Frank P
    Short and without much detail
    (1) Steyn has become a parody of himself, I can almost write his articles in advance
    (2) He has been consistently wrong the past decade
    (3) His book ‘America Alone’ was alarmist nonsense, reducing a complex and interesting reality to a series of caricatures and bad jokes
    (4) His jokes aren’t particularly amusing in general, in my opinion
    (5) He has made a career out of endlessly fighting outdated strawmen
    (6) His writing on the current financial crisis is ludicrous, at best (particularly for a man that turned a blind eye to Bush’s economic policies)
    (7) He was wrong on Iraq (an outstanding success)
    (8) His schtik is solely a reaction to a caricatured left wing counter argument that doesn’t actually exist
    (9) Being an anti PC warrior is as tiresome as being a PC warrior
    (10) He’s an overgrown child that thinks and behaves in the manner of a precocious undergraduate.
    That’s about it of the top of my head. And in fairness what’s to like about the above article? Steyn goes to Australia, doesn’t like airport security, hangs around with the ‘elites’ he claims to despise, gets paid to write about it. Innocents abroad it is not
    Ps when you’re judging a professional writer by the ‘yardstick’ of a blog commenter, you’re fighting a losing battle

  • EC

    The UK is desperately in need of Mark Steyn tour, ASAP!

    … but would Theresa Jacqui Smith-May let him in?

  • Ed

    In Reply to:

    ronan fitzgerald
    March 29th, 2012 2:43pm

    Wow, you’re inviting this imbecile back to the magazine? Thank god I cancelled my sub

    I think it is funny that you cancelled your subscritption, but you still read the web site…

    Mark Steyn is one of the most brilliant people that I have ever heard or read and I really enjoy the benefit of his brilliance.

  • Oklahoma Greg

    @ ronan: “Short and without much detail”

    Was that your college nickname or a header disclaimer for omitting examples and evidence ??

  • ronan fitzgerald

    @O Greg
    Obviously the second. Wouldnt make much sense as a college nickname

  • john s

    I like Mr Steyn’s writing and i am always happy when he branches out from his usual topics. As for him being wrong about that ‘astounding success’ Iraq, or about the current financial crisis, those are your opinions and i disagree. His humour may not suit you but he writes well and clearly.
    As for the ‘straw men’ he fights, well some people can’t tell real issues from straaw men, especially when the issues don’t fit the narrative. If you have travelled through US airports you know he is spot on. As for him depising elites, do you even raed Steyn? He loves to hobnob with elites.He name drops often. He also doesn’t shy from pointing out the hypocrisy and pomposity they sometimes display.

  • Simon Brockwell

    Whenever someone applies terms like “imbecile” and “clown” to Mark Steyn, my first thought is: do they know what the word imbecile means? Because if they did they wouldn’t use the word in relation to anybody as articulate and literate as Steyn. Ronan doesn’t like Steyn’s politics, he should stick to saying that instead of childish insults. I was interested to read his subsequently elicited list of criticisms of Steyn. I’ll say this much in response: being an anti-PC warrior is a much harder gig and takes far more courage than to be a PC warrior because for three decades we’ve lived in a PC world. BTW its “shtick” not “schtik” ( and it can’t have been a typo for obvious reasons Ronan: don’t use loan words for clever/hip effect unless you can spell them as it ruins the whole thing, like a spelling mistake in the menu of a classy restaurant.

  • Louie723

    @ronan: Stein’s pretty funny. You on the other hand…

  • wbensonhnyc

    It’s a rare Steyn IBD ( Investor’s Business Daily) Saturday column in which he doesn’t write something I wish I’d thought of or said. But, come to think of it, I often do repeat those things– shamelessly and without attribution

  • Michael Vitsek

    Seconded Mr Beaumont. It’s great to see Mark back at the Speccie.

    I let my Speccie subscription lapse some years ago, partly due to them having let Mark go. This benighted act was seemingly part of an overall malaise that followed the magazine being wrested from the control of Mr Black.

    Now that the excellent Mr Steyn is back I may renew my subscription.

  • matthew starr

    If Mr Steyn is back as a regular I am going to subscribe immediately.
    Well done Speccie!

  • TwentyTwoYards

    john s (March 30th, 2012 2:09am);

    I appreciate your reply is addressed to ‘ronan’ and I have no wish to speak for anyone else, but it appears you have somewhat misunderstood his comments on Mr. Steyn’s stated views vis-a-vis Iraq and the economy, for instance.

    I speak as an avid Steyn reader for almost 15 years now, from the days I first came across his sparkling wit and gift for the English language in the Op-Ed pages of the Daily Telegraph (he had a weekly column there).

    Mark Steyn was an avowed cheerleader of the Iraq war, and an eloquent proponent of the strategy underpinning the war and its aftermath. He was the one who routinely categorised the war and the post-war Iraq as a resounding success in its earlier months/years, when it was obvious to most that it was anything but.

  • WFB56

    “When we reprised it onDancing With The Stars, we made the semi-finals.”

    Another reminder, if any were needed, that a regular return of Mark Steyn to the Spectator’s pages is long overdue.

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